The FAR Council recently published a proposed rule mandating the use of project labor agreements (“PLAs”) on federal construction projects where the total estimated cost to the government is $35 million or more. See FAR Case 2022-003, 87 FR 51044 (Aug. 19, 2022). The proposed rule codifies President Biden’s February 4, 2022, Executive Order No. 14063. 87 FR 7363 (Feb. 9, 2022). Certain exceptions apply, and for projects below $35 million whether to mandate PLAs is left to the discretion of each federal agency. A PLA is a pre-hire collective bargaining agreement with one or more labor organizations that establishes the terms and conditions of employment for a specific construction project.
Why it’s significant: The proposal rule, and the underlying Executive Order, further enhance an Obama-era Executive Order that encouraged PLAs on federal construction projects over $25 million, but did not require it. 74 FR 6985 (Feb. 11, 2009). The new Executive Order puts forth the new rule to seek increased “economy and efficiency,” arguing that large-scale construction projects can create “special challenges” for efficient and timely procurement, and contractor labor disputes can cause significant project delays. During the Obama and Trump Administrations, construction industry trade groups sought revocation of the Obama Executive Order, arguing it increases taxpayer costs and filing pre-award bid protests against agencies implementing a PLA requirement, in order to have it removed. During the time that rule was in effect, between 2009 and 2021, the FAR Council estimated that a PLA was used only 12 times despite there being roughly 2,000 eligible contracts. The new Biden Executive Order and proposed rule firmly moves the industry requirements on federal projects in the opposite direction and establishes a clear federal prerogative for PLAs on large construction projects.
Effects on the industry: Once in effect, the proposed rule will cause a significant shift in the federal construction industry. Recent Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates show that only 12.6 percent of the construction work force belong to unions. This means a contractor may face staffing challenges arising from a restricted pool of potential candidates. The FAR Council notes in the proposed rule that the average number of construction awards valued at $35 million or more, from Fiscal Year 2019 through Fiscal Year 2021, was approximately 119 annually, with an average cost of $114 million per award.
Until recently, it was well-accepted that a violation of the False Claims Act (“FCA”) occurs only when there is a misrepresentation that is objectively false. Four circuits—the Fourth, Seventh, Tenth and Eleventh—had adopted this “objective falsity” standard. In March 2020, however, the Third and Ninth Circuits issued decisions departing from this view, holding that objective falsity is not required and “legal falsity” can suffice. These decisions created a stark circuit split with profound implications for government contractors, and there is now a pending petition to the Supreme Court to address and clarify the matter.
First, a refresher: The FCA does not define “false or fraudulent,” leaving courts to look to common law to interpret what constitutes a “false” claim. Many circuits had found that a representation must be objectively false to qualify as a false claim, meaning that a false claim cannot arise where there is a genuine dispute and a claim is alleged to be false based on a subjective assessment. The Third Circuit was among those endorsing this view, holding that under the FCA “a statement is ‘false’ when it is objectively untrue,” United States ex rel. Thomas v. Siemens AG, 593 F. App’x 139, 143 (3d Cir. 2014), and that “expressions of opinion, scientific judgments or statements as to conclusions which reasonable minds may differ cannot be false.” United States ex rel. Hill v. Univ. of Med. & Dentistry of N.J., 448 F. App’x 314, 316 (3d Cir. 2011). Continue reading “What Qualifies as a “False” Claim? Supreme Court May Clarify”
On September 14, 2020, the FAR Council published a proposed rule, Case 2019-016 “Maximizing Use of American-Made Goods, Products, and Materials,” 85 FR 56558, which proposes certain increased and new thresholds for contractors subject to the Buy American Act (“BAA”). The proposed changes implement Executive Order 13881 (July 15, 2019). There is a November 13, 2020, deadline for interested parties to submit written comments for consideration in the final rule.
The key proposed changes are as follows:
Items subject to a minimum domestic component test would need to meet a new threshold of 55 percent, an increase of five percent from the current 50 percent threshold. Domestic end items and construction materials would need to be manufactured in the United States, and would need to be manufactured from components which, based on cost, are over 55 percent domestic (components mined, produced, or manufactured in the United States).
