Crowell & Moring’s “Fastest 5 Minutes” is a biweekly podcast that provides a brief summary of significant government contracts legal and regulatory developments that no government contracts lawyer or executive should be without. This latest edition is hosted by Partner David Robbins and guest host, Counsel Addie Cliffe, and includes updates on the DFARS counterfeit parts rules, the HUBZone Program, the Federal Source Code Policy, and notable GAO decisions.
On August 25, 2016, the Obama Administration published the long-awaited Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) final rule and Department of Labor (DOL) final guidance implementing the “Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces” executive order (“Executive Order”) (available here and here). The underlying executive order has been amended (available here) with purportedly technical corrections to conform the final rule and guidance to the Executive Order.
The rule adds subpart 22.20 to the FAR and imposes new obligations on government contractors and subcontractors, including: pay transparency obligations, restrictions on arbitration provisions, and a requirement to report labor “violations.” In response to feedback from interested parties on the proposed rule, the FAR Council and DOL incorporated several notable changes prior into the final rule and guidance. Nevertheless, many are concerned that the rule as written will create significant new burdens – at extraordinary cost – and potentially pave the way for “blacklisting” companies from procuring federal government contracts. Below is an overview of key provisions of the final rule, along with a summary of changes from the proposed rule.
Implementation. The administration extended the compliance timeline, and will implement the rule in phases. Starting on October 25, 2016, the rule will only apply to contracts of at least $50 million. Beginning on April 25, 2017, the rule will apply to contracts of at least $500,000. Subcontractors will not to start reporting violations until October 25, 2017. In addition, the disclosure reporting period will be limited to one year and gradually increase over the next three (3) years, with a full three-year reporting period required beginning on October 25, 2018.
Applicable Labor Laws. Under the reporting requirement, contractors bidding on covered contracts will be required to disclose whether there has been any “administrative merits determination,” “arbitral award or decision,” or “civil judgment” rendered against the contractor for violations of 14 enumerated statutes and executive orders: Fair Labor Standards Act; Occupational Safety and Health Act; National Labor Relations Act; Americans with Disabilities Act; Family and Medical Leave Act; Title VII of the Civil Rights Act; Age Discrimination in Employment Act; Davis-Bacon Act; Service Contract Act; Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act; Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act; Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act; Executive Orders 11246 (Equal Employment Opportunity) & 13658 (Contractor Minimum Wage). In a notable departure from the original executive order, but consistent with the proposed rule, the only “equivalent state laws” covered by the rule are OSHA-approved State Plans. According to the final rule, the administration will identify additional “equivalent state laws” in a future rulemaking. In short, the final rule did not contain any material changes to the proposed rule with regard to the labor laws at issue.
Administrative Merits Determinations, Arbitral Awards or Decisions, and Civil Judgments. These key terms are defined in the Guidance and incorporated into the FAR rule. The Guidance defines “administrative merits determinations” to include, among other things: (1) issuance of a Form WH-56 or a “letter indicating that an investigation disclosed a violation of sections six or seven of the FLSA or a violation of the FMLA, SCA, [or] DBA” issued by the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division; (2) an OSHA citation or notice of imminent danger; (3) a “show cause” notice issued by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs; (4) a complaint issued by any Regional Director of the NLRB; and (5) a letter of determination from the EEOC that reasonable cause exists to believe that an unlawful employment practice has occurred or is occurring. In short, under the definition of “administrative merits determinations” contractors will need to disclose alleged violations that haven’t been fully adjudicated. Thus, a contractor might ultimately prevail on the merits but be forced to report the violation for several years potentially jeopardizing a contract award. These key provisions of the proposed rule, including the requirement to report “administrative merits determinations,” are unchanged in the final rule, notwithstanding significant contractor concern over reporting on alleged violations that have not yet been the subject of a full and fair hearing on the merits.
