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”

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.

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.

Veterans Affairs Granted Unprecedented Procurement Authority under P.L. 85-804

John M. Clerici and Merle M. DeLancey Jr.

On April 10, 2020, the President issued a Memorandum to the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (“DVA”) authorizing the exercise of authority under Public Law 85-804, 50 U.S.C. §§ 1431-35. (See Memorandum on Authorizing the Exercise of Authority under Public Law 85-804.) This is a significant action that contractors must understand and be prepared to use for their benefit.

P.L. 85-804’s expansive powers are rarely invoked, used only in unique circumstances that require “extraordinary contractual actions.” See FAR Part 50. President Obama relied on P.L. 85-804 in 2014 when he granted the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (“USAID”) the authority to indemnify companies from lawsuits related to contracts performed in Africa in support of USAID’s response to the Ebola outbreak. Because there are now other legal authorities the U.S. Government may use to offer liability protection in certain circumstances (e.g., the SAFETY Act of 2002; the PREP Act of 2005), conferring liability protection under P.L. 85-804 is uncommon. The use of the law to broadly expand the U.S. Government’s contracting powers is truly extraordinary. Continue reading “Veterans Affairs Granted Unprecedented Procurement Authority under P.L. 85-804”

VA Federal Supply Schedule Contracts and the Coronavirus

Merle M. DeLancey Jr.

In response to the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) has relaxed procurement rules and regulations to facilitate purchases from VA federal supply schedules (“FSS”). On March 20, 2020, the VA National Acquisition Center (“NAC”) informed all VA FSS holders that, based upon the President’s invocation of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, 42 U.S.C. 5121-5207 (the “Stafford Act”), state and local governments, territories, and tribes have full access to VA FSS contracts. See Presidential Declaration of National Emergency COVID-19 – State and Local Government Ordering Procedures.

Thus, even if a contractor did not elect to participate in Disaster Recovery Purchasing at the time of contract award, contractors are now permitted to accept any orders by state and local governments. However, whether to accept any state or local government order is voluntary not mandatory. Continue reading “VA Federal Supply Schedule Contracts and the Coronavirus”

GSA Federal Supply Schedules Contracts and the Coronavirus: Risks and Rewards

Merle M. DeLancey Jr.

On March 19, 2020, the General Services Administration (“GSA”) issued guidance regarding its process for issuing Defense Priorities and Allocation System (“DPAS”) Rated Orders. Significantly, however, GSA reminded its contracting officers that “[e]xisting Government sources of supply and contract vehicles should be considered first. Check to see if the required supplies are available.” See gsa.gov/buying-selling/purchasing-programs/gsa-schedules/gsa-schedule-offerings/consolidated-schedule/industrial-products-services-category and gsaadvantage.gov/advantage/search/specialCategory.do?cat=ADV.DR. GSA federal supply schedules (“FSS”) can be a contracting officer’s one-stop shop for protective equipment, disinfectants, hand sanitizers, and other products and supplies to combat the coronavirus COVID-19. The GSA FSS also offers a variety of solutions for agencies looking for teleworking options. See gsa.gov/buying-selling/purchasing-programs/gsa-schedules/gsa-schedule-offerings/consolidated-schedule/professional-services-category.

The largest active buyer in the market right now remains the federal government. FSS is an important tool for the government to get supplies and services, but do not be fooled. With these potential opportunities, there also are potential risks for FSS contractors that fail to follow the terms and conditions of their FSS contracts and/or seek to cut corners.

As is often the case, FSS vendors go above and beyond to provide services or deliver supplies to federal agencies to respond to emergency situations like the COVID-19 pandemic. As is also the case, months later, after the dust settles, agency offices of inspector general arrive to audit contracts. Inevitably, in the effort to expeditiously fill government orders, things get overlooked or ignored, and “but I was helping the agency fulfill its mission in response to a pandemic” is not a defense that will resonate with government auditors.

Based upon our experience, here are some tips for FSS vendors to follow and/or traps to avoid: Continue reading “GSA Federal Supply Schedules Contracts and the Coronavirus: Risks and Rewards”

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?”