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PREP Act Coverage for COVID-19 Related Activities Provides Important Immunity Protections

Regulation update

There is a rising army of contractors, commercial companies, and even private citizens who are racing to support federal, State and local agencies’ fight against the COVID-19 virus pandemic. By engaging in certain activities that may directly impact individuals infected or suspected of being infected with COVID-19, however, these contractors and other actors may be exposing themselves to potential liability claims. Specifically, infected or other individuals may be unintentionally harmed by a contractor’s activities or the countermeasures that the contractor deploys leading to the risk of subsequent lawsuits once the pandemic has subsided.

Under these circumstances, the federal government has made the appropriate policy choice that it is more important that we encourage private industry to fight the virus and, accordingly, legal protections are available to protect contractors and other actors against the vast majority of liability claims that might be brought by individuals. Specifically, the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (the “PREP Act”) and the March 10, 2020 declaration issued by the Secretary of Health and Human Services (the “HHS Secretary”) provide liability immunity for certain recommended activities.

For more information on these legal protections and the activities to which they apply, please visit our client alert.

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PREP Act Coverage for COVID-19 Related Activities Provides Important Immunity Protections

DOD Implementation of CARES Act Section 3610

On April 8, 2020, the Department of Defense issued a class deviation implementing CARES Act Section 3610, Federal Contractor Authority. Specifically, the Class Deviation, which is effectively immediately, authorizes contractors to use a new Department of Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS) Part 231 clause—DFARS 231.205-79, CARES Act Section 3610 Implementation—”as a framework for implementation of section 3610″ of the CARES Act. The Class Deviation identifies that Section 3610 can provide “reimbursement on any contract type.”

Most notably in DFARS 231.205-79, provided below, is that:

  • It only applies to contractors for which the “cognizant contracting officer has established in writing to be an affected contractor.”  This is an important distinction and contractors should ensure to obtain, and maintain in its contract files, this affirmation from the contracting officer; 
  • It clarifies both that it applies to “work on a site that has been approved for work by the Federal Government, including on a government-owned, government-leased, contractor-owned, or contractor-leased facility approved by the federal government for contract performance,” which provided needed clarity to the language in the CARES Act, and that the performance location can be deemed inaccessible because of local shelter in place orders; and
  • In order for costs to be allowable, they must be “segregated and identifiable in the contractor’s records so that compliance with all terms of this section can be reasonably ascertained.”

DFARS 231.205-79 CARES Act Section 3610 – Implementation

  1. Applicability.
    1. This cost principle applies only to a contractor:
      1. that the cognizant contracting officer has established in writing to be an affected contractor;
      2. whose employees or subcontractor employees:
        1. Cannot perform work on a government-owned, government-leased, contractor-owned, or contractor-leased facility or site approved by the federal government for contract performance due to closures or other restrictions, and
        2. Are unable to telework because their job duties cannot be performed remotely during the public health emergency declared on January 31, 2020, for Coronavirus (COVID–19).
    2. The maximum reimbursement authorized by section 3610 shall be reduced by the amount of credit a contractor is allowed pursuant to division G of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (Pub. L. 116– 127) and any applicable credits a contractor is allowed under the CARES Act (Pub. L. 116-136) or other credit allowed by law that is specifically identifiable with the public health emergency declared on January 31, 2020 for COVID–19.
  2. Allowability.
    1. Notwithstanding any contrary provisions of FAR subparts 31.2, 31.3, 31.6, 31.7 and DFARS 231.2, 231.3, 231.6, and 231.7, costs of paid leave (including sick leave), are allowable at the appropriate rates under the contract for up to an average of 40 hours per week, and may be charged as direct charges, if appropriate, if incurred for the purpose of:
      1. Keeping contractor employees and subcontractor employees in a ready state, including to protect the life and safety of Government and contractor personnel, notwithstanding the risks of the public health emergency declared on January 31, 2020, for COVID-19, or
      2. Protecting the life and safety of Government and contractor personnel against risks arising from the COVID-19 public health emergency.
    2. Costs covered by this section are limited to those that are incurred as a consequence of granting paid leave as a result of the COVID-19 national emergency and that would not be incurred in the normal course of the contractor’s business. Costs of paid leave that would be incurred without regard to the existence of the COVID-19 national emergency remain subject to all other applicable provisions of FAR subparts 31.2, 31.3, 31.6, 31.7 and DFARS 231.2, 231.3, 231.6, and 231.7. In order to be allowable under this section, costs must be segregated and identifiable in the contractor’s records so that compliance with all terms of this section can be reasonably ascertained. Segregation and identification of costs can be performed by any reasonable method as long as the results provide a sufficient audit trail.
    3. Covered paid leave is limited to leave taken by employees who otherwise would be performing work on a site that has been approved for work by the Federal Government, including on a government-owned, government-leased, contractor-owned, or contractor-leased facility approved by the federal government for contract performance; but
      1. The work cannot be performed because such facilities have been closed or made practically inaccessible or inoperable, or other restrictions prevent performance of work at the facility or site as a result of the COVID-19 national emergency; and
      2. Paid leave is granted because the employee is unable to telework because their job duties cannot be performed remotely during public health emergency declared on January 31, 2020, for COVID-19.
    4. The facility at which work would otherwise be performed is deemed inaccessible for purposes of paragraph (b)(3) of this subpart to the extent that travel to the facility is prohibited or made impracticable by applicable Federal, State, or local law, including temporary orders having the effect of law.
    5. The paid leave made allowable by this section must be taken during the period of the public health emergency declared on January 31, 2020, for COVID–19, up to and including September 30, 2020.
    6. Costs made allowable by this section are reduced by the amount the contractor is eligible to receive under any other Federal payment, allowance, or tax or other credit allowed by law that is specifically identifiable with the public health emergency declared on January 31, 2020, for COVID–19, such as the tax credit allowed by division G of Public Law 116–127.

