On July 19, 2023, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), chair of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, introduced a bill to ease trade restrictions among parties to the AUKUS agreement—a trilateral security partnership between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. House Republicans separately have proposed granting the UK and Australia blanket exemptions from requirements under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (“ITAR”), while a proposed amendment to the National Defense Authorization Action for Fiscal Year 2024 from Senate Democrats stops short of blanket exemptions. The McCaul bill offers a compromise—it amends the Arms Export Control Act (“AECA”) to allow the President to exempt select exports of defense items from licensing requirements for countries that meet certain conditions, and requires the U.S. State Department to appoint a senior AUKUS advisor and establish an AUKUS task force.
The AUKUS agreement, initially announced in September 2021, aims to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines and deepen cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region with the United States and UK. A White House fact sheet highlights the agreement’s other goals, including cooperation on cyber capabilities, quantum technologies, artificial intelligence, hypersonic and counter-hypersonic capabilities, electronic warfare, and undersea capabilities.
The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (“CFIUS” or the “Committee”) recently released the unclassified version of its statutorily mandated annual report to Congress, covering calendar year 2022. Viewed in the context of prior CFIUS reports to Congress, the report, released July 31, 2023, highlights key trends in the U.S. government’s review of inbound foreign investment, including a record number of filings, increased investigations, and the emergence of Singapore as a top investor domicile. Overall, the report makes clear that CFIUS continues to play an active and robust role in reviewing proposed investments in U.S. businesses, and dealmakers should account for this from the outset of deal planning.
Here are six key takeaways from the CFIUS annual report:
CFIUS Reviewed a Record Number of Filings, Even as M&A Activity Slowed
CFIUS reviewed 440 filings (154 short-form declarations and 286 full joint voluntary notices) in 2022, a slight increase over the prior record of 436 filings that CFIUS reviewed in 2021. This is particularly notable given the slowdown in M&A deals in the second half of 2022.
The record number of filings is reflective of robust engagement with the CFIUS process by foreign investors, as investors become more familiar with the process and as CFIUS makes clear that it will vigorously safeguard U.S. national security in reviewing investments. Notably, the record-high filings came in the midst of intensified public engagement regarding CFIUS review in 2022, including a presidential executive order, issuance of the first-ever CFIUS enforcement guidelines, and the inaugural Treasury Department CFIUS conference.
To read the full client alert, please visit our website.
The Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) regularly denies protests because an offeror made assumptions in its proposal. To the offeror, such assumptions seem perfectly reasonable but to an agency the assumptions are incorrect or contrary to the agency’s intended procurement approach. As a result, the offeror’s proposal is rejected as non-compliant.
If the offeror files a GAO protest, GAO will likely dismiss the protest as being untimely, stating that the offeror was required to challenge a solicitation’s terms and conditions prior to the deadline for the submission of proposals. This scenario is frustrating because it likely could have been avoided had the offeror simply asked the agency questions.
Frequently, clients ask us to opine on what information an agency is seeking in a solicitation or how to interpret a term in a solicitation. These questions are often asked shortly before an offer is due. While we do our best, our guidance is not a substitute for agency guidance. We appreciate offerors are busy. Most prepare proposals based on due dates. As a result, by the time an offeror begins to prepare its proposal, the solicitation’s Q&A period is over.
When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down affirmative action programs in the college admissions context in late June, it noted that racially conscious government programs must have a “logical end point.” Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. Harvard and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina (“SFFA”). It has been apparent for some time that the “logical end point” concept could have implications for racially conscious programs in the government contracts context, and indeed it took only three weeks after SFFA for this to manifest in a decision issued by U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, Ultima Servs. Corp. v. U.S. Department of Agriculture. In Ultima, the court relied on reasoning in SFFA to conclude that regulations in the Small Business Administration’s (“SBA”) 8(a) program that establish a rebuttable presumption of social disadvantage to individuals in certain minority groups violate the Fifth Amendment’s Equal Protection rights of individuals who are not members of those minority groups.
SBA’s 8(a) Program
The Small Business Act has been in place for 70 years. Section 8(a) of the Act authorizes the SBA to facilitate increased government contracting opportunities for socially and economically disadvantaged small businesses by working with procurement agencies to set aside certain procurements for 8(a) contractors—contractors who have been accepted into the 8(a) program by virtue of being socially and economically disadvantaged. Contractors who are not in the 8(a) program are ineligible to compete for 8(a) set-aside contracts (although they can participate in such procurements as subcontractors).
In 2021, federal government prime contractors and subcontractors found themselves in a difficult situation with respect to COVID vaccination requirements. More than a dozen states enacted laws prohibiting companies from requiring their employees to be COVID-19 vaccinated or even show proof of COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of employment. At the same time, federal government contracts were subject to mandatory employee vaccination requirements in the FAR and DFARS. (i.e., FAR 52.223-99 Ensuring Adequate COVID-19 Safety Protocols for Federal Contractors (OCT 2021) (DEVIATION) and DFARS 252.223-7999 Ensuring Adequate COVID-19 Safety Protocols for Federal Contractors (Deviation 2021-O0009) (OCT 2021). Luckily, the potential conflict was resolved, on May 9, 2023, when President Biden signed Executive Order (“EO”) 14099, Moving Beyond COVID–19 Vaccination Requirements for Federal Workers, which revoked EO 14042, Ensuring Adequate COVID Safety Protocols for Federal Contractors. EO 14099 directed agencies to rescind any policies that were adopted to implement EO 14042. Thus, the potential conflict between inconsistent federal and state laws concerning COVID-19 vaccinations was mooted.
A new conflict between state and federal procurement requirements may be brewing for federal prime contractors and subcontractors concerning race-based employment preferences and diversity policies after the Supreme Court decision in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard and Students for Fair Admissions v. UNC.
