Search This Blog

Friday, December 14, 2018




There is often confusion regarding the definition of the term, “Contractor” in government work. The term is used in a conflicting manner to describe companies, individuals and business relationships. It has different connotations within corporations as opposed to government agencies, and is often confused with terms like “Subcontractor”, “Supplier” or “Vendor”.

This article defines the term, “Contractor” and discusses the regulatory factors and practical considerations related to use of the term from a small business federal government contracting perspective. 


 1. Contractor (As Used In Corporations)
The term “Contractor” in corporations often refers to an individual, performing work for a company while not on the payroll as an employee, having no taxes, benefits or deductions taken from their pay and not covered by any form of insurance. The company issues a purchase order to the individual at an hourly rate and submits a Form 1099 to the US government reporting what the contractor is paid for services. The contractor must self-insure during the contract period and pay taxes on the money earned at the end of the tax year.

Recently there has been a dramatic decrease in the use of individuals as contractors in large government contracting corporations due to class action law suits brought by individuals who maintained they were utilized as employees without the associated benefits. The existing contractor work force was either offered permanent positions or released. Since that time, the use of contractors by large government prime contractors has been principally in specialty roles.

Corporations may also utilize the term “Contractors” when referring to companies in the manner defined by Definition 2, below. It is common for large prime contractors to use the term to describe themselves, their competition or co-equal teaming partners in joint ventures. When this 2nd definition is used it refers to a company, duly registered with the state and the federal government.

2. Contractor (As Used In Government Agencies)
The term “Contractors” in government parlance refers to businesses, not individuals. To become a contractor to a government agency, you must therefore form your own business. Government agencies do not engage individual “Contractors” as defined in 1, above. If they want individuals to perform services they put them on the agency payroll. If they want to acquire specialized outside services they contract with companies. 

3. Subcontractor

A “Subcontractor" is a company that takes on a flow-down of liability from a prime contractor to complete a major portion of a large scale job for the prime contractor's customer. The subcontractor is obligated to the prime contractually in an identical fashion as the prime is obligated to the government agency. The prime contractor issues a subcontract with a statement of work and flow down terms and conditions from the prime contract to the subcontractor. In many instances the government requires review and approval of major subcontractor selections and holds the prime contractor accountable contractually at the prime contract level for the subcontractor(s) efforts.

4. Supplier (or Vendor)
The term, “Supplier” connotes basically commercial relationships with companies that supply off the shelf parts and materials or simple, generic services. The General Services Administration (GSA) and other federal agencies also use the term to describe companies in negotiating supply schedules or in buying items under the commercial sections in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), such as FAR Part 12. Supplier contracts generally emphasize, price, delivery and matters such as warranty and do not involve -complex terms and conditions or the flow down of liability from the ordering firm prime contract.


The Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) clauses governing small business state that a company undertaking a small business set-aside prime contract must be capable of performing 51% of the work scope under the terms of that contract and may not subcontract (as in 3, above) any more than 49% of the effort. These FAR clauses do not limit 1099 contractors (as in 1, above).

Many small enterprises use independent contractors on call to fulfill the manpower requirements of their contracts and specify these personnel in their proposals as qualified individuals. When these clients grow in long term contracts they make such personnel permanent party if the contractors are willing. Often contingent hire agreements are used for that purpose while proposing major programs. You can download a generic agreement from the "References" Box Net cube in the left margin of this site.

Contractors (as in 1 above) may be used to the extent they are necessary to win, but bear in mind the government prefers to see permanent party, since that implies stability (the government is conditioned to the perception that individuals , as contractors come and go).

Small business should propose work scope under set aside programs in teaming agreements so that the prime (small business) is performing at least 60% of the effort with employees or contractors to avoid the appearance of a front by a larger company (even though the statutory requirement is 51%).

In many cases it is preferable for a start-up small business to become a subcontractor, rather than a prime, building past performance associated with government contracting and developing beneficial teaming relationships with experienced government contracting firms.

It is possible for a small business to perform, in tandem, one or more of the "Contractor" roles discussed in this article. Sometimes multiple roles are established with the same corporation or agency. Please use the search box at this site to view articles for information related to this topic.

