The General Services Administration (“GSA”) Office of Governmentwide Policy recently authorized contracting officers to provide relief to GSA contractors experiencing cost increases due to surging inflation. See Acquisition Letter. To assist struggling contractors, GSA issued a temporary moratorium on the enforcement of certain limitations contained in GSA economic price adjustment (“EPA”) clauses.
GSA issued the moratorium in response to an uptick in contractors’ requests for price increases and removal of items from their Federal Supply Schedule (“FSS”) contracts to avoid selling at a loss. In issuing the moratorium, GSA recognized that inflationary pressures and price volatility, caused by supply chain disruptions, strong demand, and labor shortages, are ongoing concerns unlikely to abate in the near term. GSA acknowledged that it must help contractors weather this “unusual time”—especially small businesses and new market entrants—to ensure a resilient and diverse federal industrial base and the government’s continued access to critical “products, services, and solutions.”
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As the federal government prepares to roll out infrastructure grants and contracts in amounts not seen since the New Deal and the defense industrial base (“DIB”) gears up to support billions in new spending to support Ukraine, a new Department of Defense (“DoD”) report raises serious concerns about the state of competition within the DIB. The report recently released by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment analyzes the state of competition within the DIB and concluded that it can be summarized in one word: poor. The report discusses the causes for the lack of competition and makes recommendations for improving the solicitation process to increase competition, inspire innovation, reduce prices, and improve quality.
Foremost among the causes for the lack of competition identified by the report is consolidation of the DIB. Of 51 aerospace and defense prime contractors in the 1990s only five exist today. Although the report failed to find significant correlation between this consolidation and increased pricing, the consolidation raises additional concerns for DoD, such as national security, mission risk, and strategic technology innovation. The report notes that “having only a single source or a small number of sources for a defense need can pose mission risk and, particularly in cases where the existing dominant supplier or suppliers are influenced by an adversary nation, pose significant national security risks.” The report recommends that when a merger is likely to harm one of these interests, DoD work closely with the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice to take structural or behavioral measures deemed necessary, up to and including blocking the merger.
On January 21, 2022, the General Services Administration (“GSA”) Office of Inspector General (“OIG”) informed the Federal Acquisition Service (“FAS”) that ongoing monitoring by the OIG found that the FAS failed to properly monitor the sale of products for compliance with the Trade Agreements Act (“TAA”) during the COVID-19 response. Previously, in April 2020, GSA relaxed compliance with the TAA for a limited number of Federal Supply Classes (“FSCs”) to aid the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The applicable FSCs included those covering N95 masks, cleaners and disinfectants, disposable gloves, and hand sanitizers. After several extensions, the TAA exception policy expired on April 30, 2021.
The OIG identified two deficiencies in FAS’ implementation of the TAA exception policy. First, the OIG found that FAS failed to properly track the addition of non-compliant products to contracts. As a result, after expiration of the exception policy, there was no effective way for GSA to remove the non-compliant products from contracts. Second, the OIG found that GSA improperly permitted the addition of non-compliant products to GSA contracts. For example, some products that were added were unrelated to the government’s response to the pandemic; some products were added to GSA contracts prior to the effective date of the TAA exception policy; and, remarkably, in one case, a product was added to a contract that identified North Korea as its country of origin.
Beginning February 1, 2022, contractors and subcontractors required to maintain affirmative action plans (“AAPs”) can register for access to a new secure online contractor portal. The portal was developed and will be monitored by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (“OFCCP”). OFCCP has been working on an information and verification process for three years. In August 2021, the Office of Management and Budget approved OFCCP’s use of the portal. The portal provides contractors a secure method of (i) annually certifying compliance with AAP requirements and (ii) submitting AAPs to OFCCP during audits or compliance evaluations.
Executive Order 11246 and Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 require contractors and subcontractors that hold a contract valued at $50,000 or more and employ 50 or more employees to comply with equal employment and affirmative action requirements. This includes developing and maintaining written AAPs. Currently, only services and supply contractors, not construction contractors, are required to certify compliance.
