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Government Contracting During the COVID-19: Key Considerations for Negotiating New Government Contracts Amidst the Global Pandemic

Regulation update

The COVID-19 global pandemic and the United States’ response to the national emergency are having significant impacts on the government contractor community, shaping the way contractors perform their current contractual obligations and the way contractors will negotiate future contracts, task orders, and modifications. Indeed, for contractors preparing proposals or negotiating new contracts, the landscape is now much different and more uncertain than it was prior to the COVID-19 global pandemic.

To assist contractors in protecting against these uncertainties, we have outlined below considerations and strategies that should be employed (additional details related to each of the below identified strategies may be found here):

  • Understand the contract or subcontract type being negotiated and, in particular, the risk tradeoffs of flexibly priced contracts versus fixed price contracts – Fixed price contracts and subcontracts are designed to place the maximum risk on the seller for reasonably foreseeable risks; because the pandemic is a known fact, those considering a fixed price contract must proceed with caution.
  • Understand that the government may assert the basic FAR excusable delay clause has limited applicability to new government contracts because COVID-19 is now a known fact – The government may argue that when a potential risk exists at the time of award, any impact to the contract stemming from that risk may be foreseeable and inexcusable under the FAR delay clauses. In order to protect against this risk, contractors should consider including disclaiming language in their proposals and, to the extent possible, negotiate a reopener or other special clause that makes clear that the full impact of COVID-19 is not foreseeable and the contractor does not assume such risks to schedule or cost.
  • Consider how the contingencies cost principle affects contractors’ ability to include the costs of unforeseeable events in their proposals – Because COVID-19 is a presently known condition with an impact that likely cannot be measured with accuracy at this time, the government may take the position that any contingency, management reserve, or other cost associated with potential impacts arising from COVID-19 are unallowable and must be excluded from cost estimates. To protect against this risk, contractors should seek higher fee and/or the inclusion of reopener clauses in their contracts that permit the parties to reopen cost or price negotiations based on future COVID-19 related events.
  • Monitor indirect cost rates carefully and make adjustments to forward pricing rates and billing rates as necessary. Terminate existing Forward Pricing Rate Agreements – In order to protect against the risk of a quick change to indirect rates, contractors should carefully monitor how COVID-19 related issues are impacting rates and take appropriate action, including, but not limited to, terminating FPRAs and updating forward pricing rates and billing rates.
  • Prepare for a potential increase in sole source contracts and/or limited bid protests – If the government does utilize a full and open procurement competition, be aware that the government may override the automatic stay of performance in GAO bid protests, pursuant to FAR § 33.104(c)(2)).

Contractors should expect extraordinary circumstances as a result of the global pandemic, including rapid procurement processes for new government contracts, variable (and likely increased) contract performance costs, and disrupted contract performance schedules. Vigilant and proactive contractors may be able to create contractual protections, especially when entering into new government contracts, that may minimize financial repercussions of COVID-19.

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Government Contracting During the COVID-19: Key Considerations for Negotiating New Government Contracts Amidst the Global Pandemic

Existing Federal Economic Assistance Options for Small Businesses Affected by the Coronavirus (COVID-19)

While the existing federal economic assistance option with the U.S. Small Business Administration (“SBA”), called Economic Injury Disaster Loans (“EIDLs”), have existed for some time, the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020 (P.L. 116-123) increases the amount made available to the SBA to use for EIDLs to $197.2 million.

EIDLs are low-interest federal disaster loans of up to $2 million offered by the SBA to small businesses, as well as private, non-profit organizations in all U.S. states and territories to help alleviate economic injury directly caused by COVID-19. EIDLs may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable, and other bills that cannot be paid due to the impact of COVD-19. See 13 C.F.R. § 123.303(a).

Importantly, loan proceeds may not be used to:
• Refinance existing debt;
• Repay other SBA loans or loans from another federal agency;
• Pay, directly or indirectly, any taxes, fines or penalties;
• Repair physical damage; or
• Pay dividends or other disbursements to owners, partners, officers or stockholders, except for reasonable remuneration directly related to their performance of services for the business.

