What are the recent changes in rules that could impact your small business and teaming partners in federal contracting in 2019? The Small Business Administration (SBA) and Federal Acquisition Regulatory (FAR) Council have recently finalized and issued proposed rules implementing provisions of past NDAAs that could alter how you team and ensure compliance with set-aside requirements on future procurements.

I will address these issues at an upcoming meeting of the Society of American Military Engineers, as well as highlight some lessons learned from SBA’s All Small Mentor Protégé Program as the program enters its third year.

Continue Reading Hot GovCon Topics Impacting Small Business in 2019

  • Company committed multiple apparent violations of U.S. sanctions on North Korea
  • Penalty imposed in part because of company’s “non-existent” sanctions compliance program
  • Settlement underscores need to address supply chain risks

On January 31, 2019, U.S. Treasury Department, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)announced a $996,080 settlement agreement with e.l.f. Cosmetics, Inc. (ELF) to settle ELF’s potential civil liability for 156 violations of the North Korea Sanctions Regulations.  According to OFAC, fake eyelash kits that ELF believed to be from China were in fact supplied from North Korea.

Presumably very few Americans awake in the middle of the night worrying that North Korean fake eyelashes pose a threat to U.S. national security.  Yet in pursuing this action vigorously, OFAC made clear that it is willing to seek penalties against any U.S. business that directly or indirectly benefits the North Korean economy.  In announcing the settlement, OFAC highlighted the importance of conducting “full-spectrum supply chain due diligence when sourcing products from overseas, particularly in a region in which the DPRK, as well as other comprehensively sanctioned countries or regions, is known to export goods.”

Continue Reading OFAC Settles with Cosmetics Company, Reiterates Importance of Supply Chain Compliance

CFIUS & the Government Shutdown - Bloomberg LawI commented about the impact the government shutdown is having on deals that require review and approval by the Committee on Foreign investment in the United States (CFIUS).  CFIUS is the interagency committee authorized to review transactions involving foreign investment in the United States to determine the effect of such transactions on national security.

Due to the shutdown, many deals are now on hold and observers anticipate a backlog that could deter foreign investment in the United States.  As I noted in the Bloomberg article, “You could definitely get a glut of filings that slow down the review process pretty significantly once CFIUS is back in operation.”

The full article, “Deals Needing Security Reviews on Hold as U.S. Shutdown Persists,” was published by Bloomberg Law on January 11, 2019, and is available online (subscription required).

Members of the Bass, Berry & Sims Government Contracts team successfully represented B&O JV in multiple actions brought by a competitor to challenge the awarding of a contract to our client. B&O JV is an 8(a) small business joint venture based in Dallas, TX.

In October 2017, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) issued a request for proposal (RFP) for dorm maintenance services at its training facility in Glynco, Georgia, as a competitive 8(a) set-aside.  The important services support training of federal law enforcement officers and FLETC has repeatedly determined that the services cannot be interrupted.

The incumbent, SRM Group, Inc., was not eligible to compete for the contract, having graduated from the 8(a) program in 2013, but formed an 8(a) joint venture, Safeguard, which did compete for the work.  Bass, Berry & Sims’ client, B&O JV, was ultimately awarded that contract and has been performing the work since October 1, 2018.

Continue Reading Bass, Berry & Sims Successfully Defends Client Award in Multiple Actions at the SBA, GAO, Court of Federal Claims, and Federal Circuit

December of 2018 brought many potential changes to the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) regulations that impact small businesses. First, on December 4, 2018, the SBA issued a lengthy proposed rule implementing several provisions of the National Defense Authorization Acts (NDAA) of 2016 and 2017, and the Recovery Improvements for Small Entities After Disaster Act of 2015 (RISE Act), as well as other clarifying amendments.  Then, on December 17, 2018, President Trump signed Public Law No. 115-324, the Small Business Runway Extension Act, which modifies the method for determining the size standards for small businesses.

SBA’s Proposed Rule

 The SBA’s proposed rule offers clarification on numerous topics, including but not limited to, recertification requirements, material breach of subcontracting plans for failure to comply in good faith, the inclusion of indirect costs in commercial subcontracting plans, setting aside an order under a set-aside multiple award contract (MAC), the status of independent contractors as employees in certain situations, and limitations on subcontracting compliance.  Comments on the proposed rule are due on February 4, 2019.  Some of the most significant proposed rules are summarized below.

Continue Reading SBA’s Busy Year End Yields Lots of Potential Changes for Small Businesses in 2019

I will present a webinar titled, “Hot Topics in US Sanctions: Recent Enforcement and Compliance Best Practices.”