It is vital to understand the "Contractor" role definition for each contractual commitment to insure suitable risk analysis, a good past performance record, conflict of interest avoidance and a solid reputation in the industry.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Managing Government Contract Limitation of Funds and Funding Exposure

Photo:  Getty Images
Some contractors choose to operate on "risk," continuing to perform on a contract while exceeding the incremental funding in booked cost and obligations. The government is under no obligation to reimburse the contractor for amounts exceeding incremental funding.

Nearing the end of a government fiscal year or under a government shutdown a contractor may find delays in funding reaching all the way to congress. This situation must be managed with the government contracting officer.

Many federal contracts are funded incrementally, usually based on the government fiscal year that runs from 1 October to 30 September. Although the government may negotiate dollar price ceilings for cost plus and time and materials contracts or firm, fixed total price arrangements, the contracts themselves may be incrementally funded, particularly if they extend over two or more government fiscal years. A contract may contain negotiated prices or a cost ceiling but also specify an incremental funding value.

The contractor is required to inform the government when actual costs incurred plus obligations to suppliers or payroll on a specific contract reach certain thresholds of the current incremental funding specified in the contract (usually 80%). The government is then obligated to further fund the contract. In the event the contract is not funded further, the contractor has the right to stop work before he exceeds the incremental funding.

If a contract is not funded to continue and the contractor has performed to date in accordance with all required terms, the government retains the right to terminate the contract for the convenience of the government. This requires a special notification to the contractor from the government and usually occurs due to changes in government priorities. The contractor may then bill the government for all costs and obligations to date, plus any direct and indirect extraordinary costs associated with business disruption, termination administration, employee layoff cost and the like. Terminations for convenience are very expensive for the government. Nevertheless, limitation of funds and funding exposure must be carefully monitored by an astute small business.

To properly manage incremental funding, the business system must be capable of accounting monthly for all direct and indirect costs on each contract, plus commitments to suppliers and employees in the form of open purchase orders and unpaid or unposted payroll.

Your internal release document should specify the current incremental funding if your contract is not fully funded at award. Further revisions to your release documentation should convey receipt of contact amendments from the government that supply additional required funding to the contract as performance proceeds. Requests for increases in incremental funding are required when the actual booked cost plus commitments to suppliers reaches 80% of the current funding on the contact. In the event the contact is not adequately funded incrementally by the government, a revision to your internal release documentation should specify a stop work order after you have notified your customer that you plan to cease performance on the contract due to lack of sufficient funding. Notification should be provided to suppliers under your contract with a stop work to avoid their incurring additional costs for which you are not receiving funding from the government. Be specific with a stop work date to these suppliers.

In the event the contract is terminated for convenience, a new revision to your internal release document should set up a special project and identifying number for accumulating costs specifically associated with the termination. These costs will be billed separately to the government under a termination contract modification and should be carefully recorded. Both direct costs and indirect costs at all levels of the company may be charged direct to a contract termination for convenience. You can expect your suppliers to bill for cost to date and termination cost as well. You will pass on those costs to the government in your proposal for termination for convenience of the government. The government will assume ownership of all inventory and work in process on terminated cost type contracts. Termination proposals, audits, negotiations and contract closeout can be lengthy and complicated proceedings.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Don't Overlook The Government Contract Data Requirements List (CDRL)

Image:  Defense Acquisition University 
The Contract Data Requirements List (CDRL) is usually contained in Part III, Section J of the government solicitation you are bidding and the executed contract upon award. 

The CDRL is a register of the deliverable data items. Each data item has a discrete numeric identifier, a data item description (DID) number and a delivery schedule to the customer. 

The CDRL is commonly conveyed on DD Form 1423 by the Department of Defense (DOD) specifying the delivery address, number of copies required and the reviewing and approving authority for the data item within the government agency.  It also specifies electronic addresses if electronic data delivery is necessary. Forms other than a DD Form 1423 may be used to convey data item requirements by agencies outside DOD. That form may be as simple as a listing of requirements. 

You should review the listing to insure adequate definition and understanding exist for you to commit to the data requirements when you sign your contract. Data Item Descriptions (DID's) are available at:

Data Item Description Library

Although it is unusual to negotiate separate pricing for contract data, your negotiated contract and resulting budget baseline must contain the resources to prepare and submit these items.

On contracts for new products, data item submissions represent major benchmarks on the contract schedule. Results of study, research, engineering design and development are submitted in the form of data items to the government for approval. 

Once approved, data items form the specifications for continuing effort on the contract. Key design reviews on development programs are focused on the contents of data item submissions.

