As we stated last month, further restrictions are afoot on the use of Chinese technology in federal acquisitions. An Interim Rule issued by the Department of Defense (DoD), General Services Administration (GSA), and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) (collectively, the “FAR Council”) implements the first phase of Section 889 of the FY2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The Interim Rule, effective August 13, 2019, broadly prohibits federal agencies, federal contractors, and grant or loan recipients from procuring “covered telecommunications equipment or services” produced by Huawei Technologies Company and ZTE Corporation and, with respect to certain public safety or surveillance applications, Hytera Communications Corporation, Dahua Technology Company, and Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Company. In particular, federal suppliers are prohibited from sourcing “substantial or essential component of any system, or as critical technology as part of any system” from the foregoing companies.
Changes to the Federal Acquisition Regulation’s (FAR) small business subcontracting rules have been slow in coming, but the FAR Council is finally catching up with the Small Business Administration (SBA) in making regulatory modifications to implement a few changes intended to help prime contractors reach their small business subcontracting goals as required by Section 1614 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014 (2014 NDAA). Specifically, the changes focus on aiding prime contractors possessing an individual subcontracting plan for a contract with a single executive agency. Now, in such instances, the prime contractor will receive credit toward its subcontracting goals for awards made to small business concerns employed at any tier by subcontractors through their respective subcontracting plans. This should be helpful news to prime contractors.
As we reported last month, the Department of Defense (DoD) has been engaging in an unusual rollout of its new cybersecurity certification program by way of road tours—led by Katie Arrington, the Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment for Cyber—that address the tiered, five-level Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC). At bottom, DoD intends for the CMMC to help streamline the acquisition process by providing acquiring agencies and consenting contractors with more exacting cybersecurity requirements for future acquisitions. What’s unique about the CMMC rollout is the lack of written guidance on the program. DoD representatives have orally provided a majority of publicly available information about CMMC only during various webinars and defense-industry events held over the past couple of months. Indeed, a quick Google search for “CMMC” indicates that, at this time, hard facts about the program appear to be limited to FAQs on a DoD website.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.