Our Clarion Call: Thoughts on Our 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge

Dominique L. Casimir and Justin A. Chiarodo

A few weeks ago we wrote about our Government Contracts practice group’s decision to opt in to the 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge (the “Challenge”) launched by the American Bar Association (“ABA”) Section of Public Contract Law. The 21-Day Challenge was a syllabus of 21 daily assignments—curated for the ABA by Dominique Casimir—focusing on the Black American experience, including Black history, identity and culture, the experience of anti-Black racism in America, and the intersection between systemic racism and the legal profession.

What We Did: We invited our clients to participate with us in a series of weekly discussion groups to share perspectives on the racial equity movement currently underway in this country, to reflect on how we got here, and to challenge ourselves to consider what we are doing—in our respective workplaces, and as individual lawyers—to work towards racial equality. This experience was unlike anything we have done with our clients before, and admittedly we were not sure how clients would respond when we invited them to engage with us in an ongoing series of small-group, candid discussions about a topic as sensitive as race. We were incredibly humbled that so many of our clients enthusiastically welcomed this opportunity. Continue reading “Our Clarion Call: Thoughts on Our 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge”

Part B Interim Rule Bans Contractors from Using Covered Technology Starting August 13th: 5 Steps for Meeting the Compliance Deadline

Justin A. Chiarodo, Merle M. DeLancey, Jr., and Robyn N. Burrows

We previously discussed key elements of the newly released interim rule (“the interim rule” or “the rule”) implementing Part B of Section 889 (“Part B”), which prohibits the federal government from contracting with entities that use certain Chinese telecommunications equipment. This post provides a more detailed analysis of the scope and application of the rule, as well as five compliance recommendations given the impending August 13th deadline.

Rule Applies to All Contracts Effective August 13, 2020

Part B applies to all solicitations, options, and modifications on or after August 13th, including contracts for commercial items, commercially available off-the-shelf (COTS) items, and contracts at or below both the micro-purchase and simplified acquisition thresholds. Like it did with respect to Part A, GSA intends to issue a Mass Modification requiring contractors to certify compliance with Part B. GSA has also released Q&As and FAQs to assist contractors with Part B implementation. The interim rule acknowledges that Part B will have a broad impact across contractors in a range of industries, including healthcare, education, automotive, aviation, and aerospace. The rule, however, does not apply to federal grant recipients (which are subject to a separate rulemaking). Continue reading “Part B Interim Rule Bans Contractors from Using Covered Technology Starting August 13th: 5 Steps for Meeting the Compliance Deadline”

Our Clarion Call: Join Us in the ABA’s 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge

Dominique L. Casimir and Justin A. Chiarodo

This will not be a typical Government Contracts Navigator post. But it concerns an issue as important to the government contracts bar as any new law, regulation, or judicial decision. We all have stories about how we came to practice in this vibrant field, which plays such a critical role in protecting our nation and advancing the public policies of the United States—including due process, fair competition, and equal opportunity. But we cannot ignore the reality that the great diversity of the government contracts law practice is not well-reflected in our bar of practitioners.

The events of recent weeks have led us to think hard about we what can do to help achieve greater racial diversity in our practice area. As lawyers, we typically solve the most complex problems we face by developing creative teams whose members are open to learning, collaborating, and communicating. That is why, as a practice group, we’ve jumped at the chance to participate in the ABA Section of Public Contract Law’s 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge (the “21-Day Challenge”). We believe that the 21-Day Challenge gives us an opportunity to learn, collaborate, and communicate with one another on one of the most pressing and important challenges in our professional lives: creating and maintaining a diverse and inclusive government contracts bar. Our practice group is “all in,” and we invite you to join us as we answer the ABA Section of Public Contract Law’s invitation to participate in the 21-Day Challenge. Continue reading “Our Clarion Call: Join Us in the ABA’s 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge”

Newly Released Interim Rule Implementing Part B of Section 889

Justin A. Chiarodo, Merle M. DeLancey Jr., and Robyn N. Burrows

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.

What Does a Potential One-Year Delay for Part B of Section 889 Mean for Your Compliance Efforts?

