The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College is poised to significantly influence Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (“DEI”) practices and Environmental, Social, and Governance (“ESG”) programs and affirmative action requirements for government contracts. This landmark decision has far-reaching implications and is being exploited by advocacy groups to challenge current norms.
On Thursday, September 28 at 12 p.m. ET / 9:00 a.m. PT, please join special guest speaker Victoria Lipnic, former EEOC Commissioner and Human Capital Strategist, and guest speaker Paul White, both partners at Resolution Economics LLC, along with Blank Rome partners Dominique Casimir, Yelena Barychev, and Anthony Haller, for a Blank Rome-hosted webinar to explore the intricate implications of this landmark case and offer actionable insights for navigating them effectively.
In 2021, federal government prime contractors and subcontractors found themselves in a difficult situation with respect to COVID vaccination requirements. More than a dozen states enacted laws prohibiting companies from requiring their employees to be COVID-19 vaccinated or even show proof of COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of employment. At the same time, federal government contracts were subject to mandatory employee vaccination requirements in the FAR and DFARS. (i.e., FAR 52.223-99 Ensuring Adequate COVID-19 Safety Protocols for Federal Contractors (OCT 2021) (DEVIATION) and DFARS 252.223-7999 Ensuring Adequate COVID-19 Safety Protocols for Federal Contractors (Deviation 2021-O0009) (OCT 2021). Luckily, the potential conflict was resolved, on May 9, 2023, when President Biden signed Executive Order (“EO”) 14099, Moving Beyond COVID–19 Vaccination Requirements for Federal Workers, which revoked EO 14042, Ensuring Adequate COVID Safety Protocols for Federal Contractors. EO 14099 directed agencies to rescind any policies that were adopted to implement EO 14042. Thus, the potential conflict between inconsistent federal and state laws concerning COVID-19 vaccinations was mooted.
A new conflict between state and federal procurement requirements may be brewing for federal prime contractors and subcontractors concerning race-based employment preferences and diversity policies after the Supreme Court decision in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard and Students for Fair Admissions v. UNC.
Building on recent and ongoing efforts to limit Chinese government access to government contractor supply chains, the FAR Councils published an interim rule effective June 2, 2023, that will broadly ban TikTok on contractor and contractor employee electronic devices used in the performance of federal contracts. The ban will be implemented through a new contract clause at FAR 52.204-27. Expect to see the clause added in all future solicitations (including commercially available off-the-shelf (“COTS”) acquisitions and micro-purchases) and added to existing contracts over the next month. We answer seven common questions on this new interim rule and offer several compliance tips.
The new TikTok ban broadly prohibits contractors from having or using a “covered application” (e.g., TikTok or other successor applications by ByteDance Limited, a privately held company headquartered in Beijing, China) on any “information technology” used in the performance of a government contract. The ban applies regardless of whether the technology is owned by the government, the contractor, or the contractor’s employees. Bottom line, the rule has a (very) broad reach—it applies to contracts below the micro-purchase threshold, contracts for commercial products and services, and COTS items.
For over 18 months, the Biden Administration has discussed incorporating certain climate-change measures into the federal procurement system. A recent proposed rule forecasts where the Administration may be headed. In a nutshell, the proposed rule would require contractors receiving over $7.5 million in annual contract obligations to disclose greenhouse gas emissions. And it would require those receiving over $50 million in annual contract obligations to also set greenhouse gas reduction targets. Though the rule remains open to comment (through February 13, 2023), the FAR Council has tentatively tied compliance with the rule to responsibility determinations—making this a key new compliance frontier for many government contractors. This post summarizes the proposed rule, including implementation and enforcement mechanisms.
Climate change has been a procurement priority since early in the Biden Administration. In May 2020, the President issued Executive Order (“E.O.”) 14030, which directed the FAR Council to consider amending the FAR to require contractors to publicly disclose greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions and climate-related financial risk, have these entities set science-based GHG-reduction targets, and ensure that federal procurements minimize climate change risk.
Last month, we wrote about a proposed amendment to the FY 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (“NDAA”) that would prohibit contractors from selling certain Chinese semiconductor technologies to federal agencies and from using these same covered products and services. This measure was added through Section 5949 of the NDAA.