13 C.F.R. § 123.303(b).

Small businesses that need working capital to help meet their financial obligations should consider applying for an EIDL. For more information on EIDLs, what constitutes an eligible “small business,” and how to apply for EIDLs, please see the full client alert here.

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Existing Federal Economic Assistance Options for Small Businesses Affected by the Coronavirus (COVID-19)

US DoD Issues Class Deviation Regarding an Increase in Progress Payment Rates in Response to the Coronavirus National Emergency

March 22, 2020

On March 20, 2020, the Department of Defense (“DoD”) issued Class Deviation 2020-O0010 (the “Deviation”) providing that, effective immediately, in response to the coronavirus national emergency, the progress payment rates at Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (“DFARS”) § 232.501‑1 are increased to 90% for large business concerns and 95% for small business concerns.  Pursuant to the Deviation, DoD contracting officers (“COs”) are required to use the following clauses attached to the Deviation:

  • DFARS § 252.232-7004, DoD Progress Payment Rates (DEVIATION 2020-O0010), in lieu of the clause at DFARS § 252.232-7004;
  • Federal Acquisition Regulation (“FAR”) § 52.232-16, Progress Payments (DEVIATION 2020‑O0010), in lieu of the clause at FAR § 52.232-16; and
  • Alternate II (DEVIATION 2020-O0010), in lieu of Alternate II of FAR § 52.232-16.

The Deviation affects all DoD contracts, that is, it applies to existing and future DoD contracts. 

The Deviation constitutes a modification to the terms of affected contracts that already exist.  Because the DoD CO assigned to the existing contract is the only individual with the actual authority to execute and memorialize the change in progress payment rates pursuant to the Deviation, the Deviation is effective only upon the DoD CO issuing a contract modification. See FAR § 43.102(a) (providing that only COs with authority are empowered to execute contract modifications on behalf of the government); see also Winter v. Cath-dr/Balti Joint Venture, 497 F.3d 1339, 1344 (Fed. Cir. 2007) (stating that an agent of the government must have actual authority to bind the government to modify contracts; apparent authority is not sufficient).  Accordingly, contractors are advised to request a block change modification from their assigned DoD CO to implement the Deviation on all existing DoD contracts.

US DoD Issues Class Deviation Regarding an Increase in Progress Payment Rates in Response to the Coronavirus National Emergency

Supply Chain Impact of President Trump’s Executive Order Under the Defense Production Act

March 21, 2020

On March 18, 2020, in response to bipartisan calls from Congress and governors across the US, President Trump issued an executive order finding that health and medical resources needed to respond to the spread of COVID-19 meet the criteria under the Defense Production Act (DPA) to be given priority for purposes of supporting the national defense. The order identifies personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators as specific types of health and medical resources that will now be given priority. Examples of PPE the order is likely to cover include masks, goggles, gowns and gloves. Other health and medical resources, such as diagnostic test supplies, may soon be added to the list as the executive order delegates authority to the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to identify additional specific health and medical resources that meet applicable criteria under the DPA.

Because ongoing US production of essential health and medical resources is already addressing shortfalls related to the domestic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, some experts, including at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, believe that the President’s invocation of the DPA may be used principally to provide financial incentives for increased and expanded production efforts. Moreover, soon after issuing the order, President Trump shared via social media that he, “only signed the [the order] … should we need to invoke it in a worst case scenario in the future.” In response, expressing the collective sense of urgency of state governments throughout the US, in a March 19, 2020, memorandum to the President and Vice President Mike Pence, the National Governors Association included in its list of top state priorities in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, “guidance on implementation of [the] Defense Production Act to include what health and medical resources Secretary of Health and Human Services Azar is prioritizing under his new authority.”

This advisory provides an overview of the DPA and what this executive order could mean for government contractors and their supply chains.