The Class Deviation can be found here and remains in effect until rescinded.

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DOD Implementation of CARES Act Section 3610

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

Guarding The Privilege: Fourth Circuit Reverses District Court Decision Finding Disclosure Pursuant to the Mandatory Disclosure Rule Waived Attorney-Client Privilege

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit recently, and importantly, reestablished the status quo for government contractor disclosures made pursuant to the Mandatory Disclosure Rule (MDR), while also providing further insight into when a disclosure could waive privilege. Specifically, the Fourth Circuit, in a non-precedential decision, overturned an unsettling decision from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia that certain disclosures a government contractor made pursuant to the MDR constituted a waiver of the attorney-client privilege.

In reaching the conclusion that the contractor’s disclosure pursuant to the MDR did not waive the attorney-client privilege, the Fourth Circuit distinguished between disclosures based on the advice of an attorney (not a waiver of privilege) and disclosures that divulge the underlying attorney-client communication itself (a waiver of privilege). The Fourth Circuit also identified using strong dicta that its decision is consistent with the purpose of the MDR. In specifically focusing on the MDR, the Fourth Circuit stated that:

  • “requiring [the contractor] to produce privileged materials is particularly injurious here, where [the contractor] acted pursuant to a regulatory scheme mandating disclosure of potential wrongdoing. Government contractors should not fear waiving attorney-client privilege in these circumstances”; and
  • “the district court’s decision has potentially far-reaching consequences for companies subject to [the MDR] and other similar disclosure requirements. We struggle to envision how any company could disclose credible evidence of unlawful activity without also disclosing its conclusion, often based on the advice of its counsel, that such activity has occurred. More likely, companies would err on the side of making vague or incomplete disclosures, a result patently at odds with the policy objectives of the regulatory disclosure regime at issue in this case.”

While contractors must remain vigilant about the level of information disclosed pursuant to MDR and ensure the disclosure do not divulge the underlying attorney-client communication, this decision should provide comfort to the government contract community. Contractors, pursuant to the MDR, should be able to inform their government customers in sufficient detail of the contractor’s general conclusions as to whether conduct satisfies the credible evidence standard under the MDR. This, in turn, should enable contractors and the government to preserve resources and enable cost-savings to the extent additional investigations are unnecessary. 

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Guarding The Privilege: Fourth Circuit Reverses District Court Decision Finding Disclosure Pursuant to the Mandatory Disclosure Rule Waived Attorney-Client Privilege

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

Voluntary vs. Involuntary Stop Work: What contractors should consider as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves

March 17, 2020

The COVID-19 public health emergency that has been unfolding over the past weeks and months is predicted to get far worse before it gets better. On Friday March 13, 2020, the President declared a national emergency to combat the virus and we have seen unprecedented cancellations relating to international travel, sporting events and large public gatherings. There also have been employer-issued mandates that employees work from home. As part of our on-going series, this advisory addresses some of the issues government contractors should carefully consider in connection with interruptions to their contract work.

