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Proposed Rule

Procedures Relating to Awards Under the Equal Access to Justice Act

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AGENCY:

Office of the Secretary, USDA.

ACTION:

Proposed rule.

SUMMARY:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) proposes to amend its regulations implementing the Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”). The proposed amendments incorporate modifications enacted in the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996.

DATES:

In order to be considered, comments should be submitted by May 20, 2002.

ADDRESSES:

Comments should be directed to Barbara Good, Attorney Advisor, Room 3311 South Building, Office of the General Counsel, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 14th and Independence Avenue, SW., Washington, DC 20250-1400.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Barbara S. Good, Attorney Advisor, Room 3311 South Building, Office of the General Counsel, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 14th and Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20250-1415; telephone (202) 720-8045.

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

In the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996 (“SBREFA”), Pub. L. No. 104-121, Title II, Mar. 29, 1996, 100 Stat. 857 to 874, Congress amended EAJA in two significant respects with regard to administrative proceedings.

First, Congress amended 5 U.S.C. 504(a) by adding a new basis for recovery under EAJA. Under prior law, only a “prevailing party” other than the United States in an adversary adjudication before an agency was eligible for recovery of fees and expenses. 5 U.S.C. 504(a)(1). Pursuant to new paragraph (a)(4), a party to an adversary adjudication arising from an agency action to enforce the party's compliance with a statutory or regulatory requirement may be entitled to reimbursement of fees and expenses. In such enforcement cases, where the demand by the agency is “substantially in excess” of the decision of the adjudicative officer and is “unreasonable” when compared with such decision under the facts and circumstances of the case, the agency adjudicative officer is directed to award to an eligible party the fees and other expenses related to defending against the excessive demand. Award is qualified if the party has committed a willful violation of law or otherwise acted in bad faith, or special circumstances make an award unjust.

SBREFA further amended Section 504(b)(1) to add new subparagraph (F), which defines the term “demand” as “the express demand of the agency which led to the adversary adjudication, but does not include a recitation by the agency of the maximum statutory penalty (i) in the administrative complaint, or (ii) elsewhere when accompanied by an express demand for a lesser amount.”

SBREFA also added, in 5 U.S.C. 504(b)(1)(B), a new category of applicants eligible for fees based on a claim of excessive demand. In addition to the other categories of eligible applicants, a small entity as defined in 5 U.S.C. 601 will be eligible for reimbursement with respect to a claim of excessive demand in a regulatory or statutory enforcement action.

The second major change, in 5 U.S.C. 504(b)(1)(A), increased from $75 per hour to $125 per hour the maximum rate for fees awardable. The qualifying language “unless the agency determines by regulation that an increase in the cost of living or a special factor, such as the limited availability of qualified attorney or agents for the proceeding involved justifies a higher fee” remains. Departmental rules at 7 CFR 1.186 currently implementing EAJA attorney fees set a cap of $75 per hour. It is appropriate to amend 7 CFR 1.186 to reflect the statutory increase to $125 per hour.

In view of these statutory changes, the Department is proposing conforming amendments to its regulations. In addition, the Department is making minor changes to modify obsolete provisions related to effective dates, and to correct minor errors, and to make minor stylistic changes.

The Department retains its stance concerning the applicability of EAJA to National Appeals Division proceedings as set forth in the preamble to the final rule for National Appeals Division rules of procedure at 64 FR 33367, June 23, 1999.

This proposed rule has been reviewed under Executive Order No. 12866 and has been determined that it is not a “significant regulatory action” since it will not have an annual effect on the economy of $100 million or more or adversely and materially affect a sector of the economy, productivity, competition, jobs, the environment, public health or safety, of State, local or tribal governments or communities. This proposed rule will not create any serious inconsistencies, or otherwise materially alter the budgetary impact of entitlements, grants, user fees, or loan programs, or the rights and obligations of recipients thereof, and does not raise novel legal or policy issues arising out of legal mandates, the President's priorities or principles set forth in E.O. 12866. Therefore, this proposed rule has not been reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget.

USDA certifies that this rule will not have a significant impact on a substantial number of small entities as defined in the Regulatory Flexibility Act, Pub. L. No. 96-534, as amended (5 U.S.C. 601 et seq.).

