November 9, 2022: “Legal and DoJ Matters”

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Blank Rome partner Justin A. Chiarodo will serve as a panelist at Federal Publications Seminars and Capital Edge Consulting’s 2022 Government Contract Accounting and Regulatory Update, being held November 9 and 10, 2022, in Arlington, Virginia.

Justin’s session, “Legal and DoJ Matters,” will take place Wednesday, November 9, from 8:30 to 10:00 a.m., and the panel will cover settlement and judgments from recent civil fraud and false claims, penalty assessments, and emerging issues.

For more details, visit our website.

FY 2022 Sees Number of Protests Fall, Solicitation Challenges Join the List of Most Likely Protest Grounds to Be Sustained

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Luke W. Meier and Elizabeth N. Jochum ●

The Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) has released its Annual Report to Congress summarizing bid protest activity for Fiscal Year 2022 (GAO-23-900462). The report mostly shows a continuation of recent trends: the overall number of GAO protests continues to drop, “effectiveness” remains high and stable (51 percent), and there are very few hearings (two for the year). Of note, preaward solicitation challenges were one of the most successful types of protest at GAO, for the first time ever since GAO began reporting the bases for successful protests in 2013. Below we break down what contractors can glean from this latest report.

Overall numbers down

The total number of protests filed at GAO continues to fall. The chart below shows the number of protest actions reported by GAO over the last several years.

Continue readingFY 2022 Sees Number of Protests Fall, Solicitation Challenges Join the List of Most Likely Protest Grounds to Be Sustained

New CFIUS Enforcement Guidelines: Executive Briefing

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Anthony Rapa ●

On October 20, 2022, the U.S. Department of the Treasury (“Treasury”), in its role as chair of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (“CFIUS”), issued the first-ever CFIUS Enforcement and Penalty Guidelines (the “Guidelines”). The Guidelines apprise the public of CFIUS’s intention to penalize violations of the CFIUS regulations, emphasize the importance of voluntary self-disclosures of violations, and provide a basic overview of the penalty process.

As a threshold matter, it is important to clarify what constitutes a “violation” in the CFIUS context. The relevant regulations provide for CFIUS review of certain foreign investments in U.S. businesses and empower CFIUS to block or mitigate such investments on national security grounds. While CFIUS retains broad discretion to take such action in the context of transactions, “violations” punishable by monetary penalties only arise in specific circumstances.

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60-Second Sustains: Tech Marine Business, Inc.

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Elizabeth N. Jochum

Tech Marine Business, Inc.
B-420872.1, .2, .3

  • The protester alleged that it should have been assigned a strength for its transition plan, which exceeded the Navy’s schedule for workload turnover and would be completed “well in advance[] of the 60-day requirement.”
  • The Agency argued that, as GAO has held, it is not required to document determinations of adequacy or explain why a proposal did not receive a strength for a particular item. The Agency represented that it reviewed the protester’s transition plan and did not consider the proposed ability to transition faster than the 60-day requirement to be a strength.
  • GAO found this insufficient and that the agency “provides no explanation—contemporaneous or otherwise—to support the reasonableness of its evaluation of Tech Marine’s transition plan.”
  • GAO stated it failed to see, and the Agency failed to explain, why exceeding the transition schedule would not benefit the Agency.
  • GAO recommended the Agency reevaluate Tech Marine’s proposal and make a new source selection determination.

Are You Ready for Increasing Buy American Act Content Requirements?

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Merle M. DeLancey Jr. 

Effective October 25, 2022, the domestic content requirements for government purchases subject to the Buy American Act (“BAA”) will increase. A March 7, 2022, final rule implemented significant domestic content threshold increases over a seven-year timeframe for procurements subject to the BAA requirements of FAR Part 25. These increases were based on President Biden’s January 25, 2021, Executive Order 14005, Ensuring the Future Is Made in All of America by All of America’s Workers. (See, Buy American Act—Final Rule: What Has Changed?) Note that these changes apply to the BAA as implemented in non-Department of Defense (“DoD”) purchases—the rules for implementing the BAA in DoD acquisitions are set forth in the DFARS, and differ from the FAR implementation in several important respects that we will address in a future post.

