Will Federal Contractors Be Required to Certify Employee COVID Vaccinations?

Albert B. Krachman and Brooke T. Iley

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.

Continue reading “Will Federal Contractors Be Required to Certify Employee COVID Vaccinations?”

Under Biden Administration, Will Federal Drug Pricing Transparency Efforts Continue to Outpace State Laws?

Merle M. DeLancey Jr.

During 2019 and 2020, states enacted fewer laws requiring drug manufacturers to disclose pricing and related information. Initially, the slowdown may have been due to federal actions to rein in drug prices through the Trump administration’s multiple executive orders. Thereafter, states were focused on responding to the pandemic and drug pricing was understandably placed on the back burner.

Circumstances have since changed. We now have a new president and administration, and the country is hopefully turning the corner on the COVID-19 pandemic. Inevitably, the federal government and states will again turn their focus to drug prices. While the Trump administration’s executive orders made for good public sound bites, they had little to no actual impact on drug prices. At the end of the day, most of the Trump administration’s initiatives never made it to the regulatory rulemaking phase and those that did were met with legal challenges.

Only a month in, the Biden administration has issued multiple executive orders and memoranda reversing prior executive orders and freezing pending regulations and enforcement policies with respect to existing regulations. After a brief discussion of what we have seen in the early days of the Biden administration in terms of drug pricing, this article reviews new and existing state laws requiring drug manufacturers to report pricing and other information. Thereafter, we again question the efficacy of the state price transparency efforts and what manufacturers should be doing in terms of compliance.

To read or download the full client alert, please click here.

Surviving Proposal Weaknesses after Discussions: What Not to Do

Albert B. Krachman

With apologies to Paul Simon, this is another in a series of articles on the 50 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 contract proposals.

Like the inverse of Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People bestseller, the mistakes that lead to lost awards are well known and include: carelessness, greed, lack of attention to detail, procrastination, and cursory (or omitted) red-team reviews. This article highlights another surefire path to disaster: failing to adequately correct proposal weaknesses after discussions.

This lesson arises out of a clash between BNA and Lexis, legal search titans, over a U.S. Treasury contract. The combatants were seeking award of a contract for electronic research services for IRS staff, described in a GAO Bid Protest decision, LexisNexis, a Division of RELX Inc., B-418885; B-418885.2 (October 8, 2020).

Treasury’s solicitation required that offerors both describe their search solutions in technical proposals, and have a working computing solution, active for government testing. After initial proposal submissions and initial evaluations, the government advised offerors of weaknesses and deficiencies in their proposals and in their computing solutions. Treasury advised Lexis that its proposal suffered from a significant weakness due to Lexis’ computing solution’s return of erroneous search results. Discussions were opened and offerors were permitted to submit final proposal revisions. Offerors were also permitted to correct any deficiencies in their computing solutions before another round of government testing.

Continue reading “Surviving Proposal Weaknesses after Discussions: What Not to Do”

Blank Rome Government Contracts: 2020 Year-in-Review

As 2021 shifts into high gear, Blank Rome’s Government Contracts practice is pleased to share our 2020 Year-in-Review, covering key government contracts issues, recent practice news and recognitions, and our look at the year ahead.

Thanks to the trust and support of our clients and colleagues and our dedication to our Client Service Principles, we helped guide clients through an unprecedented 2020, and look forward to partnering with them to forge ahead in 2021.

We are particularly proud of Blank Rome’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, including our practice’s facilitation of the ABA Public Contract Law’s 21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge. We will continue to actively support these important issues in 2021 and beyond, and firmly believe our collective and sustained action will make a difference in our profession.

Finally, if you have not already, we invite you and your team to subscribe to this Government Contracts Navigator blog, where we cover issues of importance to our government contracting community. We know there are a lot of blogs out there, but we keep a strong focus on the practical, with day-to-day business considerations in mind. Interested in the greatest hits? We’ve included in this report a list of the top 10 read posts in 2020. You can also follow us on Twitter @GovConBR.

Thank you for reading. And please let us know how we can help you and your business. Wishing you and your families health and success in 2021.

Justin A. Chiarodo
Chair, Government Contracts
202.420.2706 | jchiarodo@blankrome.com

Please visit our website to read our entire Blank Rome Government Contracts: 2020 Year-in-Review.

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”

Foul but No Harm? Strict FAR Compliance Can Be a One-Way Street

Albert B. Krachman

Contractors and contractor teams competing for set-aside contracts should internalize the Federal Acquisition Regulation (“FAR”) compliance lesson imparted by a recent Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) protest decision related to small business set-aside procurements. In Kira Training Services, LLC, B-419149.3 (January 4, 2021) GAO illustrated that in the set-aside area, an Agency can violate a mandatory FAR provision, but a contractor cannot complain unless it takes timely proactive steps to protect itself from the government error. In Kira, GAO found that on a set-aside contract, the Navy violated the FAR by not sending the required pre-award list of intended awardees to all offerors, but the small business protester was not competitively prejudiced by the Navy error because it failed to protect itself by filing a post-award size protest.

The purpose of the pre-award notice on small business set aside contracts is to allow competitors to timely file size protests against proposed awardees who may not be an eligible small business. The regulations make it more advantageous for a bidder to challenge a competitor’s size before award, as opposed to post award, when an adverse size or status ruling may not prevent the government from proceeding with the challenged procurement even if the size protest is sustained.

Continue reading “Foul but No Harm? Strict FAR Compliance Can Be a One-Way Street”

Buy American Act – More Big Changes Ahead

Scott Arnold

“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. (See Proposed Rule Portends Increased Contractor BAA Obligations.) On January 19, 2021, the FAR Council published its final rule, largely adopting the proposed version.

Ironically, these changes were issued on the last full day of the Trump administration and went into effect January 21, 2021—the first full day of the Biden administration. And while there is no indication that the Biden administration believes the new BAA thresholds were bad ideas, President Biden wasted no time signaling his desire for further strengthening of the BAA as well as domestic content requirements in federal procurement and grant programs generally. President Biden’s Executive Order on Ensuring the Future Is Made in All of American by All of America’s Workers (“EO”) issued on January 25, 2021, makes this clear. Continue reading “Buy American Act – More Big Changes Ahead”

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”

GAO Report Suggests DOE Should Identify More Instances of Contractor Fraud

Luke W. Meier and Robyn N. Burrows

Last week, the Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) issued a report on Department of Energy (“DOE”) contracting, Improvements Needed to Ensure DOE Assesses Its Full Range of Contracting Fraud Risks. The thrust of the report is that DOE should do more to prevent and detect fraud, particularly in less-examined areas such as bid-rigging, misrepresentation of eligibility, kickbacks and gratuities, and conflicts of interest.

DOE relies on contractors to carry out its missions at laboratories and other facilities, spending approximately 80 percent of its $41 billion in total obligations on contracts. In March 2017, GAO reviewed DOE’s approach to managing its risk of fraud and found DOE did not use leading practices, resulting in missed opportunities to mitigate the likelihood and impact of fraud.

Continue reading “GAO Report Suggests DOE Should Identify More Instances of Contractor Fraud”