“If you want to do business with the federal government, get your workers vaccinated.” -President Biden, July 29, 2021
Please join Blank Rome’s Albert B. Krachman, partner in our Government Contracts practice group, and Brooke T. Iley, partner and co-chair of our Labor & Employment practice group, as they provide timely and insightful analysis of President Biden’s vaccination mandate for federal contractors in the wake of the Delta variant, including in-depth discussion of:
COVID-19 vaccinations as an element of FAR Part 9—Contractor Qualifications
Scope of Mandate
Contractor Vaccination Program Design
Resolving Federal/State/Local Law Conflicts
Vaccinations and Federal Market Share—Trends to Watch
Tuesday, August 31, 2021 | 1:00—1:30 p.m. EDT Online Event
June 2021 marked the five-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Kingdomware decision, which is best known for broadly interpreting the so-called “Rule of Two” requirement flowing from the Veterans Benefits, Health Care, and Information Technology Act of 2006 (the “VBA”). The Rule has been criticized for delaying Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) procurements and increasing the prices the government pays for goods and services. However, the importance of the Rule’s purpose—to prioritize and increase the government’s use of small businesses owned by veterans—cannot be credibly challenged.
Over the past five years, the Federal Circuit, Court of Federal Claims, and Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) protest decisions have created some bright-line rules interpreting the VBA’s Rule of Two. After a brief summary of the Rule of Two, this post lays out these bright-line rules, and concludes with predictions regarding future VBA Rule of Two protests.
Companies providing information technology products and services to U.S. government agencies are now required to notify such agencies of cyber incidents and meet specific cybersecurity standards. The executive order attempts to modernize the federal government’s cybersecurity defenses by “protecting federal networks, improving information-sharing between the U.S. government and the private sector on cyber issues, and strengthening the [United States]’ ability to respond to incidents when they occur.” The executive order is just one example of the Biden administration’s push to improve the nation’s data privacy and cybersecurity practices in response to the recent series of ransomware attacks.
On May 12, 2021, President Biden signed an executive order to bolster the federal government’s cybersecurity practices and contractually obligate the private sector to align with such enhanced security practices (“the Order”). The Order comes on the heels of a ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline that occurred on May 6, 2021, which shut down the largest oil pipeline in the United States and disrupted supplies of gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel to the East Coast. This initiative to improve the security of the software supply chain also stems from the SolarWinds cyberattack that occurred last year. In the attack, Russian hackers used a routine software update that Texas-based SolarWinds Corp. provided to its customers to install malicious code, allowing the hackers to infiltrate nine federal agencies and about 100 companies.
Proposed amendments are expected soon from the Federal Acquisition Regulation (“FAR”) and the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (“DFARS”) that will increase compliance obligations for government contractors and their vendors, building on a string of supply chain and cybersecurity regulation in recent years (including Section 889’s prohibition on the use of certain Chinese telecommunications, new registration requirements in the Supplier Performance Risk System, and the Department of Defense’s Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification program). We see the biggest impacts on government contractors, such as developers and users of software.
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.
“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.
About two months have passed since the August 13, 2020, effective date of Part B of Section 889 of the FY 2019 National Defense Authorization Act. Part B, sometimes referred to as the Chinese telecommunications equipment ban, broadly prohibits the federal government from contracting with entities that use certain Chinese telecommunications (including video surveillance) equipment and services.
After the FAR Council published its July 10, 2020, Interim Rule, contractors, large and small, spent countless hours working to be able to certify compliance by August 13. This deadline was critical because the Interim Rule said that absent such a certification, a contractor was ineligible for future contract awards. That is, government agencies were prohibited from renewing or extending existing contracts with contractors unable to certify Part B compliance. Indeed, agencies were prohibited from issuing an order under an existing contract to a contractor that failed to certify compliance.