Indeed, as the pandemic evolves, there is increased potential that government contractor operations will be impacted in a variety of ways, some of which may be more likely than others. Under these circumstances, contractors should be proactively identifying and considering likely impacts and how best to position themselves to mitigate those impacts. For example, contractors may encounter circumstances where they conclude they must temporarily cease operations or direct their non-essential personnel to work remotely. Or they may be having difficulty securing material or other resources due to impacts in the supply chain. While all of these impacts on work trace back to COVID-19, there are likely intervening causes that, depending on relevant contract terms, may provide avenues for the contractor to excuse nonperformance and avoid default or, alternatively, seek recovery from the government for impacts associated with stopped or delayed work.

First, it will be important to distinguish between a contractor’s voluntary work stoppages and involuntary work stoppages.  Our prior advisory noted that if a contractor is temporarily unable to continue contract performance, i.e., is involuntarily delayed or impacted due to the pandemic, it is likely that force majeure principles would operate to excuse non-performance and prevent a government default termination. On the other hand, if it is proven that the contractor voluntarily or unreasonably stopped work or failed to perform, the contractor may risk default termination. Depending on the circumstances, there may also be an order or direction from the government to change or stop work, which may provide an avenue for the contractor to secure an equitable adjustment to compensate for delays and cost impacts. Accordingly, it will be critical to understand, anticipate and distinguish between situations where a delay or disruption could create a risk of default, and situations where a delay or disruption is justified and excusable, or is the government’s responsibility.

Second, contractors should be thinking ahead about what they could or would do if they experience difficulties performing their government contracts as a result of COVID-19. The magnitude of the impacts and delays contractors may experience, of course, will depend upon the nature of their work and their particular circumstances. Similar to what occurs during a shutdown period, any work that is dependent upon government action may be delayed, including the issuance of new work or task orders, technical direction, first-article acceptance, approvals to test, acceptance inspections, and payments. In addition, in instances where contractors are performing at government facilities, contractors’ employees may have limited or no access to these facilities.

To the extent that a contractor suffers any adverse impacts due to COVID-19, it may be able to recover costs associated with these impacts pursuant to its contract terms. See, e.g., FAR 52.242-14, Suspension of Work; FAR 52.242-15, Stop-Work Order; FAR 52.242-17, Government Delay of Work; FAR 52.243-1, Changes – Fixed-Price. Importantly, unlike government shutdown circumstances, establishing that performance interruptions were caused by the government, through a contractual order, will be important. It is possible, however, that government contracting officers will avoid issuing a written order for the contractor to stop work. In this regard, issues of authority will be important to consider. In the event that the federal government issues an order that impacts contract performance, contractors should make every effort to obtain direction in writing from their contracting officer. 

In instances where contractors are performing cost reimbursable contracts, even if the Stop Work clause is not incorporated into the contracts, any additional costs attributable to disruption in work due to COVID-19 likely are recoverable as allowable costs of performance. If the disruption significantly increases costs or the level of effort required, contractors may seek an adjustment to the contract’s estimated costs and/or fee pursuant to the Changes clause, FAR 52.243-2.

Where no stop-work order is issued and contractors continue performing their fixed-price contracts, but have been hindered by COVID-19, recovery of any increased costs is less certain because the government likely would assert that the COVID-19 public health emergency is entirely outside of its control. Additionally, where the President or federal health officials issue orders that adversely affect contract performance, the government likely will take the position that such action constitutes a sovereign act that precludes recovery.

Determining who is responsible for the costs and delays resulting from COVID-19 ultimately depends on the facts and circumstances, as well as relevant contract provisions. Nevertheless, similar to those best practices applicable in a government shutdown, contractors can best position themselves for recovery by adhering to the following guidance:

  • Document any cost impacts and performance delays that result from government contractual action. There is risk that a government direction resulting from, or in reaction to, other government orders regarding COVID-19 could be viewed as a sovereign act, precluding any contractual recovery. To mitigate this risk, ensure that you have received, or will receive, a stop-work notice or some other contractual direction and that this direction is maintained in the contract file. If no written guidance is issued, consider asking the contracting officer to do so as appropriate.
  • Costs resulting from COVID-19 disruptions may be recoverable depending on the contract type. When contractual direction exists, costs reasonably incurred as a result of the government order may be recovered through the stop-work order, or the contract’s suspension of work, government delay of work, or changes clauses, so long as the impacts and delays arise during a period where the contract is funded.
  • Schedule impacts from a government-ordered stop-work order should be addressed through extensions to the period of performance. Schedule impacts resulting from a government order also likely are addressable through the stop-work order, suspension of work, government delay of work, or changes clauses.
  • Contractors should mitigate the impact to contracts. While contractors may be entitled to recover costs and/or receive schedule adjustments to address the impact of a government- ordered stop-work, contractors are responsible for taking reasonable actions to reduce the cost and/or schedule impact. These actions may include examining the feasibility of workarounds, diverting employees to commercial efforts (if possible), and potentially furloughing employees. If a contractor fails to take mitigation steps, the government may assert that the contractor acted unreasonably and may attempt to reduce the total costs and/or length of the extension provided to address the impact of the stop-work.
  • Cost and schedule impacts should be carefully tracked. To recover increased costs or receive a schedule adjustment, contractors must be able to demonstrate that the cost or schedule impact occurred and tie the impact to the government’s contractual order or fault. Employees that are prevented from performing work, therefore, should provide detailed time entries and record their labor costs in segregated accounts to demonstrate the labor cost impact of the disrupted period. Other cost impacts, such as costs associated with rescheduling work or redirecting employees to perform commercial work (if possible), should be similarly documented. Likewise, any schedule impact should be fully documented and demonstrated through a critical path or similar schedule analysis.
  • Take appropriate actions with respect to subcontractors. If a stop-work order is issued by the government, then contractors should immediately issue similar stop-work orders to any affected subcontractors. If no stop-work order is issued by the government, managing subcontractors becomes more complicated.
  • Contractors performing work as subcontractors on government prime contracts should seek clarity and instructions from their prime contractor customers regarding any potential impacts COVID-19 may have on performance. To the extent that any subcontracts are stopped or suspended , consistent with the guidance above, subcontractors should ensure that they mitigate any resulting costs or schedule impacts, identify and accumulate any resulting costs, and seek contract direction from their prime contractor customers as appropriate.
  • To the extent possible, communicate with the contracting officer. Consider requesting guidance on whether a contracting activity is an essential activity or service that must continue, regardless of any orders regarding COVID-19.

The rippling impacts and effects of this unprecedented modern public health emergency likely will be with us for some significant amount of time. As always, contractors must be proactive in order to best position themselves to maximize any cost recoveries and/or contract extensions necessary to address the impact of COVID-19, including documenting, on a contract-by-contract basis, why certain actions taken were reasonable.

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

Voluntary vs. Involuntary Stop Work: What contractors should consider as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves

For commercial item contractors, some improvements—mixed with new and old barriers—in DoD’s final rule on procurement of commercial items and accompanying guidebook

For commercial item contractors, some improvements—mixed with new and old barriers—in DoD’s final rule on procurement of commercial items and accompanying guidebook

Authors: Phil Seckman, Steve Masiello, Quincy Stott

At long last, the Department of Defense (DoD) on January 31, 2018, issued its final rule regarding the procurement of commercial items. On the same day, the DoD also published an updated two-part “Commercial Item Acquisition Guidebook,” a draft of which the DoD circulated last year. Dentons has been tracking both, including an analysis regarding the proposed rule and an earlier DFARS case that contributed to it. Although the final rule contains some beneficial elements for commercial item contractors and nontraditional defense contractors, it fails to overcome several of the barriers that deter such contractors from selling to DoD and sets the stage for possible problems down the road.

Starting with some potentially good news, it is helpful that the discussion and analysis in the final rule expressly acknowledges that the DoD considers the commercial item determination to be separate from the price reasonableness determination. This was an issue that was of particular concern in industry comments submitted in response to the DoD’s proposed rules. Moreover, the DoD’s acknowledgement of these separate inquiries is important because it also emphasizes and reinforces the avenue by which items that have not previously been sold may nonetheless qualify as commercial items if they are “of a type.” It was not long ago that the DoD was actively engaged in an effort to revise the statutory commercial item definition to remove this very concept.

Another bit of good news in the final rule relates to nontraditional defense contractors. The final rule defines a nontraditional defense contractor as an entity “that is not currently performing and has not performed any contract or subcontract for DoD that is subject to full coverage under [CAS] . . . for at least the 1-year period preceding the solicitation . . . .” The language at DFARS 212.102 states that contracting officers may treat supplies and services provided by nontraditional defense contractors as commercial items.

