A central principle of construction contracts is that, where a contractor a commits to construct in accordance with plans and specifications b provided by the owner c in exchange for payment of a firm, fixed price, the contractor controls its means and methods, unless the plans and specifications clearly dictate a particular means or method.
For example, the structural engineer may specify a particular jacking procedure for raising a space frame. This principle was again at play in Columbia Construction Co.
InColumbia Construction Co. Columbia subcontracted with Wayne J. The security system work was detailed in multiple specifications and drawings in the contract documents. The pre-existing building security system was an "open" system, with security cabling not run in conduit or raceways. According to the plans and specifications, in the renovated building this security wiring was required to be "concealed or in conduit Construction means and methods plan unless specifically approved in writing by the contracting officer.
The specifications defined "concealed" as follows: GSA then instructed Columbia in writing to install cabling in conduit "per the contract. Griffin noted its disagreement with this interpretation, but began installing security wiring in cable tray per the GSA direction. Griffin then submitted a request for equitable adjustment "REA" to Columbia for the costs it claimed it would incur as a result of being forced to install security cable in conduit.
After a series of meetings to discuss security cabling, GSA rejected this REA and required Griffin to continue installing security wiring in conduit. The Board ruled in favor of Columbia and Griffin. The Board noted that the contract gave the contractor the option of using conduit or another installation method that concealed the security cabling by covering it completely in building materials.
Considering the contract as a whole, construction means and methods plan, and the various other specifications that clearly showed that "concealed" could include installation below the raised access flooring or above the drop ceiling, construction means and methods plan Board held that it would be unreasonable to interpret the contract to exclude security cabling from this permitted installation method.
This case demonstrates once again that the Government cannot require more than its plans and specifications require without paying its contractor additional compensation. It is also of construction means and methods plan because of what was revealed in discovery.
The Government produced a document from a GSA electrical engineer that essentially admitted that the GSA requirement to use conduit exceeded the security system specifications, and noted that "if this case were to proceed forward, the government would likely be found responsible for a large portion of the stated costs The Board cited this document in its decision, construction means and methods plan, although it did not state that it based its decision on it.
As such, make sure that such documentation is accurate and factual, but be wary of including negative discussions of issues or "lessons learned" in such written documentation. In addition, be sure your counsel is aware of any such documentation when you seek guidance about the merits of your case.
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