Will Federal Contractors Be Required to Certify Employee COVID Vaccinations?

Albert B. Krachman and Brooke T. Iley

Do not be surprised if, before the end of 2021, the federal government begins requiring contractors to certify or represent that their employees have received COVID vaccinations. The federal government has long conditioned contract awards on contractor compliance with emerging social policy mandates. This practice dates backs to the 1960s, when collateral social policy clauses began appearing in federal contracts. The National Emergency created by COVID-19 would appear ripe for a similar federal government action in federal contracting.

Several factors are converging in the United States which signal the potential for a COVID vaccine Certification or Representation. First, the supply issue should be mostly resolved by June 30, 2021. The Biden administration has committed to make enough vaccines available for every adult in the country by the end of May 2021. Second, the administration has been extremely active in making procurement law changes to conform to its policy objectives. Crafting an Executive Order on COVID Vaccines for federal contractor employees is clearly within the administration’s wheelhouse and target zone. Third, as reported in the March 8, 2021, Wall Street Journal, the largest employers in the country, across all sectors, are already engaged in large scale efforts to vaccinate their own employees. Fourth, while the law in this area is still evolving, the prevailing view is that, with certain exceptions, private employers are legally permitted to mandate their employees receive COVID vaccinations as a condition of continuing employment, subject to a variety of considerations related to employee legal, medical, and workplace accommodations. Finally, the federal government might find a federal contractor vaccine mandate a helpful leverage point in the evolving conflict with those states choosing to disregard COVID protections.

Continue reading “Will Federal Contractors Be Required to Certify Employee COVID Vaccinations?”

Surviving Proposal Weaknesses after Discussions: What Not to Do

Albert B. Krachman

With apologies to Paul Simon, this is another in a series of articles on the 50 ways contractors can lose awards on federal contracts. These cautionary tales should inform anyone in a contractor organization with responsibility for authorizing, preparing, or negotiating competitive federal contract proposals.

Like the inverse of Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People bestseller, the mistakes that lead to lost awards are well known and include: carelessness, greed, lack of attention to detail, procrastination, and cursory (or omitted) red-team reviews. This article highlights another surefire path to disaster: failing to adequately correct proposal weaknesses after discussions.

This lesson arises out of a clash between BNA and Lexis, legal search titans, over a U.S. Treasury contract. The combatants were seeking award of a contract for electronic research services for IRS staff, described in a GAO Bid Protest decision, LexisNexis, a Division of RELX Inc., B-418885; B-418885.2 (October 8, 2020).

Treasury’s solicitation required that offerors both describe their search solutions in technical proposals, and have a working computing solution, active for government testing. After initial proposal submissions and initial evaluations, the government advised offerors of weaknesses and deficiencies in their proposals and in their computing solutions. Treasury advised Lexis that its proposal suffered from a significant weakness due to Lexis’ computing solution’s return of erroneous search results. Discussions were opened and offerors were permitted to submit final proposal revisions. Offerors were also permitted to correct any deficiencies in their computing solutions before another round of government testing.

Continue reading “Surviving Proposal Weaknesses after Discussions: What Not to Do”

Foul but No Harm? Strict FAR Compliance Can Be a One-Way Street

Albert B. Krachman

Contractors and contractor teams competing for set-aside contracts should internalize the Federal Acquisition Regulation (“FAR”) compliance lesson imparted by a recent Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) protest decision related to small business set-aside procurements. In Kira Training Services, LLC, B-419149.3 (January 4, 2021) GAO illustrated that in the set-aside area, an Agency can violate a mandatory FAR provision, but a contractor cannot complain unless it takes timely proactive steps to protect itself from the government error. In Kira, GAO found that on a set-aside contract, the Navy violated the FAR by not sending the required pre-award list of intended awardees to all offerors, but the small business protester was not competitively prejudiced by the Navy error because it failed to protect itself by filing a post-award size protest.

The purpose of the pre-award notice on small business set aside contracts is to allow competitors to timely file size protests against proposed awardees who may not be an eligible small business. The regulations make it more advantageous for a bidder to challenge a competitor’s size before award, as opposed to post award, when an adverse size or status ruling may not prevent the government from proceeding with the challenged procurement even if the size protest is sustained.