On December 6, the House passed a compromise version of the NDAA, which appears to scale back the semiconductor ban by applying it only to federal sales of covered products and services, without also banning contractors from using them. However, the explanatory statement accompanying the NDAA suggests contractors (including their affiliates and subsidiaries) may ultimately be prohibited from using covered semiconductor technologies—which would raise a host of compliance and implementation concerns.
Compromise Version of NDAA Limits Semiconductor Ban to Federal Sales
Section 5949 bans semiconductor products and services from Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation, ChangXin Memory Technologies, and Yangtze Memory Technologies Corp., plus their subsidiaries and affiliates. This ban was modeled after the supply chain restrictions from Section 889, which prohibit contractors from selling and using covered telecommunications and video surveillance equipment from five Chinese telecom companies.
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.
Federal government contractors and subcontractors often struggle with flow-down clauses. Fundamentally, prime and subcontractors squabble over flow-down clauses because they involve assumption of risk. A prime contractor has committed to comply with all of the clauses in its prime contract. To the extent a prime contractor does not flow down a clause to its subcontractor, the prime contractor assumes the risk of any subcontractor non-compliance. This is because, if a contracting officer identifies regulatory non-compliance, the government only looks to the party with which it has privity to enforce compliance: the prime contractor. If the prime contractor has not flowed down the applicable clause to its subcontractor, the prime contractor is responsible for its subcontractor’s non-compliance. If the clause has been flowed down, the prime contractor can enforce compliance upon its subcontractor. From a subcontractor perspective, the more flow-down clauses it accepts from its prime contractor, the more compliance risk it assumes.
As a result, prime contractors seek to flow down as many FAR clauses as possible—well beyond the mandatory flow downs discussed below. Subcontractors, meanwhile, seek to keep flow-down clauses to a minimum. Subcontractors must analyze when it is appropriate and productive to resist non-mandatory flow-down clauses, and sometimes the answers to these questions may not be straightforward. Below we address the mandatory flow-down clauses for commercial subcontracts with commercial and non-commercial prime contractors, how subcontractors can handle irrelevant clauses, and best flow-down practices for prime contractors and subcontractors.
A July 2022 report relayed the news that the U.S. Department of Commerce (Commerce) is investigating the installation of Huawei equipment into cell towers situated near U.S. military bases and missile silos, based on concerns the equipment could hoover up sensitive data and transmit it to China.
The report indicates that Commerce is carrying out the investigation pursuant to its rules implementing Executive Order (EO) 13873 on “Securing the Information and Communications Technology and Services Supply Chain” (the ICTS Rules).
What are the ICTS Rules, and how will they be enforced? The ICTS Rules empower Commerce to review — and as warranted, to mitigate, block, or unwind — dealings in information and communications technology and services (ICTS) that have a nexus with a designated “foreign adversary,” including China and Russia.
The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (“UFLPA” or “Act”), which took effect last month, ushers in a new era of supply chain diligence for importers. The Act creates a rebuttable presumption that any goods produced in whole or in part in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (“XUAR”) of the People’s Republic of China (“PRC”), or by entities identified by the U.S. government on the UFLPA Entity List (“Entity List”), are presumed to be made with forced labor and thus are prohibited from entry into the United States under Section 307 of the Tariff Act of 1930 (19 U.S.C. § 1307). Notably, the presumption applies to downstream products that incorporate restricted goods, regardless of where the downstream products are made.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) is now authorized to detain and exclude and/or seize goods that it suspects were produced in the XUAR or by entities on the Entity List.
Importers whose supply chains have links to the XUAR and China should be aware of the implications of UFLPA enforcement, including with respect to due diligence considerations, supply chain tracing and management, and the evidence required to overcome the UFLPA’s rebuttable presumption. There is no grace period for enforcement.
President Biden signed the UFLPA into law on December 23, 2021. Effective on June 21, 2022, the UFLPA established a rebuttable presumption that the importation of any “goods, wares, articles, and merchandise mined, produced, or manufactured wholly or in part” in the XUAR, or produced by entities designated by the Forced Labor Enforcement Task Force (“FLETF”) as involved in specified XUAR-related activity, is prohibited by Section 307 of the Tariff Act of 1930, which prohibits the importation of items made from forced labor. The presumption applies unless CBP determines that the importer completely and substantively responded to all CBP inquiries, fully complied with FLETF’s guidance, and established by clear and convincing evidence that the goods were not produced using forced labor.
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