MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.
The question presented in this case is whether the Department of Justice may challenge the finality of a contract disputes decision made by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) in favor of its contractor, where the contract provides that the decision of AEC shall be "final
Moreover, 41 U. S. C. § 322, provides that "[n]o government contract shall contain a provision making final on a question of law the decision of any administrative official, representative, or board."
The Department of Justice challenged the settlement made by the AEC on two grounds, (1) that the decision was "not supported by substantial evidence" and (2) that it was "erroneous as a matter of law."
But the disputes clause in the contract
In plain lay language the question then is whether, absent fraud or bad faith, the contractor can rely on the ruling of the federal agency with which it made the contract or can be forced to go through still another tier of federal review. We hold that absent fraud or bad faith the federal agency's settlement under the disputes clause is binding on the Government; that there is not another tier of administrative review; and that, save for fraud or bad faith, the decision of AEC is "final and conclusive," it being for these purposes the Federal Government. We reverse the judgment of the Court of Claims.
On August 4, 1961, petitioner contracted with the AEC to build a testing facility at the National Reactor Test Station in Idaho. The work was completed and accepted by the AEC on June 29, 1962. Because of various changes in contract specifications and difficulties in meeting performance schedules, petitioner submitted a series of claims to the contracting officer for resolution under the standard disputes clause contained in the contract, asking for equitable modifications of the contract and additional compensation. On August 8 and November 8, 1962, the contracting officer approved some of the claims and disapproved others, and the petitioner sought review of the adverse decisions with the AEC.
Since it did not then have a contract appeals board,
The Commission declined to review four of the claims, 2 A. E. C. 738, which had the effect of sustaining the examiner's decision on them. 10 CFR § 2.762 (a) (Jan. 1, 1963). Included within this group was the examiner's determination that amounts due petitioner could not be retained to offset claims allegedly owed by petitioner to other contractors and other agencies of government. The
On March 6, 1964, prior to the AEC's final ruling but after it had upheld the examiner's decision on the "retainage" claim, a certifying officer of the Commission requested the opinion of the General Accounting Office on whether a voucher for the retainage claim could be certified for payment. Jurisdiction for the Comptroller General's review was purportedly founded upon 31 U. S. C. § 82d.
The defenses tendered raised no issue of any fraud or bad faith of the contractor against the United States.
On cross-motions for summary judgment, a commissioner of the Court of Claims ruled in favor of petitioner, holding that the General Accounting Office lacked authority to review the decision of the AEC and that the AEC's refusal to follow its own decisions favorable to petitioner was a breach of the disputes clause of the contract. On review by the Court of Claims, however, that decision was reversed by a four-to-three vote. While the majority acknowledged "that the Comptroller General effectively stopped payment of the claims," it did not pass upon the legality of that action. 193 Ct. Cl. 335, 340, 433 F.2d 1373, 1375. Reasoning, instead, that the Wunderlich Act allowed both the Department of Justice and contractors an equal right to judicial review of administrative decisions and that the AEC's refusal to abide by its earlier decision was a permissible means of obtaining this review, it remanded petitioner's claims "to the commissioner for his consideration and report on the various claims under Wunderlich Act standards." Id., at 351, 433 F. 2d, at 1381.
The Commissioner did not base his opinion on any issue of fraud or bad faith of the contractor against the United States, nor did the Court of Claims. The case is now here on a petition for writ of certiorari which we granted. 402 U.S. 971.
Petitioner argues that neither the text nor the legislative history of the Wunderlich Act supports the right of the United States to seek judicial review of an administrative decision on a contractual dispute, that the General Accounting Office was without statutory or contractual authority to overturn the AEC's decision, and that the
The disputes clause included in Government contracts is intended, absent fraud or bad faith, to provide a quick and efficient administrative remedy and to avoid "vexatious and expensive and, to the contractor oftentimes, ruinous litigation." Kihlberg v. United States, 97 U.S. 398, 401 (1878). The contractor has ceded his right to seek immediate judicial redress for his grievances and has contractually bound himself to "proceed diligently with the performance of the contract" during the disputes process. The purpose of avoiding "vexatious litigation" would not be served, however, by substituting the action of officials acting in derogation of the contract.
The result in some cases might be sheer disaster. In the present case nearly a decade has passed since petitioner completed the performance of a contract under which the only agency empowered to act determined that it was entitled to payment. To postpone payment for such a period is to sanction precisely the sort of "vexatious litigation" which the disputes process was designed to avoid.
By the disputes clause
A citizen has the right to expect fair dealing from his government, see Vitarelli v. Seaton, 359 U.S. 535, and this entails in the present context treating the government as a unit rather than as an amalgam of separate entities. Here, the AEC spoke for the United States and its decision, absent fraud or bad faith, should be honored. Cf. NLRB v. Nash-Finch Co., 404 U.S. 138.
Since the AEC withheld payment solely because of the views of the Comptroller General and since he had been given no authority to function as another tier of administrative review, there was no valid reason for the AEC not to settle with petitioner according to its earlier decision. For that purpose the AEC was the United States. Cf. Small Business Administration v. McClellan, 364 U.S. 446, 449.
The cases deny review by the Comptroller General of administrative disputes clause decisions as "without legal authority" absent fraud or overreaching. E. g., McShain Co. v. United States, 83 Ct. Cl. 405, 409 (1936). In
Congress contemplated giving the General Accounting Office such powers and, indeed, the Senate twice passed— in the form of the McCarran bill—a provision which would have allowed the Comptroller to review disputes decisions to determine if they were "fraudulent, grossly erroneous, so mistaken as necessarily to imply bad faith, or not supported by reliable, probative, and substantial evidence." S. 24, 83d Cong., 1st Sess. (1953). "If enacted, it would [have] invest[ed] the GAO with the power—which it has never had—to upset an administrative decision which it [found] `grossly erroneous' or `not supported by reliable, probative, and substantial evidence.' " Schultz, Proposed Changes in Government Contract Disputes Settlement: The Legislative Battle over the Wunderlich Case, 67 Harv. L. Rev. 217, 243 (1953). The House of Representatives rejected this provision, however, and the Wunderlich Act was ultimately passed in its present form. We cannot, therefore, construe
It is suggested, however, that the Comptroller General's power is not one of review over the AEC decision but is merely the power "to force the contractor to bring suit and thus to obtain judicial review for the Government." The disputes clause, however, sets forth the administrative means for resolving contractual disputes. Under the present contract the AEC is the final administrative arbiter of such claims and nowhere is there a provision for oversight by the Comptroller General. The Comptroller General, however, conducted a 33-month de novo review of the AEC proceedings; he blocked the payment to which the AEC determined petitioner was entitled; and he placed upon petitioner the burden of going to the Court of Claims to receive that payment. That action by the Comptroller General was a form of additional administrative oversight foreclosed by the disputes clause.
A majority of the Court of Claims held "that the Government has the right to the same extent as the contractor to seek judicial review of an unfavorable administrative decision on a contract claim." 193 Ct. Cl., at 346, 433 F. 2d, at 1378. The Solicitor General adopts this view and sees in the Attorney General's obligation to conduct litigation on behalf of the United States, 28 U. S. C. §§ 516, 519, the power to overturn decisions of coordinate offices of the Executive Department.
