Merle M. DeLancey Jr.
On October 17, 2018, the Federal Circuit ruled that the Department of Veteran Affairs (“VA”) must give priority to veteran-owned small businesses (“VOSB”) when awarding contracts. PDS Consultants Inc. v. U.S., et al., Nos. 17-2379 and 17-2512, 2018 WL 5019735 (Fed. Cir. Oct. 17, 2018). At first blush, no one would argue with the foregoing statement. But, this mandate became less clear when the VA was faced with awarding a contract to a VOSB or following an otherwise mandatory requirement for all federal agencies to buy a specific list of items made by nonprofits employing the blind and significantly disabled.
Here is the source of confusion. More than 40 years ago, Congress enacted the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act (“JWOD”), which required federal agencies to buy certain items and services from nonprofits that employ the blind or people with other significant disabilities. Today, this mandatory procurement policy is implemented through the AbilityOne program. In 2006, Congress passed the Veterans Benefits, Health Care, and Information Technology Act (“VBA”). As the U.S. Supreme Court stated in Kingdomware, the VBA made it mandatory in almost every procurement for the VA to follow the “Rule of Two.” The “Rule of Two” requires the VA to award a contract to a VOSB whenever at least two VOSBs can perform the work at a reasonable price. Continue reading “In Department of Veterans Affairs Procurements, Veteran-Owned Businesses Trump All Other Contractors”
Michael J. Slattery
Any company that has participated in a federal procurement, and has been involved in subsequent bid protest litigation, is likely familiar with the procuring agency’s ability to take “corrective action.” In a nutshell, “corrective action” refers to a procuring agency’s recognition that it may have committed an error during a procurement, and the agency’s determination that it will take steps to correct this error. Procuring agencies take corrective action in a number of different circumstances.
Perhaps most commonly, procuring agencies take corrective action after the U.S. Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) sustains a protest and recommends that the agency remedy the flaws that GAO has identified in the procurement. Agencies also take corrective action in the context of “outcome prediction” Alternative Dispute Resolution (“ADR”). Pursuant to 4 C.F.R. § 21.10(e), GAO, on its own initiative or upon a request filed by the parties, may use flexible alternative procedures to promptly and fairly resolve a protest, including ADR. Often, when GAO informs a procuring Agency during an ADR conference that GAO is likely to sustain a protest, the procuring Agency will announce that it will take corrective action in order to remedy the procurement errors identified by GAO. See, e.g., Deloitte Consulting, LLC, B-412125.6, Nov. 28, 2016, 2016 U.S. Comp. Gen. LEXIS 348 at *1, *5 (wherein agency took corrective action after GAO sustained a protest). Continue reading “Is There No Balm in Gilead? The Federal Circuit’s Decision in Dell Federal Systems L.P. v. United States Reinforces Contractors’ Dwindling Options to Effectively Challenge Agency Corrective Action”
Robyn N. Burrows
Over two years ago, the Supreme Court in Universal Health Servs. v. U.S. ex rel. Escobar, 136 S. Ct. 1989 (2016) upheld the implied certification theory of liability under the federal False Claims Act (“FCA”). Applying a two-part test, the Court stated that implied liability would attach where “at least two conditions” are satisfied: (1) the claim makes specific representations about goods or services provided and (2) the defendant’s failure to disclose noncompliance with a material statutory, regulatory, or contractual requirement renders those representations “misleading half-truths.” Courts interpreting Escobar have disagreed as to whether this two-part test is the exclusive means for establishing liability under the implied certification theory, or whether other circumstances might also trigger liability. For example, several courts have noted that Escobar’s reference to “at least two conditions” implies that other, unspecified factors might also be sufficient to create an implied certification claim. The Fourth Circuit, along with several other district courts, have adopted this more liberal view. Most other circuits that have addressed this issue, however, have found the two-part test to be mandatory. The First, Third, Fifth, and Seventh Circuits, as well as many district courts, have either explicitly or implicitly held that Escobar’s two-part test is the exclusive means of establishing implied certification. Continue reading “The Ninth Circuit Reluctantly Joins Majority of Courts in Mandating Escobar’s Two-Part Test for Implied Certification”
Merle M. DeLancey Jr.