As discussed in our prior advisory, the DPA provides the President and delegated federal agencies the authority to essentially force private companies to prioritize orders rated for national defense. Rated orders may cover not only the manufacture and delivery of goods, but may also apply to services. What this means, in practice, is that companies must put the federal government’s orders at the front of the line to ensure timely delivery under a rated order. Companies receiving a rated order must also place rated orders with their suppliers (with limited exceptions) to meet delivery requirements, which means that entire supply chains may soon be subject to rated order requirements.

Many DoD contractors and subcontractors are already very familiar with the Defense Priorities and Allocation System (DPAS), as implemented by regulations issued by the Department of Commerce. 15 C.F.R. 700 et seq. Companies may be less familiar with the Health Resources Priorities and Allocations System, as implemented by the Department of Health and Human Services. 45 C.F.R. 101 et seq. The President’s recent executive order very likely will mean that private companies that have either never done business with the federal government or have done so on more routine “commercial item” basis may suddenly be faced with rated orders. Rated orders must be accepted or rejected in writing within specified periods of time. Moreover, the bases for rejection are specific and narrow. Ultimately, willful refusal to comply with a rated order can subject private companies and individuals to a variety risks, including potential criminal charges.

Companies with products and services that may fall within the scope of health and medical resources should immediately familiarize themselves with the DPA, its implementing regulations, and any nationwide priorities and regulations that may be established by the HHS Secretary. Given the pace of the pandemic and the changes and disruptions to the supply chain that are already being observed, another key consideration is how the DPA and the national security needs that it seeks to address in operation collide with state and local police power. Specifically, contractors and/or their suppliers are very likely located in places where workers have been encouraged or directed to work from home, among other social distancing practices that have been recommended or mandated. Similarly, business operations have likely been impacted by travel restrictions, significantly limited airline schedules, and regulations in foreign jurisdictions limiting the export of materials required to produce the health and medical resources necessary to combat COVID-19 that are in short supply in the US. In the most extreme cases, some local or state jurisdictions have issued orders for their residents to “shelter in place.”

California issued such an order, effective Thursday, March 19. In the face of these challenges, accepting and performing a rated order (or any other order) may well prove impossible. State and local officials and the federal government are working to provide clarity that the DPA allows continued performance by contractors and their employees not withstanding local orders limiting or closing businesses. While this is developing by the hour, the Department of Homeland Security issued guidance confirming that contractors performing defense or health related contracts are part of the nation’s “critical infrastructure.”

From a supply chain perspective, companies receiving rated orders must recognize that orders they place to support performance of a rated order must also be issued as a rated order, unless exceptions apply. Issuing a rated order properly requires:

  • Specifying the appropriate rating on the order, including special language in the order so that the supplier is notified of its obligations;
  • Obtaining timely written acceptance or rejection;
  • Identifying a specific delivery date for items being ordered; and
  • Obtaining timely acceptance or rejection of any changes made to the order, which amounts to a new rated order.

Any company combining rated items and un-rated items in the same order must separately designate those times. Further, a company does not need to issue an order as rated if it is under certain dollar thresholds, unless the company cannot ensure timely delivery without using the rating.

The issuance of rated orders for certain medical technologies may also have a wider impact in the overall supply chain that affects other contractors. This may include electronic components that are common to a variety of products, including medical devices. In addition, we have seen examples, such as in the UK, where the general manufacturing industry is being drafted to transition to medical device manufacturing. The UK Government, for example, asked both Rolls-Royce and Ford to transition to manufacturing ventilators. Similar realignment of the industrial base both in the US and abroad could have far reaching consequences for the overall supply chain for a variety of goods and services.

If entities receiving rated orders encounter problems, there are procedures to follow to secure what is known as special priorities assistance. There are also avenues to appeal the rating applied to orders and the rating itself.

