Last Updated Jun 17, 2010 1:38 PM EDT
Federal contracts typically require a vendor like Oracle to give the government its best price. If another customer gets a lower price, the government is supposed to receive the same deal. According to the InfoWorld story, Oracle had a so-called multiple award schedule (MAS) contract with the U.S. General Services Administration. What triggered the whole issue was a 2007 action filed by Paul Frascella, an Oracle employee and whistleblower:
However, Frascella learned that Oracle was finding ways around the GSA restrictions in order to give commercial customers even deeper discounts, according to the complaints. One alleged practice saw Oracle "selling to a reseller at a deep discount ... and having the reseller sell the product to the end user at a price below the written maximum allowable discounts," it states. Overall, Oracle's actions cost U.S. taxpayers "tens of millions of dollars," it adds.Frascella filed under the False Claims Act, which allows people to sue companies on behalf of the government over charges of fraud.
The potential pain for Oracle is significant. Last fall, I spoke with Gail Zirkelbach, a partner with McKenna Long & Aldridge and an expert in government contract issues. If a company knows of a federal pricing problem, it could face treble damages for the overcharge as well as statutory penalties of between $5,500 and $11,000 for each false claim, which translates into each invoice.
But there's a bigger problem for Oracle. Zirkelbach said a company that lands on the wrong side of a false claims action can face suspension from contracts or even disbarment, making it illegible for future contracts. That's a much bigger potential loss than even triple damages for what may have happened before.
Image: Flickr user Cosmic Kitty, CC 2.0.