The US Government continues to implement and vigorously enforce US economic sanctions and embargoes. Rarely a week goes by without the agency taking action, be it prohibiting trade with a newly identified North Korean front company, issuing a General License temporarily authorizing the wind-down of operations in Venezuela, or announcing a sizable penalty against a well-known international bank.

Continue Reading Hot Topics in US Sanctions: Recent Enforcement and Compliance Best Practices

On December 21, 2018, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report analyzing contract and grant awards of Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) funding to small businesses owned by multiple venture capital (VC) companies, hedge funds, or private equity firms between 2015 and 2018.  In 2011, agencies were given the authority to award SBIR funds to small businesses owned by multiple venture capital companies, hedge funds, or private equity firms (investment companies and funds), however these awards were not to exceed either 25% or 15% of the agencies’ SBIR budgets depending on which agency was making the award.  The GAO found that of the 11 federal agencies participating in the SBIR program, only three agencies (the Department of Health and Human Services’ National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), and the Department of Education’s Institute for Education Sciences) awarded contracts or grants to small businesses majority-owned by multiple venture capital operating companies, hedge funds, or private equity firms.  These three agencies made a total of 62 awards and obligated $43.6 million to such businesses from 2015 to 2018, only amounting to 0.1% to 2.7% of the three agencies’ total SBIR awards. Continue Reading Agencies Continue to Shy Away from Awarding SBIR Funds to VC/Private Equity-Backed Small Businesses

  • Russian corporations de-listed through significant specific steps agreed to with OFAC
  • Exporter settles for $7.7 million and agrees to comprehensive compliance measures
  • OFAC outlines sanctions compliance best practices, expands oversight

As 2018 came to a close, the U.S. Treasury Department, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced two actions that should be studied by any party subject to U.S. economic sanctions. OFAC is the U.S. government agency with principal responsibility for administering U.S. sanctions regulations.

First, on December 19, OFAC published a letter to members of the U.S. Congress announcing the agency’s intention to remove a group of Russian corporations from the List of Specially Designated and Blocked Persons List (SDN List) that OFAC maintains. As a general matter, U.S. individuals and entities are prohibited from engaging in any transaction with an SDN.

Then, on December 20, OFAC released its settlement agreement with Zoltek Companies, Inc. (Zoltek) for violations of the Belarus Sanctions Regulations. According to OFAC, the violations consisted of at least 26 transactions with an SDN.

These actions are quite different. But as described below, each includes very useful guidance about OFAC’s current view of sanctions compliance best practices. Continue Reading OFAC Actions Provide Guidance on Sanctions Compliance Best Practices

This year’s annual GAO Bid Protest Report to Congress, which was submitted on November 27, shows that the number of protests remained approximately the same as last fiscal year – up to 2,607 versus 2,596 for FY17. But, for attorneys who regularly practice before the GAO, there are some trends that may make filing an initial protest at the Court of Federal Claims (COFC) a more attractive option.

The overall sustain rate at GAO for FY18 was 15%, down slightly from FY17 (17%). But, when reviewing the sustain rate, it is important to keep in mind that GAO issued only 622 bid protest merit decisions in FY18, and that the “effectiveness rate,” which the GAO defines as the protester obtaining some form of relief from the agency, was 44%.

While the effectiveness rate continues to be over 40%, the FY18 report shows a precipitous decline in the number of bid protest hearings at GAO over the past five years. In FY14, hearings were held in 42 fully developed cases, or 4.7%.  In FY18, that dropped to only five cases, or .51%.

Continue Reading FY18 GAO Bid Protest Report – Still Worth Going to GAO First?

  • Penalties imposed for violations of U.S. sanctions on Russia and Ukraine
  • Violations identified during pre-acquisition due diligence on contractor
  • Denied persons screening was conducted but missed prohibited parties

In late November 2018, the U.S. Treasury Department, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced that Cobham Holdings, Inc. agreed to pay $87,507 to settle violations of U.S. sanctions on Ukraine and Russia.

Violations Identified During Pre-acquisition Due Diligence

According to OFAC, the violations were committed by Cobham’s former subsidiary, Metelics, prior to the sale of Metelics to MACOM. It was MACOM that identified the violations during due diligence related to its acquisition of Metelics. And it was presumably MACOM that required Cobham to make the voluntary disclosure to OFAC that led to the penalty in this matter.

The penalty is small by recent OFAC standards. (For example, it is about 620 times less than Societe Generale paid to OFAC as part of its global settlement of sanctions violations.)

But as a cautionary tale, the Cobham matter is important to any exporter.

Continue Reading OFAC Dings U.S. Defense Contractor for Sanctions Violations, Inadequate Screening