Likely in response to the flurry of litigation challenging the government contractor vaccine mandate, on November 16 the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) published a new notice of determination and request for comments in the Federal Register. The new determination, which rescinds and supersedes the prior notice issued on September 24, 2021, and published in the Federal Register on September 28, 2021, provides additional support for the revised Safer Federal Workforce Task Force (Task Force) Guidance issued on November 10, 2021.

Task Force Guidance Published for the First Time

The revised notice, which asks that comments be submitted on or before December 16, 2021, is divided into three parts.  Part I published in the Federal Register for the first time the entire Task Force Guidance. While it is positive that the Guidance has finally been published, it is incomplete in one major respect. Specifically, although the November 10 version published in the Federal Register includes links to the regularly-updated frequently asked questions (FAQs), OMB fails to mention that the FAQs and the Guidance are subject to revision or that the contract provisions implementing these requirements mandate that contractors comply with the Guidance as it appears now and “as amended during the performance” of the contract.

OMB Expands its Economic Analysis

Part II of the notice, titled “Economy-and-Efficiency Analysis,” provides a post hoc justification for the measures initially taken over six weeks ago.  While some of OMB’s arguments and observations may have merit, the analysis leaves many open questions.


Continue Reading OMB Attempts to Plug Holes in the Government Contractor Vaccine Mandate

In an opinion first publicly released on November 3, the Court of Federal Claims (COFC) took the somewhat usual, but not unheard of, step of sanctioning the government for mishandling the administrative record (AR) in a bid protest. Contractors can take heart that COFC will hold the government accountable when it fails to produce the entire AR.  The decision also provides a useful reminder of one of the advantages of filing a protest at COFC rather than the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Background

As we recently wrote about on this blog, on August 2, Judge Solomson sustained a protest filed by Oak Grove Technologies that argued the putative awardee had improperly benefited from unmitigated unequal access to information and biased ground rules organizational conflicts of interests. The decision noted that the government had failed to include in the AR a Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) report indicating an offeror was ineligible and a letter terminating the chair of the Source Selection Evaluation Board that suggested the chair had failed to evaluate the offerors’ proposals fairly.

The decision admonished the government for its “sentient choices regarding the contents of the administrative record, all of which appear to have favored the Agency,” noting that “[s]uch apparent gamesmanship wastes judicial resources and undermines trust in both the procurement and disputes process.”


Continue Reading Records in Bid Protest Become More Complete – COFC Sanctions the Government for AR Omissions

As expected, late on November 10 the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force revised its government contractor vaccine mandate Guidance to extend the deadline for covered contractor employees to get vaccinated. This revision follows the White House announcement on November 4 that the deadline for implementation of the federal government contractor mandate would be synchronized with the CMS rule and the currently-stayed OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard, requiring that employees under all three regimes receive their last vaccine dose by January 4, 2022. Instead of using the date by which employees had to received their last vaccine dose, January 4, the Guidance has been revised to now say that covered contractor employees must be fully vaccinated by January 18, 2022 rather than the original December 8, 2021. As a reminder, fully vaccinated means an individual must have received the last vaccine dose two weeks prior.

In addition, the Q&A that previously appeared at the end of the September 24 Guidance has been removed and replaced with two references to the Task Force’s website:

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions regarding this Guidance can be found here: https://www.saferfederalworkforce.gov/faq/contractors/

All Task Force Guidance, FAQs, and additional information for Federal contractors and subcontractors can be found here: https://www.saferfederalworkforce.gov/contractors

It is not clear whether any other changes were made to the Guidance because the changes were not made in redline.


Continue Reading More Revisions to the Government Contractor Vaccine Mandate

The five cases challenging the contractor vaccine mandate filed in various district courts by 22 states, which we discussed on this blog last week, continue to develop. Motions for preliminary injunctions have now been filed in all cases except the suit filed by Texas, and briefing schedules/hearings are set or in process.

Status of Challenges

Here is a quick rundown of the status of the suits:

  • Florida (Middle District of Florida) – Motion for a Preliminary Injunction was filed on November 2. On November 8, the court set a briefing schedule. Oral argument is scheduled for December 7 at 9:00 a.m. Eastern in Tampa Courtroom 15 A.
  • Texas (Southern District of Texas) – Initial pretrial and scheduling conference set for February. 23, 2022, at 9:00 a.m. Central. As of November 10, no motion for a preliminary injunction has been filed.
  • Missouri, Nebraska, Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming (Eastern District of Missouri) – Motion for Preliminary Injunction was filed on November 4. On November 9, the states filed a Motion to Expedite Preliminary Injunction Briefing.
  • Georgia, Alabama, Idaho, Kansas, South Carolina, Utah, West Virginia (Southern District of Georgia) – Motion for Preliminary Injunction was filed on November 5. Emergency motion to expedite the hearing schedule was filed on November 8, and a telephonic hearing on that motion is scheduled for 4:00 p.m. Eastern on November 10.
  • Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio (Eastern District of Kentucky) – Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction was filed on November 8. A status conference was held on November 9 to set a briefing and hearing schedule.


Continue Reading The State Challenges to the Contractor Vaccine Mandate Continue

In welcome news for government contractors, the government contractor vaccine mandate continues to soften.  In a statement issued by the White House this morning, the deadline for complying with the mandate will be extended from December 8, 2021, to January 4, 2022, to align with the deadline of the OSHA emergency temporary standard that was

UPDATE: On November 4, Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio filed a complaint in the Eastern District of Kentucky challenging the federal contractor mandate.  The complaint is very similar to the ones filed by other states as described in the blog post below.