Pre-Award. FAR 22.2004-2 mandates that Contracting Officers (COs) address labor law compliance when determining contractor and subcontractor responsibility. COs must carefully consider a contractor’s actions (either through a labor compliance agreement or remediation) when making a responsibility determination. Where previous attempts to secure adequate remediation by the contractor are unsuccessful, and it is necessary to protect the Government’s interests, the CO may consider a non-responsibility determination or exclusion action. In addition, under FAR 22.2004-2, COs must consider a prospective contractor’s compliance with labor laws when past performance is an evaluation factor. FAR sections 22.2004-1(c), 22.2004-2(b) and 22.2004-3(b) address the newly established role of the Agency Labor Compliance Advisor (ALCA). Federal agencies are required to designate a senior agency official to serve as an ALCA in order to advise COs when assessing labor law violations, mitigating factors, and remedial measures. According to the rule, the ALCA provides COs with analysis and advice, but the final rule notes that this does not disturb the CO’s independent authority in determining contractor responsibility. Again, these key provisions of the proposed rule and guidance remain unchanged.
Post-Award. Under FAR 22.2004-3, a contractor’s obligation to disclose alleged labor law violations continues after an award is made. Semiannually during the performance of the contract, contractors must update the information provided. If a contractor discloses information regarding labor law violations during contract performance, or similar information is obtained through other sources, the CO, in consultation with the ALCA, considers whether action is necessary. Such action may include requiring the contractor to enter into a labor compliance agreement, declining to exercise an option on a contract, terminating the contract in accordance with relevant FAR provisions, or referring the contractor to the agency suspending and debarring official. It remains to be seen whether COs, who have needed to be reminded to conduct meaningful FAR 9.1 present responsibility determinations in recent years, will have the bandwidth or the capability to conduct this analysis, or whether they will outsource the decisions to the ALCAs or suspending and debarring officials. These provisions of the proposed rule and guidance remain unchanged in the final rule.
Weighing Violations of Labor Laws. The Guidance defines the terms “serious,” “repeated,” “willful,” and “pervasive” and attempts to provide guidelines for COs who are weighing and considering alleged labor law violations. For example, violations of particular gravity (such as terminating employees in retaliation for exercising their rights under the covered labor laws, or violations related to an employee’s death) are given the most weight. The guidance also addresses mitigating factors that COs must consider when weighing violations, including good faith efforts to remedy past violations, internal processes for expeditiously and fairly addressing reports of violations, and/or plans to proactively prevent future violations. The Appendix to the Guidance includes an extensive chart of illustrative examples.
Paycheck Transparency. FAR 22.2005 requires contractors performing work on covered contracts and subcontracts to provide employees covered by the FLSA, the Davis Bacon Act, and the Service Contract Act with information concerning the individual’s pay, hours worked, overtime hours, if applicable, and any additions made to or deductions made from the individual’s pay. The rule also requires contractors to provide to any independent contractors performing work on the contract a document informing them of their status as independent contractors. The paycheck transparency requirements will become effective on January 1, 2017. These provisions of the proposed rule and guidance remain largely unchanged in the final rule.
Dispute Resolution. For contracts over $1 million, FAR 22.2006 requires contractors to agree that the decision to arbitrate claims arising under title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or any tort related to or arising out of sexual assault or harassment may only be made with the voluntary consent of employees or independent contractors after such disputes arise, subject to certain exceptions. This flows down to subcontracts exceeding $1,000,000 other than for the acquisition of commercial items. This provision of the proposed rule and guidance likewise remains largely unchanged and a significant concern for employers who have adopted robust arbitration and claims resolution procedures.
- Subcontractors. Perhaps the most significant change in the final rule is the reporting regime for subcontractors. Under the proposed rule, subcontractors were to report alleged labor law violations to prime contractors. This would have required subcontractors to share such alleged violations with potential competitors for future procurements, and would have increased the administrative burdens placed on prime contractors, who would have had to process and report subcontractor labor compliance data as well as their own. The final rule addresses this concern by requiring subcontractors to report directly to the DOL via a web portal. However, it remains to be seen if DOL will have the bandwidth to review and analyze what could be a large of volume of information, since the rule provides incentives for subcontractors to provide information about mitigating factors and remedial measures.
- Public Disclosure. In another significant change, the proposed rule did not specify what labor law violation history would be made publicly available, but the final rule compels public disclosure in the Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity Information System (FAPIIS) of some basic information about violations. Contractors will have the option to publicly disclose mitigating factors.