Ultimately, the discussion above highlights the complexity and risk associated with the DPA and DPAS that private companies with no prior background in the area will soon be facing. The best way to deal with these extraordinary circumstances effectively is to be proactive and to secure assistance from knowledgeable counsel, where and when appropriate.

Stay up-to-date with all of our insights and guidance by visiting our US COVID-19 hub here.

Supply Chain Impact of President Trump’s Executive Order Under the Defense Production Act

Federal Contracting Implications of President Trump’s National Emergency Declaration In Response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic

March 16, 2020

Dentons has formed a COVID-19 Client Special Situations Team and Client Resources Hub that stands ready to assist contractors in addressing the full range of issues, both in the US and globally, that may arise in connection with the COVID-19 outbreak. This advisory is the latest update in a series of alerts that address various aspects in which the contracting community may be affected. This advisory focuses on the implications of President Trump’s emergency declaration under the Stafford Act and the government’s use of the Defense Production Act and similar authorities to acquire goods and services that may be necessary to combat COVID-19.

On Friday, March 13, 2020, President Trump declared a national emergency relating to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This emergency declaration makes available billions of dollars in federal disaster relief funds to state and local governments pursuant to the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (Stafford Act), 42 U.S.C. ch. 68. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) administers the funds, pursuant to specific federal regulations, and generally makes them available to state and local governments in the form of grants. The state and local governments will further administer the funds for specific programs through subgrants and procurement contracts to support the COVID-19 response and relief effort.

In addition to the funds made available under the Stafford Act, contractors also should be cognizant of the fact that the federal government might exercise its authority under the Defense Production Act of 1950, 50 U.S.C. §§ 4501 et seq., which is implemented by the Defense Priorities and Allocations System (DPAS), 15 C.F.R. § Pt. 700, to rapidly respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Under DPAS, the government has the authority to prioritize government contracts for goods and services over competing customers, to allocate or control the general distribution of materials, and to offer incentives within the domestic market to enhance the production and supply of critical materials and technologies when necessary to respond to a national emergency. Contractors that have prime contracts, subcontracts or purchase orders subject to DPAS generally must quickly accept DPAS-rated orders within a short timeframe (10 to 15 days), and may only reject a rated-order in very limited circumstances. Additionally, prime contractors and subcontractors are required to flowdown these rating requirements to suppliers, as necessary to meet delivery requirements.  It is therefore important for contractors to be aware of which of their prime contracts, subcontracts and purchase orders are rated.

While it is unlikely that the government would exercise the more extreme authority granted under DPAS and effectively commandeer manufacturing and other types of facilities in order to produce critical medical supplies or to support other emergency relief efforts, contractors should further be mindful that the government could also authorize companies to use certain goods and technology that is patented by other companies without the consent of the patent holder. Specifically, pursuant to the Bayh-Dole Act, 35 U.S.C. ch. 18, or 28 U.S.C. § 1498, the federal government may authorize a company to produce, for example, critical pharmaceutical products, testing equipment or other essential items that are patented by another company to combat CoVID-19. Together, these authorities essentially authorize the US government to license and authorize the practice of patented inventions by industry competitors without regard to whether the patented technology was developed with government funding or exclusively at private expense. While patent holders are not without recourse, a patent holder’s recourse is typically limited to relief from the federal government in the form of royalty payments or damages—not from the companies who have received appropriate authorization and consent to use the patented items. Notably, however, in cases involving subject inventions funded by it, the government, pursuant to the Bayh-Dole Act, may exercise its “march-in” rights that permit the government to require the patent holder to license the invention to third parties. If the patent holder fails to do so, the Bayh-Dole Act permits the government to directly license the patented technology to non-patent holders upon terms that are reasonable under the circumstances. This may presumably include the payment of reasonable royalties to the patent holder, but the relevant provision of the Bayh-Dole Act (35 U.S.C. § 203) does not specifically require the payment of such royalties, creating risk that the patent holder may not receive the compensation that might normally be due. While the Bayh-Dole Act and its implementing regulations in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) apply to small businesses and non-profit organizations, the Act authorizes the government to extend the Act’s requirements to all contractors. See 35 U.S.C. § 210(c); FAR Subpart 27.3. In this regard, the Department of Defense has extended these requirements, among others, to large contractors through a specific clause, Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS) 252.227-7038, which includes the government’s march-in rights. See DFARS 252.227-7038(h). Therefore, contractors of all sizes should be aware of the government’s ability to exercise these rights.

