COVID Audits and Investigations: The Enforcers

Merle M. DeLancey Jr. and Craig Stetson*

This is the first in a series of blog posts concerning the audits and investigations related to the contracts and grants awarded, and relief funds provided, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As of February 2021, pursuant to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”), which created the Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) and supplemental funding such as the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the United States government has made available an estimated four trillion dollars in relief funds to businesses and individuals, and the Biden administration is proposing roughly two trillion dollars more.

In addition to the relief funds, the Government has easily awarded more than billions in pandemic-related contracts for everything from vaccines to PPE to hand sanitizers. These levels of funding and spending are unprecedented and have been made at breakneck speed (for the government). Based on these factors and lessons from the past, audits of relief recipients and contractors to confirm appropriate use of government funds are inevitable. And the government has said as much. Of course, if an audit reveals potential wrongdoing or malfeasance, relief recipients and contractors should expect follow-on investigations and enforcement activity.

This first post identifies the myriad of entities that are or will be reviewing—and potentially investigating—relief recipient and contractor representations made to obtain, and subsequent use of, government funds.

Continue reading “COVID Audits and Investigations: The Enforcers”

Biden Administration Already Impacting Drug Prices

Merle M. DeLancey Jr.

The Trump administration issued numerous Executive Orders seeking to rein in drug prices. (See Recent and Possible Executive Orders on Drug Pricing: What You Need to Know – Government Contracts Navigator and Administration Issues Executive Order Tying Medicare Drug Costs to International Prices – Government Contracts Navigator.) While the Executive Orders made for good sound bites, none of them actually impacted drug prices. At the end of the day, most of the Trump administration initiatives never made it to the regulatory rulemaking phase, and those that did were met with legal challenges. Since then, in less than a month since taking office, the Biden administration has issued multiple Executive Orders and memoranda reversing the Trump-era Executive Orders and freezing pending regulations and enforcement policies with respect to existing regulations. Beginning on its first day, the Biden administration took action impacting drug prices and potentially signaled, directly or indirectly, the polices we may see over the next four years. The new administration’s actions have continued at a rapid pace. Continue reading “Biden Administration Already Impacting Drug Prices”

Biden Administration Prioritizing Federal Contractor Workforce Protections

Merle M. DeLancey Jr.

Protection of the workforce is a major focus of the Biden Administration. Rather than attempting to pass new legislation or amend existing statutes, the path of least resistance in the short term appears to be the use of executive orders to implement or, as here, rescind Trump Administration Executive Orders and put into effect many of the same policies as the Obama Administration. The starting point for the Biden Administration is to take the steps to implement rules with respect to the federal workforce and the workforce performing federal government contracts.

One of President Biden’s first actions in office was to direct federal government agencies to start the work to permit implementation of certain changes within the first 100 days of the administration through further executive action. These initiatives most likely will include an increased federal contractor minimum wage, requirements to offer employment to employees of an incumbent contractor, perhaps requiring contractors to disclose labor violations when seeking federal contracts, and increased Service Contract Act (“SCA”) enforcement.

      • President Biden’s Executive Order 14003 on Protecting the Federal Workforce issued on January 22, among other requirements, directed the Office of Management and Budget to make recommendations regarding establishing a $15 minimum wage for federal employees and federal contractors and subcontractors (the current federal contractor minimum wage is $10.95) and to provide employees with emergency paid leave.

      • President Biden’s Executive Order 13985 on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government issued on January 20 revoked President Trump’s controversial Executive Order prohibiting certain types of workplace diversity trainings for federal government contractors.
Continue reading “Biden Administration Prioritizing Federal Contractor Workforce Protections”

Fifty Ways to Lose Your Federal Contract Award – Part 1: Failing to Secure Your Key Person Supply Chain

Albert B. Krachman

With apologies to Paul Simon, this is Part 1 of a series of articles on the many ways contractors can lose awards on federal contracts. These cautionary tales should inform anyone in a contractor organization with responsibility for authorizing, preparing, or negotiating competitive federal proposals.

Like a prize-winning recipe, the ingredients for losing an award are well known: one part carelessness, a pinch of greed, and some lack of attention to detail. Throw in a dash of procrastination, a late proposal revision, and then garnish it with an 11th-hour e-mailing of your proposal. Voila—you have cooked up a complete waste of proposal resources! 