The Attorney General has the duty to "conduct . . . litigation in which the United States, an agency, or officer thereof is a party," 28 U. S. C. § 516, and to "supervise all [such] litigation," 28 U. S. C. § 519. That power is pervasive but it does not appear how under the Wunderlich Act it gives the Department of Justice the right to appeal from a decision of the Atomic
The power to appeal to the Court of Claims a decision of the federal agency under a disputes clause in a contract which the agency is authorized to make is not to be found in the Wunderlich Act and its underlying legislative history.
We are reluctant to construe a statute enacted to free citizens from a form of administrative tyranny so as to subject them to additional bureaucratic oversight, where there is no evidence of fraud or overreaching. In this connection, it should be noted that committee reports accompanying the Wunderlich Act indicate that judicial review was provided so that contractors would not inflate their bids to take into account the uncertainties of administrative action.
A contractor's fraud is of course a wholly different genus than the case now before us. Even where the contractor has obtained a judgment and the time for review of it has expired, fraud on an administrative agency or on the court enforcing the agency action is ground for setting aside the judgment. "[S]etting aside the judgment to permit a new trial, altering the terms of the judgment, or restraining the beneficiaries of the judgment from taking any benefit whatever from it," Hazel-Atlas Co. v. Hartford Co., 322 U.S. 238, 245, are the usual forms of relief which have been granted. Patents obtained with unclean hands and contracts that are based on those patents are similarly tainted and will not be enforced. Precision Co. v. Automotive Co., 324 U.S. 806. Contracts with the United States—like patents —are matters concerning far more than the interest of the adverse parties; they entail the public interest:
Broad, flexible civil remedies are also provided against those who "use or engage in . . . an agreement, combination, or conspiracy to use or engage in or to cause to be used or engaged in, any fraudulent trick, scheme, or device, for the purpose of securing or obtaining, or aiding to secure or obtain, for any person any payment, property, or other benefits from the United States or any Federal agency in connection with the procurement, transfer, or disposition of property . . . ." 63 Stat. 392, 40 U. S. C. § 489 (b).
As to the Court of Claims, 28 U. S. C. § 2514 provides that: "A claim against the United States shall be forfeited to the United States by any person who corruptly practices or attempts to practice any fraud against the United States in the proof, statement, establishment, or allowance thereof.
These statutory provisions show that, apart from the inherent power of courts to deal with fraud, the Department of Justice indubitably has standing to appear or intervene at any time in any appropriate court to restrain enforcement of contracts with the United States based on fraud. See, e. g., United States v. Hougham, 364 U.S. 310 (1960); Rex Trailer Co. v. United States, 350 U.S. 148 (1956); United States v. Dinerstein, 362 F.2d 852 (CA2 1966).
So far as the Wunderlich Act is concerned, it is irrelevant whether the administrative agency deciding this dispute is the AEC or the AEC's board of contract appeals. It was common in the beginning to give final authority over the resolution of disputes under a Government contract to the designated contracting officer, save for "fraud or such gross mistake as would necessarily imply bad faith, or a failure to exercise an honest judgment." Kihlberg v. United States, 97 U. S., at 402. Later came the present boards of contract appeals.
Boards of contract appeals within the respective agencies today are common. They are not statutory creations but are established by administrative regulations. S. Doc. No. 99, 89th Cong., 2d Sess., Operation and Effectiveness of Government Boards of Contract Appeals 20-21. Their decisions "constitute administrative
We held in United States v. Bianchi & Co., 373 U.S. 709, that even where the decision on review in the Court of Claims is that of a board of contract appeals, the review must be on the administrative record and that no trial de novo may be held. That decision led to proposals in Congress that, in effect, rulings of contract appeals boards be denied finality.
This case does not involve the situation where an administrative agency, upon timely petition for rehearing or prompt sua sponte reconsideration, determines that its earlier decision was wrong and, for that reason, refuses
If the General Accounting Office or the Department of Justice is to be an ombudsman reviewing each and every decision rendered by the coordinate branches of the Government, that mandate should come from Congress, not from this Court.
The judgment of the Court of Claims is
MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE, MR. JUSTICE STEWART, and MR. JUSTICE POWELL join, concurring.
Because I agree that in this case, where neither fraud nor bad faith is charged, the Wunderlich Act, 41 U. S. C. §§ 321-322, does not operate to give the United States the power to challenge a contract disputes clause finding of fact in favor of the contractor by the Government's own contracting agency, I join the Court's opinion and its judgment. I venture some supportive comments:
1. The contracting officer and the Atomic Energy Commission acted here in an executive capacity for the United
2. The disputes clause in Government contracts has been employed for over four decades. The clause is one drawn and prescribed by the United States. It is not one drawn by the contractor or by any group of contractors with whom the United States deals. And for years, with the specified exceptions, that clause itself has been regarded as conferring no right of judicial review on the part of the Government.
3. By accepting the disputes clause in his contract, the contractor bears the interim financial burden and gives up the right of rescission and the right to sue for damages. What he receives in return is the Government's assurances of speedy settlement and of prompt payment, not payment delayed for months or, as here, for years.
4. To compel a contractor to go through the administrative process and to proceed and to perform with less than his usual arsenal of defenses against administrative arbitrariness or unfairness, and then to have that determination submitted to judicial review at the behest of still another agency of Government, subjects the contractor to untoward delay in payment and to a financial hazard that may well prove to be ruinous.
5. The result would be a strange one if, as even the GAO here concedes, a contracting officer's decision favorable to a contractor possesses finality, United States v. Corliss
6. Lurking in the background of the Court's decision is advantage to the Government resulting from what strikes me as a possible breach of contract. The contractor here, according to the long-term understanding of the disputes clause, consented to the disposition of disputes by the contracting officer and by the AEC on appeal, and to the finality of decision at those points. It did not
7. The legislative history, which the dissent finds so clearly supportive of its conclusion, is not at all that clear for me. I doubt if anyone who reads and absorbs the Appendix to the dissent's opinion will find it clear and indicative. I regard it, as does the Court and as did the dissenters in the Court of Claims, as decidedly ambiguous at best. Even the Court of Claims majority struggled with the history and conceded that it did not "explicitly" provide for Government-instituted judicial review. 193 Ct. Cl. 335, 342, 433 F.2d 1373, 1376. This is not surprising, for the Wunderlich Act was intended to relieve contractors from the holding in United States v. Wunderlich, 342 U.S. 98 (1951), where the Court restricted contractor-instigated judicial review to the situation of alleged and proved fraud. In Wunderlich the Government sought to reinstate an Interior Secretary's fact decision, favorable to the Government and adverse to the contractor, which the Court of Claims had set aside as "arbitrary," "capricious," and "grossly erroneous." The Government there urged—and prevailed over three dissenting votes—a narrow judicial review standard for the contractor. Congress reacted, and the Wunderlich Act overrode this restrictive measure of review and opened the door to the contractor to the extent permitted by the proviso clause of § 321.
I am not able to read into this legislative change a corresponding nod in the direction of the Government. The flat rejection by Congress of the proposed provision for GAO review is significant. There would be no point
8. The issue is not whether advantage is or is not to be taken of the Government. Of course, the Government's rights are to be protected. That protection, however, is afforded by the nature and workings of the contract disputes system, by its emphasis on expeditious performance and getting the job done, and by the presence of the contracting officer and the agency, but not of the GAO. This results in fulfillment of the contract and, at the same time, gives the contractor the protection he needs against fraud, capriciousness, arbitrariness, bad faith, and absence of evidence. In the exercise of its legislative judgment, Congress has determined that in this area the Government needs no more.
