How Long is Too Long – Government Extensions of Federal Contracts

by Barbara Kinosky, Managing Partner

  • FAR

Your team is waiting for the recompete to come out for a contract you have been tracking for years.  However, the solicitation is still not out, and the incumbent’s current contract keeps getting extended beyond the four option years in the contract.  You call me and ask how this could possibly happen.

Well… the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) sets five-year limits on government contracts, but those limits are not absolute limits on the duration of contract performance.   

The FAR contains three exceptions to these time limits: 

  • FAR 17.204(e) allows for longer contracts, if approved in accordance with agency procedures;  
  • FAR 17.204(e) also exempts information technology (IT) contracts from these limits; and  
  • FAR 17.208(f) allows for the use of a clause (52.217-9) which gives the Government the option of extending services up to six months 

The clause at FAR 52.217-9 allows the government to extent a contract for six months at the current rates provided that the government gives the contractor notice (usually 60 days) of its intent to extend the contract. As a side note, the government’s exercise of an option must be done exactly within the terms of that option.  Any attempt by the government to alter terms or conditions of the option can render the option exercise invalid.  

Now let’s pivot to bridge contracts. Once the contracting officer has exercised all options and extensions to the contract then if the solicitation is still not out, the contracting officer can award a bridge contract to the incumbent. The FAR at 16. 191 states that contracting officers shall only use a bridge contract when it is not possible to award the planned follow-on contract in sufficient time to meet the Government’s requirements.  The contracting officer must do a formal justification and approval.  We see bridge contracts done all the time. What is the longest length of time you have seen a bridge contract awarded along with extensions to the bridge contract?