C-Note: "Working for the Sovereign | 'Three may keep a secret if two of them are dead.' (Benjamin Franklin)"

Working for the Sovereign – Part II

This C-Note is the second in a serious about some of the exigencies of working for the government. The last C-Note summarized regulations on certain Federal projects to self-report a violation of the civil False Claims Act or a violation of Federal criminal law involving fraud, conflict of interest, bribery, or gratuity violations. This C-Note provides information on important security measures not found on private projects but required on some GSA projects.

“Three may keep a secret if two of them are dead.” (Benjamin Franklin)

Information in which design professionals on Federal projects deal is often quite sensitive, the release of which could have dire consequences. Consequently, protective measures have taken effect, especially since September 11, 2001. The construction documents for many GSA projects (e.g., courthouses and federal offices) are designated as “Sensitive But Unclassified” (“SBU”). If designated SBU, the documents must be handled according to Public Building Service (“PBS”) Order 3490.1. The requirements of PBS 3490.1 include, without limitation, warning/notification language on each issuance of each sheet or page; implementation of security controls on electronic and physical files to prevent access within a firm by non-members of the project team; enforcement of rigorous controls on document distribution; and routine document destruction.

A violation of PBS Order 3490.1 can be seen by GSA as indicative of a lack of business integrity or honesty, thus calling into question whether a contractor is “presently responsible” to continue to perform any government work. If there is “credible evidence” (as discussed in the last C-Note) of a violation of PBS Order 3490.1, it could possibly trigger a requirement to self report the violation. The failure to follow PBS Order 3490.1 or the new self-reporting requirements can lead to suspension or debarment from government projects.


The C-Note is a practical guide to and commentary on topical legal issues affecting design professionals. It is written by John Hawkins, AIA, who is a 20-year lawyer in the Litigation Practice Group of Houston-based Porter Hedges LLP.

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