When Abraham Lincoln signed the False Claims Act (FCA) into law in 1863, it was a legislative reaction to a series of sensational congressional investigations into war profiteers’ sale of phony provisions and useless equipment to the U.S. government during the Civil War. Contractors who agreed to provide 100-pound bags of flour filled many of the bags with sand. Munitions suppliers demanded full payment (at exorbitant, wartime prices) for rusted, nonfunctioning weapons gleaned from scrap heaps. It was not a leap to find claims that sand was flour, or that a rusted flintlock was an Army rifle, were objectively false; these were not just breaches of contract, but out-and-out frauds. Congress stepped in to stop this “plundering of the public treasury,” and the FCA imposed penalties on those who sought to defraud the U.S. government and its taxpayers.
On October 15, the FAR Council issued a Proposed Rule implementing amendments to the current FAR definition of “commercial item.” As explained below, the Proposed Rule will eliminate the current FAR definition of “commercial item” and replace it with separate definitions for “commercial products” and “commercial services” to benefit both contractors and the acquisition workforce by simplifying the application and providing greater clarity on the scope of each term. Comments on the Proposed Rule must be submitted no later than December 14, 2020.
Undoubtedly a great film for its day, the 1982 classic Poltergeist might not have aged as well as the filmmakers had hoped. But the vivid imagery, jump scares and creepy marketing the PG-rated “family” movie employed remain burned into the minds of many. For those unfamiliar with the Spielberg classic, a “poltergeist” is largely understood as a ghost or other supernatural being responsible for physical disturbances such as loud noises and thrown-around objects. As seasoned Government contractors know all too well, the same could be said of cybersecurity regulations. Don’t believe us? Just ask your information technology and information security professionals about the coffee mug shards scattered in the corner or the stapler embedded into the computer monitor. Constantly evolving cybersecurity regulations, arriving seemingly out of nowhere, are a fact of contractor life and are as sure to strike as that creepy clown doll in the rocking chair. As if on cue, more have arrived. Was that a crash we heard?
On September 22, 2020, President Trump issued an Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping (the Order). The Order is directed squarely at federal contractors and subcontractors, and states that its purpose is to “promote economy and efficiency in Federal contracting, . . . unity in the Federal workforce, and . . . combat offensive and anti-American race and sex stereotyping and scapegoating.” The Order is effective immediately but is applicable to contracts issued after November 22, 2020 (60 days after the Order).
On September 22, 2020, President Trump issued an Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping. The Order is directed squarely at federal contractors and subcontractors and states that its purpose is to “promote economy and efficiency in Federal contracting, . . . unity in the Federal workforce, and . . . combat offensive and anti-American race and sex stereotyping and scapegoating.” The Order is effective immediately but is applicable to contracts issued after November 22, 2020 (60 days after the order).
Halloween is coming up and, right on cue, the FAR Council has released a proposed rule that has potentially frightening implications for contractors. Last year, on July 15, 2019, the president signed Executive Order 13881 (the E.O.), Maximizing Use of American-Made Goods, Products, and Materials (84 FR 34257, July 18, 2019). As we noted in our previous post on this topic, the E.O. mandated significant changes to Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) clauses implementing the Buy American statute by substantially increasing both domestic content requirements and price preferences for domestic products. As we also pointed out, the E.O. contained several ambiguities as to how the desired changes would be implemented. At long last, we have (proposed) answers. On September 14, 2020, the FAR Council issued a proposed rule designed to implement the requirements of the E.O. (85 FR 56558, Sept. 14, 2020). While this proposed rule incorporates the overarching objectives of the E.O., it also adds a fairly unsettling spin in that it expands on the E.O.’s mandate by reintroducing the domestic content test for commercially available off-the-shelf (COTS) items as it pertains to iron and steel products.
Like the hits produced by DJ Khaled, the FAR Council offers “another one.” As covered extensively in this blog, federal contractors have been—or should have been (you have been working toward compliance, haven’t you?)—spending the closing days of summer ensuring compliance with the July 14, 2020 Interim Rule implementing Section 889(a)(1)(B) (“Section B”) of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2019. Section B prohibits the government from entering into a contract with an entity that uses covered telecommunications equipment or services as a substantial or essential component of any system, or as critical technology as part of any system, and requires, among other affirmative obligations, for contractors to represent—after conducting a “reasonable inquiry”—that they do/do not use covered telecommunications equipment or services in their respective business operations. In light of the Interim Rule’s broad scope and mandatory accounting of a contractor’s operations, Section B’s compliance mandate presents another significant regulatory burden for contractors to shoulder. But contractors should fear not, because the FAR Council has heard their plaintive wails and responded on August 27, 2020, with a Second Interim Rule implementing new requirements for Section B compliance.
When last we left the Federal Government, agency buyers were staring down the Interim Rule prohibiting them from contracting with entities that use “covered telecommunications equipment” under Section 889(a)(1)(B) (“Section B”) of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 after August 13, 2020. But then August 13 came and went. Did federal agencies do all they needed to follow the requirement? Did modifications go out to industry yet? Were amendments made? Was FAR 52.204-24 (2019) appropriately corrected to FAR 52.204-24 (2020)? What of 52.204-25 or 52.204-26? Can federal agencies act in time?
As covered recently in this blog, the Department of Defense (DoD), the General Services Administration (GSA), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration released on July 14, 2020, an Interim Rule covering prohibitions on contracting with entities that use “covered telecommunications equipment” under Section 889(a)(1)(B) (“Section B”) of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 (“NDAA for FY19”). Effective August 13, 2020, Section B prohibits federal contractors from “entering into, or extending or renewing, a contract with an entity that uses any equipment, system, or service that uses covered telecommunications equipment or services as a substantial or essential component of any system, or as critical technology as part of any system.” In addition, “covered telecommunications equipment or services” includes telecommunications or video surveillance equipment and services produced by (1) Huawei Technologies Company, ZTE Corporation, Hytera Communications Corporation, Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Company, or Dahua Technology Company, or any subsidiary or affiliate thereof, or (2) an entity “owned or controlled by, or otherwise connected to, the government of [The People’s Republic of China].”
Relying upon the cryptic answers provided by a Magic 8-Ball when deciding to file a protest at the United States Court of Federal Claims (COFC) may sound farcical, but a recent decision by a split panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit may render this method commonplace. In Inserso Corporation v. United States, the Federal Circuit held that the Blue & Gold waiver rule regarding the timeliness of protests against patent solicitation errors barred Inserso’s opportunity to protest the Defense Information Systems Agency’s (DISA’s) allegedly improper disclosure of total evaluated pricing and previously unreleased evaluation methodology during debriefings with certain offerors. In what can only be described as requiring an offeror to possess preternatural foresight of all potential agency errors in a procurement, the Federal Circuit reasoned that Inserso should have known the type of information it challenged was likely to be disclosed in the debriefings. In effect, the majority’s decision unmoors the venerable Blue & Gold waiver rule from its narrow application by requiring – remarkably – that contractors protest non-patent, non-solicitation issues before the deadline for receipt of proposals. Yet the majority’s opinion isn’t the only feature of this decision that should raise contractors’ eyebrows. As noted below, the full-throated dissent questions, inter alia, the continuing validity of Blue & Gold.