USDA has determined that the provisions of the Paperwork Reduction Act as amended, 44 U.S.C. chapter 35, do not apply to any collections of information contained in this rule because any such collections of information are made during the conduct of administrative action involving an agency against specific individuals or entities. 5 CFR 1320.4(a)(2).

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List of Subjects in 7 CFR Part 1

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Accordingly, 7 CFR, Subtitle A, Part 1, Subpart J is proposed to be revised to read as follows:

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PART 1—[AMENDED]

Subpart J—Procedures Relating to Awards Under the Equal Access to Justice Act in Proceedings Before the Department

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Authority: 5 U.S.C. 504(c)(1).

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General Provisions

1.180
Definitions.
1.181
Purpose of these rules.
1.182
When EAJA applies.
1.183
Proceedings covered.
1.184
Eligibility of applicants.
1.185
Standards for awards.
1.186
Allowable fees and expenses.
1.187
Rulemaking on maximum rates for attorney fees.
1.188
Awards against other agencies.
1.189
Delegations of authority.
Information Required From Applicants
1.190
Contents of application.
1.191
Net worth exhibit.
1.192
Documentation of fees and expenses.
1.193
Time for filing application.
Procedures for Considering Applications
1.194
Filing and service of documents.
1.195
Answer to application.
1.196
Reply.
1.197
Comments by other parties.
1.198
Settlement.
1.199
Further proceedings.
1.200
Decision.
1.201
Department review.
1.202
Judicial review.
1.203
Payment of award.

General Provisions

Definitions.

(a) The definitions contained in § 1.132 of this part are incorporated into and made applicable to this subpart.

(b) Adjudicative Officer means an administrative law judge, administrative judge, or other person assigned to conduct a proceeding covered by EAJA.

(c) Agency means an organizational unit of the Department whose head reports to an official in the Office of the Secretary.

(d) Agency counsel means the attorney from the Office of the General Counsel representing the agency of the Department administering the statute involved in the proceeding.

(e) Days means calendar days.

(f) Department means the United States Department of Agriculture.

Purpose of these rules.

The Equal Access to Justice Act, 5 U.S.C. 504 (called “EAJA” in this subpart), provides for the award of attorney fees and other expenses to eligible individuals and entities who are parties to certain administrative proceedings (called “adversary adjudications”) before the Department. An eligible party may receive an award when it prevails over the Department unless the position of the Department was substantially justified or special circumstances make an award unjust. Alternatively, an eligible party may receive an award in connection with an adversary adjudication arising from an agency action to enforce the party's compliance with a statutory or regulatory requirement where the demand by the agency is substantially in excess of the decision of the adjudicative officer and is unreasonable when compared with such decision under the facts and circumstances of the case. The rules in this subpart describe the parties eligible for awards and the proceedings that are covered. They also explain how to apply for awards, and the procedures and standards that the Department will use to make awards.

When EAJA applies.

EAJA applies to any adversary adjudication pending or commenced before the Department on or after August 5, 1985, except with respect to a proceeding covered under § 1.183(a)(1)(iii) of this part, which is effective on or after October 21, 1986. In addition, the provisions of § 1.185(b) relating to award for excessive demand apply only to adversary adjudications commenced on or after March 29, 1996. Changes in maximum rates for attorney fees are effective as of [the effective date of the final rule].

Proceedings covered.

(a)(1) The rules in this subpart apply to adversary adjudications. These are:

(i) Adjudications required by statute to be conducted by the Department under 5 U.S.C. 554 in which the position of the Department or any other agency of the United States, or any component of an agency, is presented by an attorney or other representative who enters an appearance and participates in the proceeding,

(ii) Appeals of decisions of contracting officers made pursuant to section 6 of the Contract Disputes Act of 1978 (41 U.S.C. 605) before the Agriculture Board of Contract Appeals as provided in section 8 of that Act (41 U.S.C. 607), and

(iii) Any hearing conducted under chapter 38 of title 31, United States Code.

