Last week, in response to the Omicron variant, President Biden announced the Government intends to purchase 500 million at-home, rapid COVID-19 tests for distribution to Americans. According to the announcement, Americans will be able to order test kits to be delivered to their homes starting in January. While this may have been a good sound bite, as discussed below, it does not appear realistic. More likely, while Americans may be able to place orders in January, those orders may not be filled until several months into 2022.
As widely reported, rapid COVID-19 at-home test kits are already in short supply. Moreover, the Government has yet to enter into additional contracts beyond the limited contracts to a small number of suppliers previously announced by the Defense Logistics Agency (“DLA”) and a handful of “prototype” contracts finalized in 2020 under the Trump administration. The Government has not made any recent additional contract awards for rapid COVID-19 at-home test kits.
On December 22, one day after the president’s announcement, the Department of Defense (“DoD”), on behalf of the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”), issued a Request for Information (“RFI”) seeking information to assess market availability and sourcing for rapid COVID-19 at-home tests. The RFI, however, is not an actual procurement nor contract award and merely seeks information for 500,000 test kits for agency “personnel use.” Responses were due by 3:00 p.m. on December 24. (See, Rapid COVID-19 Antigen Test Kits.) Proposals to supply test kits are unlikely until after a Request for Proposal (“RFP”) has been issued. As of today, no RFP has been issued.
On March 18, 2020, by Executive Order (“E.O.”), President Trump invoked the Defense Production Act of 1950 (“DPA”). The E.O. delegates DPA authority to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services with respect to “all health and medical resources needed to respond to the spread of COVID-19 within the United States.” This means that the performance of rated contracts and orders (i.e., certain contracts and orders in support of programs covered by the DPA, as explained below) must be prioritized over competing commercial or non-rated governmental obligations—even if doing so could result in a breach of other obligations.
Set forth below is a checklist for contractors that have received (or believe they may receive) a rated order from a federal government agency:
1. Memorialize Standard Operating Procedures (“SOP”)
Effectively managing rated orders requires careful attention, particularly given the operational disruptions from coronavirus COVID-19. A company should consider establishing (or updating) SOPs for rated orders covering the following:
Designating a Point of Contact (“POC”) Responsible for Rated Orders. Publicize the POC within the company so that management and employees (e.g., C-Suite, Sales, and Marketing) who do not normally handle government contracting matters know who to contact.
Establish a Process to Communicate with Subcontractors. A prime contractor in receipt of a rated order stands in the shoes of the federal government and is required to notify applicable subcontractors of compliance with the rated order. Consider notifying subcontractors of the possibility of receiving a rated order and provide background on the DPA so they are not caught by surprise.
Establish a Commercial Customer Communications Plan. Because a rated order can delay or interfere with performance of commercial contracts, consider keeping commercial customers aware of potential impacts in the event that the government issues a rated order.
Frequent Communication with Contracting Officers. If the company believes it might receive a rated order, establish clear lines of communication with your Contracting Officers. Provide or re-confirm contact information for the company’s POC for rated orders.