Unlike the Trade Agreements Act (“TAA”), which bans government purchases of non-compliant products, the BAA applies pricing preferences to encourage government agencies to purchase “domestic end products.” Thus, items that are not BAA compliant may still be purchased by government agencies, but they must be significantly less expensive. Currently, FAR Part 25 provides that large businesses offering domestic end products receive a 20 percent price preference and small businesses offering domestic end products receive a 30 percent price preference. The FAR sets forth a two-part test to determine whether a manufactured end product or construction material qualifies as a domestic end product: (1) the end product or construction material must be manufactured in the United States; and (2) the cost of any components mined, produced, or manufactured in the United States must exceed a certain percentage of the cost of all components.

Continue readingAre You Ready for Increasing Buy American Act Content Requirements?

New Semiconductor Export Controls: Executive Briefing

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Anthony Rapa ●

On October 7, 2022, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (“BIS”) issued sweeping new export controls under the Export Administration Regulations (“EAR”) aiming to cut off support for China’s advanced computing and supercomputing capabilities, with the new controls targeting specified chips, chipmaking equipment, and related services.

The BIS rule, which runs over 100 pages, is the most significant expansion of semiconductor-related export controls in recent memory, if not the history of the EAR, and marks a decisive inflection point in the U.S. strategic competition with China. Companies in the semiconductor industry should gauge their exposure to China-related risk, which could be present in oblique and non-obvious ways, and service providers to the industry should assess their risk exposure in light of the rule’s provisions regarding U.S. person “support” for restricted activities.

Continue readingNew Semiconductor Export Controls: Executive Briefing

Westlaw Today: U.S. Commerce Department Issues Semiconductor-Related Export Controls

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Westlaw Today, October 7, 2022

Anthony Rapa and Matthew J. Thomas ●

On August 15, 2022, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) issued an interim final rule imposing new export controls relating to certain semiconductor technology.

Specifically, the rule establishes a requirement under the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) to obtain a license from BIS before exporting to certain destinations the following materials and technologies:

      • Substrates of gallium oxide and diamond (ultra-wide bandgap semiconductors); and
      • Electronic Computer Aided Design (ECAD) software for the development of integrated circuits with Gate All-Around Field Effect Transistor (GAAFET) structures.

The control for the specified substrates is effective Aug. 15, 2022, while the control for the ECAD/GAAFET software is effective Oct. 14, 2022, with a comment period for industry that ran through Sept. 14, 2022.

The rulemaking follows public reports in July 2022 indicating that BIS had sent letters to chipmaking equipment manufacturers directing them not to export to China equipment capable of fabricating chips at 14 nanometers and below.

You can read more on our website.

The Government Contractor: Hejran and Zafer: Reiterating the CDA’s March to Meaningful Review on the Merits

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The Government Contractor, October 5, 2022

Stephanie M. Harden and David L. Bodner ●

Stephanie Harden's Headshot Photo

The ability for a Government contractor to secure fair resolution of a contract dispute is essential for maintaining a vibrant competitive marketplace for federal contracts. The perceived fairness of the contract dispute resolution process is influential on contractor participation. S. Rep. No. 95-1118, at 4 (1978) (“The way potential contractors view the disputes-resolving system influences how, whether, and at what prices they compete for Government contract business.”). Yet even after passage of the Contract Disputes Act of 1978, it is often difficult for a contractor to secure a review of a claim on the merits due to a barrage of procedural and jurisdictional hurdles. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has cleared some of the thicket in recent years by reiterating its commonsense approach to evaluating the sufficiency of claims, finding that if a submission meets the requirements of a claim, it may be heard on the merits, even if it was not originally styled as a claim.