At the end of October 2021, four complaints were filed by almost 20 states challenging the government contractor vaccine mandate. While some have suggested that these states, led by Republican governors, filed the suits for political reasons, it would be a mistake to discount them.  The complaints raise very significant procedural and substantive questions about the legality of the government contractor vaccine mandate.

The Complaints

On October 28, the State of Florida filed suit in the Middle District of Florida (the Florida Complaint).  The following day, ten more states – Missouri, Nebraska, Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming – filed a complaint in the Eastern District of Missouri (the Missouri Complaint); a further seven states – Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, South Carolina, Utah, and West Virginia – filed suit in the Southern District of Georgia (the Georgia Complaint); Texas filed a complaint in the Southern District of Texas (the Texas Complaint).

While there are multiple differences between the complaints, there is a high likelihood that the states have established standing to challenge the government contractor mandate as they all have agencies or other entities that are party to federal contracts and contract-like instruments.  In addition, each complaint seeks declaratory and injunctive relief but as of November 3 it appears that only Florida has filed a motion for a preliminary injunction. We expect the others to be filed soon. Also, they all make facially compelling procedural and substantive arguments that Executive Order 14042, the OMB Guidance, and the government contract provisions are unlawful.


Continue Reading States Have Joined the Fight to Challenge the Government Contractor Vaccine Mandate

The Safer Federal Workforce Task Force (Task Force) recently issued additional Q&A’s that seemingly take a softer approach to compliance with the contractor vaccine mandate, indicating contracting officers are to “work with,” rather than punish contractors,  in an effort to address challenges such as employees refusing to get vaccinated.  Other answers in the Q&A further expand the mandate’s coverage to affiliates in ways that, while well-intentioned, may increase growing opposition to the already incredibly broad diktat.

For those reasons, unless and until the mandate is reversed by the administration or stopped by a federal court, which, as we will discuss in another post, now seems to be a real possibility, contractors subject to the contract provision should continue working toward getting “covered contractor employees” vaccinated by December 8 and processing requests for medical and religious accommodations.  But it does suggest that the administration belatedly realizes that the vaccine mandate could cause very significant supply chain disruptions if strictly enforced.

The New Q&As

In the new Q&A’s issued on November 1, the Task Force clarifies several points that provide welcome flexibility for contractors.  They also confirm that contractors working in good faith toward compliance may not be subject to punishment for failing to get 100% of their workforce vaccinated.  But in other Q&As, the Task Force continues its incredibly broad implementation of the mandate.


Continue Reading Is the Contractor COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate Softening?

As contractors and agencies scramble to comply with the government contractor vaccine mandate, there seems to be growing confusion over whether contractors or federal agencies are responsible for evaluating whether contractor employees working at government sites are entitled to medical or religious accommodations. In some cases, agencies tell contractors that the government, not the contractor, is responsible for adjudicating accommodation requests.  In others, agencies are demanding to see the justification for accommodation determinations and independently evaluate those determinations.

This confusion is unfortunate because it is clear that the contractor, not the government, is responsible as the employer. To the extent agencies are usurping contractors’ obligation to make these determinations, the government is increasing the likelihood it will be viewed as a joint employer, needlessly exposing both the government and contractors to potential liability.

Employers are Responsible for Making Accommodation Determinations

For decades, employees have had the right to request medical accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and religious accommodations under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Those requests have always been submitted to their “employer,” even when those employees work at an off-site location.


Continue Reading Who is Responsible for Granting Medical/Religious Accommodations to the COVID-19 Vaccination Mandate?

On September 9, President Biden issued Executive Order 14042 requiring that federal contractors comply with forthcoming COVID-19 workplace safety guidance. That guidance, which was issued on September 24, is remarkably broad, requiring that employees working directly on government contracts, in connection with government contracts, or in the same facility as an employee in the first

While most federal procurements are conducted using the onerous regulations set forth in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and agency supplements, agencies are increasingly relying on the more flexible, but lesser-known, Other Transaction Agreements (OTAs) to meet developmental requirements.  Congress has authorized only a limited number of agencies to use this authority, which was first included in NASA’s enabling legislation to ensure NASA had the flexibility to meets its unique needs.  The authority is further limited to use by “non-traditional” government contractors. It is generally restricted to prototype/development work, although agencies are authorized to enter into follow-on production contracts with OTA prototype participants.

Despite these limitations, the ability to customize intellectual property terms, among others, has led to a significant increase in the use of OTAs over the past decade.  In FY20 alone, the federal government entered into OTAs worth over $16 billion, including approximately $9 billion on COVID-19-related purchases.

But before a company pursues an OTA opportunity, it is essential to understand that ability to challenge OTA awards is limited.  In addition, jurisdictional questions have created considerable uncertainty for aggrieved contractors who wish to file a protest in connection with these agreements.  Although pre-and post-award protests challenging FAR-based procurements can only be heard at the Government Accountability Office (GAO) or the Court of Federal Claims (COFC), recent decisions indicate that jurisdiction to hear OTA challenges at both is extremely limited.  And in the past year, U.S. district courts have held that they too have limited jurisdiction that hinges on whether the issue involves a procurement contract—either current or future.


Continue Reading The Black Hole of Protest Jurisdiction: Can I Challenge the Award of an “Other Transaction Agreement”?