On July 10, the government issued the long-awaited Interim Rule implementing Part B of Section 889 (here is a link to the pre-publication version, with the official version soon to follow). Part B prohibits the federal government from contracting with entities that use certain Chinese telecommunications equipment (previously discussed in our blog posts here and here). The Interim Rule is 86 pages and addresses issues related to compliance with Part B, as well as clarifying aspects of Part A.
These are the key points federal contractors need to know:
- Effective Date: The effective date remains August 13, 2020. The ban applies to solicitations, options, and modifications on or after August 13. However, as we previously discussed, the Department of Defense may allow its contractors more time to comply, despite the statutory deadline.
- Required Representation: An offeror must represent that, after conducting a reasonable inquiry, it does/does not use covered telecommunications equipment/services.
- “Reasonable inquiry” means an inquiry designed to uncover any information in the entity’s possession about the identity of the producer or provider of covered telecommunications equipment or services used by the entity. An internal or third-party audit is not required.
- Scope of “Use”: Applies to the contractor’s use of covered technology, regardless of whether it is used to perform a federal contract. Thus, a contractor’s commercial operations are included.
- Affiliates/Subsidiaries: The required representation is not applicable to affiliates or subsidiaries at this time. The FAR Council is considering whether to expand the scope of the representation/prohibition to cover an offeror’s domestic affiliates, parents, and subsidiaries. If expanded, it would be effective August 13, 2021.
- Subcontractors: The ban and required representation are not applicable to subcontractors at this time. The ban only applies at the prime contractor level and does not include a flow down obligation.
- Detailed Waiver Process: The Interim Rule includes a detailed and complex process for seeking a waiver (really a two-year delayed application).
- Suggested Compliance Steps: The Interim Rule suggests contractors adopt a “robust, risk-based compliance approach” to include educating personnel on the ban and implementing corporate enterprise tracking to identify covered equipment/services.
Regulators are still seeking feedback from industry, which suggests the government’s willingness to incorporate changes in a final rule. But prime contractors need to act now. In the next 30 days, prime contractors need to determine through a “reasonable inquiry” whether they use covered equipment, regardless of whether that use relates to performance of a federal contract. To demonstrate a reasonable inquiry, contractors should memorialize all steps taken and decisions made in performing the inquiry.
A more detailed analysis is forthcoming. In the meantime, if you have any questions regarding compliance, please contact one of Blank Rome’s Government Contracts practice group attorneys for guidance.