Continue reading “Foul but No Harm? Strict FAR Compliance Can Be a One-Way Street”

Fifty Ways to Lose Your Federal Contract Award – Part 1: Failing to Secure Your Key Person Supply Chain

Albert B. Krachman

With apologies to Paul Simon, this is Part 1 of a series of articles on the many ways contractors can lose awards on federal contracts. These cautionary tales should inform anyone in a contractor organization with responsibility for authorizing, preparing, or negotiating competitive federal proposals.

Like a prize-winning recipe, the ingredients for losing an award are well known: one part carelessness, a pinch of greed, and some lack of attention to detail. Throw in a dash of procrastination, a late proposal revision, and then garnish it with an 11th-hour e-mailing of your proposal. Voila—you have cooked up a complete waste of proposal resources! 

We kick off this series with a story of an incumbent contractor who lost a billion-dollar follow-on contract by failing to contractually secure the services of a key person designated in the proposal.

Continue reading “Fifty Ways to Lose Your Federal Contract Award – Part 1: Failing to Secure Your Key Person Supply Chain”

Stars III: Critical Proposal Issues Addressed by Industry Experts

On July 21, 2020, Blank Rome Government Contracts Partner Albert B. Krachman presented a webinar with PW Communications, Inc. Founder and CEO Phyllis Orenstein Bresler to address the recently released GSA STARS III Solicitation, a Multiple Award, IDIQ contract to provide information technology (“IT”) services and IT services-based solutions. The webinar addressed issues that potential offerors should consider when formulating a compliant, well-written, and compelling proposal response. The contract ceiling for STARS III is $50 billion over five years, with the potential to grow.

The recent cancellation of the Alliant 2 Small Business Contract positions STARS III as one of the premier acquisition vehicles for federal IT acquisitions.

The webinar:

  • Identified opportunity areas, risk issues, RFP ambiguities, open questions, and key concepts.
  • Addressed Solicitation Sections L and M and presented lessons learned from the trenches.

Click here to view a recording of the webinar, and here to view the presentation slides.

Adapting JV Proposal Strategies after GAO Downgrade Ruling

Albert B. Krachman

A recent U.S. Government Accountability Office decision involving a Small Business Administration-approved small business joint venture, or JV, suggests that JVs between large and small firms should adjust their proposal strategies to avoid downgrades on past performance when the small business JV member, and the JV itself, lack relevant past performance.

Background

Proposing on a set-aside contract as an SBA-approved JV between a small and large business has been an effective strategy for many years. A basic assumption of this approach—and a primary motivation for using a JV structure—has been that an agency evaluating the JV’s past performance would normally look at the combined past performance of the JV members.

In many respects, this evaluation assumption has been a main motivation for using the JV structure, in contrast to a prime-subcontractor structure.

Typically, the large business JV member will have greater and more relevant past performance than the small business. The thinking had been that the JV structure would allow both members to leverage the large JV partner’s past performance for evaluation purposes by imputing the large business’ past performance to the JV.

However, the recent GAO bid protest decision in ProSecure LLC calls this assumption into doubt, suggesting the need for adjustments to proposal strategies for large and small firms in JVs or that plan to use JVs.

To read the full article, please click here.

“Adapting JV Proposal Strategies after GAO Downgrade Ruling,” by Albert B. Krachman was first published in Law360 on June 17, 2020.

A Federal Contractor’s Five-Part Guide to the CARES Act

On March 27, 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”) was signed into law. This massive $2.2 trillion economic package provides a host of opportunities and resources for all varieties of federal contractors—from those who need financial assistance through the coronavirus pandemic to those who can leverage their resources to assist the federal government in its response.

The five timely posts below discuss discrete portions of the CARES Act, how they might affect federal contractors, and what federal contractors can do to take advantages of the many programs and opportunities offered under the Act. Please contact us for assistance with any of these, or other components, of the Act.

1. The CARES Act Provides Much Needed Financial Relief for Small Businesses

Michael Joseph Montalbano
This article discusses the expanded $349 billion loan program set aside for small businesses under the CARES Act.

2. CARES Act § 3610: An Immediate Lifeline for Qualifying Federal Contactors Displaced by COVID-19

Michael J. Slattery
This article discusses § 3610 of the CARES Act, which provides funds that federal agencies can use to alleviate disruptions to federal contractors caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

 3. CARES Act Grant Programs: Searching for Opportunity in the Coronavirus Relief Effort

Tjasse L. Fritz
This article discusses the wealth of grant programs available to federal contractors and other businesses under the CARES Act.