Justin A. Chiarodo, Merle DeLancey Jr., and Robyn N. Burrows

In remarks to Congress and statements this week, the Department of Defense (“DoD”) announced that it is considering a one-year delay for full implementation of Part B of the Section 889 ban (we previously summarized the ban, which prohibits the government from contracting with entities using certain Chinese telecommunications equipment, here). The ban is currently scheduled to go into effect on August 13, 2020. What does this welcome development mean for contractors? We think it warrants prioritizing near-term compliance efforts to high-risk areas, pending forthcoming rulemaking that will provide needed specifics on the way forward.


During June 10 remarks before the House Armed Services Committee, Undersecretary for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord expressed the DoD’s full support for the intent of Section 889, but admitted she is “very concerned” about being able to accomplish Part B implementation by August 13. As to whether the DoD can meet the current timeline given COVID-19 disruptions and the lack of an interim rule, Ms. Lord acknowledged that “we need more time” for contractors to comply.

Following the undersecretary’s testimony, the DoD announced that it is considering adding contract language giving its suppliers an additional year to reach full compliance with Part B. Though not final, the DoD’s proposed delay could relieve DoD contractors from full compliance with the impending August deadline. We anticipate this approach would be similar to the phase-in period for compliance with the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement Safeguarding and Cyber Incident Reporting clause. It is not yet clear whether the Office of Management and Budget, which currently has the draft interim rule for Part B, will incorporate a delayed implementation into that forthcoming rule.

The DoD also signaled that it is poised to advocate for a more risk-based approach to Part B implementation and rulemaking. During her testimony, Ms. Lord expressed concern with the “unintended consequences” of a minor infraction several layers deep within the supply chain potentially shutting down major portions of the defense industrial base by disqualifying key prime contractors from doing business with the federal government. The DoD suggested that the use of a risk-based approach may be useful to achieve effective implementation. The DoD’s consideration of a risk-based approach indicates that it is equally concerned about its contractors’ ability to comply with a strict application of Part B.

How DoD’s Announcements Inform Compliance Efforts with Part B

Without an interim rule and with less than two months before the statutory August deadline, how should contractors begin implementing Part B? Given the DoD’s recent comments suggesting a risk-based approach, contractors should consider adjusting their Part B implementation efforts using a risk assessment framework, prioritizing high-risk areas. That is, contractors should identify the extent to which telecommunications or video surveillance equipment is used to support government contracts, the nature of that work, and the frequency with which the technology is used.

The nature of the product’s telecommunication function also informs its risk potential. For example, computers, routers, phones, and network equipment can generally be considered a higher priority area than technology that, although technically subject to the ban, presents a moderate to low cybersecurity risk, depending on the nature and frequency of use (e.g., HVAC systems, fax machines, copiers, scanners).

Contractors should also communicate with key suppliers to ensure that they are aware of the rule and are similarly working to prepare for Part B.

Although the DoD’s statements are welcome news—and reflect that the government is mindful of the challenges presented by the ban—the DoD remains committed to Section 889 and contractors should proceed accordingly.

12 Steps for Reducing CARES Act Enforcement Risks

William E. Lawler III, Gregory F. Linsin, Justin A. Chiarodo, Dominique L. Casimir, and Sara N. Gerber

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act provides more than a trillion dollars in relief to both small and large businesses in the form of loans, grants and tax credits, designed to quickly stabilize the economy during the ongoing crisis.

But this is not free money: The CARES Act also includes a robust oversight and enforcement regime to enable the government to combat fraud, waste and abuse. Experience shows that when this much government money is being spent, there will be investigations and enforcement actions.

The CARES Act is complex with evolving regulatory guidelines, and this increases the potential for missteps by companies trying to take advantage of the program’s benefits while navigating program requirements. How can companies manage this uncertainty and reduce the risk of becoming an enforcement target?

We offer 12 suggested steps.

To read the full article that was published in Law360 on May 11, 2020, please click here.

COVID-19 Disruptions and Work Stoppages: A Q&A for Federal Contractors

Justin A. Chiarodo and Stephanie M. Harden

Coronavirus COVID-19 is rapidly disrupting the performance of federal government contracts across all sectors, leaving contractors and subcontractors with more questions than answers on how to structure their operations. In the following Q&A, we address some of the top issues contractors are currently facing.