- Pre-assessment. In a new development, DOL has created a voluntary “pre-assessment” process through which contractors can proactively have their labor compliance history reviewed before a specific acquisition. If there are concerns, this change permits the contractor to attempt to negotiate a labor compliance agreement and start taking steps to mitigate issues before there is a specific acquisition. According to the information presently available (the “pre-assessment” process is unprecedented and was not contemplated in the proposed rule), participating in pre-assessment “will be considered in future acquisitions as a mitigating factor.” This change only amplifies the importance of “labor compliance agreements” – a heretofore undefined term – and likely only heightens contractor concerns over the apparent authority of so-called “Labor Compliance Advisors.”
Potential Legal Challenges and Congressional Action. Based on the scope of the requirements and its impact on the contracting community, the final rule – along with the Executive Order – could be subject to a legal challenge by a combination of affected companies and industry trade groups. Moreover, Congress could impede the rule’s implication. For instance, the House and Senate passed National Defense Authorization Act bills for fiscal year 2017 that would exempt defense contractors from the Executive Order. That provision of the NDAA is subject to removal when Congress reconvenes in September, and the White House has issued statements opposing this provision of the bill.
Next-Steps for Contractors. Given the rapid phase-in of the new rule over the next several months, contractors who are not already preparing for “Day One Compliance” should take steps immediately to do so. Significantly, contractors without a compliance plan in place will be at risk of (i) competitive disadvantage in the procurement process, and worse, (ii) potential suspension and debarment action if the Government determines that their labor compliance history – and failure to “mitigate” or explain that history in context – warrants exclusion from the contracting process.
Crowell & Moring invites you to listen and subscribe to the “Fastest 5 Minutes,” a new podcast from the firm’s Government Contracts Group.
The podcast is hosted by Partners Peter Eyre and David Robbins and will provide listeners with a brief, biweekly summary of significant government contracts legal and regulatory developments that no government contracts lawyer or executive should be without.
To listen to one of the first two editions, please access via one of the links below.
Fastest 5 Minutes (July 15)
Fastest 5 Minutes (July 29)
On Thursday, August 11th, 2016 at 1 PM Eastern, join our Crowell & Moring attorneys for a webinar entitled: “An Intro to Export Controls, Economic and Trade Sanctions: Understanding and Addressing Risks and Challenges.” During this 90-minute webinar, our experts will clarify how US export control rules specifically affect contractors, subcontractors, suppliers, consultants and manufacturers engaged in the international marketplace. You’ll learn about current compliance responsibilities and requirements and how the efforts to reform export control change requirements — and risks.
Attendees who complete the webinar will:
- gain a high-level understanding of U.S. export controls, focusing on the EAR and the ITAR, including what items are covered under each regime, and their basic rules, restrictions and exceptions;
- become familiar with the on-going export control reform effort, and learn what to expect as that reform effort continues to move forward;
- develop as understanding of U.S. sanctions programs and the financial and reputational risks they pose to U.S. government contractors;
- identify the principal changes in the ever-fluctuating landscape of U.S. sanctions programs; learn how your company can proactively identify areas of high risk, as well as develop or improve its compliance program to minimize that risk;
- …and more!
Government Contracts Group Counsel Addie Cliffe, International Trade Group Counsel Chris Monahan and Associate Jana del-Cerro will be conducting this webinar.
Please note that Thompson Information Services charges a fee for this webinar. Registration information can be found here.
Effective August 1, the penalty range for violations under the civil False Claims Act nearly doubled, pursuant to a Department of Justice interim final rule published on June 30th. In a “Feature Comment” published in The Government Contractor, C&M attorneys analyze how the dramatic increase in FCA penalties impacts the landscape of litigation. The article first explains the background of the recent law and DOJ’s new rule. Next, it assesses how the increased penalties are likely to lead to an increase in FCA suits, including in cases where actual damages may be low or even nonexistent. It then discusses how the increased penalties range provides leverage to the Government (and potentially relators, too) in FCA settlement negotiations where contractors find themselves daunted by potentially gargantuan fines. Finally, it provides an analysis on constitutional challenges to exorbitant FCA penalties under the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause, and assesses how litigation may be prolonged by post-judgment challenges to the heightened penalty amounts.