The national emergency surrounding COVID-19 creates a situation in which the government may utilize its vast national security powers and emergency resources to combat the virus. Contractors must be aware of the unique issues that may arise under these circumstances as the consequences of noncompliance may be drastic.

Please contact any of the authors if you require additional guidance on specific issues.

Federal Contracting Implications of President Trump’s National Emergency Declaration In Response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic

COVID-19 – Addressing the Risks of Disease Delays and Disruptions Under Federal Contracts

Dentons has formed a COVID-19 Client Special Situations Team that stands ready to assist contractors in addressing the full range of issues that may arise in connection with the COVID-19 outbreak. Over the next several weeks, we will provide updates regarding the various aspects in which the contracting community may be affected. This advisory focuses on what contractors must show to support excusable delay. Future advisories will focus on other contracting-related facets of the COVID-19 issue. Among the issues that may be addressed are managing supply-chain risks; the government’s issuance of stop-work or suspension-of-work orders; the government’s use of the Defense Production Act and its related authorities to acquire goods and services that may be necessary to combat COVID-19; and how to seek schedule and compensatory relief in the event the government is unable to support contracting activities, such as performing delivery inspections and providing access to facilities and government furnished equipment.

The COVID-19 outbreak is disrupting business around the world. The disruption stems from sick personnel unable to report to work, declines in the capital markets, and actions taken by governments and companies alike directing workers to stay home or ordering the closure of manufacturing plants or offices until the disease is under control.  Yesterday, U.S. financial markets triggered a “circuit-breaker” that required a short suspension of trading and the Italian government ordered a quarantine of its northern provinces. As this client advisory is being drafted, the United States is facing reports of virus outbreaks in different locations around the country, including states of emergency in several U.S. States. The continued spread of COVID-19 could affect performance of federal contracts in various ways. Contractors could experience unexpectedly high levels of claimed sick leave or absenteeism, government-imposed or voluntary quarantines, cancelled travel, supply chain interruptions, and a number of other significant performance obstacles leading to dramatically reduced productivity and increased performance costs.

For many decades federal contracting regulations have recognized “epidemics” and ”quarantine restrictions” as force majeure bases for excused performance. FAR 52.249-8(c), Default (fixed price supply contracts) (“[the] Contractor shall not be liable for any excess costs if the failure to perform the contract arises from causes beyond the control and without the fault or negligence of the Contractor” and citing among those causes “epidemics” and “quarantine restrictions”); FAR 52.212-4(f) (same for commercial item contracts); see also Clause 11, Default, Procurement Division Contract Terms No. 1, CCH War Law Services (1945) (same). A key point before relying on these “safe harbors” in the Default context is to remember that they are not a per se defense to nonperformance. The existence of an “epidemic” or imposition of a “quarantine restriction” does not necessarily mean performance is excused in the absence of showing causation and a lack of fault or negligence by the contractor (as well as other standard factors such as the amount of delay attributed to the specific cause).

