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).
Chambers noted that clients say that Justin “is a skilled and service-minded lawyer who cuts to the chase and avoids red tape” “He is an excellent leader and superb relationship partner” and that Dave “is a terrific lawyer who anticipates issues and is forward-thinking about his advice.”
To view all of Blank Rome’s Chambers USA 2022 rankings, please visit our website.
The Legal 500 United States 2022
Blank Rome was ranked as a “Recommended Firm” in the area of “Government: Government Contracts” and several of our Government Contracts attorneys were highly ranked and recommended in The Legal 500 United States 2022, including:
“Leading Lawyers”: The Legal 500’s Guide to Outstanding Lawyers Nationwide
Justin A. Chiarodo
“Next Generation Partners”: The Legal 500’s Guide to Up-and-Coming Lawyers Nationwide
Dominique L Casimir (Government: Government Contracts)
To view all of Blank Rome’s Legal 500 United States 2022 rankings, please visit our website.
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On March 7, 2022, the FAR Council published the final rule containing changes to Buy American Act (“BAA”) domestic preference requirements.
This final rule is a significant step towards implementation of a policy to enhance domestic preferences announced by President Biden in E.O. 14005 just a few days after taking office. You may recall that the FAR Council previously issued a proposed rule that contemplated (1) phased increases in domestic content thresholds, (2) enhanced preferences for critical products and components, and (3) post-award reporting requirements for critical products and components. See our prior posts addressing President Biden’s E.O. 14005 and the proposed rule.
The final rule retained most of what the FAR Council initially proposed, but there are a few changes that we discuss below. We also point out some aspects of the new policy that remain to be fleshed out in future rulemaking.
Increased Domestic Content Thresholds
The proposed rule contemplated increasing the current domestic content threshold from 55 percent to 60 percent, with subsequent increases to 65 percent and 75 percent beginning in calendar years 2024 and 2029, respectively. The final rule retains these increases but allows for a longer period than typically provided before the first increase to 60 percent becomes effective. The 60 percent threshold will take effect October 25, 2022—over six months after publication, rather than the customary 30 or 60 days after publication. Thus, contractors and agencies have several more months to plan for the new threshold.
Lawsuits challenging the Biden Administration’s many vaccine mandates have changed the compliance landscape over the last few months. This post summarizes the current status of the four major mandates:
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) mandate;
Healthcare Worker mandate;
Federal Employee mandate; and
Federal Contractor mandate.
Spoiler alert: The Federal Contractor mandate–which has caused the most significant confusion for Government contractors since its issuance–still does.
1. OSHA Mandate
OSHA’s Emergency Temporary Standard (“ETS”) required that all employees of employers with 100 or more employees either be fully vaccinated or wear a mask and submit to weekly COVID‑19 testing. On January 13, 2022, the Supreme Court upheld a preliminary injunction of the OSHA mandate, finding that it likely exceeded OSHA’s authority.
Status: Withdrawn (OSHA announced that it was withdrawing the ETS on January 26, 2022).
Yesterday the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia issued a preliminary injunction against enforcement of Executive Order (“EO”) 14042, under which prime contractors and subcontractors are required to ensure that all of their employees working “on or in connection with” covered federal contracts are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 (“Vaccine Mandate”). The order was issued in a lawsuit filed by the States of Georgia, Alabama, Idaho, Kansas, South Carolina, Utah, and West Virginia; governors of several of those states; and various state agencies that challenged the Biden Administration’s authority to issue the Vaccine Mandate. In its decision, State of Georgia, et. al. v. Biden, No. 1:21-cv-163, the court agreed with the plaintiffs’ argument that the Administration improperly relied on the Federal Property and Administrative Services Act (“FPASA”) to issue the Vaccine Mandate, concluding that the FPASA’s authorization for the President to impose policies to promote economy and efficiency in procurement did not extend to polices focused primarily on public health.
As directed in President Biden’s January 25, 2021, Executive Order we discussed six months ago, last week the FAR Council proposed increases to the Buy American Act (“BAA”) domestic content requirements, and previewed enhanced price preferences and reporting obligations for “critical” domestic products and components under the BAA.
The proposed rule, issued on July 30, 2021, contains three key elements: (1) Phased increases in domestic content thresholds from the current 55% to 75% by 2029, (2) enhanced price preferences for critical products and components, and (3) post-award reporting requirements for critical products and components.
A virtual public meeting to discuss the proposed rule will be held on August 26, 2021, and comments are due by September 28, 2021. The DAR Council also has an open DFARS Case relating to BAA provisions (2019-D045).
We provide an overview of the rule below along with practical takeaways for contractors to consider in light of these potentially significant changes.
Legal developments aimed at government contractors do not always make headline news in mainstream media, but last week’s Executive Order on Increasing the Minimum Wage for Federal Contractors, April 27, 2021 (“Executive Order”), did get widespread attention, perhaps because it is viewed by some in political circles as the next best thing for an administration that sees substantial congressional hurdles for more broadly applicable minimum wage increase legislation. So you have probably heard about about the Executive Order, but how will it impact government contractors?
What does the Executive Order do?
The Executive Order will increase the hourly minimum wage for workers working on or in connection with federal government contracts to $15.00, effective January 30, 2022. This will be a substantial increase from the current minimum wage of $10.95 applicable to most federal contracts pursuant Executive Order 13658. (EO 13658 originally set a federal contractor minimum wage of $10.10, effective January 1, 2015, when it was issued by President Obama in early 2014. That minimum wage has since increased annually.)
How will the increase be implemented?
The Secretary of Labor is to issue implementing regulations by November 24, 2021, and the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council is to amend the FAR to provide the new minimum wage provisions in federal procurement solicitations, contracts, and contract-like instruments within 60 days after issuance of the Labor Department’s implementing regulations.
“Buy American” is one of few policy areas where the Biden and Trump administrations appear to generally agree. The Trump administration expressed support for strengthening regulatory implementation of the Buy American Act (“BAA”), and, in Executive Order 13881 (July 15, 2019), directed the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council (“FAR Council”) to consider proposed regulations to increase and create new domestic content thresholds required for a product to qualify for domestic preference treatment. We wrote four months ago about the FAR Council’s proposed regulations to do just that, and to increase the price evaluation credit given to domestic products subject to the BAA. (SeeProposed Rule Portends Increased Contractor BAA Obligations.) On January 19, 2021, the FAR Council published its final rule, largely adopting the proposed version.
The Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) has released its Annual Report to Congress summarizing bid protest activity for Fiscal Year 2020 (GAO-21-281SP). The report shows that, in a unique year where COVID-19 altered procurement practices and priorities, protest activity at GAO was remarkably stable. Of note, GAO’s “effectiveness rate” this year topped 50 percent, meaning most protests resulted in some form of relief. The number of task order protests continues to increase, despite a modest dip in overall protests. Unsurprisingly, again there were very few hearings.
The chart below summarizes the GAO protest statistics from FY 2015 to FY 2020.
Here are four key takeaways from the latest report.
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.