Effective October 1, 2018, verification of Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (“VOSBs”) and Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (“SDVOSBs”) now rests with the Small Business Administration (“SBA”). (See, VA Veteran-Owned Small Business (VOSB) Verification Guidelines.) Previously, the SBA and the Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) had concurrent jurisdiction over VOSB/SDVOSB “ownership” and “control” determinations. This led to the confusing and inconsistent results. Now, the VA will no longer vet (pun intended) contractors to determine if they are eligible VOSBs or SDVOSBs. Exclusive authority to verify these businesses is now with the SBA. The new rule clarifies the VA verification process and makes VA and SBA regulations concerning VOSB and SDVOSB joint ventures consistent. The new rule stems from the Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, Public Law 114-840, which called for the SBA and VA to eliminate inconsistent regulatory interpretations of “ownership” and “control” requirements for VOSBs and SDVOSBs. Continue reading “New Rules Affecting Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (Important to Large Businesses, Too)”
Merle M. DeLancey Jr.
In February, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (“OFCCP”) sent Corporate Scheduling Announcement Letters (“CSALs”) to 1,000 contractor establishments. Shortly thereafter, in March, OFCCP mailed follow-up compliance review scheduling letters (“Scheduling letters”). On September 7, 2018, OFCCP sent a second round of CSALs to an additional 750 contractor establishments.
Further, on September 19, 2018, OFCCP issued Directive 2018-08: Transparency in OFCCP Compliance Activities. The purpose of the Directive is to “ensure transparency in all stages of OFCCP compliance activities to help contractors comply with their obligations and know what to expect during a compliance evaluation, and to protect workers from discrimination through the consistent enforcement of OFCCP legal authorities.” The Directive identifies the “Roles and Responsibilities” of OFCCP and contractors during a compliance review and the “Policies and Procedures” that will be followed. Continue reading “OFCCP Is Staying Busy—So Should Government Contractors”
Merle M. DeLancey Jr.
Two recent judicial decisions involving the Trade Agreements Act (“TAA”) build on a trend reflecting a more favorable enforcement climate for contractors grappling with domestic preference regimes. Earlier this year, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed a qui tam action that alleged fraud in connection with country of origin requirements imposed by the TAA. United States ex rel. Folliard v. Comstor Corp., 308 F.Supp.3d 56 (D.D.C. 2018) (finding the relator failed to adequately plead that the alleged TAA noncompliance was “material” to the Government’s payment decision). The decision marked a welcome early defeat of a False Claims Act case based on the enhanced materiality and scienter requirements of the Escobar decision (as we wrote about here).
Two recent federal court decisions appear to extend the trend of taking some of the bite out of TAA enforcement, and potential exposure for alleged noncompliance. Despite this welcome news, domestic preference programs remain a key legal obligation for government contractors (and an area likely to remain under scrutiny with the Administration’s professed focus on Buy American and Hire American initiatives). Continue reading “Trade Agreements Act Enforcement Loses a Couple More Teeth”
Michael Joseph Montalbano
Cost, schedule, and performance, the three pillars of defense procurement, may soon be accompanied by a fourth pillar: cybersecurity. As the nature of warfare evolves away from pure kinetic capabilities to the asymmetric, cyber realm, the Department of Defense (“DoD”) has had to grapple with the reality that its defense contractors are prime targets for infiltration. Indeed, in the February 2018 Worldwide Threat Assessment, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats specifically identifies defense contractors and IT communications firms as the primary focal points of China—one of the United States’ primary cyber adversaries. As a result of this new reality, DoD has begun the process of revamping the defense procurement system to place greater emphasis on cybersecurity. In response to these moves by DoD, contractors should take a fresh look at their current operations to identify their own cyber vulnerabilities as well as the vulnerabilities of their subcontractors, suppliers, and other partners. Without adequate preparation, contractors risk finding themselves at a significant disadvantage during future contract bids. Continue reading “Cybersecurity Could Make or Break Defense Contractors’ Chances of Future Awards”