I therefore join in reversing the judgment of the Court of Claims and in giving this contractor the benefit of the decision made by the Atomic Energy Commission itself, the very agency that was the contractor's opposite party to the contract.
MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN, with whom MR. JUSTICE WHITE and MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL join, dissenting.
This is a suit by petitioner against the United States to recover on a contract between petitioner and the Atomic Energy Commission. The contract included a "disputes clause," which provided that the Commission would decide any factual disputes that arose under the contract and that its decision would "be final and conclusive unless determined by a court of competent jurisdiction to have been fraudulent, or capricious, or arbitrary, or so grossly erroneous as necessarily to imply bad faith, or not supported by substantial evidence."
It may be helpful at the outset to put this case in perspective by reviewing briefly the law developed over the past century to regulate the enforcement of disputes clauses in Government procurement contracts. Until 1954, with the passage of the Wunderlich Act, disputes clauses provided that the decision of a designated Government official upon a matter in dispute under the contract would be final and binding upon both parties. Although in terms the disputes clauses precluded judicial review of disputes decisions, this Court beginning in 1878 consistently held that the finality of a disputes decision could be challenged in court by either party on the ground of fraud or bad faith by the deciding Government official. Thus the "fraud" exception to the finality of disputes decisions was not written into disputes clauses but was judicially fashioned.
Over the years, the Court of Claims gradually broadened the fraud exception to the finality of disputes decisions. In 1951, however, this Court stopped the trend by holding that a disputes decision, rendered pursuant to a disputes clause purporting to make that decision final, was conclusive upon both parties unless the challenger proved in court that the deciding Government official was guilty of "conscious wrongdoing, an intention to cheat or be dishonest." United States v. Wunderlich, 342 U.S. 98, 100 (1951). Wunderlich's narrow definition of the fraud exception alarmed the Government as well as contractors, for, in practical effect, it meant that disputes decisions were virtually invulnerable to challenge.
The result of this concern was the so-called Wunderlich Act, drafted by GAO and supported by GAO, Government procurement agencies, and contractors. The Act overruled Wunderlich by directing that no disputes clause, purporting to make disputes decisions final, "shall
The Wunderlich Act, then, rendered the old forms of disputes clauses unserviceable, for no longer could the parties bind themselves to the finality of a disputes decision, judicially reviewable only if the challenger proved that it was fraudulent. Consequently, the disputes clause in the contract before us did not even attempt to provide for the finality of the Commission's disputes decisions, but instead expressly tracked the language of the Act. Under this disputes clause and the Act, the party dissatisfied with a disputes decision is no longer limited to challenging the finality of that decision only on the ground that it was "fraudulent," for the dissatisfied party is now entitled also to prove in court that the decision was "capricious," "arbitrary," "so grossly erroneous as necessarily to imply bad faith," "not supported by substantial evidence," or incorrect "on a question of law." In this case, the Government relied upon the last two grounds to challenge the finality of the Commission's disputes decision in favor of petitioner.
Yet the Court today holds that the Government has no right to defend petitioner's suit. Had the Commission's disputes decision been adverse to petitioner, of course, petitioner would have been free to challenge its finality in court, under the disputes clause and the Act, on the grounds that it was "not supported by substantial evidence" and was incorrect "on a question of law." The Court holds, however, that the Government may not challenge the finality of the disputes decision in favor of petitioner because the Government, under the disputes clause and the Act, has no right to judicial review of disputes decisions.
Today's decision is demonstrably wrong. The Court holds that Congress enacted the Wunderlich Act for the benefit of contractors, to arm them with grounds in addition to fraud to challenge in court the finality of disputes decisions unfavorable to them. Yet, without an iota of support in the language of the Act, which expressly governs "any" disputes decision in "any suit," or in the Act's legislative history, which confirms that the expanded grounds of judicial review were to be available to both the Government and contractors, the Court holds that the Government, unlike contractors, may not rely upon the Act to challenge in court the finality of disputes decisions. Indeed, the Court goes further, for, as noted, the disputes clause before us did not purport to make the Commission's disputes decisions final. The Court thus holds that the Act denies the Government the privilege of entering into a contract that affords it as well as the contractor the right to judicial review of disputes decisions. Hence, while the
Analysis of the judicial history of disputes clauses, both in this Court and in the Court of Claims, will unfortunately unduly extend the length of this opinion. But the devastation today's decision wreaks upon Government procurement practices is sufficient justification, and Congress should be alert to the urgent need for immediate remedial legislation. Congress alone can restore the former balance between Government and contractor, for today's decision not only holds that the Act's expanded scope of judicial review is available solely for contractors, but also holds that the Act, in some unspecified way, prohibits the contracting parties from agreeing to a disputes clause that affords the Government that same scope of review. Congress must therefore make more explicit what is already explicit in the Wunderlich Act, but this time in terms so plain that even this Court will be unable to thwart the congressional will.
The contract in Kihlberg v. United States, 97 U.S. 398 (1878), as the Court construed it, provided that the decision of a designated Government official would be "conclusive." The official rendered a decision adverse to the contractor, and the contractor brought suit. Because there was "neither allegation nor proof of fraud or bad faith" by the official, the Court held that his decision could not "be subjected to the revisory power of the courts without doing violence to the plain words of the contract." Id., at 401. The Court then enunciated the standard of judicial review that has been the
The very first case in this Court, then, laid down the rule that a decision rendered pursuant to a disputes clause was equally binding upon both parties; the contractor and the Government could impeach a disputes decision that the contract purported to make final, but only by proving that the decision was fraudulent. Until today, this Court never departed from the Kihlberg view that the same standard of judicial review is available to both parties.
Sweeney v. United States, 109 U.S. 618 (1883), reiterated the Kihlberg rule in another suit by a contractor dissatisfied with a disputes decision rendered by a Government official. Because "there was neither fraud, nor such gross mistake as would necessarily imply bad faith, nor any failure to exercise an honest judgment on the part of the officer," the Court held, "on the authority of Kihlberg v. United States," that the official's decision was conclusive. Id., at 620.
The Court next decided three cases involving contracts between private parties. In Martinsburg & Potomac R. Co. v. March, 114 U.S. 549 (1885), a contractor agreed to do certain work for a railroad company, and the contract provided that disputes would be decided by a company official whose decision would be "final and conclusive." Id., at 553. The official's decision was in favor of the company, and the contractor brought suit. The Court, stating that the "case is within the principles announced in Kihlberg v. United States and
The contract in Chicago, S. F. & C. R. Co. v. Price, 138 U.S. 185 (1891), was essentially the same as the contract in March. In Price, however, the official's disputes decision was in favor of the contractor. The company refused to pay in accordance with the decision, and the contractor brought suit. The Court first reviewed March and stressed that March had applied "the principles announced in Kihlberg v. United States and Sweeney v. United States." Id., at 193. The Court then pointed out that "[t]he only difference between that case [March] and the present one is that the alleged mistakes of the engineer in the former were favorable to the railroad company, while in this case they are favorable to the contractors." Id., at 194. "[T]hat difference," said the Court, "cannot affect the interpretation of the contract." Ibid. Because there was no proof of "fraud upon the part of the company's engineers, or such gross mistakes by them as imply bad faith," the Court held that the disputes decision was binding upon the company. Id., at 195.