The primary holding of the Federal Circuit’s May 2023 decision in CACI, Inc.-Federal v. United States (Case No. 2022-1488), is that “statutory standing” is no longer a jurisdictional issue. This means that when considering whether a protester is an “interested party” under the Tucker Act, the Court of Federal Claims (“COFC”) is not required to address statutory standing before the merits.
Although much has been written about this holding, our view is that there will be little or no impact on most bid protests stemming from this particular aspect of the decision, other than perhaps an uptick in denying protests on the merits without first addressing statutory standing.
We think the more interesting part of the decision is its reaffirmance of the Chenery doctrine, and specifically, the Federal Circuit’s direction about which issues must be remanded back to the agency, rather than decided by the COFC in the first instance. Although the Chenery doctrine is not new, the Federal Circuit has now made it clear that the doctrine greatly limits the COFC’s ability to order specific relief where an issue was not previously considered by the agency. On this issue, our takeaway is that CACI-Federal will actually lead to a reduction in the COFC weighing in on certain merits-based issues.
Confused about how Chenery relates to statutory standing? Read on for our analysis.
Welcome back to our “Lifecycle of a Claim” series. This series explores the Contract Disputes Act claims process, with practical guidance stemming from recent case law every step of the way. Click the subscribe button on this page to get timely updates right in your inbox!
Our previous posts are available at the following hyperlinks: Part I, Part II, and Part III. This post focuses on Steps 6 through 8 of this process: reviewing the Contracting Officer’s Final Decision (“COFD”), accepting or the appealing the COFD, and resolving or litigating the matter.
We begin with these essential questions: What is a COFD? What can a contractor do if it does not like the COFD? And what is the timeline to appeal a COFD?
What Is a COFD?
A COFD is a Contracting Officer’s (“CO”) decision on the merits, which provides the reasons for the decision and notifies the contractor of its appeal rights. 41 U.S.C. § 7103(d)-(e). The FAR describes a COFD as a written decision that:
i. Describes the claim or dispute
ii. References pertinent contract terms
iii. States the factual areas of disagreement
iv. States the CO’s decision, with supporting rationale
v. includes notice of contractor’s appeal rights “substantially as follows:”
Last Friday, June 16, 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court (“SCOTUS”) ruled that the federal government may seek to dismiss a qui tam False Claims Act (“FCA”) suit over the relator’s objection, even where it previously declined to intervene in the case and the relator invested in moving the case forward. The 8-1 decision by the high Court firmly established the broad authority for the government to intervene in such circumstances under a Rule 41(a) “reasonableness” standard, explaining that the key reason for this is that “the government’s interest in [an FCA] suit … is the predominant one” based on the “FCA’s government-centered purposes.” United States Ex Rel. Polansky v. Executive Health Resources, Inc., Slip. Op. No. 21–1052, at 12, 599 U.S. ____ (2023).
When an FCA suit is filed, the government has 60 days (which is typically extended) under the FCA statute to decide whether to decline or intervene in the case. See 31 U.S.C. § 3730. If declined, the relator may proceed with the litigation without the government’s support. The statute also allows the government to intervene “at a later date upon a showing of good cause.” § 3730(c)(3). As of 2022, publicly available statistics show that the government has elected to intervene only in about 40 percent of all qui tam FCA matters subject to judgment or settlement.
Building on recent and ongoing efforts to limit Chinese government access to government contractor supply chains, the FAR Councils published an interim rule effective June 2, 2023, that will broadly ban TikTok on contractor and contractor employee electronic devices used in the performance of federal contracts. The ban will be implemented through a new contract clause at FAR 52.204-27. Expect to see the clause added in all future solicitations (including commercially available off-the-shelf (“COTS”) acquisitions and micro-purchases) and added to existing contracts over the next month. We answer seven common questions on this new interim rule and offer several compliance tips.
The new TikTok ban broadly prohibits contractors from having or using a “covered application” (e.g., TikTok or other successor applications by ByteDance Limited, a privately held company headquartered in Beijing, China) on any “information technology” used in the performance of a government contract. The ban applies regardless of whether the technology is owned by the government, the contractor, or the contractor’s employees. Bottom line, the rule has a (very) broad reach—it applies to contracts below the micro-purchase threshold, contracts for commercial products and services, and COTS items.
On the heels of Law360’s recognition of Blank Rome’s Government Contracts Practice as a 2022 Practice Group of the Year, the practice was recently highly ranked by two prestigious legal rankings publications:
Chambers USA 2023
We are thrilled to share that Blank Rome’s Government Contracts Practice was elevated to Band 2 inGovernment Contracts: The Elite, USA in the recent Chambers USA 2023 rankings, placing our team among the very top group of fewer than 50 law firms in the nationwide rankings.
Chambers quoted a reference as saying that Blank Rome has “…a good mix of associates and partners with expertise in a wide variety of areas. The firm is a one-stop shop for government contractors’ legal needs.”
To view all of Blank Rome’s Chambers USA 2023 rankings, please visit our website.
The Legal 500 United States 2023
Blank Rome was again highly ranked among top nationwide firms as a “Recommended Firm” in the area of “Government Contracts” in The Legal 500 United States 2023.
“While each member of the team has their own special talents and areas of specialization, as all great teams do, without fail, they unselfishly work together to achieve the client’s goal, in this case, zealously advocating on behalf of their client. From contract formation to interpretation to litigation, they handle the full spectrum and they do it as one, cohesive, disciplined, fighting unit.” ―Testimonial given to The 2023 Legal 500 United States
To view all of Blank Rome’s Legal 500 United States 2023 rankings, please visit our website.