On September 9, among other measures, President Biden issued an Executive Order that will result in a mandate that contractor employees “performing on or in connection with a Federal Government contract or contract-like instrument” be vaccinated against COVID-19.  The procedural steps, culminating in the issuance of a new contract clause that must occur before that mandate is effective are outlined below, along with another mandate to be implemented by the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA) that will apply to all companies in the U.S. with more than 100 employees.  While neither are immediately effective and both will almost certainly face significant legal challenges, contractors must be aware of these requirements and start preparing now for their implementation.

New Executive Order Requires Government Contractors to Be Vaccinated for COVID-19

Unlike some Executive Orders that rely on the president’s own determination to direct a change to government contract requirements, the September 9, 2021 “Executive Order on Ensuring Adequate COVID-19 Safety Protocols for Federal Contractors” requires first that by September 24, 2021, the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force issue protocols for contractors and subcontractors to comply with workplace safety guidance.  This guidance must include any exceptions that apply to contractor workplace locations and individuals.

Before the publication of the new guidance, the director of the Task Force, under a delegation of the president’s authority under the Federal Property and Administrative Services Act, must determine whether the guidance will “promote economy and efficiency in Federal contracting if adhered to by Government contractor and subcontractors.”  Given that any vaccine mandate will almost certainly result in a significant number of contractor employees leaving the workforce, it is not clear whether the guidance would meet that standard.

Continue Reading Contractors, is it Time to Get the Jab?

On July 26, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) introduced a long-promised bill to amend the False Claims Act (FCA).  Not-so-creatively entitled the False Claims Act Amendments Act of 2021 (S.B. 2428), the proposed legislation is notably co-sponsored by a prominent—and bipartisan—group of senators.  The text of the bill, available here, would most importantly bring changes to the analysis of the FCA’s materiality element while also affecting the process through which defendants may obtain discovery from the government.

According to a press release issued by Senator Grassley, the legislation is mainly intended to “clarif[y] the current law following confusion and misinterpretation of the Supreme Court decision in United Health Services v. United States ex rel. Escobar.”  As we have previously covered at length (in blog posts dated June 23, 2016March 20, 2020April 8, 2020; and June 25, 2021) the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2016 decision in Escobar confirmed that the FCA’s materiality element is “rigorous” and “demanding,” and that it cannot be satisfied simply by showing that the government would have had the “option” to decline payment had it known the facts underlying an allegedly fraudulent claim.

Instead, Escobar focuses the materiality inquiry on the government’s actual or likely response to alleged fraud: if the government regularly pays similar claims with knowledge of the facts, that is “strong evidence” that the alleged misrepresentations are not material; on the other hand, if the government often denies payment under similar circumstances, that supports a finding of materiality.

In Senator Grassley’s view, however, Escobar has given way to “confusion” and “misinterpretation” that “has made it all too easy for fraudsters to argue that their obvious fraud was not material simply because the government continued payment.”   Consistent with that view, the proposed legislation appears calculated to make materiality-based dismissals—as well as other kinds of dismissals—more difficult for FCA defendants to obtain.  Whether it would succeed in that aim, however, is open to debate.

Read more on Inside the FCA

Please join us for the Compliance & Government Investigations Seminar hosted by Bass, Berry & Sims and FTI Consulting. Due to ongoing COVID-19 concerns, this event will be virtual only.

We are excited for this year’s complimentary CLE program, which will provide the same caliber of practical advice, insight into government developments, and thoughtful discussion from industry panelists you have come to expect from this seminar. This year’s topics include:

  • Inside Scoop: Top Issues In-House Counsel Currently Face
  • Update on International Trade Regulations and Enforcement
  • SEC Update: Key Enforcement and Regulatory Priorities
  • Running an Investigation
  • Antitrust Is Back: DOJ and FTC Signal Significant Increase in Antitrust Enforcement
  • Data Privacy Update
  • Healthcare Fraud Enforcement Updates
  • Hot Topics in Procurement Fraud in 2021 and Beyond
  • COVID-19 Funding Fallout: Preparation for Government Scrutiny

This year’s seminar will be held from 8:30 a.m.–3:45 p.m. CDT on Tuesday, September 28. To register, please click here.