(2) Any proceeding in which the Department may prescribe a lawful present or future rate is not covered by EAJA. Proceedings to grant or renew licenses also are excluded, but proceedings to modify, suspend, or revoke licenses are covered if they are otherwise “adversary adjudications.” The proceedings covered include adversary adjudications under the following statutory provisions.

Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937 (7 U.S.C. 608c(15)(A))

Animal Quarantine Laws (21 U.S.C. 104, 117, 122, 127, 134e, and 135a)

Animal Welfare Act (7 U.S.C. 2149)

Archaeological Resources Protection Act (16 U.S.C. 470ff)

Beef Research and Information Act (7 U.S.C. 2912)

Capper-Volstead Act (7 U.S.C. 292)

Cotton Research and Promotion Act (7 U.S.C. 2111)

Egg Products Inspection Act (21 U.S.C. 1047)

Egg Research and Consumer Information Act (7 U.S.C. 2713, 2714(b))

Endangered Species Act (16 U.S.C. 1540(a))

Federal Land Policy and Management Act (43 U.S.C. 1766)

Federal Meat Inspection Act (21 U.S.C. 604, 606, 607(e), 608, 671)

Federal Seed Act (7 U.S.C. 1599)

Horse Protection Act (15 U.S.C. 1823(c), 1825)

Packers and Stockyards Act (7 U.S.C. 193, 204, 213, 218d, 221)

Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (7 U.S.C. 499c(c), 499d(d), 499f(c), 499h(a), 499h(b), 499h(c), 499i, 499m(a))

Plant Protection Act (7 U.S.C. 2279e, 7734(b), 7736)

Potato Research and Promotion Act (7 U.S.C. 2620)

Poultry Products Inspection Act (21 U.S.C. 455, 456, 457(d), 467)

Swine Health Protection Act (7 U.S.C. 3804(b), 3805(a))

U.S. Cotton Standards Act (7 U.S.C. 51b, 53)

U.S. Grain Standards Act (7 U.S.C. 79(g)(3), 85, 86)

U.S. Warehouse Act (7 U.S.C. 246, 253)

Virus-Serum-Toxin Act (21 U.S.C. 156)

Wheat and Wheat Foods Research and Nutrition Education Act (7 U.S.C. 3409)

(b) The failure of the Department to identify a type of proceeding as an adversary adjudication shall not preclude the filing of an application by a party who believes the proceeding is covered by EAJA; whether the proceeding is covered will then be an issue for resolution in proceedings on the application.

(c) If a proceeding includes both matters covered by EAJA and matters specifically excluded from coverage, any award made will include only fees and expenses related to covered issues.

Eligibility of applicants.

(a) To be eligible for an award of attorney fees and other expenses under EAJA, the applicant must meet one of the following conditions:

(1) The applicant must be a prevailing party to the adversary adjudication for which it seeks an award; or

(2) The applicant must be a party to an adversary adjudication arising from an agency action to enforce the party's Start Printed Page 12900compliance with a statutory or regulatory requirement in which the demand by the agency was substantially in excess of the decision of the adjudicative officer and the demand is unreasonable when compared with such decision under the facts and circumstances of the case.

(b) In addition to the criteria set out in paragraph (a) of this section, a party seeking an award must be one of the following:

(1) An individual with a net worth of not more than $2 million;

(2) The sole owner of an unincorporated business who has a net worth of not more than $7 million, including both personal and business interests, and not more than 500 employees;

(3) A charitable or other tax-exempt organization described in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code (26 U.S.C. 501(c)(3)) with not more than 500 employees;

(4) A cooperative association as defined in section 15(a) of the Agricultural Marketing Act (2 U.S.C. 1141j(a)) with not more than 500 employees;

(5) Any other partnership, corporation, association, unit of local government, or organization with a net worth of not more than $7 million and nor more than 500 employees;

(6) For purposes only of paragraph (a)(2) of this section, a small entity as defined in 5 U.S.C. 601.

(c) For the purpose of eligibility, the net worth and number of employees of an applicant shall be determined as of the date the adversary adjudication was initiated: Provided, that for purposes of eligibility in proceedings covered by § 1.183(a)(1)(ii) of this part, the net worth and number of employees of an applicant shall be determined as of the date the applicant filed its appeal under 41 U.S.C. 606.