This Feature Comment discusses this recent guidance, including the Federal Circuit’s treatment of the difficult question of which contractor submissions may be treated as valid claims under the CDA, even if not styled as such in the first instance. We then offer practical guidance for contractors navigating these issues.

Learn more on our website.

DoD Section 889 Telecommunications Prohibition Waiver Expires

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Merle M. DeLancey Jr. 

Effective October 1, 2022, Department of Defense (“DoD”) contractors must comply with Part B of Section 889 of the FY 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (“NDAA”). The approximately two-year long Part B waiver granted to the Director of National Intelligence expired October 1. DoD contractors cannot seek a DoD agency-level waiver as DoD cannot grant waivers under the statute. Thus, as with other agencies, DoD is prohibited from entering into, extending, or renewing contracts with contractors who use covered telecommunications or video surveillance equipment and services from certain Chinese companies in any part of their business.

Compliance with Part A of Section 889 was straightforward. Part A prohibited contractors from selling covered technology to the federal agencies. Comparatively, compliance with Part B is much more complicated. Part B requires a contractor to certify that it does not use “any equipment, system, or service that uses covered telecommunications equipment or services as a substantial or essential component of any system, or as critical technology as part of any system.” The prohibition applies to all contracts at any dollar value. “Covered telecommunications equipment or services” is defined as equipment, services and/or video surveillance products from Huawei Technologies Company, Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Company, Hytera Communications Company, Dahua Technology Company, ZTE Corporation, or any entity controlled by the People’s Republic of China.

For more information regarding Part B compliance, see our prior posts For Part B of Section 889, Is Compliance by August 13, 2020, Realistic? and Five Steps to Take to Prepare for Part B of the Section 889 Ban.

Proposed Rule for PLA Will Substantially Shift Federal Construction Landscape

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Carolyn R. Cody-Jones and Luke W. Meier  ●

The FAR Council recently published a proposed rule mandating the use of project labor agreements (“PLAs”) on federal construction projects where the total estimated cost to the government is $35 million or more. See FAR Case 2022-003, 87 FR 51044 (Aug. 19, 2022). The proposed rule codifies President Biden’s February 4, 2022, Executive Order No. 14063. 87 FR 7363 (Feb. 9, 2022). Certain exceptions apply, and for projects below $35 million whether to mandate PLAs is left to the discretion of each federal agency. A PLA is a pre-hire collective bargaining agreement with one or more labor organizations that establishes the terms and conditions of employment for a specific construction project.

Why it’s significant: The proposal rule, and the underlying Executive Order, further enhance an Obama-era Executive Order that encouraged PLAs on federal construction projects over $25 million, but did not require it. 74 FR 6985 (Feb. 11, 2009). The new Executive Order puts forth the new rule to seek increased “economy and efficiency,” arguing that large-scale construction projects can create “special challenges” for efficient and timely procurement, and contractor labor disputes can cause significant project delays. During the Obama and Trump Administrations, construction industry trade groups sought revocation of the Obama Executive Order, arguing it increases taxpayer costs and filing pre-award bid protests against agencies implementing a PLA requirement, in order to have it removed. During the time that rule was in effect, between 2009 and 2021, the FAR Council estimated that a PLA was used only 12 times despite there being roughly 2,000 eligible contracts. The new Biden Executive Order and proposed rule firmly moves the industry requirements on federal projects in the opposite direction and establishes a clear federal prerogative for PLAs on large construction projects.

Effects on the industry: Once in effect, the proposed rule will cause a significant shift in the federal construction industry. Recent Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates show that only 12.6 percent of the construction work force belong to unions. This means a contractor may face staffing challenges arising from a restricted pool of potential candidates. The FAR Council notes in the proposed rule that the average number of construction awards valued at $35 million or more, from Fiscal Year 2019 through Fiscal Year 2021, was approximately 119 annually, with an average cost of $114 million per award.

Continue readingProposed Rule for PLA Will Substantially Shift Federal Construction Landscape
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