Click here to view the agenda.

Continue Reading [Virtual Event] 8th Annual Compliance & Government Investigations Seminar

On August 3, 2021, the U.S. State Department Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) issued an order laying out charges and imposing a monetary penalty of $6.6 million on Keysight Technologies, a U.S. technology and software company, for 24 alleged violations of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).  The ITAR are the primary U.S. regulations that control exports of defense articles, services, and technology, including software.

Keysight and DDTC settled the matter through a Consent Agreement that also requires Keysight to take specific compliance measures, including maintaining a designated compliance officer, for a period of three years.

We want to highlight three particular elements of this matter.

Continue Reading Export Enforcement Update: The Importance of Commodity Classification

The FAR Council recently published its proposed rule to implement a part of President Biden’s January 28, 2021 Executive Order No. 14005 (EO 14005), which dictated certain revisions to the Buy American Act (BAA) regulations. As discussed in our previous blog post, Section 8 of EO 14005 directed the FAR Council to consider the following:

  • Replacing the “component test” at FAR Part 25.
  • Increasing the threshold for domestic content.
  • Increasing price preferences for domestic end products.

The proposed rule addresses Section 8 of EO 14005 by proposing to do the following:

  • Increase the domestic content threshold instead of replacing the domestic content test (at least for the time being), with scheduled increases.
  • Permit a limited period during which U.S.-made end products meeting the current domestic content threshold (greater than 55%) will be considered “domestic end products” under certain circumstances.
  • Establish a list of critical products and critical components subject to additional price preferences and post-award reporting requirements.

Continue Reading Buy American Baby Steps: FAR Council Publishes Proposed Rule Implementing Part of President Biden’s Executive Order

As we previously discussed in a 2019 blog post, since 2018 Bass, Berry & Sims Government Contracts and Litigation attorneys have successfully defended B&O JV in a host of challenges to an 8(a) small business set-aside award by the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC).  On May 20, 2021, the Federal Circuit gave our client and team yet another win when it denied a request for a rehearing filed by Safeguard Base Operation, LLC, a disappointed offeror that included in the joint venture the prior incumbent.

Over the past three years, we have successfully defended B&O JV against over half a dozen challenges to the award filed by Safeguard.  Our team’s undefeated record includes:

Safeguard’s primary complaint was that it had been improperly excluded from the competition for failure to include plug numbers provided by FLETC for service work request Contract Line Item Numbers (CLINs).  When multiple potential offerors submitted questions about a potential ambiguity, FLETC included the plug numbers in its answers that were incorporated into the RFP in an amendment and instructed offerors to include those amounts in the applicable CLINs.  Safeguard, however, did not follow this instruction.  Safeguard also alleged that FLETC had breached an implied-in-fact contract to fairly and honestly consider its proposal.

Continue Reading Bleak House Redux: Another Federal Circuit Win in Protracted Protest Litigation

On April 27, President Biden issued an Executive Order (EO) on Increasing the Minimum Wage for Federal Contractors raising the minimum wage for federal contractors, covered subcontractors, and lower-tier subcontractors by 27% from $10.95 to $15.00.

President Biden perhaps signaled his intent to make this increase on his first day in office, directing the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) in one of his first EOs to provide a report with recommendations to promote a $15.00 an hour minimum wage for federal employees.  After the changes directed by this EO go into effect, the minimum wage applicable to government contractor employees will be more than double the generally applicable federal minimum wage rate.

While the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, in 2014 President Obama issued an EO that increased the rate required for employees of federal contractors to $10.10 and indexed it to inflation (it is currently $10.95).  The $15.00 minimum wage is a rate widely discussed by members both of Congress and the Biden Administration as a potential floor for the generally applicable minimum wage, but that proposal does not appear to have sufficient congressional support to make that legislative change.  It was initially included in the recent $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief legislation, but it was not included in the final package.