Case law interpreting these specific bases for excusable delay have focused on the clause’s language and the requirement that there must be causation between an “epidemic” or “quarantine restriction” and nonperformance. In certain cases, that causation was proven. See, e.g., Big State Garment Co., ASBCA No. 337, 4 CCF ¶ 60,946 (1950) (contract performance extension granted due to employees’ need to recover from typhoid injection). However, in the majority of cases addressing these issues, contractors have failed to show excusable delay. In Ace Electrical Associates, Inc., the Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals (ASBCA) confronted a contractor’s contention that nonperformance was due to the excusable delay of a flu epidemic that had “passed through its plant causing a 30% to 40% rate of absenteeism over a period several weeks.” ASBCA No. 11781, 67-2 BCA ¶ 6,456. The board rejected the contractor’s position, explaining “[i]llness occasioned by the onset of a flu epidemic is in general an excusable delay provided it can be shown that performance was in fact delayed by reason of such epidemic. It is incumbent upon [the contractor] to establish not only the existence of an excusable delay as well as the actual extent of delay so caused.” Id. The Board concluded that the contractor had failed to present that evidence.  See id.; see also Crawford Dev. and Mfg. Co., ASBCA No. 17565, 74-2 BCA ¶ 10,660 (appeal for excusable delay based on absence of several key employees due to flu-induced illness denied where contractor failed to show epidemic in surrounding community resulted in absence of a sufficient number of employees to cause delay). 

The Default clause for fixed-price supply contracts emphasizes not once, but twice, that “the failure to perform must be beyond the control and without the fault or negligence of the Contractor.” FAR 52.249-8(c). Whether stated in the relevant clause or not, this element of proof generally is accepted as a predicate to showing excusable delay. In the context of an asserted excusable delay due to an epidemic, the Government Printing Office Board of Contract Appeals (GPOBCA) emphasized that the contractor’s burden in such situations is to show that it took every reasonable precaution to avoid foreseeable causes for delay and to minimize their effect. Asa L. Shipman’s Sons, Ltd., GPOBCA No. 06-95, 1995 WL 818784 (Aug. 29, 1995). In the context of the COVID-19 virus, and its present level of outbreak in the US, contractors should be examining and implementing today precautionary measures to ensure the ability to perform in the future. In Yarling, the Agriculture Board of Contract Appeals (AGBCA) noted that the government had been amenable to the contractor entering into a subcontract arrangement or novation to ensure continued performance. AGBCA No. 382, 75-2 BCA ¶ 11,540. The board denied the appeal because the contractor had options—such as subcontracting or novation—to continue performance even in the face of an epidemic. It makes sense to consider (and document) advance planning on ideas to deal with COVID-19 related performance delays. Even if those ideas are ultimately unsuccessful in ensuring continued timely performance, the record of a contractor’s reasonable efforts to prepare for a COVID-19-related disruption will support later entitlement to schedule relief in the context of default.

Epidemics and quarantine restrictions are longstanding bases for excused performance. However, contractors must be mindful of equally longstanding requirements to show that (i) any asserted delay in performance was, in fact, caused by the asserted epidemic or quarantine restriction; and (ii) the delay was beyond the control and without the fault or negligence of the contractor (and any relevant subcontractors). Contractors will not know in advance the facts on the first prong of these requirements, but as to the second prong, contractors may be well-served to set in motion contingency planning to meet performance requirements. This could include setting up alternative supply chain arrangements, tasking human resource departments with identifying alternative staffing plans and taking steps in operations to mitigate the effect of a COVID-19 outbreak in manufacturing facilities and offices. Being proactive today will help the contractor make the requisite showing later that it took reasonable precautions to meet performance deadlines in the event COVID-19 asserts itself as a disruptive epidemic in the coming weeks and months.

COVID-19 – Addressing the Risks of Disease Delays and Disruptions Under Federal Contracts

FCA relator sanctioned nearly $170,000 for improperly taking employer’s privileged

Courts historically have been hesitant, for public policy reasons, to sanction relators for taking their former employers’ confidential documents to support their FCA claims. However, in US ex rel. Ferris v. Afognak Native Corp., a US District Court Judge for the District of Alaska sanctioned a plaintiff almost $17,000 for doing just that. We look at the key elements defense counsel in FCA actions should focus on when faced with a qui tam relator who has purloined his or her employer’s privileged (or non-privileged but confidential) documents.

Read the complete article here.

FCA relator sanctioned nearly $170,000 for improperly taking employer’s privileged