On January 21, 2022, the General Services Administration (“GSA”) Office of Inspector General (“OIG”) informed the Federal Acquisition Service (“FAS”) that ongoing monitoring by the OIG found that the FAS failed to properly monitor the sale of products for compliance with the Trade Agreements Act (“TAA”) during the COVID-19 response. Previously, in April 2020, GSA relaxed compliance with the TAA for a limited number of Federal Supply Classes (“FSCs”) to aid the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The applicable FSCs included those covering N95 masks, cleaners and disinfectants, disposable gloves, and hand sanitizers. After several extensions, the TAA exception policy expired on April 30, 2021.
The OIG identified two deficiencies in FAS’ implementation of the TAA exception policy. First, the OIG found that FAS failed to properly track the addition of non-compliant products to contracts. As a result, after expiration of the exception policy, there was no effective way for GSA to remove the non-compliant products from contracts. Second, the OIG found that GSA improperly permitted the addition of non-compliant products to GSA contracts. For example, some products that were added were unrelated to the government’s response to the pandemic; some products were added to GSA contracts prior to the effective date of the TAA exception policy; and, remarkably, in one case, a product was added to a contract that identified North Korea as its country of origin.
On August 6, 2020, President Trump issued another Executive Order (“EO”) that will likely have dramatic and long-lasting effects on the pharmaceutical industry. The impact of the EO may be far greater than currently anticipated. It is well-considered, well drafted, and structured in a way that is likely to survive if there is a change in Administration. The EO will have a greater and immediate impact on Medical Counter Measures (“MCMs”) for chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear threats, and emerging infectious diseases than on Essential Medicines. The inclusion of Critical Inputs (i.e., active pharmaceutical ingredients (“API”)) and starting materials potentially makes the impact far reaching, especially when coupled with the significant funding from the federal government to support onshoring efforts as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Continue reading “Executive Order Regarding Domestic Production and Purchase of Essential Medicines: A Lot to Unpack and More Than Meets the Eye”
Earlier today, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issued a decision that is sure to send shockwaves through the generic drug industry. In Acetris, the Federal Circuit held that a generic drug manufactured in the United States complied with the Trade Agreements Act (“TAA”) and could be sold to the Department of Veterans Affairs. The court made this determination even though the drug’s active pharmaceutical ingredient (“API”) came from a non-designated country, India. In reaching its decision, the court broke away from longstanding Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) precedent that the country where the API was produced dictated the location of “substantial transformation” and thus the country of origin for any resulting drug. The court held that under the Federal Acquisition Regulation (“FAR”), to qualify as a “U.S.-made end product” under the TAA, a drug must be either “manufactured” in the United States or “substantially transformed” in the United States—but not be both.
For years, generic drug manufacturers that manufacture drugs in the United States from API produced in India and China have been precluded from selling their drugs to the U.S. Government under the TAA. The Federal Circuit’s Acetris decision opens up the U.S. Government market for generic drugs manufactured in the U.S. from API produced in India and China.
On July 31, the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) and the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) announced their latest plan to reduce the prices Americans pay for prescription drugs. The Safe Importation Action Plan identifies two pathways for the importation of drugs.
Pathway 1 allows states, wholesalers, and pharmacists to submit plans to HHS for demonstration projects, which test and measure the effect of potential program changes, that allow for the importation of certain drugs from Canada. Importing drugs from Canada is not a new concept. In 2003, Congress gave the Secretary of HHS the authority to permit drug importation from Canada. To implement a drug importation plan, however, the Secretary was required to certify to Congress that the importation program poses “no additional risk to public health and safety” and the program will result in a “significant” reduction in costs of products to American consumers. No HHS Secretary has ever made such a certification to Congress. Implementation of importation plans under Pathway 1 will most likely take considerable time. HHS intends to implement Pathway 1 through a formal Rulemaking process with Notice and Comment. Then, importation plans will need HHS approval before going “live.” Continue reading “Will HHS’s Safe Importation Action Plan Affect How the Federal Government Purchases Drugs?”
Two recent judicial decisions involving the Trade Agreements Act (“TAA”) build on a trend reflecting a more favorable enforcement climate for contractors grappling with domestic preference regimes. Earlier this year, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed a qui tam action that alleged fraud in connection with country of origin requirements imposed by the TAA. United States ex rel. Folliard v. Comstor Corp., 308 F.Supp.3d 56 (D.D.C. 2018) (finding the relator failed to adequately plead that the alleged TAA noncompliance was “material” to the Government’s payment decision). The decision marked a welcome early defeat of a False Claims Act case based on the enhanced materiality and scienter requirements of the Escobar decision (as we wrote about here).
Two recent federal court decisions appear to extend the trend of taking some of the bite out of TAA enforcement, and potential exposure for alleged noncompliance. Despite this welcome news, domestic preference programs remain a key legal obligation for government contractors (and an area likely to remain under scrutiny with the Administration’s professed focus on Buy American and Hire American initiatives). Continue reading “Trade Agreements Act Enforcement Loses a Couple More Teeth”
Comstor involved a False Claims Act (“FCA”) action filed by a serial whistleblower who alleged two contractors violated the FCA by selling non-TAA compliant products on their General Services Administration (“GSA”) Federal Supply Schedule (“FSS”) contracts to federal government customers. Depending on the dollar value of the acquisition, most procurements are subject to either the Buy American Act (“BAA”) or TAA. Currently (2018), the BAA applies to supply procurements valued at or below $180,000. Accordingly, the TAA currently applies to such procurements valued in excess of $180,000. GSA has determined the TAA applies to FSS contracts. Continue reading “Trade Agreements Act Compliance: Some Welcome News for Some Federal Contractors, But Will It Last?”