On June 21, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a final rule to implement security measures that safeguard controlled unclassified information (CUI) from unauthorized access and disclosure and improve incident reporting. Continue Reading DHS Publishes Long-Awaited Final Rule on Controlled Unclassified Information
On December 27, President Biden signed the Preventing Organizational Conflicts of Interest in Federal Acquisition Act into law. The legislation, ushered through Congress by a bipartisan group of backers, strengthens existing regulations around federal contractor conflict of interest mitigation and provides new requirements for agencies to follow to sniff out potential conflicts of interest. Continue Reading New Legislation Strengthens Disclosure Requirements for Potential Organizational Conflicts of Interest
Following the Federal Acquisition Regulatory (FAR) Council’s proposed rule requiring federal contractors to disclose climate emissions, I was quoted in a Government Executive article offering perspective on the proposal from leaders in the contracting community.
Continue Reading Government Executive Article on Proposed Climate Reporting Rule
The Department of Defense (DOD) recently issued a final rule implementing Section 828 of the NDAA for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018, requiring the treatment of the majority of contracts for items awarded using Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) part 12 acquisition procedures to serve as a prior commercial item determination (CID).
Continue Reading DOD Publishes Final Rule Redesignating Contracts Previously Awarded Under FAR Part 12 Guidelines as Commercial Item Determinations (CIDs)
On December 8, 2021, President Biden issued Executive Order (EO) 14057 “Catalyzing Clean Energy Industries and Jobs Through Federal Sustainability.” The EO is the administration’s most recent effort to achieve “a carbon pollution-free electricity sector by 2035 and net-zero emissions economy-wide by no later than 2050.”
Federal agencies, government suppliers, and American businesses are urged to embrace the administration’s sustainability objectives and attain cleaner and more sustainable operation standards.
Federal Sustainability Plan
The EO describes the Biden administration’s efforts to adopt green technology by focusing on five aspects.Continue Reading Biden’s “Clean Energy” Directive’s Impact on Government Contractors
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”?
Well, that was quick. In four memos dated September 30 and October 1, contractors learned the terms of the contract provisions implementing the COVID-19 vaccine and masking requirements mandated by President Biden’s Executive Order (EO) 14042, discussed here, and the implementing guidance issued by the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force (Task Force) on September 24. In the next 10 days we expect to see most other agencies issue deviation memos similar to the General Services Administration (GSA) and Department of Defense (DoD) memos discussed below.
As discussed in this post, while the contract provisions, along with updated guidance from the Task Force, answer some of the open questions, contractors are still in the unfortunate position of rushing to ensure they are compliant with these requirements when the contract provisions apply to them without knowing the answers to some fundamental questions. Despite these open questions, companies have little time, for example, to ensure that covered employees are vaccinated by the December 8, 2021 deadline. After that deadline, any contractor that becomes subject to these requirements will have to ensure that on new contracts or options/extensions that incorporate the new clause, covered employees are fully vaccinated by the first day of performance, which of course is impossible unless contractors enforce these vaccine mandates in advance. That said, the memos do seem to clarify that compliance with the Task Force guidance will not be required for prime contracts solely for the manufacturing of products.
The FAR Clause
On September 30, the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Council issued a memo providing agencies with “initial direction” requiring the implementation of the Task Force guidance. It includes FAR 52.223-99, Ensuring Adequate COVID-19 Safety Protocols for Federal Contractors (OCT 2021) (Deviation), along with directions that agencies “expeditiously” issue class deviations to ensure that contracting officers can begin using the clause on or before October 15, 2021.Continue Reading And … They’re Off! Contractors Race to Comply Now that the COVID-19 Vaccination Deviations Have Arrived
I recently outlined the ever-growing list of compliance obligations for businesses that sell goods and services to the federal government in an article for Risk Management. “Some of the new regulatory requirements – such as obligations relating to cybersecurity and counterfeit parts – address challenges posed by an increasingly global, networked economy,” I explained in the article. “Others, such as the mandatory disclosure requirement, continue the trend of the government relying on third parties, whether it be whistleblowers or contractors themselves, to police the procurement system.”
To address the rising risk these complications pose, businesses should first ensure they have established an underlying compliance structure required by federal procurement regulations, as well as design effective training programs, translate the obligations into actionable policies, and effectively monitor adherence with those policies.Continue Reading Compliance Obligations for Government Contractors
On September 24, following President Biden’s September 9 Executive Order, Ensuring Adequate COVID Safety Protocols for Federal Contractors, the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force (Task Force) issued new guidance on COVID-19 safety protocols applicable to federal contractors and subcontractors. It is notable that the guidance does not apply to grants.
Before the guidance was released, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget determined, as required by the Federal Property and Administrative Services Act that compliance with those measures laid out in the guidance will promote economy and efficiency in federal contracting. This determination was met because decreasing the spread of COVID-19 “will decrease worker absence, reduce labor costs, and improve the efficiency of contractors and subcontractors performing work for the Federal Government.” There is no indication that the director considered the impacts of attrition or costs on businesses to administer these requirements.
Breakdown of Requirements under New Executive Order
These requirements, in addition to any requirements applicable in a federal workplace, apply to contractors and subcontractors with a “covered contract.” The obligations that the guidelines require to be part of a soon-to-be draft contract clause include:
- By December 8, 2021, “covered contractor employees,” regardless of prior COVID-19 infection and associated immunity must be “fully vaccinated” for COVID-19. This means that at least two weeks have passed after they have received the last required dose of an approved vaccine, except in limited circumstances where an employee is legally entitled to an accommodation.
Many contractors have questions regarding when an employee may be legally entitled to an accommodation. The guidance provides that this may be the case “because of a disability (which would include medical conditions) or because of a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance.” It continues, “[r]equests for ‘medical accommodation’ or ‘medical exceptions’ should be treated as required for a disability accommodation.”
After December, all covered contractor employees must be fully vaccinated by the first day of the period of performance on a newly awarded contract and by the first day of the performance period on an exercised option or extended or renewed contract when the clause has been incorporated into the covered contract. This also applies to contractor employees working from home on a covered contract.
- Compliance by covered contractor employees and visitors with published CDC guidance for masking and physical distancing is required while in a “covered contractor workplace.” This does not apply to covered contractor employees working from home. It does, however, require that in areas of “high or substantial community transmission,” even fully vaccinated individuals wear a mask in indoor settings. To determine the level of community spread, covered contractors must check the CDC COVID-19 Data Tracker County View website.
- Designation by covered contractors of a COVID-19 workplace safety coordinator at covered contractors’ workplaces whose primary duties appear to be communicating the required safety protocols to all covered employees and visitors and confirming compliance by reviewing the required vaccine documentation. COVID-19 workplace safety protocols may comprise some or all of this person’s regular duties.
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?