Continue Reading Government Contractors Once Again Used as Lab Rats for Higher Minimum Wage Requirements

This past January, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that procurement fraud recoveries comprised the second largest category of fraud recoveries in Fiscal Year (FY) 2020, a trend that continued from FY 2019. With last November’s announcement of DOJ’s intent to expand its Procurement Collusions Strike Force (PCSF), we expect to see a continued trend of heightened enforcement and recoveries by government agencies in FY 2021.

Please join us for this timely webinar where we will be joined by Lisa Rivera and Scott Gallisdorfer, attorneys at Bass, Berry & Sims whose practice focuses on False Claims Act Litigation to discuss the current state of affairs, including the following:

  • Enforcement update and issues to watch.
  • Overview of significant settlements in 2020.
  • New developments from PCSF.
  • Best practices to protect your company from fraud risks.

Please join us Wednesday, May 19 from 12:00 – 1:00 p.m. CT | 1:00 – 2:00 p.m. ET for this informative discussion. To register, please click here.

Who Should Attend

  • General counsel and other in-house legal personnel.
  • Chief compliance officers.
  • Risk managers.
  • Internal auditors.
  • DoD contractors and subcontractors.
  • Private equity professionals.
  • Management professionals.
  • Technology officers.
  • Supply chain/logistics managers.
  • Other in-house legal and compliance personnel of government contractors, financial institutions, aerospace and defense firms, and manufacturers.

Accreditation

Tennessee CLE
This program is pending approval for one hour General Tennessee CLE credit. Please provide your BPR number upon registration in order for Bass, Berry & Sims to report your participation to the Tennessee CLE Commission following the conference.

Other State CLE
Bass, Berry & Sims does not seek direct accreditation from states outside of Tennessee, but some states allow attorneys to earn credit through reciprocity or self-submission. Certificates of completion and other common supporting documents will be provided for use in jurisdictions outside of Tennessee.

Questions?

Submit your questions for presenters upon registration or email questions to Claire Krummenacher.

We are looking forward to participating in Solvability’s GovCon Summit 2021 of which the firm also serves as a sponsor. This year’s GovCon Summit will provide tactics and strategies from the nation’s top GovCon professionals that have helped thousands of companies win government contracts.

Attendees of GovCon Summit 2021 will learn how to increase revenue and profitability, increase contract win rates, grow teams strategically, broaden and deepen professional networks, establish a network of quality, high-caliber teaming partners, and develop the mindset necessary to succeed in complex and shifting environments.

We will also participate in the conference’s educational sessions. Richard will serve as a panelist on a session titled, “The Oprah Connection – Building the Team to Grow Your GovCon Business.” The session will focus on creating a successful culture for recruiting and retaining veteran entrepreneurs.

Todd will serve as a panelist on a session titled, “Protecting Your Innovation Investment: Data Rights and Intellectual Property,” alongside Carmine Denisco, CEO of Earmark Outsourcing, and Kirk Burton, Founder of Tight Loop Solutions.

Solvability’s GovCon Summit 2021 will be held virtually April 20-28, 2021. For more information and registration, please visit the Solvability website.

I recently provided insights on export control law related to technology and research in a recent article in Chemistry World.  The article covers a recent settlement between Princeton University and the U.S. Commerce Department. Under the settlement, Princeton agreed to pay a fine for alleged export violations related to research sent to foreign facilities in 15 countries, including China and UK.

“It is really easy, when talking to a colleague at your institution – who happens to be from a different country – about technical details, to not realize that the conversation could constitute an export violation,” I explained of risks associated with export control laws governing technology. “That is the easy miss for universities and other research institutions.”

I added that “the lesson for universities and research institutions is that lots of stuff that you are involved with, even those things that aim to assist humanity and cure disease, can still be subject to export license violations – even when doing business with our allies, with collaborators in countries with which we have very close trading relationships.”

The full article, “Princeton Fined for Export Violations Involving Controlled Pathogens,” was published March 1 by Chemistry World and is available online. For more detail on this topic, please see my post from February 9.