In this second part of our blog series about the July 25, 2016 SBA final rule implementing numerous changes to multiple SBA regulations and establishing a new small business Mentor-Protégé Program (SB MPP), we address how such implementation impacts the parallel 8(a) Business Development mentor-protégé program (8(a) MPP). As the final rule points out, the 8(a) MPP will remain intact; however, the SBA has made several changes to the regulations governing that program, which largely represent the SBA’s efforts to harmonize the two programs. The paragraphs below discuss some of these changes, including those impacting the requirements for entry, ongoing reviews and terminations, and reporting obligations.
Requirements for Entry into the 8(a) MPP
With the creation of the SB MPP, companies qualifying as an 8(a) have the option to participate in either the 8(a) or the SB MPP. Any current or future participant in the 8(a) MPP should be aware of the final rules’ numerous changes to this program, as discussed below. Continue Reading
On July 25, 2016, the SBA published its final rule establishing a government-wide mentor-protégé program for the benefit of all small businesses as protégés. This widely-anticipated rule, implementing provisions of the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 and the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013, provides increased opportunity for small and large businesses to partner with one another. Effective August 24, 2016, this new program is expected to unleash a flood of new mentor-protégé agreements (MPAs) as well as joint ventures eligible to compete on set-aside procurements, and it could likely result in an increase in the number of set-aside procurements.
Below we discuss the benefits from participating in this program, the requirements for the mentor-protégé agreement (“MPA”), the eligibility criteria for mentors and protégés, and the requirements for joint ventures established pursuant to the MPAs. Given the numerous benefits to participating in this program, including the opportunity to joint venture, the SBA has layered into this final rule the requirement for numerous express certifications of compliance and severe consequences for violation of the SBA’s regulations, MPAs, and/or joint venture agreements. A separate blog post will address the changes that the SBA is implementing in the final rule to the SBA’s current regulations governing the 8(a) business development (BD) program.
The final year of the Obama Administration has seen a flurry of activity that will affect the government contracting community. Appearing on WJLA’s Government Matters program (available here at govtmatters.tv), Crowell & Moring Chair Angela Styles discussed some of the latest changes that will impact industry including the GSA’s final rule on transactional data reporting; the Office of Federal Procurement Policy’s category management initiatives; and the Fair Pay and Safe Work Places Executive Order.
In this part of our ongoing series (see Part I, Part II and Part III) on the Small Business Government Contracting and National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 Amendments implementing the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 (FY2013 NDAA) Amendments, we address the new recertification requirement that is triggered following the merger, sale, or acquisition of a firm that has submitted an offer as a small business concern (SBC).
A concern that represents itself as a small business and qualifies as small at the time of proposal submission is considered to be a small business throughout the life of that contract. This even applies for Multiple Award Contracts—the SBC is considered small for each order issued against the contract with the same NAICS code and size standard (unless a contracting officer chooses to request a new size certification in connection with a particular order). In other words, even where a concern grows to be other than small, the procuring agency may exercise options and still count the award as an award to a SBC, unless a recertification requirement has been triggered.
Given the great boon that comes to a firm upon award of a contract where it has qualified as a SBC, the SBA has long sought to set the right balance for what should happen when a small business is involved in a merger, sale, or acquisition. The concern is that if a SBC could submit a proposal with pricing, certify that it is small, and actually qualify on that date of proposal submission as small, should that small business be able to sell itself following proposal submission or contract award to a large business and allow the large business to benefit for up to five years of contract performance as a “small business”? The SBA’s answer to that is no. The SBA’s regulations as currently drafted require recertification in certain circumstances following a merger, sale, or acquisition but only once award has already been made. In the final rule, SBA imposes new recertification requirements aimed at changes that occur within the window between proposal submission and contract award.
In a decision that will impact Government contractors, health care providers and all institutions that accept federal dollars, the U.S. Supreme Court this past week offered a qualified affirmation of the validity of the implied certification theory of False Claims Act liability. In Universal Health Servs. v. U.S. ex rel. Escobar, the Court unanimously held that a defendant may be liable under the FCA when, in connection with a claim for payment submitted to the government, the defendant “makes specific representations about the goods or services provided” and fails to disclose noncompliance with material statutory, regulatory, or contractual requirements that makes the representations “misleading half-truths.”
In a “Feature Comment” published in The Government Contractor, C&M attorneys analyze the Court’s opinion, the legal and factual context in which it arose, and its likely effect on federal government contractors