      1. The Government has closed my work site, precluding my employees from performing their work. If I continue to pay the employees, can I recover those costs?

If your employees cannot perform their work because the work site is closed (and telework is not an option due to the nature of the work), this may be construed as an actual or constructive stop work order. As with a government shutdown, contractors facing this scenario may be entitled to an equitable adjustment to account for idle employee time because they are expected to be ready to perform as soon as the Government reopens facilities.

A March 20 Memorandum from Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director for Management Margaret Weichert (“Weichert Memorandum”) confirms that equitable adjustments may be appropriate if the requested costs are reasonable. Specifically, the Weichert Memorandum advises that such requests “should be considered on a case-by-case basis” and that agencies may consider such factors as “whether it is beneficial to keep skilled professionals or key personnel in a mobile ready state for activities the agency deems critical to national security or other high priorities (e.g., national security professionals, skilled scientists).” Continue reading “COVID-19 Disruptions and Work Stoppages: A Q&A for Federal Contractors”

For Part B of Section 889, Is Compliance by August 13, 2020, Realistic?

Merle M. DeLancey Jr., Justin A. Chiarodo, and Robyn N. Burrows

On March 10, 2020, the Department of Commerce extended the deadline for U.S. companies to stop doing business with Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. and its non-U.S. affiliates. The deadline has been extended multiple times and is now May 15, 2020. Under the extension, U.S. businesses can continue to work with Huawei on the operation of existing networks and mobile services, including cybersecurity research considered critical for network reliability.

Huawei was added to the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security “Entity List” in May 2019. The Entity List includes foreign entities who have engaged in activities sanctioned by the State Department and activities contrary to U.S. national security and/or foreign policy interests.

In addition to the extension, the Commerce Department is seeking public comments through March 25, 2020, regarding the continuing need for, and scope of, possible future extensions concerning Huawei. The multiple extensions and new request for public comments are intended to allow time for companies and persons to shift from Huawei or its affiliates to alternative sources of equipment, software, and technology. Continue reading “For Part B of Section 889, Is Compliance by August 13, 2020, Realistic?”

Five Steps to Take to Prepare for Part B of the Section 889 Ban

Merle M. DeLancey Jr., Justin A. Chiarodo, and Robyn N. Burrows

Part B of Section 889 takes effect August 13, 2020. The ban prohibits the federal government from contracting with any “entity that uses” telecommunications and video surveillance products or services from Huawei Technologies Company Ltd. (Huawei) and four other Chinese entities, including their affiliates and subsidiaries (we’ve previously covered Section 889 here and here). This post examines recent industry feedback during a public meeting with the Department of Defense (“DoD”) and provides five compliance recommendations pending forthcoming rulemaking.

On March 2, 2020, DoD held a public meeting on Part B. Several trade associations gave feedback, and raised five major concerns: 1) the broad scope of the rule; 2) the inability of many contractors to meet the August 2020 compliance deadline; 3) whether the rule will apply outside the United States; 4) whether the term “use” would include a reseller’s commercial sales of prohibited products, thus precluding a supplier from contracting with the federal government; and 5) whether the “entity” subject to the ban includes only the legal entity executing the contract with the federal government, or also its affiliates and subsidiaries. Unfortunately, DoD did not indicate when an interim rule might issue. Continue reading “Five Steps to Take to Prepare for Part B of the Section 889 Ban”

Are You Prepared to Comply with the Fast Approaching Prohibition on the Use of Banned Telecommunications Equipment?

Merle M. DeLancey Jr., Justin A. Chiarodo, and Robyn N. Burrows

Background      

Section 889 of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (“NDAA”) imposed major new supply chain restrictions on the use of “covered” telecommunications products and services from Huawei Technologies Company Ltd. and several other Chinese entities and their affiliates.

Part A of Section 889 became effective in August 2019 and bans companies from providing covered technology to the Federal Government. Under Part A, a company cannot sell any product or provide any service to the government that uses covered technology. Compliance with Part A requires contractors to flow down the prohibition to subcontractors. Continue reading “Are You Prepared to Comply with the Fast Approaching Prohibition on the Use of Banned Telecommunications Equipment?”