Price thus established that the party whose employee was delegated authority to make the disputes decision could also challenge the finality of that decision, although, like the contractor, only under the Kihlberg test of fraud. The Court reaffirmed this application of the Kihlberg rule in Sheffield & Birmingham Coal, Iron & R. Co. v. Gordon, 151 U.S. 285 (1894), holding that
United States v. Gleason, 175 U.S. 588 (1900), involved a Government official's disputes decision adverse to the contractor. The Court again affirmed the rule of Kihlberg and the intervening cases
In United States v. Mason & Hanger Co., 260 U.S. 323 (1922), the contractor was paid in accordance with a disputes decision in his favor, but the Comptroller of the Treasury disagreed with the decision and subsequently deducted the amount paid from other sums due the contractor. Id., at 325. The contractor brought suit, relying upon the finality of the disputes decision. The Court's holding was direct and simple:
Mason & Hanger, then, applied the Kihlberg rule when the contractor in a Government contract relied upon the disputes decision by a Government official and the Government challenged it. Hence, both parties to a Government contract, like both parties to a private contract, as in Price and Gordon, were free to challenge the finality of a disputes decision, although only upon the limited grounds permissible under Kihlberg.
Mason & Hanger also held that "the Comptroller of the Treasury has no power" over a disputes decision, 260 U. S., at 326, meaning that his disagreement with the decision was irrelevant and had no effect in court, where the parties' rights under the contract were determined. The Government, like the contractor, could prevail only by proving that the disputes decision was fraudulent. The Comptroller's authority was limited to his power to refuse to sanction payment to the contractor, thereby forcing the contractor to bring suit for a judicial determination of his right to payment in accordance with the disputes decision in his favor.
In sum, the rule first announced in Kihlberg in 1878 had, with Mason & Hanger in 1922, been held to apply to any disputes decision, whether in a Government or in a private contract, and to apply no matter which party relied upon the finality of the decision. If the Government (or, in a private contract, the party whose official decided the dispute) relied upon the finality of the decision, the contractor had to prove that it was fraudulent. Kihlberg; Sweeney; March; Gleason. If
In United States v. Moorman, 338 U.S. 457 (1950), the Court once again gave extended consideration to the proper judicial interpretation of disputes clauses. The Court pointed out that "[c]ontractual provisions such as these have long been used by the Government. No congressional enactment condemns their creation or enforcement." Id., at 460. The Court then reviewed Kihlberg, Sweeney, and March, and said that "[t]he holdings of the foregoing cases have never been departed from by this Court. They stand for the principle that parties competent to make contracts are also competent to make such agreements." Id., at 461. The Court added that "[i]f parties competent to decide for themselves are to be deprived of the privilege of making such anticipatory provisions for settlement of disputes, this deprivation should come from the legislative branch of government." Id., at 462.
Finally, came United States v. Wunderlich, 342 U.S. 98 (1951). The contract contained the usual disputes clause providing that the disputes decision was "final and conclusive." Id., at 99. After noting that the
We thus have an unbroken line of cases in this Court, from 1878 to 1951, applying a simple, straightforward rule of judicial review. A contractual disputes clause making final a decision by an agent of one of the parties was given full effect in court, subject to the judicially created exception that allowed relief to the party challenging the decision if he was able to prove that it was fraudulent. This rule applied whether the contract was Government or private and no matter which party challenged the finality of the decision. In short, a disputes clause was equally binding upon both parties.
Most disputes clause cases, of course, have been decided not by this Court but by the Court of Claims. That court followed the Kihlberg rule when a contractor challenged a disputes decision against him, see, e. g., Kennedy v. United States, 24 Ct. Cl. 122 (1889); P. H. McLaughlin & Co. v. United States, 37 Ct. Cl. 150 (1902); Pacific Hardware Co. v. United States, 49 Ct. Cl. 327 (1914); Brinck v. United States, 53 Ct. Cl. 170 (1918); Southern Shipyard Corp. v. United States, 76 Ct. Cl. 468 (1932), as well as when the Government challenged a disputes decision in the contractor's favor.
In Yale & Towne Mfg. Co. v. United States, 58 Ct. Cl. 633 (1923), the disputes decision was in favor of the contractor, but the Government refused to pay because the Comptroller of the Treasury disagreed with the decision. The contractor argued "that the contract reposed in the contracting officer . . . the right to determine whether or not and the extent to which the contractor was entitled to extension of time, and that the finding of that officer was conclusive upon the parties in the absence of fraud or mistakes so gross as to imply bad faith." Id., at 637.
The court, noting "that a long line of decisions not only by this court but by the Supreme Court requires the sustaining of the [contractor's] contention," stated:
In Penn Bridge Co. v. United States, 59 Ct. Cl. 892 (1924), the disputes decision was in favor of the contractor, but the Comptroller General disagreed with the decision and deducted the amount from other sums due the contractor. The Court, referring to the Comptroller's attempt to "substitute his judgment for that of the contracting officer and thereby eliminate from the case the finding of the contracting officer when the rights of the parties are in this court for adjudication." id., at 898, stated that "action by the comptroller could [not] in any way conclude this court in the determination of the rights of the parties under the contract," id., at 896. The court then applied the Kihlberg rule. Id., at 897.
Penn Bridge, then, aside from reaffirming that the same rule of judicial review applied whether the Government or the contractor challenged the finality of a disputes decision, also demonstrates that GAO's view of the correctness of a disputes decision was of no effect in court. GAO's only power—the power of the purse—was to force the contractor to bring suit and thus to obtain judicial review for the Government. But once the case reached court, review was the same for both parties.
GAO's opinion of a disputes decision was irrelevant in court even when GAO favored the contractor. In
In Carroll v. United States, 76 Ct. Cl. 103 (1932), the Comptroller General disagreed with a disputes decision in favor of the contractor and assessed damages in a sum greater than the amount due under the contract. The contractor brought suit, and the Government argued that it was entitled to the excess. The court replied:
In Albina Marine Iron Works v. United States, 79 Ct. Cl. 714 (1934), the disputes decision was in the contractor's favor, but the Comptroller General disagreed and assessed damages. The court held that the disputes decision
After repeating that it could not review the disputes decision "without the establishment of fraud or such gross error which would imply bad faith," the court concluded:
In McShain Co. v. United States, 83 Ct. Cl. 405 (1936), the designated Government official decided that the contractor's delay in completing the contract was unavoidable. The Comptroller General later decided that part of the delay was the contractor's fault and deducted damages from the amount due under the contract. The contractor brought suit, relying upon the finality of the disputes decision. The court said:
In B-W Construction Co. v. United States, 97 Ct. Cl. 92 (1942), the Comptroller General deducted damages for delay after a disputes decision in the contractor's favor. The court held that because of the disputes clause "[i]t is . . . the action of the head of the department that is before us for review. On the question now before us that action is binding on us unless we find that it was arbitrary or grossly erroneous. In no event are we bound under this contract by the action of the Comptroller General." Id., at 123.
In Mitchell Canneries v. United States, 111 Ct. Cl. 228, 77 F.Supp. 498 (1948), the Comptroller General disagreed with a disputes decision in favor of the contractor and set off that amount against other sums due the contractor on other contracts. The court applied "[t]he established principle of law that the findings of fact of a contracting officer are binding upon both the Government and the contractor if there is no fraud, gross error or arbitrariness by the contracting officer amounting to bad faith." Id., at 247, 77 F. Supp., at 502.
