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Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Federal Government Contract Terminations

On occasion the government finds it necessary to terminate contractual arrangements with contractors. FAR Sub-part 49.5 governs such actions. There are  two common forms of contract termination that you should know about and how to manage them.


Certain conditions are usually present when contact termination is on the horizon. These factors range from product and services obsolescence to developments that change the direction and amount of agency funding. They may also include customer relations difficulties or changes in the mission of an agency.

It is best to manage the risks associated with terminations by viewing them in the light of funding and performance liability. We have previously discussed limitation of funds and funding exposure in the following articles:

Limitation of Funds and Funding Exposure

Contract Baseline Management

If it is generally known, for instance, that if the government is having funding challenges in terms of justifying the next phase of a program, your company should carefully monitor incurred costs and commitments so they do not exceed the existing funding on the contract.

Moreover, if performance on a particular contract has been sub-par, deliveries have been late and corrective action has not remedied the situation, the reality of a termination for default should be assessed from a liability perspective; particularly concerning costs the government may bill the contractor for inconvenience. Receipt of "Show Cause" notices or "Cure Letters" are signs the government is positioning a justification for contract termination.

Terminations for default are particularly harmful to a contractor's past performance rating on federal government contracts:

Contract Past Performance Record

The remainder of this article will focus on each of the two major types of terminations and how to manage each.


This form of termination arises from standard clause(s) in your government contract that give the government the right to unilaterally terminate the contract at any time with or without giving any reason. The contractor is generally entitled to a negotiated settlement for an equitable recovery of costs and losses incurred. Please see the following link for applicable clauses:

Subpart 49.5 Termination Clauses

A termination for convenience is the least risky form of termination to the contractor. Although receiving a notice that your contract is being terminated for convenience is never good news, it does offer the opportunity to recover costs you have incurred and those you estimate will impact your business due to the termination.

Actions necessary:

1. First, insure your costs to date, plus commitments have not exceeded the funding level of the contract. If they have, consider asking for a funds amendment to your contact to cover the overrun. It may not be granted by the government. Next, immediately notify departments internal to the company with regard to the termination and inform them that their charge numbers for the program have been closed. Close all charge numbers. 

2. Notify all suppliers and subcontractors with respect to the contract termination, direct that they cease work, discontinue deliveries and submit to you a termination proposal containing itemization and costs associated with terminating their order or contract. You will negotiate with your supply chain and include their costs in your termination settlement proposal to the government.

3. Open a contract termination charge number for selected use by those who are associated with the termination to charge related time and expenses for ceasing work, inventorying material, supporting a termination proposal, dealing with suppliers, handling special requests or other direct efforts to cease work. It makes no difference whether the individuals are direct or indirect in their normal time keeping. This special accounting charge number will be utilized to record the cost to your firm for terminating the contract and proposing a settlement to the government. 

4. Complete your contract termination settlement proposal and submit it to the agency contracting officer to meet the date specified by the agency for same.

5. When the contract termination settlement proposal has been negotiated and formalized with an amendment to closeout the contract in accordance with the following government approved practices:

Government Contract Closeout


A termination for default rises from standard clause(s) in your contract that give the government the right to unilaterally terminate the contractor if the contractor fails to perform according to the specified terms. The contractor is generally not entitled to any payment for the unfinished part of the contract and, instead, may be liable for (1) repayment of monies advanced, (2) liquidated and other damages and (3) excess cost incurred by the government in completing the contact under a new contractor. Please see the following link for applicable clauses:

Subpart 49.5 Termination Clauses

The Government contracting officer will terminate a contract for default when he or she determines that the contractor has failed to adequately perform in accordance with the contract. The Default clause applicable to fixed-price contracts limits the Government's liability for unaccepted work, subjects the contractor to actual (or liquidated) damages, and may subject the contractor for the excess cost of re-procurement. Moreover, the default becomes part of the contractor's past performance record which will harm the contractor's ability to compete on future contracts. Because the Government is not liable for work not accepted, the termination for default has a greater adverse consequence on supply contracts than service and construction contracts.

The government may terminate all or part of a contract for anything that was done that was not in the interest of the government, including:
  • Attempted fraud
  • Failure to meet quality requirements
  • Failure to deliver the supplies or perform the services within the time specified in the contract
  • Failure to make progress and that failure endangers performance of the contract
  • Failure to perform any other provisions of the contract.

Cure Notice

Before terminating a contract for default because of your failure to make progress or to perform, the contracting officer will usually give you a written notice, called a "cure notice." That notice allows you at least 10 days to cure any defects. Unless the failure to perform is cured within the 10 days, the contracting officer may issue a notice of termination for default.

Show-Cause Notice 

If there is not sufficient time for a cure, the contracting officer will usually send a show-cause notice. That notice directs you to show why your contract should not be terminated for default. It ensures that you understand your predicament, and your answer can be used in evaluating whether circumstances justify default action.

If a contractor succeeds in appealing the termination for default, the default is usually converted into one for the convenience of the Government.

Actions Necessary:

1. When a termination for default is at hand, contact a law firm that specializes in government contract terminations and proceed within the guidance offered by them in pursuing any part of the termination that could be converted to a termination for convenience or other form of relief with respect to conditions over which you may not have had control or for which you may be entitled to a request for equitable adjustment or contact claim.

2.  You should also proceed in accordance with paragraphs 1 through 3 of the Terminations for Convenience section above to limit your internal and supplier liability as well as isolate costs associated with the termination for a potential settlement or claim.  

When the contract has been amended by termination for default, close out the contract in accordance with the following government approved practices:

Government Contract Closeout


Contract terminations should be avoided if at all possible. They are expensive on the part of both the government and the contractor. The negative aspects of a termination for default, in particular, can last for years in government contractor past performance data bases.

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