Although this permissive authority is not intended to “recategorize” current noncommercial items, the provision states that contracting officers may consider using the authority to procure supplies and services from business segments that meet the definition of nontraditional defense contractor even though they are affiliated with traditional defense contractors. The new guidance is enshrined in a new clause: DFARS 252.215-7013, Supplies and Services Provided by Nontraditional Defense Contractors. The provision may create incentives for nontraditional defense contractors to do business with the DoD (or for traditional defense contractors to spin off segments or affiliates that could qualify as nontraditional), but only time will tell whether contracting officers will exercise their discretion to do so.

On the other side of the ledger, the final rule potentially retains and creates new barriers for commercial item contractors. First, while the final rule’s treatment of data requirements for both commercial item determinations (CIDs) and price reasonableness offers additional clarity, it ultimately fails to meaningfully reduce barriers for commercial item contractors. As noted above, the DoD professes that it considers CIDs separately from price reasonableness determinations. Nonetheless, under the new DFARS provision, the DoD requires documentation in support of both to be included at proposal submission. The DoD’s rationale is that requiring commercial item contractors to turn over detailed pricing information up front with its proposal avoids delays in contract award. Of course, this likely invites contracting officers to ignore the FAR pricing policy at FAR 15.402 and the orderly sequence of information the government is to utilize before calling on the contractor to turn over its own information.

Moreover, while contracting officers may not request certified cost and pricing data for a commercial item acquisition, the final rule contemplates that they use business judgment and have broad discretion to require additional information from commercial item contractors for purposes of establishing price reasonableness. Again, contracting officers should be limited to the order of preference in FAR 15.402 for the type of data required. Nevertheless, the new language in DFARS 215.404-1(b) fails to curb potential overreach through onerous data requests by contracting officers determined to avoid any second guessing of their efforts in support of the commercial item price reasonableness determination. This dynamic may very well have the predictable result of causing many nontraditional defense contractors to turn away from the DoD market.

The final rule also implements DFARS 252.215-7010, Requirements for Certified Cost or Pricing Data and Data Other Than Certified Cost or Pricing Data. Building on FAR 52.215-20, the new DFARS provision adds additional detail regarding submission of other than certified cost or pricing data. Contracting officers will use this new provision in lieu of FAR 52.215-20 in solicitations, including those using FAR Part 12 procedures for commercial item acquisitions. Notably, however, the final rule reworded the solicitation provision at paragraph (d) to require only the “minimum information necessary,” rather than the previous version’s “all data,” to determine that the proposed price is fair and reasonable

Finally, under DFARS 212.102 in the final rule, a contracting officer may presume that a prior CID “made by a military department, a defense agency, or another component of DoD shall serve as a determination for subsequent procurements of such item.” If a contracting officer does not presume a prior CID is valid, the head of the contracting activity conducting the procurement must, within 30 days, confirm that the prior CID is appropriate and still applicable, or issue a determination that it is no longer appropriate to use FAR Part 12 procedures to acquire the item. It seems that the presumption that Congress created in Section 851 of the FY 2016 NDAA may have unintended consequences. Rather than facilitating the DoD’s reliance on prior CIDs, the final rule suggests that it is within the contracting officer’s discretion to disregard them, though the risk of such discretion being exercised is low. Finally, despite industry urging, the DoD declined to extend the presumption for prior CIDs to those made by non-DoD agencies.

Simultaneous with the DoD’s publication of the final rule in the Federal Register, the department also published its final Commercial Item Acquisition Guidebook. Unlike the final rule, the guidebook contains no clear summary of changes made in response to industry comments. For this reason, contractors should carefully study the final version for valuable insight into how the DoD is approaching commercial item and fair-and-reasonableness-price determinations, and and use it to bolster your approach to commercial item issues in the context of contractor purchasing systems.

The culmination of many years of effort by the DoD, the final rule provides some needed clarity for commercial item contractors and opens up avenues for nontraditional defense contractors to sell their supplies and services to the government. The final rule does not, however, meaningfully reduce certain barriers for commercial item contractors and may even create new barriers. In future NDAAs, Congress will need to provide additional clarity regarding its goals for commercial item acquisition and to continue incentivizing the adoption of practices by the DoD that genuinely reflect the commercial marketplace. Only through the reduction of unnecessary complexity and the avoidance of onerous information demands will the DoD continue to attract and benefit from the commercial market.