We kick off this series with a story of an incumbent contractor who lost a billion-dollar follow-on contract by failing to contractually secure the services of a key person designated in the proposal.

Continue reading “Fifty Ways to Lose Your Federal Contract Award – Part 1: Failing to Secure Your Key Person Supply Chain”

Where Are We Going with Section 889 Part B?

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







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.

Yet, despite the Rule’s laudable policy goals, the government’s piecemeal and inconsistent implementation has placed government contractors in an untenable position. Continue reading “Where Are We Going with Section 889 Part B?”

Preparing for the Rollout of the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification: It Is All about the Timing

Michael Joseph Montalbano

The Department of Defense (“DoD”) is expected to begin rolling out the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (“CMMC”) program later this year. As a brief refresher, the CMMC is a certification system implemented by DoD to protect Controlled Unclassified Information (“CUI”) and other sensitive contract information. There are five CMMC levels of ascending sophistication. The most common CMMC levels are expected to be Level 1 and Level 3. Level 1 will require contractors to put into place basic safeguarding practices to protect federal contract information. Level 3 will require contractors to put into place more stringent safeguarding practices that are designed to protect CUI. Contractors receive their CMMC after they pass an assessment by a CMMC Third Party Assessment Organization (“C3PAO”) or an individual assessor.

Although DoD will not fully implement the CMMC program until 2026, more and more contracts will require offerors to hold a CMMC demonstrating that their organizations have implemented the necessary cybersecurity controls. A nightmare scenario for any defense contractor is to find itself unable to compete for a lucrative DoD contract due to insufficient time to obtain the required CMMC before proposal deadlines. Fortunately, the Accreditation Body (“AB”) that is responsible for rolling out the CMMC program has provided estimated timelines for contractors seeking a CMMC. Continue reading “Preparing for the Rollout of the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification: It Is All about the Timing”

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”

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.

Tricare Providers Are Not Federal Subcontractors

Merle M. DeLancey, Jr.

The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (“OFCCP”) ended a long-running controversy by issuing a final rule stating that healthcare providers participating in the TRICARE military healthcare program are not federal subcontractors. TRICARE provides healthcare benefits to uniformed service members, retirees, and their families. In its final rule, the OFCCP, which enforces anti-discrimination laws as to government contractors, states that it does not have authority to enforce regulatory obligations in Executive Order 11246, Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974, including affirmative action obligations, with respect to TRICARE providers.

Controversy regarding the status of TRICARE providers as potential federal subcontractors began in 2007 when OFCCP first asserted its authority over an Orlando, Florida, hospital serving TRICARE beneficiaries. Years of litigation ensued. In 2011, Congress sought to resolve any confusion by including a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 barring the OFCCP from asserting jurisdiction over a healthcare provider based on TRICARE participation.

Notwithstanding Congress’ clear intent to foreclose OFCCP’s further assertions of jurisdiction based solely on TRICARE, the agency continued its enforcement efforts. Eventually, perhaps seeing the writing on the wall, in 2014, the agency implemented a five-year moratorium on enforcement actions against TRICARE providers. In 2018, OFCCP extended the moratorium an additional two years during which, in November 2019, the agency initiated a proposed rulemaking leading to its final rule issued earlier this month.

The OFCCP’s final rule makes clear, for now, that TRICARE providers are not required to comply with certain employment protections involving race, sex, and other characteristics, including implementing affirmative action plans. In the final rule, the agency states that even if it had authority over TRICARE providers, it would grant a national interest exception for the providers.

According to the agency, the final rule gives certainty to more than 87,000 healthcare providers regarding their legal obligations and aims to improve access to medical care for veterans and their families, increase cost savings for TRICARE providers, and allocate the agency’s limited resources more efficiently.

The final rule only applies to healthcare providers under the TRICARE program. To the extent a healthcare provider has a separate federal prime contract or subcontract, it is still subject to the agency’s rules and regulations. Thus, if you are a TRICARE provider, you can breathe a sigh of relief but you must remain vigilant regarding direct contracts with other federal agencies and, more importantly, scrutinize whether subcontracts involving federal healthcare programs, other than TRICARE, could nonetheless make you a federal subcontractor subject to OFCCP’s rules and regulations and other Federal Acquisition Regulations. Our previous guidance in this area can be found in our blog post, Who Is a Subcontractor under a Federal Government Contract? 

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.