The Women Owned Small Business (WOSB) Program moved its certification process from the General Login System (GLS) to the SBA One Contracting Portal at certify.sba.gov in March 2016. This has streamlined the certification process for WOSBs and Economically Disadvantaged WOSBs (EDWOSBs). The website features a checklist to prepare for certification, an “Am I Eligible?” tool, and email notifications for expiration and renewal notices.
On August 2, 2016, the U.S. Treasury Department, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued a Finding of Violation against two health insurance providers for activities that violated U.S. economic sanctions. The companies allegedly had issued health insurance policies that covered individuals on OFAC’s List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (the “SDN List”). In general, U.S. companies are prohibited from performing any transaction with or involving parties on the SDN List.
On July 26, 2016, responding to rising cyber attacks and public criticism, the federal government issued a Presidential Policy Directive (PPD-41), to clarify the role of law enforcement agencies, to increase coordination across the government, and to divide cybersecurity efforts into three categories: asset response, threat response and intelligence support. PPD-41 outlines five key principles for the federal government and federal agencies in complying with the “whole-government” approach to cybersecurity. Although the initiative is directed at the federal government and sector-specific agencies, private entities are also likely to be affected and are instructed on the best practice for cyber incident reporting.
PPD-41 emphasizes unity in the government’s response to cybersecurity incidents, outlining five guiding principles of the directive. In structuring incident reporting and protection mechanisms, the government seeks to emphasize shared responsibility, increased awareness, risk-based responses, respect to entities affected by the incident, unity in governmental efforts in responding to an incident, and allowing effective restoration and recovery following a cybersecurity breach. In distributing the responsibilities of cybersecurity, the government delineates specific agencies to take charge of the three categories of protection. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will lead asset response activities and post-breach recovery needs, the Department of Justice (DOJ) in collaboration with the FBI will be in charge of threat response, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) will head intelligence support.
On July 27, 2016, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims held that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) was unreasonable in cancelling its solicitation for on-site operational support for the HHS Unified Financial Managements System (UFMS). The decision, Starry Associates, Inc. v. United States, is unusual, given that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Court of Federal Claims are typically reluctant to oppose an agency’s decision to cancel a solicitation. The decision serves as a useful reminder that such discretion is not unfettered and will be overturned where it is arbitrary and capricious.
On Friday, July 22, 2016, the Small Business Administration (SBA) released a Final Rule (Final Rule) establishing a government-wide mentor-protégé program for all small business concerns, designed to increase opportunities in the federal market place and improve development for small businesses. This expansion implements the authority Congress gave SBA in the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act to create mentor-protégé programs for Service-Disabled Veteran Owned Small Businesses (SDVOSB), HUBZone small businesses, women-owned small businesses (WOSB), and small businesses.
The new program, which enables these categories of small businesses to benefit from the SBA-approved mentor-protégé arrangements previously only available to certified 8(a) small disadvantaged businesses, goes into effect on August 24, 2016, and will be implemented with the help of a newly formed unit within the SBA Office of Business Development devoted solely to processing and reviewing mentor-protégé applications and agreements. Instead of creating four new and separate programs covering each of the small business contracting programs (i.e., small business, SDVOSB, WOSB, and HUBZone), SBA chose to create a single program for all small business concerns modeled after the existing 8(a) Business Development (BD) mentor-protégé program, which will continue to operate as a separate program. Alongside these regulations, the Final Rule revises guidelines for joint venture agreements between a mentor and a protégé.
Opening the mentor-protégé program to new categories of small businesses creates significant opportunities for both large and small businesses. Because of the expected avalanche of applications from companies wishing to participate in this program, an overview of which is provided below, businesses that anticipate submitting applications for approval of mentor-protégé agreements should do so as soon as possible after the program goes into effect.
Continue Reading Mentor-Protégé Expansion Creates Opportunities for all Government Contractors Large and Small
We recently authored an article outlining the provisions and ramifications of the General Services Administration’s (GSA) final rule governing transactional data reporting, released on June 23, 2016. As the most significant change to the GSA Federal Supply Schedules (FSS) program in the last two decades, the new rule requires each vendor subject to the provisions to electronically submit monthly reports that provide 11 transactional data elements and replaces the current requirements relating to Commercial Sales Practices (CSP) disclosures and the Price Reduction Clause (PRC). While many remain skeptical of the benefits of the new rule, the GSA believes the transactional data clause will reduce the administrative burden on contractors, promote competition and transparency, and benefit small businesses that often lack the necessary resources to devote to business intelligence and development.
