With its 15 large binders and supplemental Statutory Pamphlets, Government Contracts: Law, Administration and Procedure is all outward intimidation, just like a curmudgeonly law professor. This resource occupies shelf space with the confident awareness that the annotations and rules of law within each volume can unlock the secrets of contracting with the U.S. Government – “the greatest purchaser of goods and services the world has ever seen.”
Locating Government Contracts
I need those secrets, because I work for a company whose largest customer is the U.S. Government. A quick keyword search of “government contracts” on the Charlotte Law Library catalog provides the necessary call number: KF849.M25. I approach the treatise section tentatively, reading the call numbers on the ends of the rolling shelves, until I come to the 2nd or 3rd shelf from the parking lot-facing windows. I make a right (or left) turn when I see “Contracts” on the label at the end of the shelf and quickly spy the run of black binders with Government Contracts stamped in gold on the spines.
Accessing the Information in the Treatise – How the Treatise Is Organized
The way to handle a cranky law professor is directly, putting forward what knowledge you have, but admitting what you don’t know – bravado with some humility. I take volume 1, volume 11 marked “forms,” and the “Tables” and “Index” volumes, and head over to a table with my arms full. I begin reading volume 1. Though large, the binders are not overfilled, and the print is a comfortable size to read. This makes the resource feel more accessible, and I start to feel more comfortable with it.
I soon discover that this crusty law professor of a resource gives up its secrets readily, if you just spend some unhurried time with it and ask reasonably good questions. For instance, upon opening volume 1, I notice sturdy, clearly marked tabs separating hole-punched pages neatly filed in the 3-ring binder. So, this is the elusive looseleaf!
John Cosgrove McBride and Isidore H. Wachtel originally authored Government Contracts, although today Walter Wilson is the general editor. A subscription to the treatise costs $2200 annually, a bargain compared to Westlaw or LexisNexis. Government Contracts consists of 53 chapters in sixteen (16) volumes “providing in-depth information on every aspect of the government contracting process.” Each volume has a general table of contents covering the chapters in that volume. I feel the need for a comprehensive TOC so I can understand the span of topics covered in the 53 chapters, but there is not one. Though, there is a 25 page table of acronyms included at the beginning of each volume – this is government contracting, after all.
The first page of volume 1 is a brief publication update pamphlet, dated November 2012, with a “highlights” section that summarizes in bullet points what is new in the release. This is promising. I take the time to flip through several of these update pamphlets dated August 2012, May 2012 and March 2012, each accompanied by filing instructions that direct the library staff member to remove pages and file new ones. Beneath these, I finally reach the title page and table of contents; both are easy to miss since neither is signaled with a tab of its own.
The title page introduces another subtitle for the treatise: Cyclopedic Guide to Law, Administration and Procedure. This is then followed by a table of contents, organized by chapter and section number for the first four (4) chapters of the treatise. There is also an introduction and a handy “How to Use this Publication” section, where I learn that Government Contracts is published four (4) times a year by LexisNexis. (That jibes with the dates I saw on the update pamphlets.) A practitioner could easily read a newly arrived update pamphlet with a cup of coffee for a quick overview of changes in this area of law. There are no update pamphlets outside volume 1, so when the user opens the other volumes, the title page and TOC are quickly accessible. Additionally, preceding Chapter 1, new issues in the law of government contracts, such as the CIA’s procurement of goods and services, are discussed in the “Recent Developments Newsletter,” which is organized by chapter number to correspond with the chapters of the treatise.
Volume 11 contains forms, some useful, some not. The first section contains sample government forms; surely, these are available online, but those URLs are not provided here. Volume 11 also contains a large collection of sample documents (pleadings, motions, answers, interrogatories) for use in litigation before the Board of Contract Appeals.
The Tables volume, marked with a gold diamond on its spine, contains:
- Table of Acronyms
- Table of Opinions of the Comptroller General
- Table of Cases – Federal Courts (organized alphabetically by case name with references to appropriate chapters and sections in the treatise)
- Table of Statutes (U.S.C title and section: treatise sections affected)
- Table of Regulations (C.F.R title and section: treatise sections affected)
There is no Popular Name Table for statutory references, though the Index volume contains references to popular statute names. To help a user locate the treatise sections affected by a particular statute or regulation, the Tables volume references the relevant chapters (found on the volume spines) and sections.
Complementing the binders is a softcover book called the “Statutory Pamphlet” that contains the full text of selected federal statutes pertaining to government contracts. This resource contains a table of contents organized by U.S.C title, chapter and section, as well as an index. Although the “Statutory Pamphlet” appears like an afterthought, tagging along after the binders, it is a thoughtful addition to Government Contracts, saving the researcher time and expense by providing the relevant statutes in a manageable, handy format.
Accessing the Substantive Law in the Treatise
Feeling far less intimidated, I decide to delve into the substantive material of the treatise. The November 2012 update pamphlet tells me that “Chapter 32 – Damages” has been updated and the index, revised. I do not know which volume contains Chapter 32, so I cannot go directly it. But, I can consult the Index volume and look up the search term “damages”. Upon doing this, boldface type refers me to volume 4A:32. I locate volume 4A and open to the table of contents, which provides a browseable synopsis of the sections for each chapter in the volume. Using the handy divider tab signaling the beginning of Chapter 32, I flip to it and begin reading. I am delighted by the engaging prose – really. I love a professor who doesn’t hide the bacon. Government Contracts provides clear, basic definitions of legal terms as a hornbook does, then provides references to authority (i.e. case law, statutes, regulations, and opinions and decisions by the Board of Contract Appeals) specific to the application of government contracting. Additionally, history, practice tips and interesting anecdotes are interwoven among the annotations.
This old school professor has a wealth of knowledge and experience and shares readily!
P.S. Much of the law of government contracts is codified in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR). Practitioners keep this large softcover volume – the size of an unabridged dictionary or a bible – on their desks. Two practitioners with whom I work, a General Counsel and Director of Subcontracts have recommended the online version of the FAR maintained by Hill Air Force Base. This online version looks amateurish, but has a browseable, hyperlinked table of contents and keyword search capability. Click here to perform a search of the FAR, using the phrase “deadly force” to learn that government contractors are authorized to use deadly force only in self-defense.
~ Barbara Meskill, Class of 2015 ~