For commercial item contractors, some improvements—mixed with new and old barriers—in DoD’s final rule on procurement of commercial items and accompanying guidebook

DoD announces industry day to facilitate implementation of new network penetration reporting clause

In response to a chorus of implementation questions raised by the contracting community, the US Department of Defense (DoD) has announced an industry information day, during which contractors who have questions or wish to provide feedback regarding DoD’s Network Penetration Reporting and Contracting for Cloud Services final rule can raise those questions. On April 5, 2017, DoD published a notice of meeting in the Federal Registerannouncing the “Industry Information Day” on June 23, 2017.

The public meeting will address the implementation of DFARS Case 2013-D018, and the associated DFARS clauses, including DFARS 252.204-7012, Safeguarding Covered Defense Information and Cyber Incident Reporting (Oct. 2016). The final rule, published October 21, 2016, finalized an interim rule mandating that both prime and subcontractors safeguard covered defense information, report on network penetrations, and require adequate security from external cloud computing services. We have previously analyzed these new requirements.

The industry day announcement is an important reminder to contractors of the upcoming December 31, 2017, deadline for implementing the new security requirements required under the final rule to qualify for new DoD awards. The event will be held on Friday, June 23, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Mark Center Auditorium in Arlington, VA. Any contractors with questions or feedback about the rule’s requirements or implementation should attend. The registration deadline is June 12, 2017.  Contractors may register via email at: OSD.DIBCSIAEvents@mail.mil. DoD will accept written questions until May 1 at the same address, and contractors grappling with various implementation questions are encouraged to submit questions in advance.

For additional details regarding the Industry Information Day, registration and process for submitting questions, please consult the meeting notice.

DoD announces industry day to facilitate implementation of new network penetration reporting clause

DoD Clarifies Covered Defense Information Definition in Final Cyber Reporting Rule

The Department of Defense (DoD) on October 4, 2016, issued a rule finalizing cyber reporting regulations applicable to DoD contractors and subcontractors set forth in 32 CFR Part 236.  The rule finalizes an interim rule DoD issued on October 2, 2015 and  addresses cyber incident reporting obligations for DoD prime contractors and subcontractors.

Notably, the final rule clarifies the by now well-known definition of the term ‘covered defense information’ (“CDI”).  This same term is used in DFARS 252.204-7012.  This DFARS clause defines CDI to include four different categories: (1) covered technical information (“CTI”); (2) operations security; (3) export controlled information; and (4) any other information, marked or otherwise identified in the contract, that requires safeguarding or dissemination controls pursuant to and consistent with law, regulations, and government-wide policies.

Given the similarities of this final category to the definition of controlled unclassified information (“CUI”) promulgated in connection with the National Archives and Records Administration’s (NARA)  rule, we have understood this latter category to include CUI identified by NARA pursuant to its efforts under EO 13556.  The DoD’s new final rule provides support for this understanding because it narrows the definition of CDI to only two categories:  (1) CTI and (2) CUI.  This modification accordingly appears to make clear that the “catch-all” category of CDI contained in DFARS 252.204-7012 was intended to align with NARA’s CUI efforts.

Importantly, this final rule makes no changes to the DFARS clause itself,  and it is likely that conforming changes will be made to the DFARS clause in a future revision.  The December 2015 version of the DFARS clause remains effective.  Nevertheless, in light of the final rule contractors and subcontractors seeking to understand the scope of the CDI  under the DFARS clause should include CUI in their review as they await further revision to the clause.

DoD Clarifies Covered Defense Information Definition in Final Cyber Reporting Rule

Cybersecurity and your supply chain: What you don’t know may hurt you

Recently revised cybersecurity regulations affecting US defense contractors and their subcontractors seek to address gaps in government contractor supply chains and expand the breadth of regulations in this area. In the February issue of Contract Management magazine, Dentons Partners Phillip Seckman and Erin Sheppard provide guidance to contractors seeking to enhance subcontractor compliance under these regulations. In the attached article, entitled “Cybersecurity and your supply chain: What you don’t know may hurt you,” the authors provide a three-step approach to ensuring compliance with the updated Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS) covered defense information regulations within a contractor’s supply chain. Please feel free to contact the authors with questions.
Cybersecurity and your supply chain: What you don’t know may hurt you