A new, distinct threshold would be created for end items and construction materials that are made predominantly of iron or steel or a combination of both—meaning that the iron and steel content of the item exceeds half of the total cost of all components in the item. For such items, the domestic component content threshold would be 95 percent. In other words, for items made predominantly of iron or steel to be considered domestic, they would need to be manufactured in the United States and contain less than 5 percent non-domestic components by cost. This is a significant change; currently these items are subject to a much lower domestic content requirement—anything over 50 percent.
The commercially available off-the-shelf (“COTS”) exception to the cost of component requirements would still apply to end items and construction materials that are not made predominantly of iron or steel. In other words, such COTS items would need to be mined, manufactured, or produced in the United States, but there would be no requirement that any portion of the components of such COTS items be domestic.
The COTS exception to the cost of component requirements would not apply to end items and construction materials that are made predominantly of iron or steel. The rule set forth in (2) above would apply—to be considered domestic, such COTS items would need to be manufactured in the United States and contain less than five percent non-domestic components by cost.
However, the rule set forth in (4) above would not apply to fasteners—hardware devices that mechanically join or affix two or more objects together—such as nuts, bolts, pins, rivets, nails, clips, and screws. Fasteners, even if made predominantly of iron or steel, would still fall within the COTS exception in (3) above, such that they only need to be manufactured in the United States. The source of components would not matter.
Price evaluation adjustments made to bids for non-domestic items would increase from six percent to 20 percent (if bidder is not small) and from 12 percent to 30 percent (if bidder is a small business). For Department of Defense procurements, the existing 50 percent price evaluation adjustment applied to offers of non-domestic items would still apply.
A recent Federal Circuit decision has sustained an expansive judicial reading of what constitutes an expressly unallowable cost under FAR Part 31. This decision, reached in the context of lobbying expenses, provides the potential for expansive precedent for future disputes regarding what expenses constitute expressly unallowable costs. Including expressly unallowable costs in submissions to the government can result in penalties up to two times the amount of the disallowed cost. Taking into account this decision as well as the Defense Contract Audit Agency’s (“DCAA”) expressly unallowable cost guidance released earlier this year, contractors should review their policies and procedures for identifying and excluding unallowable costs from invoices and proposals on government contracts, and consider whether to broaden their policies. Continue reading “Federal Circuit Maintains That Contractors Must Read between the Lines to Determine Expressly Unallowable Costs”
A recent decision in the federal district court for the Eastern District of California is one of the first to recognize application of the False Claims Act (“FCA”) to Department of Defense (“DoD”) cybersecurity requirements, and will likely encourage future lawsuits alleging noncompliance with federal cybersecurity procurement regulations. In United States ex rel. Markus v. Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings, Inc., No. 2:15-cv-2245 WBS AC, 2019 WL 2024595 (E.D. Cal. May 8, 2019), the court denied the defendant contractor’s motion to dismiss qui tam complaint fraud allegations against the company. The complaint—brought by a former employee from the company’s cybersecurity department a month after his termination from the company—alleged the defendant fraudulently entered into DoD and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (“NASA”) contracts despite knowing that it did not meet the minimum standards required to receive the awards. The court permitted the case to move forward despite the government declining to intervene.
Shortly after passage by the Senate, President Trump signed the Small Business Runway Extension Act, P.L. No. 115-324, into law on December 17, 2018. The new law amends the Small Business Act to adjust the look-back period for calculating a company’s size based on average annual gross receipts from three years to five years.
Proponents of the law have lauded the assistance it will provide to growing small businesses, which in the past have been unceremoniously closed out of small business set-aside procurements before they have the resources to compete with larger government contractors. The longer look-back period benefits companies with lower revenue in prior years by allowing them to include those earlier years in calculating the company’s average annual receipts. The longer period also allows additional years of gross revenue to balance out a unique year of significant growth or income. Critics, however, worry this will hurt small businesses that must now compete with “larger” small businesses that remain eligible for small business set-aside procurements for longer. Continue reading “Small Business Runway Extension Act Adjusts Look-back Period from Three to Five Years for Calculating Size Determinations, but SBA May Not Immediately Implement the Law”
It’s almost here. After years of rulemaking, covered defense contractors will soon be fully subject to heightened cybersecurity standards for covered defense information (“CDI”) on IT systems under DFARS 252.204-7012, and contractors submitting new proposals will be representing that their systems are compliant with these security requirements pursuant to DFARS 252.204-7008. We discuss in this post seven compliance tips beyond the basics that are worth revisiting during this final compliance push. Continue reading “DFARS Cybersecurity Compliance Countdown: Are You Ready?”