In an April 2017 decision, the Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals (ASBCA) once again rejected the position of the Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) that a cost or type of cost for which allowability depends on the circumstances or Contracting Officer discretion can nonetheless be “expressly unallowable” and subject to penalties under FAR 42.709-1(a).
Although the law is clear that penalties are appropriate only when such costs are named and stated to be unallowable in a cost principle such that a counter position is unreasonable, the DCAA has continued to assert its erroneous position in its audit guidance and findings.
A contractor is subject to penalties if it includes in its indirect cost submission an indirect cost that is “expressly unallowable under a cost principle in the FAR, or an executive agency supplement to the FAR.” FAR 42.709-1(a)(1).
The ASBCA has explained the standard for whether a cost is expressly unallowable is “objective.” General Dynamics Corp., ASBCA No. 49732, 02-2 BCA ¶ 31,888, reversed on other grounds, Rumsfeld v. General Dynamics Corp., 365 F.3d 1380 (Fed. Cir. 2004). An item of cost is expressly unallowable if it is “specifically named and stated as unallowable….” Raytheon Company, ASBCA Nos. 57576, 57679, 58290, June 26, 2015. Moreover, “the Government must show that it was unreasonable under all the circumstances for a person in the contractor’s position to conclude that the costs were allowable.” General Dynamics Corp.
In twin Memoranda for Regional Directors (MRDs) dated December 18, 2014 and January 7, 2015, the DCAA provided its audit teams with guidance concerning the identification of expressly unallowable costs that contradicted these clear rules. 14-PAC-021(R); 14-PAC-022(R). Relying on an ASBCA case from the 1980s, Emerson Electric Co., ASBCA No. 30090, 87-1 BCA ¶ 19,478, November 19, 1986, the DCAA opined that “a cost can be unallowable even though the cost principle does not explicitly state that the cost is unallowable or not allowable.” 14-PAC-022(R). “[I]n situations where a cost principle does not specifically state that the applicable cost is unallowable or not allowable, the audit team will have to employ critical thinking when determining whether the cost principle identifies expressly unallowable costs” and “whether the cost principle identifies a cost or type of cost clearly enough that there cannot be a reasonable difference of opinion as to whether a questioned cost meets the criteria specified.” Id.
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