The federal False Claims Act (“FCA”) is one of the United States’ most effective tools to detect and prevent fraud against the Government. One reason the FCA is so effective is that it encourages the employees of an organization to come forward as claimants and receive a share of any financial recovery to the Government. Recognizing the central role of these whistleblowers in the FCA’s enforcement scheme, Congress included an anti-retaliation provision in the statute that protects them when they report suspected fraudulent conduct. Under the FCA’s anti-retaliation provision, employees, contractors, or agents can sue for damages on their own behalf if they are “discharged, demoted, suspended, threatened, harassed, or in any other manner discriminated against in the terms and conditions of employment because of lawful acts done” in connection with a reported FCA violation. 31 U.S.C. § 3730(h)(1). Likewise, nearly every state also affords some degree of whistleblower protection, either statutorily or in the common law.
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.
Since December 2021, after a Federal District Court for the Southern District of Georgia issued a nationwide injunction against the federal contractor vaccine mandate, compliance with the federal contractor vaccine mandate has been in limbo. Many hoped that, on appeal, the Eleventh Circuit would bring some clarity to vaccine requirements. Unfortunately, that is not the case. On August 26, 2022, the Eleventh Circuit agreed that a preliminary injunction was warranted, however the Court narrowed the applicability of the injunction. The court held that the injunction should only apply to the specific plaintiff-states and trade associations in the case, and should not “extend nationwide and without distinction to plaintiffs and non-parties alike.” Georgia v. President of the United States, No. 21-14269 (11th Cir. Aug. 26, 2022).
The Eleventh Circuit agreed with the lower court that a preliminary injunction was warranted, stating that while “Congress crafted the Procurement Act to promote economy and efficiency in federal contracting, the purpose statement does not authorize the President to supplement the statute with any administrative move that may advance that purpose.” Therefore, the Court held that “the President likely exceeded his authority under the Procurement Act when directing executive agencies to enforce” the vaccine mandate.
In short: a broad vaccine mandate for employees of government contractors is coming. But the exact details on application, exemptions, and compliance remain unclear. New rules due by October 8, 2021, should better address those questions. Adding to this uncertainty, the Guidance encourages individual agencies to issue their own (potentially broader) guidance. That said, we can infer a lot from Friday’s guidance.
“If you want to do business with the federal government, get your workers vaccinated.” -President Biden, July 29, 2021
Please join Blank Rome’s Albert B. Krachman, partner in our Government Contracts practice group, and Brooke T. Iley, partner and co-chair of our Labor & Employment practice group, as they provide timely and insightful analysis of President Biden’s vaccination mandate for federal contractors in the wake of the Delta variant, including in-depth discussion of:
COVID-19 vaccinations as an element of FAR Part 9—Contractor Qualifications
Scope of Mandate
Contractor Vaccination Program Design
Resolving Federal/State/Local Law Conflicts
Vaccinations and Federal Market Share—Trends to Watch
Tuesday, August 31, 2021 | 1:00—1:30 p.m. EDT Online Event
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.
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.
On March 27, 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”) was signed into law. This massive $2.2 trillion economic package provides a host of opportunities and resources for all varieties of federal contractors—from those who need financial assistance through the coronavirus pandemic to those who can leverage their resources to assist the federal government in its response.
The five timely posts below discuss discrete portions of the CARES Act, how they might affect federal contractors, and what federal contractors can do to take advantages of the many programs and opportunities offered under the Act. Please contact us for assistance with any of these, or other components, of the Act.
Michael J. Slattery
This article discusses § 3610 of the CARES Act, which provides funds that federal agencies can use to alleviate disruptions to federal contractors caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Albert B. Krachman
This article discusses new contracting authorities delegated under the CARES Act as well as sole source opportunities available under the Act.
As COVID-19 issues permeate virtually all aspects of commerce nationally and internationally, we stand ready to help. Blank Rome’s Coronavirus (“COVID-19”) Task Force includes interdisciplinary resources across every business sector from insurance recovery to HR.
As government contractors know well, a robust compliance program can be critical—both in preventing, detecting, and resolving compliance problems and in working with agencies and/or the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) to resolve compliance issues when they arise. Though DOJ has previously issued guidance on how it evaluates corporate compliance programs, on April 30, 2019, it greatly expanded upon its earlier guidance with a lengthy new guidance document. The document is notable for its emphasis not just on the design of compliance programs, but also on their effectiveness in practice. The document is a useful benchmark for contractors to evaluate their compliance programs, as well as to demonstrate their affirmative responsibility to agencies when facing agency-level investigations.
The guidance document focuses on three central questions:
Is the corporation’s compliance program well designed?
Is the corporation’s compliance program implemented effectively?
Does the compliance program actually work in practice?
The following outline provides a summary of the various factors DOJ discusses in connection with each of these questions—and more information on each topic can be found here.