(d) In interpreting the criteria set forth in paragraph (b) of this section, the following apply:

(1) An applicant who owns an unincorporated business will be considered as an “individual” rather than a “sole owner of an unincorporated business” if the issues on which the applicant prevails are related primarily to personal interests rather than to business interests.

(2) The employees of an applicant include all persons who regularly perform services for remuneration for the applicant, under the applicant's direction and control. Part-time employees shall be included on a proportional basis.

(3) The net worth and number of employees of the applicant and all of its affiliates shall be aggregated to determine eligibility. Any individual, corporation, or other entity that directly or indirectly controls or owns a majority of the voting shares or other interest of the applicant, or any corporation or other entity of which the applicant directly or indirectly owns or controls a majority of the voting shares or other interest, will be considered an affiliate for purposes of this subpart, unless the adjudicative officer determines such treatment would be unjust and contrary to the purposes of EAJA in light of the actual relationship between the affiliated entities. In addition, the adjudicative officer may determine that financial relationships of the applicant other than those described in this paragraph constitute special circumstances that would make an award unjust.

(4) An applicant that participates in a proceeding primarily on behalf of one or more other person or entity that would be ineligible is not itself eligible for an award.

Standards for awards.

(a) Prevailing party. (1) A prevailing applicant may receive an award for fees and expenses incurred in connection with a proceeding, or in a significant and discrete substantive portion of the proceeding, unless the position of the Department was substantially justified. The position of the Department includes, in addition to the position taken by the Department in the adversary adjudication, the action or failure to act by the Department upon which the adversary adjudication is based. The burden of proof that an award should not be made to an eligible prevailing applicant because the position of the Department was substantially justified is on the agency.

(2) An award to a prevailing applicant will be reduced or denied if the applicant has unduly or unreasonably protracted the proceeding or if special circumstances make the award sought unjust.

(b) Excessive demand. (1) If, in an adversary adjudication arising from an agency action to enforce a party's compliance with a statutory or regulatory requirement, the demand by the agency is substantially in excess of the decision of the adjudicative officer and is unreasonable when compared with such decision under the facts and circumstances of the case, the adjudicative officer shall award to the party the fees and other expenses related to defending against the excessive demand, unless the party has committed a willful violation of law or otherwise acted in bad faith, or special circumstances make an award unjust. Fees and expenses awarded under this paragraph shall be paid only as a consequence of appropriations provided in advance.

(2) “Demand” means the express demand of the agency which led to the adversary adjudication, but does not include a recitation by the agency of the maximum statutory penalty:

(i) In the administrative complaint, or

(ii) Elsewhere when accompanied by an express demand for a lesser amount.

Allowable fees and expenses.

(a) Awards will be based on rates customarily charged by persons engaged in the business of acting as attorneys, agents, and expert witnesses, even if the services were made available without charge or at reduced rate to the applicant.

(b) No award for the fee of an attorney or agent under the rules in this subpart may exceed $125.00 per hour. No award to compensate an expert witness may exceed the highest rate at which the Department pays expert witnesses, which is set out at § 1.150 of this part. However, an award also may include the reasonable expenses of the attorney, agent, or witness as a separate item, if the attorney, agent, or witness ordinarily charges clients separately for such expenses.

(c) In determining the reasonableness of the fee sought for an attorney, agent, or expert witness, the adjudicative officer shall consider the following:

(1) If the attorney, agent or witness is in private practice, his or her customary fee for similar services, or if an employee of the applicant, the fully allocated cost of the services;

(2) The prevailing rate for similar services in the community in which the attorney, agent, or witness ordinarily performs services;

(3) The time actually spent in the representation of the applicant;

(4) The time reasonably spent in light of the difficulty or complexity of the issues in the proceeding; and

(5) Such other factors as may bear on the value of the services provided.

(d) The reasonable cost of any study, analysis, engineering report, test, project or similar matter prepared on behalf of a party may be awarded, to the extent that the charge for the service does not exceed the prevailing rate for similar services, and the study or other matter was necessary for preparation of the applicant's case.

Rulemaking on maximum rates for attorney fees.