4. CARES Act: Significant Funds for Defense Department and Defense Contractors

Adam Proujansky
This article discusses the billions of dollars in loans, loan guarantees, and other financial assistance available through the Department of Defense to defense industry contractors.

5. New Contracting Authorities and Preferences Established under the CARES Act

Albert B. Krachman
This article discusses new contracting authorities delegated under the CARES Act as well as sole source opportunities available under the Act.

As COVID-19 issues permeate virtually all aspects of commerce nationally and internationally, we stand ready to help. Blank Rome’s Coronavirus (“COVID-19”) Task Force includes interdisciplinary resources across every business sector from insurance recovery to HR.

New Contracting Authorities and Preferences Established Under the CARES Act

Albert B. Krachman

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”) creates several new contracting authorities that will present new business opportunities to firms offering COVID-19-related supplies and services. In some cases, the CARES Act also establishes specialized contracting priorities or preferences to contractors with particular service experience or qualifications, expertise, or ownership characteristics. The law also permits certain awards to be made without competition—in other words, sole source contracts—without the Justification and Approval normally required for such awards. This post surveys some of these new contracting authorities and award preferences.

New Contracting Authorities

The CARES Act delegates extensive new contracting authorities to the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) and creates many new organizations with specific contracting authority. Here is a brief list of some of the key delegations and new organizations with contracting authority:

Blood Donor Awareness

The Act charges the Secretary of HHS with starting a national campaign about the importance of blood donation. Section 3226(b) of the Act gives the Secretary authority to contract with one or more public or private nonprofit entities to establish this campaign. These nonprofits will then engage advertising and public relations firms to execute the awareness programs. Media firms with public health communications experience will have an edge in securing this work. Continue reading “New Contracting Authorities and Preferences Established Under the CARES Act”

Pending Federal Contract Proposals and COVID-19

Albert B. Krachman and Scott Arnold

Contractors that have submitted final proposals and are awaiting award on negotiated procurements may find themselves in an unusual position these days—questioning whether they still want the award in the dramatically changed landscape created by coronavirus COVID-19. In some cases, key personnel may no longer be available or critical supply chains may have become so disrupted that the proposal would require major changes to the technical approach. Assumptions that went into proposal pricing may no longer be valid.

Contractors in this posture may face a Hobson’s choice. Should they hold firm, accept the award, and hope the government is flexible post award? If they believe that they likely cannot perform as proposed, should they withdraw their proposals or risk proposal rejection by submitting late proposal revisions?

In some cases, depending on the stage of the acquisition, there may be opportunities for proposal revisions, but the government typically notifies offerors of a time after which revisions will not be accepted. In a FAR Part 15 acquisition, before the closing date for receipt of proposals, a contractor is generally free to submit proposal revisions. If the government conducts discussions, a contractor is also generally able to revise its proposal, subject to limitations that can be imposed on the permissible scope of revisions. Offerors may withdraw proposals at any time before award. Continue reading “Pending Federal Contract Proposals and COVID-19”

Using Unsolicited Federal Contract Proposals for Sole Source COVID-19 Related Contract Awards

Albert B. Krachman

Although firms that offer coronavirus COVID-19 solutions can use many routes to access the federal marketplace, very few of these routes can lead to a sole source contract. One such vehicle is the unsolicited proposal. An unsolicited proposal can result in a sole source contract if the firm’s proposed solution is unique enough to support a Contracting Officer’s sole source Justification and Approval. Recent case law has established that the government has a legal obligation to fairly evaluate unsolicited proposals, so in effect, submission of an unsolicited proposal creates an implied contract with the government that obligates the government to evaluate the firm’s proposal fairly (but not necessarily to award a contract to the firm). Scott v. U.S., No. 17-471C, 2017 WL 4785353 (Fed. Cl. Oct. 24, 2017).

Companies with innovative solutions that have not been the subject of procurement contracts or grants can use this vehicle to offer their goods or services to the federal government on this exclusive basis. Continue reading “Using Unsolicited Federal Contract Proposals for Sole Source COVID-19 Related Contract Awards”