That is precisely what the contractor did in Cameron Bell. There, a contractor challenged a less-than “Satisfactory” rating of its performance in a CDA claim. After the contracting officer denied the claim, the contractor appealed to the ASBCA seeking various forms of injunctive relief. The government moved to dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. But the Board denied the government’s motion in part, finding that the ASBCA has jurisdiction to “assess whether the contracting officer acted reasonably in rendering the disputed performance rating or was arbitrary and capricious and abused his discretion.” Id. The Board also noted, that while it lacks authority to “order the government to revise a CPARS rating,” the ASBCA “may remand to require the contracting officer to follow applicable regulations and provide [a contractor] a fair and accurate performance evaluation.” Id.
Second, contractors should be aware that, while the ASBCA cannot order an agency to issue a higher CPARS rating, the Board can direct the government to conduct a “fair and accurate” evaluation of the contractor’s performance in accordance with law and regulation. In many cases, an order remanding a CPARS rating for reevaluation will result in only partial relief for the contractor ─ e.g., where the agency must simply do a better job of explaining why it assigned a low rating. But in other cases, such an order will require the agency to meaningfully reexamine the rating in light of the contractor’s record of performance, the objective guidelines in FAR Subpart 42.15 and the particular challenges raised by the contractor on appeal. See, e.g., DOD OIG, “Summary of Audits on Assessing Contractor Performance: Additional Guidance and System Enhancements Needed,” (May 9, 2017) at 11 (criticizing the assignment of a “marginal” rating where the agency did not explain the contractor’s purportedly “significant” performance failure and where the evidence showed the alleged failure had no impact on the agency).
Third, contractors also should keep in mind that, in certain circumstances, they may be entitled to recover monetary damages if they can show the government’s arbitrary and capricious performance evaluation “constituted bad faith and a breach of the [agency’s] duty of good faith and fair dealing.” See, e.g., Government Services Corp., ASBCA No. 60367, 16-1 BCA ¶ 36,411. Though it can be challenging to prevail on a claim for breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing, it undoubtedly is a viable theory of recovery in many CPARS rating cases, particularly those where there is clear evidence of government bias or overreach that can be developed further through discovery. Cameron Bell, 2019 WL 2067642 (“We also have jurisdiction to determine whether the government breached the implied contractual duty of good faith and fair dealing, an issue that [the contractor] raised in its claim to the contracting officer”).
At bottom, the ASBCA’s decision in Cameron Bell is a helpful reminder that contractors have recourse when they are assigned a less-than positive CPARS rating. Contractors should familiarize themselves with the CPARS process ahead of time so that they can quickly identify the evidence needed to rebut a negative rating and, if necessary, challenge the rating in a CDA claim.