(a) If warranted by an increase in the cost of living or by special Start Printed Page 12901circumstances (such as limited availability of attorneys qualified to handle certain types of proceedings), the Department may adopt regulations providing that attorney fees may be awarded at a rate higher than $125 per hour in some or all of the types of proceedings covered by this part. The Department will conduct any rulemaking proceedings for this purpose under the informal rulemaking procedures of the Administrative Procedure Act.

(b) Any person may file with the Department a petition for rulemaking to increase the maximum rate for attorney fees in accordance with § 1.28 of this part. The petition should identify the rate the petitioner believes the Department should establish and the types of proceedings in which the rate should be used. It also should explain fully the reasons why the higher rate is warranted. The Department will respond to the petition within 60 days after it is filed, by initiating a rulemaking proceeding, denying the petition, or taking other appropriate action.

Awards against other agencies.

If an applicant is entitled to an award because it prevails over another agency of the United States that participates in a proceeding before the Department and takes a position that is not substantially justified, the award or an appropriate portion of the award shall be made against that agency.

Delegations of authority.

The Secretary of Agriculture delegates to the Judicial Officer, except as otherwise delegated, authority to take final action on matters pertaining to EAJA in proceedings covered by the rules in this subpart. The Secretary by order or regulation may delegate authority to take final action on matters pertaining to EAJA in particular cases or categories of cases to other subordinate officials or bodies. With respect to proceedings covered under § 1.183(a)(1)(ii) of this part, the Board of Contract Appeals is authorized by statute (41 U.S.C. 607) to take final action.

Information Required From Applicants

Contents of application.

(a) An application for an award of fees and expenses under EAJA shall identify the applicant and the proceeding for which an award is sought. Unless the applicant is an individual, the application shall state the number of employees of the applicant and describe briefly the type and purpose of its organization or business. The application shall also:

(1) Show that the applicant has prevailed and identify the position of the Department that the applicant alleges was not substantially justified and shall briefly state the basis for such allegation; or

(2) Show that the demand by the Department in the proceeding was substantially in excess of, and was unreasonable when compared with, the decision in the proceeding.

(b) The application also shall, as appropriate, include a declaration that the applicant is a small entity as defined in 5 U.S.C. 601 or a statement that the applicant's net worth does not exceed $2 million (if an individual) or $7 million (for all other applicants, including their affiliates). However, an applicant may omit this statement if:

(1) It attaches a copy of a ruling by the Internal Revenue Service that it qualifies as an organization described in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code (26 U.S.C. 501(c)(3)) or, in the case of a tax-exempt organization not required to obtain a ruling from the Internal Revenue Service on its exempt status, a statement that describes the basis for the applicant's belief that it qualifies under such section; or

(2) It states that it is a cooperative association as defined in section 15(a) of the Agricultural Marketing Act (12 U.S.C. 114j(a)).

(c) The application shall state the amount of fees and expenses for which an award is sought.

(d) The application also may include any other matters that the applicant wishes the Department to consider in determining whether, and in what amount, an award should be made.

(e) The application shall be signed by the applicant or an authorized officer or attorney of the applicant. It also shall contain or be accompanied by a written verification under oath or affirmation under penalty of perjury that the information provided in the application and all accompanying material is true and complete to the best of the signer's information and belief.

Net worth exhibit.

(a) An applicant, except a qualified tax-exempt organization or cooperative association, must provide with its application a detailed exhibit showing the net worth of the applicant and any affiliates (as defined in § 1.184 of this part) when the proceeding was initiated. The exhibit may be in any form convenient to the applicant that provides full disclosure of the applicant's and its affiliates' assets and liabilities and is sufficient to determine whether the applicant qualifies under the standards in this subpart. The adjudicative officer may require an applicant to file additional information to determine its eligibility for an award.