These Court of Claims cases are further cogent authority that the Government was, until today, entitled to exactly the same judicial review as contractors. A disputes clause providing for a final decision by a Government
The district courts reached the identical result. In James Graham Mfg. Co. v. United States, 91 F.Supp. 715 (ND Cal. 1950), the Comptroller General refused to accept a disputes decision in favor of the contractor. Although the agency adhered to the merits of its decision, it refused to pay because of the Comptroller's contrary view. The court said:
The law was thus crystal clear. The district courts, the Court of Claims, and this Court consistently applied the rule, originally announced almost a century ago in Kihlberg, that contractual clauses providing for the finality of disputes decisions rendered by an employee of one of the parties were enforceable in court, with the judicially created exception for fraudulent decisions. No court, nor even any contractor, ever questioned that GAO could obtain judicial review for the Government simply by refusing to approve payment on a disputes
As the Court noted in United States v. Bianchi & Co., 373 U.S. 709, 713 (1963), under the Kihlberg rule a court's function "in matters governed by `disputes' clauses was in effect to give an extremely limited review of the administrative decision"; the Court of Claims, however, had "somewhat expanded" the scope of judicial review "over the years." See, e. g., Needles v. United States, 101 Ct. Cl. 535, 601-607 (1944). It was this expansion of the scope of judicial review that Wunderlich addressed.
Certiorari was granted in Wunderlich "to clarify the rule of this Court which created an exception to the conclusiveness of such administrative decision[s]." 342 U. S., at 99. The Court gave a restrictive interpretation to this exception.
Within a month after Wunderlich was decided, its restrictive scope of judicial review was applied against the Government. In Leeds & Northrup Co. v. United States, 101 F.Supp. 999 (ED Pa. 1951), the contractor, after a favorable disputes decision, was reimbursed for certain costs. Several years later, GAO reviewed that decision, disagreed with it, and set off the amount already paid from sums due the contractor on another contract. The contractor was therefore compelled to bring suit. The court first pointed out that GAO's power
After quoting extensively from James Graham, the court stated the rule of judicial review as follows:
See also Sunroc Refrigeration Co. v. United States, 104 F.Supp. 131 (ED Pa. 1952), which, following Leeds & Northrup, also applied the Wunderlich scope of review against the Government.
The Wunderlich opinion concluded, "If the standard of fraud that we adhere to is too limited, that is a matter for Congress." 342 U. S., at 100. Almost immediately after the decision was issued, congressional legislation was sought to expand the scope of judicial review limited by Wunderlich to "fraud" in a narrow sense. I have attached an Appendix detailing the legislative history and shall only summarize that history here.
Although several bills were introduced in the 82nd Congress, congressional attention focused upon S. 2487. In its original form, S. 2487 provided:
Wunderlich, of course, construed the standard disputes clause, which purported to make disputes decisions final, to limit judicial review to instances of fraudulent decisions. S. 2487, then, was simply an acceptance of the invitation extended in Wunderlich itself. S. 2487, however, did not specify what the scope of judicial review would be, but merely directed that judicial review could not be limited to fraud. Moreover, there was no indication in the language of S. 2487 that it was overruling
The Comptroller General's initial report of GAO's views on S. 2487 made that abundantly clear. The report criticized Wunderlich as contrary to the interests of both the Government and contractors. Indeed, as a representative of the Government, the Comptroller General stressed Wunderlich's undesirable impact upon the Government's interest, for administrative "officials can make just as arbitrary determinations in favor of contractors, at the expense of the taxpayers."
GAO then offered a substitute bill that it believed would protect the Government's interests. The bill provided that a disputes clause decision
GAO's substitute bill thus differed from S. 2487 in two respects. First, rather than merely reversing Wunderlich, it explicitly defined the expanded scope of review by specifying five grounds upon which a disputes decision could be set aside. Clearly this expanded review was to operate for both contractors and the Government, just as the "fraud" standard of review always had. It would be absurd to suppose that GAO defined the expanded scope of review only for contractors.
Second, GAO's substitute bill authorized GAO review in addition to judicial review. More precisely, it empowered GAO as well as the courts to set aside any disputes decision, whether favorable to the contractor or favorable to the Government. That was a significant expansion of S. 2487. GAO never previously was empowered to upset a disputes decision. Rather, GAO authority was always limited to refusing to sanction payment on a decision favorable to a contractor, thereby forcing him into court. At that point, of course, GAO's view of the merits of the disputes decision was irrelevant. Consequently, GAO's substitute bill, if enacted, would have increased GAO's power enormously, for it effectively authorized GAO to oust the courts of all jurisdiction to review disputes decisions that GAO considered unacceptable. Not surprisingly, this part of GAO's proposal became highly controversial.
Extended hearings on S. 2487 were held in the Senate. Although most of the witnesses and statements concerned themselves solely with urging expanded judicial review for contractors, without adverting to such review for the Government, there were notable exceptions. The Associated General Contractors took the position that judicial review must be available to both parties, as did
An amended S. 2487 was reported out of Committee following the hearings.
Thus, amended S. 2487, like the bill in its original form, contained an explicit reversal of the Wunderlich standard of judicial review. Like the original bill, moreover, amended S. 2487 gave not the slightest indication that it was a command solely to the Government not to "plead" the disputes clause as limiting the contractor's right to judicial review. Amended S. 2487 plainly directed
Amended S. 2487, however, went beyond the original bill by incorporating GAO's substitute bill:
Thus, amended S. 2487 reversed Wunderlich, adopted GAO's definition of the expanded scope of review, and authorized GAO as well as the courts to apply that expanded review and set aside any disputes decisions.
The Committee Report on amended S. 2487 expressly noted "that to the same extent [the Wunderlich] decision would operate to the disadvantage of an aggrieved contractor, it would also operate to the disadvantage of the Government in those cases, as sometimes happens, when the contracting officer makes a decision detrimental to the Government interest in the claim."
The report then explained that the addition of GAO's proposal meant that amended S. 2487 would
Thus, the expanded scope of review, explicitly defined, would be available to both parties before either GAO or a court. In short, amended S. 2487 empowered a court to set aside a disputes decision at the behest of either the Government or the contractor, and, likewise, it empowered GAO to set aside a decision challenged by either party. Although the report asserted that amended S. 2487 was intended "simply to recognize the jurisdiction which the General Accounting Office already has,"
Although the Senate passed amended S. 2487, the 82d Congress expired without House action. When it was re-introduced in the Senate of the 83d Congress,
Amended S. 2487 was also introduced in the House of the 83d Congress.
Understanding the precise nature of this objection is important. No one suggested that amended S. 2487
The Comptroller General bowed to this opposition. Stating (erroneously, I think) that GAO "has not asked for authority which it did not have before the decision in the Wunderlich case," he offered another substitute bill deleting the objectionable provision. He asserted that "this substitute language will accomplish what we have been striving for all along and will place the General Accounting Office in precisely the same situation it was in before" Wunderlich.
The hearings resumed in January 1954. In urging passage of GAO's revised substitute bill, GAO's General Counsel stated that, despite deletion of the provision for binding GAO review, the bill would not only protect contractors but would also protect the Government "against decisions adverse to the interests of the United States. Certainly the rights of contract[ors] and the Government to review or appeal should be coextensive."