Data item submissions contain reports of contract cost and schedule performance, results of status meetings and records of ongoing deliveries. Data item deliveries are key factors in demonstrating successful performance under the contract.

In some instances, the number of data items and the level of detail in each are negotiable with the government. Such negotiations have a direct impact on cost even though data items are not normally priced separately in the contract.

The cost for data item preparation and submission is usually included in the pricing in Section B of the contract within the prices for contract line item deliverable to which the data items apply.

SDRL or "Subcontract Data Requirements List" is a prime contractor flow-down of the CDRL requirements to a subcontractor. 

Generally the prime will structure the SDRL to insure that subcontractor data submissions support the prime contract CDRL technical content, schedule and other parameters. 

The prime may also take the liberty to incorporate additional requirement to support their own internal systems of quality,cost and schedule control. 

As with CDRL requirements, SDRL's should be carefully priced within the end item CLIN's to which they apply to insure cost coverage.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Assessing Department of Labor (DOL) Government Contract Wage/Rate Determinations



When pricing government contracts, in particular service contracts, the small business will encounter government wage determinations under the Service Contract Act and Davis-Bacon Act. These determinations specify the minimum wages and related benefits that must be paid to all hourly employees charging time directly to a federal service contract as part of a total compensation plan.   

The Department of Labor Manages the Wage Determination program.

DOL Wage Determination Web Site

Contractor compliance with Wage Determinations  is subject to audit by the Department of Labor, Defense Contract Audit Agency, or other agency audit procedures. Failure to prove compliance may subject the contractor to debarment from all government contracts for up to three years.

Service Contract Act, as an example, requires minimum wages be paid per labor category as defined in the Directory of Occupations and listed as minimum wages per labor category on the Area Wage Determination incorporated into each contract. The wages are mandatory minimums paid employees for every hour worked on the contract as defined by The Act, both full-time and part-time. A typical Wage Determination is below: (Please Click Image to Enlarge)


When bidding a service contract with a requirement containing a Wage Determination, the labor category wages and fringe must conform, as a minimum,to the Wage Determination in the government Request for Proposal (RFP).  The personnel must be paid not less than the wages and fringe benefits specified in the determination when the contract is awarded.   

Due to competitive factors and labor market concerns the company may propose labor and fringe exceeding the Wage Determination, but the bid cannot go beneath the government specified rates.  Below is a typical conformance table for an engineering firm with the Wage Determination information of the right side and the company bid rate on the left side of the table.  (Please Click Image to Enlarge)


The Fringe element of the Wage Determination conformance is usually discussed in the basis of estimate for the fringe rate in the price proposal. A major project in a given location may impact on the company wide-fringe rate if existing fringes in the company do not meet the minimum requirement for the wage determination in the area being bid. This can be a deciding factor in a bid/no bid decision on a prospective project.
When conforming a labor category to a government wage determination,  the title of the company job need not be identical to that to which the government wage determination refers, but the company job description must be made available to an auditor for compliance mapping purposed; i.e. the role of the individual and the scope of his or her job description must very closely match the government documents. It is best to use existing company labor categories and descriptions and work any exceptions during the conformance process, conveying the results in the form of a table similar to the above in your proposal.

If a particular wage determination selected by the contracting officer in the RFP appears to be vastly out of sync with the scope of work in the prospective contract, it is best to bring this to the government's attention in the form of a question or a suggestion for improvement during the Q&A or draft RFP comments phase of the bid process.  But remember, your question, its answer and any action taken by the CO will be made available to all competitors. 

In many instances competitive labor rates, and in some cases benefits as well, will be higher than those specified in the government wage determination. Wage determination updates by the government often lag rapidly changing technical labor markets and area economic trends.

Evaluate your initial GSA Schedule and renewals against area wage determinations, since the government may choose to buy off your schedule or you may choose to use your GSA Schedule rates to bid a procurement where a wage determination applies.

Demographics in your company may play a role.  Accumulation of labor cost history driving a pay rate in one geographic location of a company for a given labor category may not meet government wage determinations if that category is used in another geographic area with a different area wage determination in a substantially different labor market.  Many larger firms maintain standard rates across multiple geographic locations to deal with this factor.  


Regularly review your company labor category rates and fringe benefits for ongoing compliance with DOL Area Wage Determinations. Sample the DOL Wage Determination web site regularly as a normal function of maintaining your labor rates and fringe benefits costs.