Every government contractor hesitates and ponders whether information confidential and valuable to its business that is disclosed – either voluntarily or by compulsion – in a submission to a U.S. Government agency will be protected from release to a third party pursuant to that dreaded four-letter acronym: F-O-I-A. In a June 24, 2019, landmark decision, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media[1], has spoken for the first time on FOIA exemption covering such information – and the news is good for contractors seeking maximum protection of their valuable confidential IP and business information.

Continue Reading Good News for Federal Contractors – FOIA “Exemption 4” Protecting Confidential Information Gets Expansive Definition by U.S. Supreme Court in Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media

Cough…cough…ahem…cough… Any contractor who has had the misfortune of dealing with the Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) likely knows all too well that the agency is the Will Rogers of costs – it never met a cost it didn’t question.  Indeed, DCAA auditors typically question costs with reckless abandon and based often on a patent misreading of applicable regulations.  The net effect, of course, is that contractors have to expend significant time and money trying to explain to boards and courts why DCAA’s auditors are…uh…incorrect as a matter of fact and law.  A recent Memorandum for Regional Directors (MRD) provides some transparency into why this sort of thing happens with unfortunate regularity. Issued on May 14, 2019, the MRD (No. 19-PAC-002(R)), corrects…er…“revises” internal guidance issued in 2014 and 2015 relating to the identification of expressly unallowable costs.  The newly issued memo sets out DCAA’s current stance on identifying expressly unallowable costs under the cost principles codified at Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Part 31 and Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS) Part 231.  This MRD – like all MRDs – is intended to be used as a tool by well-meaning (but often overzealous) auditors when reviewing a contractor’s compliance with federal cost principles.  Contractors should, thus, pay careful attention to this MRD in order to be prepared for questions that may arise during DCAA-led frolics and detours.

Continue Reading Let Me Clear My Throat: DCAA Course Corrects on “Expressly Unallowable” Costs

Cybersecurity. It’s never over, is it? In what can only be described as a “soft” release, the Department of Defense (DoD) has slowly and quietly begun to reveal its intent to provide federal contractors with formal cybersecurity certification as early as next year. The program, known as the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC), is an effort to streamline the acquisition process by providing acquiring agencies and consenting contractors with more exacting cybersecurity requirements for forthcoming acquisitions.

Continue Reading Never Stop Never Stopping: Defense Department Quietly Unveils Proposed Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification Standards and Confirms the Allowability of Certain Cybersecurity Costs

Here’s another reminder of limitations that exist when there is a third party claim of infringement against a U.S. Government agency. In such a case, the patent owner must sue in the United States Court of Federal Claims and may recover only “reasonable and entire compensation” for the unauthorized use. See 28 U.S.C. Section 1498(a). No injunctive relief is afforded the plaintiff.  Within the context of that proceeding, the Government agency is free to seek a determination that the patent is invalid, and if the claimed invention does not meet one or more of the patentability requirements, the Government agency will have no liability.

Continue Reading The Supreme Court Limits Government Agencies’ Ability to Deflect Infringement Claims Through the PTO: A Preamble for Government Contractors

As federal agencies have exponentially increased the use of “Other Transaction Agreements,” or OTAs, over the past few years, the question of the extent to which OTAs are subject to judicial review has arisen and, fortunately, recently been answered by GAO.  Although GAO will not review an agency’s award decision once it properly elects to utilize an OTA, GAO will examine the transaction to assess whether the agency properly chose to use the OTA instead of a procurement contract. The MD Helicopters decision, B-417379, April 4, 2019, 2019 WL 1505296, is GAO’s most recent decision on the subject.  With this in mind, federal contractors considering OTAs as a procurement vehicle should take note of GAO’s limited scope of review regarding such agreements and tread carefully.

Continue Reading The DL on the USA’s OTAs: What Federal Contractors Should Understand When Approaching Other Transactional Agreements

On May 22nd, Practice Group Co-Leaders Franklin Turner and Alexander Major delivered a presentation on Effectively Prosecuting Contract Claims Against the Government to attendees at the annual Native Hawaiian Organizations Association Business Summit in Honolulu, Hawaii. After the presentation, Franklin and Alex also hosted a legal Q&A session for contractors of all sizes.

Section 8(a) of the Small Business Investment Act of 1958 authorizes the Small Business Administration (“SBA”) to enter into prime contracts with federal agencies and to subcontract the performance of the contract to qualified small businesses. As most are aware, the 8(a) program is designed to assist “socially and economically disadvantaged small business” concerns that are owned by one or more individuals who are from a socially and economically disadvantaged group and whose management and daily operations are controlled by such individuals. 15 U.S.C. § 637(a)(4)(A)-(B). Included in the definition of “socially and economically disadvantaged groups” are, among others, Indian tribes, Native Hawaiians, and Alaskan Natives, which allows each “maximum practical opportunities” to participate in the government contracting market. But in so doing, those companies must stomach the good with the bad, i.e., they must be prepared to (a) navigate the thicket of regulatory hurdles required to do business with the government and (b) combat potential allegations of fraud if there is a perception that one or more of those hurdles has not been cleared successfully.

Continue Reading Alutiiq False Claims Act Settlement Highlights Significant Government Contract Compliance Risks for Tribal, NHO, and ANC 8(a) Subsidiaries

Effective Date of Increase and Customs Reporting Guidance

On May 9, 2019, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) announced an increase in duties pursuant to Section 301(b) of the Trade Act of 1974, as amended (Section 301), from 10% to 25%, on over 5,700 Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTSUS) products imported from China. The increase, covering $200 billion in products that were subject to 10% additional duties since September 24, 2018, was set to rise to 25% at the beginning of this year, only having to be postponed twice to allow U.S.–China trade negotiations to bear fruit. They did not.

Continue Reading International Trade Update: U.S. Heightens Tariffs on Chinese Goods; China Reciprocates

A little-heralded change to the statutory definition of “commercial item” has now made its way to a proposed FAR rule, which will open up regulatory relief to a whole new class of government contractors – companies, both domestic and foreign, that regularly sell products developed at private expense to friendly foreign governments. With the December 12, 2017, passage of Section 847 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2018, Pub. L. 115-91 (“2018 NDAA”), the statutory set of definitions for the term “commercial items” was amended. See 41 U.S.C. § 103. More specifically, Section 103(8), addressing “nondevelopmental items,” was broadened as follows:

Continue Reading New Proposed FAR Rule Makes Way for Broadening Commercial Item Status to Products Developed Exclusively for and Sold to Friendly Foreign Governments

On Dec. 4, 2018, the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council finally released a proposed rule to implement changes to certain small business subcontracting regulations required by the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). 83 Fed. Reg. 62540 (Dec. 4, 2018). This is a welcome, if not long-overdue sign of progress. Over the last half-decade since the passage of the 2013 NDAA, contractors and Government personnel alike have struggled to comply with an amalgam of inconsistent rules regarding the extent to which a small business may subcontract work under a federal small business set-aside contract.

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