(b) Ordinarily, the net worth exhibit will be included in the public record of the proceeding. However, an applicant that objects to public disclosure of information in any portion of the exhibit and believes there are legal grounds for withholding it from disclosure may submit that portion of the exhibit directly to the adjudicative officer in a sealed envelope labeled “Confidential Financial Information,” accompanied by a motion to withhold the information from public disclosure. The motion shall describe the information sought to be withheld and explain, in detail, why it falls within one or more of the specific exemptions from mandatory disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. 552(b) (1) through (9). The material in question shall be served on counsel representing the agency against which the applicant seeks an award, but need not be served on any other party to the proceeding. If the adjudicative officer finds that the information should not be withheld from disclosure, it shall be placed in the public record of the proceeding. Otherwise, any request to inspect or copy the exhibit shall be disposed of in accordance with the established procedures of the Department under the Freedom of Information Act (§§ 1.1 through 1.23 of this part).

Documentation of fees and expenses.

(a) The application shall be accompanied by full documentation of the fees and expenses, including the cost of any study, analysis, engineering report, test, project, or similar matter, for which an award is sought.

(b) The documentation shall include an affidavit from any attorney, agent, or expert witness representing or appearing on behalf of the party, stating the actual time expended and the rate at which fees and other expenses were computed and describing the specific services performed.

(1) The affidavit shall state the services performed. In order to establish the hourly rate, the affidavit shall state the hourly rate which is billed and paid by the majority of clients during the relevant time periods.

(2) If no hourly rate is paid by the majority of clients because, for instance, the attorney or agent represents most clients on a contingency basis, the attorney or agent shall provide information about two attorneys or agents with similar experience, who Start Printed Page 12902perform similar work, stating their hourly rate.

(c) The documentation also shall include a description of any expenses for which reimbursement is sought and a statement of the amounts paid and payable by the applicant or by any other person or entity for the services provided.

(d) The adjudicative officer may require the applicant to provide vouchers, receipts, or other substantiation for any fees or expenses claimed, pursuant to § 1.199 of this part.

Time for filing application.

(a) An application may be filed whenever the applicant has prevailed in the proceeding or in a significant and discrete substantive portion of the proceeding, but in no case later than 30 days after final disposition of the proceeding by the Department.

(b) For the purposes of this subpart, final disposition means the date on which a decision or order disposing of the merits of the proceeding or any other complete resolution of the proceeding, such as a settlement or voluntary dismissal, become final and unappealable, both within the Department and to the courts.

(c) If review or reconsideration is sought or taken of a decision as to which an applicant believes it has prevailed, proceedings for the award of fees shall be stayed pending final disposition of the underlying controversy. When the United States appeals the underlying merits of an adversary adjudication to a court, no decision on an application for fees and other expenses in connection with that adversary adjudication shall be made until a final and unreviewable decision is rendered by the court on the appeal or until the underlying merits of the case have been finally determined pursuant to the appeal.

Procedures for Considering Applications

Filing and service of documents.

Any application for an award or other pleading or document related to an application shall be filed and served on all parties to the proceeding in the same manner as other pleadings in the proceeding except as provided in § 1.191 of this part for confidential financial information. The provisions relating to filing, service, extensions of time, and computation of time contained in § 1.147 of this part are incorporated into and made applicable to this subpart, except that the statutory 30 day time limit on filing the application as set out in § 1.193 of this part may not be extended.

Answer to application.

(a) Within 30 days after service of an application, agency counsel may file an answer. If agency counsel fails to timely answer or settle the application, the adjudicative officer, upon a satisfactory showing of entitlement by the applicant, may make an award for the applicant's allowable fees and expenses.

(b) If agency counsel and the applicant believe that the issues in the fee application can be settled, they may jointly file a statement of intent to negotiate a settlement. The filing of this statement shall extend the time for filing an answer for an additional 30 days, and further extensions may be granted by the adjudicative officer upon request by agency counsel and the applicant.

(c) The answer shall explain in detail any objections to the award requested and identify the facts relied on in support of agency counsel's position. If the answer is based on any alleged facts not already in the record of the proceeding, agency counsel shall include with the answer either supporting affidavits or a request for further proceedings under § 1.199 of this part.

Reply.

Within 15 days after service of an answer, the applicant may file a reply. If the reply is based on any alleged facts not already in the record of the proceeding, the applicant shall include with the reply either supporting affidavits or a request for further proceedings under § 1.199 of this part.

Comments by other parties.