Many witnesses who opposed GAO's original substitute bill, and thus opposed amended S. 2487, now supported GAO's revised substitute bill because it made clear that the power to set aside disputes decisions was vested exclusively in the courts and not shared by the courts with GAO. There was no suggestion from anyone that deletion of GAO from amended S. 2487 also had the effect of precluding the Government from obtaining judicial review under the standards available to contractors. Any
The Act expanded the scope of judicial review, and that was all it did. The Committee report made that plain. "The committee foresees no possibility of the proposed legislation creating any new rights that a contractor may not have had prior to its enactment, with the exception of the standards of review therein prescribed."
The Senate originally passed amended S. 2487 upon the clear understanding that the expanded scope of judicial review it contained would be available to both the
The text of the Act is its own witness to the congressional purpose. It provides that no clause in a Government contract purporting to make final an administrative determination of a dispute arising under the contract "shall be pleaded in any suit . . . as limiting judicial review." The proviso then defines the applicable scope of review.
It is impossible to read the plain words of this statute as directing that judicial review is available only for disputes decisions unfavorable to contractors. Indeed, the language is so clear that there should be no need to search through the legislative history for a contrary meaning.
First. The bill that became the Wunderlich Act was a Government bill. As the Committee report said, the Act, with a minor exception, "is exactly the same legislation suggested by the Comptroller General."
Second. That absurdity is compounded by the consequences that result from interpreting the Act to deny
So far as I can penetrate the Court's opinion, its primary premise is exposed by such sentences as these: "The purpose of avoiding `vexatious litigation' would
The Court's bête noire, then, is primarily the General Accounting Office, with a sideswipe at the Department of Justice. We are left to infer, I gather, that Congress shared the Court's distaste for the activities of those agencies in these cases and enacted the Wunderlich Act, not only to arm contractors with expanded grounds of judicial review of disputes decisions favorable to the Government, but also, by the device of denying judicial review to the Government, to abolish the authority of GAO to disapprove payments to contractors under disputes decisions, thus forcing contractors to sue, and, by that device, to relieve the Department of Justice of any suits
First. The notion that Congress enacted the Wunderlich Act to abolish the authority of GAO and the Department of Justice is completely a figment of the Court's own imagination. As the judicial history shows, both agencies have exercised for decades powers identical to those exercised in this case, with no prior complaints that I can discover and with complete congressional approval. I need only quote from the Committee report that accompanied the bill that is now the Wunderlich Act.
The report then quoted from the Comptroller General's letter, in which he said that GAO "has not asked for authority which it did not have before the decision in the Wunderlich case," and in which he quoted from the Senate Committee's report on amended S. 2487:
Second. The case law detailed earlier in this opinion, including Eaton, Brown & Simpson, Inc. v. United States, 62 Ct. Cl. 668 (1926), in which GAO disagreed with a disputes decision in favor of the Government and paid the contractor, establishes without question that GAO has no power to overturn a disputes decision. The limit of its authority is to refuse to sanction payment to the contractor and thus force him to bring suit. The judicial precedents in this Court, the Court of Claims, and the district
Third. Similarly, the Court states, in response to the Government's nonexistent contention that the Department of Justice has "the power to overturn decisions of coordinate offices of the Executive Department," id., at 12, "That power [of the Department of Justice to defend suits against the United States] is pervasive but it does not appear how under the Wunderlich Act it gives the Department of Justice the right to appeal from a decision of the Atomic Energy Commission," id., at 12-13 (emphasis added). See also id., at 13: "The power to appeal to the Court of Claims a decision of the federal agency under a disputes clause in a contract which the agency is authorized to make is not to be found in the Wunderlich Act and its underlying legislative history." (Emphasis added.) No one suggests that the Department of Justice has a "right to appeal." It is involved in this case only because GAO's refusal to sanction payment forced petitioner to sue the United States, thus creating a lawsuit that the Department of Justice, as the Government's lawyer, had a duty to defend. It would be strange if the Department had a duty to confess judgment.
In support of its construction of the Act, the Court
Contractor witnesses at the committee hearings asserted that contractors would have to inflate their bids if they could attack a disputes decision only on the ground that it was fraudulent. As the Court says, the Act resolved this problem by expanding the scope of judicial review, so that contractors can attack a disputes decision on grounds in addition to fraud. That was the protection Congress gave contractors so that they would not have to inflate their bids.
After recognizing this, the Court says that because contractors got expanded judicial review to prevent the necessity of inflating bids, they also got the benefit of not having decisions in their favor subject to judicial review at all, since otherwise the objective of preventing inflated bids "would be ill-served." It would be difficult to imagine a more obvious non sequitur. The Court could as easily say that "[t]his objective would be ill served" if the contractors ever lost a disputes decision.
I might add that the Court does not say that the "objective would be ill served" if favorable contractor decisions were subject to judicial review; it says that the "objective would be ill served" if contractors "had also to run the gantlet of the General Accounting Office and the Department of Justice." Yet what the Court means, of course, is judicial review, for neither GAO nor
The Court is forced to go to extreme lengths to assert that the Government still may have relief for fraud. That is because the Court concedes, as it must, that its construction of the Act denying the Government judicial review forecloses review of disputes decisions that are "fraudulent," just as it forecloses judicial review of decisions that are "arbitrary," "capricious," "grossly erroneous," or "not supported by substantial evidence." The Court's attempted escape is to suggest that the Government may have relief for fraud under the statutes in which "Congress has made elaborate provisions for dealing with fraudulent claims of contractors." Id., at 16. Apart from the absence of any explanation why, if statutory remedies were always available, this Court found it necessary to fashion, for Government and contractor alike, a judicial exception to the finality of disputes decisions, the point is frivolous.
The "fraud" that is an issue in a disputes clause case is not contractor fraud. Not one case construing a disputes clause, from 1878 to the present day, ever mentions "fraud" by the contractor. Nor has anyone ever suggested
The time-tested standards of statutory construction require interpretation of the statutory wording to effect the congressional purpose as revealed by legislative history. The Court totally discards those standards in construing the Wunderlich Act. Instead, the Court purports to discover a nonexistent hostility of Congress toward the "intermeddling," id., at 19, of GAO and the Department of Justice in the disputes process and for that reason a congressional purpose to prevent the subjection of "citizens . . . to additional bureaucratic oversight," id., at 14. The virtually century-long judicial history that forms the background of the Act, its explicit language, and its clear legislative history completely refute the proposition. I dissent and would affirm the judgment of the Court of Claims.
APPENDIX TO OPINION OF BRENNAN, J., DISSENTING
Within two months after the decision in United States v. Wunderlich, 342 U.S. 98 (1951), six bills to expand the scope of judicial review of agency disputes decisions were introduced. S. 2432 (Sen. Chavez); S. 2487 (Sen. McCarran); H. R. 6214 (Rep. Celler); H. R. 6301 (Rep. Springer); H. R. 6338 (Rep. Wilson); H. R. 6404 (Rep. Walter). Hearings were held in the Senate on S. 2487. Hearings on S. 2487 before a Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, 82d Cong., 2d Sess. (1952). S. 2487 provided:
The Comptroller General's report to the Judiciary Committee, setting forth GAO's views on S. 2487, stated that GAO felt that the result of the Wunderlich decision was "undesirable both as to the contractor's interests and the interests of the Government." Id., at 5-6. The Comptroller General stressed the latter interest.
The report concluded that GAO considered S. 2487
The report recommended a substitute bill, which provided that
Frank L. Yates, the Assistant Comptroller General, expanded on the report in his testimony before the Subcommittee. He asserted that prior to Wunderlich disputes clause decisions on questions of fact arising under Government contracts "were not disturbed by the General Accounting Office or the courts unless the action of the administrative officer was fraudulent, arbitrary, capricious, grossly erroneous, or without foundation in fact."
