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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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
On August 6, 2020, President Trump issued another Executive Order (“EO”) that will likely have dramatic and long-lasting effects on the pharmaceutical industry. The impact of the EO may be far greater than currently anticipated. It is well-considered, well drafted, and structured in a way that is likely to survive if there is a change in Administration. The EO will have a greater and immediate impact on Medical Counter Measures (“MCMs”) for chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear threats, and emerging infectious diseases than on Essential Medicines. The inclusion of Critical Inputs (i.e., active pharmaceutical ingredients (“API”)) and starting materials potentially makes the impact far reaching, especially when coupled with the significant funding from the federal government to support onshoring efforts as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Continue reading “Executive Order Regarding Domestic Production and Purchase of Essential Medicines: A Lot to Unpack and More Than Meets the Eye”
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.
Earlier today, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issued a decision that is sure to send shockwaves through the generic drug industry. In Acetris, the Federal Circuit held that a generic drug manufactured in the United States complied with the Trade Agreements Act (“TAA”) and could be sold to the Department of Veterans Affairs. The court made this determination even though the drug’s active pharmaceutical ingredient (“API”) came from a non-designated country, India. In reaching its decision, the court broke away from longstanding Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) precedent that the country where the API was produced dictated the location of “substantial transformation” and thus the country of origin for any resulting drug. The court held that under the Federal Acquisition Regulation (“FAR”), to qualify as a “U.S.-made end product” under the TAA, a drug must be either “manufactured” in the United States or “substantially transformed” in the United States—but not be both.
For years, generic drug manufacturers that manufacture drugs in the United States from API produced in India and China have been precluded from selling their drugs to the U.S. Government under the TAA. The Federal Circuit’s Acetris decision opens up the U.S. Government market for generic drugs manufactured in the U.S. from API produced in India and China.