Any party to a proceeding other than the applicant and agency counsel may file comments on an application within 30 days after it is served or on an answer within 15 days after it is served. A commenting party may not participate further in proceedings on the application, unless the adjudicative officer determines that the public interest requires such participation in order to permit full exploration of matters raised in the comments.

Settlement.

The applicant and agency counsel may agree on a proposed settlement of the award before final action on the application, either in connection with a settlement of the underlying proceeding, or after the underlying proceeding has been concluded. If a prevailing party and agency counsel agree on a proposed settlement of an award before an application has been filed, the application shall be filed with the proposed settlement.

Further proceedings.

(a) Ordinarily, the determination of an award will be made on the basis of the written record. However, on request of either the applicant or agency counsel, or on his or her own initiative, the adjudicative officer may order further proceedings, such as an informal conference, oral argument, additional written submissions or, as to issues other than substantial justification (such as the applicant's eligibility or substantiation of fees and expenses), pertinent discovery or an evidentiary hearing. Such further proceedings shall be held only when necessary for full and fair resolution of the issues arising from the application, and shall be conducted as promptly as possible. Whether the position of the Department was substantially justified shall be determined on the basis of the administrative record, as a whole, which is made in the adversary adjudication for which fees and other expenses are sought.

(b) A request that the adjudicative officer order further proceedings under this section shall identify specifically the information sought or the disputed issues, and shall explain specifically why the additional proceedings are necessary to resolve the issues.

(c) In the event that an evidentiary hearing is held, it shall be conducted pursuant to §§ 1.130 through 1.151 of this part, except that any hearing in a proceeding covered by § 1.183(a)(1)(ii) of this part shall be conducted pursuant to Rules 17 through 25 of the Board of Contract Appeals contained in § 24.21 of this title.

Decision.

The adjudicative officer or Board of Contract Appeals shall issue an initial decision on the application as expeditiously as possible after completion of proceedings on the application. Whenever possible, the decision shall be made by the same administrative judge or panel that decided the contract appeal for which fees are sought. The decision shall include written findings and conclusions on the applicant's eligibility and status as a prevailing party, and an explanation of the reasons for any difference between the amount requested and the amount awarded. This decision also shall include, if at issue, findings on whether the position of the Department was substantially justified, whether the applicant unduly protracted the proceedings, or whether special circumstances make an award unjust. If the applicant has sought an award against more than one agency, the decision shall allocate responsibility for Start Printed Page 12903payment of any award made among the agencies, and shall explain the reasons for the allocation made.

Department review.

(a) Except with respect to a proceeding covered by § 1.183(a)(1)(ii) of this part either the applicant or agency counsel may seek review of the initial decision on the fee application, in accordance with the provisions of §§ 1.145(a) and 1.146(a) of this part or in accordance with any delegation made pursuant to § 1.189 of this part. If neither the applicant nor agency counsel seeks review, the initial decision on the fee application shall become a final decision of the Department 35 days after it is served upon the applicant. If review is taken, it will be in accord with the provisions of §§ 1.145(b) through (i) and 1.146(b) of this part, or

(b) With respect to a proceeding covered by § 1.183(a)(1)(ii) of this part, either party may seek reconsideration of the decision on the fee application in accordance with Rule 29 of the Board of Contract Appeals contained in § 24.21 of this title. In addition, either party may appeal a decision of the Board of Contract Appeals to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in accordance with 41 U.S.C. 607.

Judicial review.

Judicial review of final agency decisions on awards may be sought as provided in 5 U.S.C. 504(c)(2).

Payment of award.

An applicant seeking payment of an award shall submit to the head of the agency administering the statute involved in the proceeding a copy of the final decision of the Department granting the award, accompanied by a statement that the applicant will not seek review of the decision in the United States courts. The agency will pay the amount awarded to the applicant within 60 days, unless judicial review of the award or of the underlying decision of the adversary adjudication has been sought by the applicant or any other party to the proceeding.

Start Signature

Dated: February 25, 2002.

Ann M. Veneman,

Secretary of Agriculture.

End Signature End Part End Supplemental Information

[FR Doc. 02-6516 Filed 3-19-02; 8:45 am]

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