When Abraham Lincoln signed the False Claims Act (FCA) into law in 1863, it was a legislative reaction to a series of sensational congressional investigations into war profiteers’ sale of phony provisions and useless equipment to the U.S. government during the Civil War. Contractors who agreed to provide 100-pound bags of flour filled many of the bags with sand. Munitions suppliers demanded full payment (at exorbitant, wartime prices) for rusted, nonfunctioning weapons gleaned from scrap heaps. It was not a leap to find claims that sand was flour, or that a rusted flintlock was an Army rifle, were objectively false; these were not just breaches of contract, but out-and-out frauds. Congress stepped in to stop this “plundering of the public treasury,” and the FCA imposed penalties on those who sought to defraud the U.S. government and its taxpayers.

Continue Reading Honest Abe Would Demand “Objective Falsity” for FCA Liability. Will the Supreme Court?

When entering a casino, professional gamblers understand that “the house doesn’t beat the player. It just gives him the opportunity to beat himself.” This axiom is precisely why in the long run casinos make money, while gamblers see their bank accounts dwindle. The same holds true in the corporate world with respect to the creation, implementation, and maintenance of compliance programs. A company gambling on its compliance obligations does so at its own peril and must understand exactly what the “House” expects. If it doesn’t, then that company may join the unfortunate few that roll the dice or spin the wheel and come up with snake eyes or double zeros. That risk is multiplied if the company betting on sufficient compliance is receiving federal dollars, where failure can lead to catastrophic civil and criminal liability. Fortunately, the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) has published its version of “House Rules” that it is supposed to consult when examining whether to investigate, prosecute, or settle criminal charges against a company. In this respect, DOJ prosecutors are tasked with looking at specific factors outlined in the “Principles of Federal Prosecution of Business Organizations” (“Principles”) section of the Justice Manual. Among other factors, these Principles instruct DOJ prosecutors to consider “the adequacy and effectiveness of the corporation’s compliance program at the time of the offense, as well as at the time of a charging decision.” In furtherance of this mandate, the DOJ’s Criminal Division issued revised guidance on June 1, 2020, regarding the specific factors DOJ prosecutors should consider in making that evaluation. This updated version of the DOJ’s “Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs” (Guidance) clarifies and modifies certain areas of the version last updated in April 2019. Among other noteworthy revisions, the Guidance underscores the need for companies to ensure their corporate compliance program is:

Continue Reading Gambling on Compliance? DOJ Updates the House Rules on Corporate Compliance Program Expectations

The Prospect of False Claims Act’s Treble Damages Requires Meticulous Recordkeeping Under the CARES Act

On April 10, 2020, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) announced its effort to root out fraud associated with the billions of dollars in payments promised under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The Congressional watchdog is encouraging individuals – private citizens, government workers, contractors, etc. – to anonymously and confidentially report any allegations of fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement through FraudNet (the GAO’s fraud-reporting website), via e-mail or by calling 1-800-424-5454 (the GAO’s automated phone answering system). The GAO, of course, is seeking as much detail as possible about any allegations so the reports can be handed off to its own investigative unit, appropriate inspector general offices, or to the ultimate enforcer – the Department of Justice.


Continue Reading Borrowers Beware: GAO Ramps Up Efforts to Root Out Fraud Among CARES Act Loan Recipients

Section 8(a) of the Small Business Investment Act of 1958 authorizes the Small Business Administration (“SBA”) to enter into prime contracts with federal agencies and to subcontract the performance of the contract to qualified small businesses. As most are aware, the 8(a) program is designed to assist “socially and economically disadvantaged small business” concerns that are owned by one or more individuals who are from a socially and economically disadvantaged group and whose management and daily operations are controlled by such individuals. 15 U.S.C. § 637(a)(4)(A)-(B). Included in the definition of “socially and economically disadvantaged groups” are, among others, Indian tribes, Native Hawaiians, and Alaskan Natives, which allows each “maximum practical opportunities” to participate in the government contracting market. But in so doing, those companies must stomach the good with the bad, i.e., they must be prepared to (a) navigate the thicket of regulatory hurdles required to do business with the government and (b) combat potential allegations of fraud if there is a perception that one or more of those hurdles has not been cleared successfully.

Continue Reading Alutiiq False Claims Act Settlement Highlights Significant Government Contract Compliance Risks for Tribal, NHO, and ANC 8(a) Subsidiaries

Following up on his repeated promises that the government will buy American and hire American, President Trump signed a Presidential Executive Order on Buy American and Hire American (the “Order”) on Tuesday, April 18, 2017, directing executive agencies to enhance acquisition preferences for domestic products and labor under federal contracts and federal grants. Federal contractors should note that the Order serves only as a blueprint for the administration’s intentions and imposes no immediate requirements. Those will follow — but in what form and to what degree, we can only guess. Contractors should prepare for those changes and be assured that – with respect to the Order’s impact on supply chains and contractor purchasing systems – the devil will indeed be in the details.

Continue Reading The Buy American–Hire American Executive Order: There Will Be Devils in the Details When Buying American

Colleges and universities receive billions of dollars in federal funds, whether through research grants or student financial aid, or even by billing Medicare or Medicaid for services rendered at academic medical centers. As a result, institutions of higher education must be vigilant to ensure that their receipt of federal funding does not implicate the broad scope of the civil False Claims Act (FCA), a federal statute that seeks to combat fraud against the government. Those found liable of violating the FCA by submitting false claims to the government face treble damages and penalties ranging from $10,781 to $21,563 per violation. In recent years, there has been an unprecedented and steady rise in the number and types of cases brought under the FCA. In 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) recovered more than $4.7 billion in settlements and judgments from civil cases involving fraud against the government under the FCA, a $1.2 billion increase over the $3.5 billion recouped last year in 2015.

Continue Reading Universities Are Prime Targets for False Claims Act Liability