On July 14, 2016, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a revised version of its proposal to expand pay data collection from federal contractors and other employers with more than 100 workers. The revised proposal pushes back the date of the first required employer report to allow for the use of W-2 wage and salary reports.
The EEOC initially published its proposed rule in late January. The proposed rule expands the information certain employers must report to the federal government on an EEO-1 report. The EEOC’s proposal would add data on pay ranges and hours worked to the information currently collected.
The EEOC considered and adopted specific suggestions made by commenters during the initial 60-day comment period that ended earlier this year. For example, the EEOC moved the due date for the EEO-1 survey from September 30, 2017 to March 31, 2018, to simplify employer reporting by allowing employers to use existing W-2 pay reports, which are calculated based on a calendar year. In addition, the EEOC agreed to give employers the choice of reporting either a 40-hour week for full-time exempt and 20-hour week for part-time exempt workers, or in the alternative, providing an annual report for such employees. This change is in response to employer concerns for the non-standard weekly hours for this category of workers. The updated rule comes with a fresh, 30-day comment period that runs until August 15, 2016.
We authored an article for Upstart Business Journal outlining potential business opportunities in Cuba, now that many trade and travel restrictions have been eased. As we point out, “it is now easier than at any time in the last 50 years for U.S. companies to export their products to and sell their products in Cuba.” While opportunities are increasing, we caution that, “it is important to recognize the continuing restrictions [including] the necessity of obtaining U.S. government approvals to the difficulty of securing financing.”
The full article, “Is Cuba Part of Your Business Strategy? Here’s What You Need to Know,” was published by Upstart Business Journal on July 14, 2016, and is available online.
In another example of the government’s efforts to root out fraud in government procurement programs, on July 5, U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton sentenced Virginia businessman, Tarsem Singh, to 15 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release for conspiracy to commit major fraud on the United States. In December of 2015, Singh pleaded guilty to executing a scheme to defraud the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the General Services Administration (GSA) through fraudulent procurement of more than $8.5 million in federal government contracts through SBA’s 8(a) program. Created to help small, disadvantaged businesses engage in federal procurement, the 8(a) program requires that qualifying businesses are at least 51% owned and controlled by a socially and economically disadvantaged U.S. citizen.
From 2000 to 2009, Singh was the vice president of “Company A,” a construction company specializing in renovating and altering buildings. From 2000 through 2009, Company A was certified under the 8(a) program and lawfully received approximately $23 million in contracts from the GSA. The real trouble began in 2009, when Company A graduated from the 8(a) program and, on the same day, entered into a Mentor-Protégé Agreement with “Company B.” With monetary support and guidance from Company A, Company B was certified under the 8(a) program and was ultimately awarded 26 federal contracts under the program. According to the government’s calculations and Judge Walton’s Memorandum Opinion, the contracts awarded to Company B totaled more than $8.5 million.
In most federal procurements, regulations require procuring agencies to consider an offeror’s past performance in evaluating proposals. However, while the consideration of past performance may be a standard element of an evaluation, what an agency actually considers as part of that past performance evaluation is not set in stone. Agencies can consider different types of past performance, and weigh the importance of different elements of past performance in various ways, changing from procurement to procurement. Agencies have the discretion to choose the kinds of past performances it will review, which personnel are relevant to an evaluation, how many references should be provided, and the cut-off date for each past performance reference. As long as the evaluation is reasonable, it is generally acceptable. However, if the agency’s chosen method or execution of its past performance evaluation is ultimately unreasonable, a challenge to the evaluation may lead to a sustained protest.
Two recent U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) bid protest decisions help draw the line between reasonable and unreasonable past performance evaluations. The recent decision in Logistics Management International, Inc. demonstrates that it is permissible for an agency to ignore the past performances of key individual personnel, and instead only concentrate on a company’s previous performances as a whole. In denying that protest, GAO found that it is within an agency’s discretion to define the scope of its own past performance review. On the other hand, in the recent decision of Patricio Enterprises Inc., GAO decided it was unreasonable for the agency to essentially penalize an offeror simply because it provided more past performance references than the competing contractor.