The managing director of the Associated General Contractors, H. E. Foreman, testified that the construction industry had for many years attempted without success to secure changes in the standard disputes clause. The
Most of the witnesses and most of the submitted statements, however, were concerned only with protecting contractors. E. g., id., at 2-3, 62, 70-75, 85-87, 119-136. A few witnesses went even further. Robert E. Kline, Jr., an attorney representing the National Association of River and Harbors Contractors, proposed amendments to S. 2487 designed "to assure full restoration to Government contractors of their inherent right to judicial review of unjust decisions by Government contracting officers and department heads." Id., at 58. These amendments specifically limited the legislation to contractors' suits in which a court would "enter judgment against the United States." Id., at 59. Alan Johnstone, an attorney representing a contractor, initially suggested that the legislation
In contrast, the Associated General Contractors, adhering to the position its representatives had taken at the hearings, submitted a resolution adopted at its annual convention stating that any disputes decision "should be subject to judicial review, in order to guarantee that such decision is reasonable, made with due regard to the rights of both the contracting parties, and supported by the evidence upon which such decision was based," and urging legislation that would provide "that any provision in any contract with the United States abridging the rights of the parties thereto to court review shall be null and void." Id., at 114.
After the hearings concluded, the Comptroller General sent the Committee a copy of his report to the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee dealing with the House bills. Id., at 116-119. This report reiterated many of the comments made in the Comptroller General's earlier report to the Senate Committee. The report
S. 2487 was reported out in amended form, incorporating the substance of GAO's proposal. As amended, S. 2487 provided
The Committee report stated that "[t]he purpose of the proposed legislation is to overcome the inequitable effect, under a recent Supreme Court decision, of language in Government contracts which makes the decision of the contracting officer or the head of the agency final with respect to questions of fact." Ibid. The report pointed out "that to the same extent [the Wunderlich] decision
Finally, the report stressed that amended S. 2487 was "not intended to narrow or restrict or change in any way the present jurisdiction of the General Accounting Office. . . but simply to recognize the jurisdiction which the General Accounting Office already has." Id., at 2-3.
Although the Senate, without debate, passed amended S. 2487, 98 Cong. Rec. 7783-7784; id., at 9059, the House did not act upon it during the 82d Congress. It was reintroduced in the Senate of the 83d Congress as S. 24. The Committee report was, with formal changes, identical to the report on amended S. 2487. S. Rep. No. 32, 83d Cong., 1st Sess. (1953). Senator McCarran, the bill's sponsor, explained on the floor that the effect of the Wunderlich decision was to require "that the aggrieved party allege and prove that some Government employee deliberately cheated, or intended to defraud
Later the same day, however, Senator McCarran stated that the Air Force "objected to the fact that the bill gave the Comptroller General the same right that was given to a contractor to question a decision of a contracting officer." Id., at 4598. He also stated that "the Comptroller General feels that in order to protect the interests of the Government, it is necessary that he shall have as much right to question the decision of a contracting officer . . . as may be given to the private party to the contract." Id., at 4599. When S. 24 reached the floor a month later, Senator McCarran again emphasized that while the Wunderlich decision could "operate greatly to the disadvantage of contractors," it could also "operate to the disadvantage of the Government." Id., at 6170. The Senate then passed the bill. Id., at 6201.
Representative Reed introduced amended S. 2487 in the House as H. R. 1839, and hearings were held on it and two related bills, H. R. 3634 (Rep. Celler) and H. R. 6946 (Rep. Willis). Hearings on H. R. 1839 et al. before Subcommittee No. 1 of the House Committee on
At the initial hearing in July 1953, all witnesses supported the bill. Elwyn L. Simmons, a contractor, asserted that, because of "incompetent or negligent or capricious agency representative[s]," the Wunderlich decision could "work as readily against the Government's interests as against that of the contractor" and that "only your immediate legislative action through enactment of H. R. 1839 or S. 24 can now protect both the Government and the contractor from this . . . unprecedented situation." Id., at 4. Referring to the Senate debates on S. 24, Mr. Simmons noted
George P. Leonard, an officer of the Wunderlich Contracting Co., testified that because of Wunderlich "neither the Government through the GAO, nor the contractors through the courts, have any right to appeal from contracting officers' decisions even though they may be grossly erroneous." Id., at 7. He added that he saw "no reason why anybody should object to either the General Accounting Office or the courts passing on these decisions of the contracting officers." Id., at 8.
Harry D. Ruddiman, who argued for Wunderlich before the Supreme Court, submitted a prepared statement asserting that unless H. R. 1839 was enacted, "not only the contractor but also the Government, will be unable to obtain effective judicial review of contracting officers' decisions." In his view, H. R. 1839 "would restore to
Representative Graham, a committee member, replied that it was "needless to refer to" GAO anyway. Ibid. Mr. Ruddiman, however, adhered to his view in a letter to the Subcommittee the following day.
Alan Johnston, the final witness of the day, likewise
Opposition to H. R. 1839 was also becoming apparent. Among the letters sent to the Committee, id., at 22-30, all calling for legislation to protect the rights of contractors, was one urging deletion of the reference to GAO because "[t]he effect of the provision is to set up the General Accounting Office as a 'court of claims.' . . . [A]n agency of the legislative branch . . . should not be used to perform functions intended for the judicial branch." Id., at 26.
Shortly before the hearings resumed in January 1954, the Comptroller General wrote the Chairman of the Committee about H. R. 1839. He noted that "there was considerable opposition to the bill from some quarters . . . on the basis . . . that the General Accounting Office should not be given express authority by statute to review and overrule the determinations of administrative officials." Id., at 135. He responded that GAO "has not asked for authority which it did not have before the decision in the Wunderlich case," and he referred to the statement in the Senate reports that the bill would not affect GAO's jurisdiction. Nevertheless, he then presented a substitute bill, to which he said there would be little or no opposition by industry groups and administrative agencies. He stated that "this substitute language will accomplish what we have been striving for all along and will place the General Accounting Office in
With the addition of the words "in any suit now filed or to be filed," added to deal with retroactivity problems, see, e. g., id., at 48, 82, GAO's bill eventually was enacted as the Wunderlich Act.
In commenting upon GAO's bill, E. L. Fisher, GAO's general counsel, reiterated much of the testimony of the Assistant Comptroller General, Mr. Yates, at the Senate hearing. Mr. Fisher, as had Mr. Yates, stressed that the Wunderlich "rule works both ways. A deciding administrative official can make decisions adverse to the Government as well as to contractors." Id., at 38. Mr. Fisher, in language virtually identical to that earlier used by Mr. Yates, urged passage of either H. R. 1839 or GAO's proposed substitute because they
The associate general counsel of the General Services Administration, J. H. Macomber, Jr., similarly emphasized the need to protect the Government's interests, stating "that there should be some provision in the legislation, if not an explicit provision at least by appropriate wording with respect to the judicial review portion, that will insure an opportunity to protect the Government against excessive generosity, against decisions of the contracting officer adverse to the Government." Id., at 59. Mr. Macomber suggested that
Mr. Simmons, a contractor who had supported H. R. 1839 at the initial hearing, appeared again to support GAO's substitute bill on the ground that it "was prepared to meet objections of certain industries against giving the General Accounting Office express statutory authority to review administrative decisions under the disputes
Many other witnesses supported GAO's substitute bill on essentially the same grounds. E. g., id., at 52-56, 77-88, 91-95, 101-104, 123-124. Louis F. Dahling, associate counsel for the Automobile Manufacturers Association, asserted that H. R. 1839 would "make the General Accounting Office another Court of Claims" and thus deprive contractors of their day in court.
Mr. Dahling therefore supported GAO's bill because it did "not grant judicial power to the General Accounting Office." Id., at 98. Charles Maechling, Jr., a representative of the Radio-Electronics-Television Manufacturers Association, echoed this view.
Opposition to H. R. 1839, then, was premised on the fear that its reference to GAO might deprive contractors of any recourse to the courts. That judicial review was the contractors' sole concern is also clear from the position taken by the Associated General Contractors, id., at 61-75, which supported H. R. 1839 on the ground that it would restore to contractors "the fundamental right of judicial review of disputes arising under Government contracts." Id., at 62.
That deletion of the reference to GAO was not understood as denying judicial review to the Government becomes evident from an examination of Representative Willis' testimony about his bill. H. R. 6946, which was identical to H. R. 1839 except that it omitted the words "the General Accounting Office or." Id., at 31. He testified
This testimony is significant also in light of the later testimony of Franklin M. Schultz, a former law professor who had written about the problems created by the Wunderlich decision. Mr. Schultz expressed concern that GAO's substitute bill did "not say specifically that an appeal can be taken by an aggrieved contractor." A committee member then asked whether the language of GAO's bill did "not necessarily include both parties." Id., at 110. The following colloquy ensued:
Mr. Schultz went on to say, what was implicit in the above colloquy, that his objection was not to judicial
The Subcommittee was presented with, but took no action upon, a bill proposed by the American Bar Association that would have expressly limited the right of judicial review to contractors. Id., at 89. Instead, the Committee reported out the bill that is now the Wunderlich Act. H. R. Rep. No. 1380, 83d Cong., 2d Sess. (1954). The report stated:
The report also discussed the effect of the legislation on GAO, in much the same terms as had the prior Senate reports.
Representative Graham stated on the floor of the House that the Comptroller General had approved the bill, and the House passed it without debate. 100 Cong. Rec. 5510. When the bill came to the Senate, Senator McCarran explained that
After Senator McCarran further assured the Senate that GAO was "satisfied with the language in the House bill" and that "otherwise [he] would not care to go along," ibid., a final colloquy occurred:
The Senate then passed the bill. Ibid.
"No provision of any contract entered into by the United States, relating to the finality or conclusiveness of any decision of the head of any department or agency or his duly authorized representative or board in a dispute involving a question arising under such contract, shall be pleaded in any suit now filed or to be filed as limiting judicial review of any such decision to cases where fraud by such official or his said representative or board is alleged: Provided, however, That any such decision shall be final and conclusive unless the same is fraudulent or capricious or arbitrary or so grossly erroneous as necessarily to imply bad faith, or is not supported by substantial evidence." 41 U. S. C. § 321.
"No Government contract shall contain a provision making final on a question of law the decision of any administrative official, representative, or board." 41 U. S. C. § 322.
"(a) Except as otherwise provided in this contract, any dispute concerning a question of fact arising under this contract which is not disposed of by agreement shall be decided by the Contracting Officer, who shall reduce his decision to writing and mail or otherwise furnish a copy thereof to the Contractor. The decision of the Contracting Officer shall be final and conclusive unless, within 30 days from the date of receipt of such copy, the Contractor mails or otherwise furnishes to the Contracting Officer a written appeal addressed to the Commission. The decision of the Commission or its duly authorized representative for the determination of such appeals shall be final and conclusive unless determined by a court of competent jurisdiction to have been fraudulent, or capricious, or arbitrary, or so grossly erroneous as necessarily to imply bad faith, or not supported by substantial evidence. In connection with any appeal proceeding under this clause, the Contractor shall be afforded an opportunity to be heard and to offer evidence in support of its appeal. Pending final decision of a dispute hereunder, the Contractor shall proceed diligently with the performance of the contract and in accordance with the Contracting Officer's decision.
"(b) This `Disputes' Clause does not preclude consideration of law questions in connection with decisions provided for in paragraph (a) above; Provided, that nothing in this contract shall be construed as making final the decision of any administrative official representative, or board on a question of law."
"The liability of certifying officers or employees shall be enforced in the same manner and to the same extent as now provided by law with respect to enforcement of the liability of disbursing and other accountable officers; and they shall have the right to apply for and obtain a decision by the Comptroller General on any question of law involved in a payment on any vouchers presented to them for certification."
If the Comptroller General has the broad, roving, investigatory powers that are asserted, specific statutory grants of authority such as this provision relating to kickbacks would be superfluous.
The reason is the caveat of Mr. Justice Holmes, "We do not inquire what the legislature meant; we ask only what the statute means." The Theory of Legal Interpretation, 12 Harv. L. Rev. 417, 419.
In a similar vein, the Senate Report on the Senate version of the Wunderlich Act stated, "The impact of this decision on the many business firms who, in a condition of expanding production with respect to the defense of the United States, must deal with many of the Government departments in Government construction and defense materials, was one that could only cause great expense to the United States in that the contractors would be forced to puff up their bids so as to be sure of sufficient funds to provide for unforeseen contingencies." S. Rep. No. 32, 83d Cong., 1st Sess., 2.
"When a dispute arises between a contractor and the Government, the `disputes' clause sets out clearly the procedure to be followed. First, the parties may voluntarily settle the dispute. If they do, that is the end of the matter. If no settlement is reached, the disputed matters are decided by the agency's contracting officer. If the contractor does not appeal to the agency from the contracting officer's decision within the prescribed time, that, again, is the end of the matter. If, however, the contractor does appeal to the agency, then, according to the court, a decision rendered by the agency or its board favorable to the contractor is not the end of the matter; the agency is free at any time to disavow or repudiate its own decision, thereby forcing the contractor to sue. The anomaly created by the court's decision is too obvious to need elaboration. While an agency will still be bound by the decisions of its contracting officers, it will not be bound by decisions made at the highest level." 193 Ct. Cl. 335, 379-380, 433 F.2d 1373, 1397-1398. (Footnotes omitted.)
The Court also says, id., at 11, that in James Graham "summary judgment was entered by the court, which said, `Since the Navy Department has determined that plaintiff contractor is entitled to the payment sought, this Court must adjudge accordingly.' " The Court omits to quote the immediately preceding sentence in the James Graham opinion: "And the Navy Department's decision that these particular dues and contributions are reimbursable is not arbitrary or unconscionable." 91 F. Supp., at 717 (emphasis added). Thus, again, the District Court was referring to the disputes decision, and not, as the Court today would have it, to "fraud or overreaching" by the contractor.
In the same vein, the concurring opinion asserts that there is "a possible breach of contract" in this case: "When the United States then disavows the Commission's decision—a decision which as the Court notes, to this day has never been withdrawn or repudiated by the AEC—it seems to me that the Government imposes something to which the contractor has not agreed." Ante, at 21, 22. The concurring opinion, however, does not say how the Government's "disavowal" violated the contract.
"We should allow the Court of Claims, the agency close to these disputes, to reverse an official whose conduct is plainly out of bounds whether he is fraudulent, perverse, captious, incompetent, or just palpably wrong." United States v. Wunderlich, supra, at 102 (dissenting opinion) (emphasis added).