On February 15, 2024, the Department of Defense (“DOD”) issued a final rule that increases the domestic content requirements for defense procurements. 

The new rule amends the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (“DFARS”) to implement Executive Order 14005 (“EO”).  The EO was intended to strengthen the requirements of the Buy American Act (“BAA”) by, among other things, directing the FAR Council to issue new rules increasing the domestic content threshold for determining whether a product qualifies as a domestic end product. 

Although the FAR Council issued a final rule implementing the EO on March 7, 2022, the BAA requirements for defense procurements remained unchanged.  The new DOD rule aligns the DFARS BAA provisions with the FAR revision implemented in 2022.

The new rule (1) increases the applicable domestic content threshold for domestic end products, and (2) creates a framework for the application of an enhanced price preference for domestic products that are considered critical products or are made up of critical components.

Higher Domestic Content Threshold

Previously, the cost of domestic components had to exceed 55 percent of the cost of all components in order for a product to qualify as a domestic end product.  Under the new rule, the domestic content threshold is 65 percent in calendar years 2024 through 2028.  Beginning in calendar year 2029, the threshold will be 75 percent.  The increased threshold modifies the DFARS definitions for domestic end product, qualifying country end product, and domestic construction material. 

To help contractors transition to the increased domestic content requirements, the new rule includes exceptions for awards made prior to January 1, 2030.  First, there will be a 55 percent fallback threshold for situations where domestic products at a higher threshold are not available or the cost to acquire them would be unreasonable.  Second, an alternate domestic content threshold may be applied at the discretion of an agency senior procurement executive in instances where it is not feasible to meet the increasing threshold, e.g., under an indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract.  Under the alternate domestic content threshold, the threshold in effect at the time of contract award would apply to the entire period of performance.

Enhanced Price Preferences for Critical Items and Components

Under the new rule, domestic end products containing a critical component or item are eligible for an enhanced price preference.  The rule relies on FAR 25.105 for its definition of “critical item” and “critical component.”  For now, FAR 25.105 itself has only a placeholder for the list of critical items and components.  The list will be populated in a separate rulemaking. 

Under the new framework, contractors must meet additional reporting requirements for certain products.  Defense contractors must identify all domestic end products containing a critical component or item.  They must also identify all foreign end products and indicate whether each foreign end product exceeds 55 percent domestic content.  Commercially available off-the-shelf (“COTS”) items are exempt from the enhanced reporting requirements.

The new rule also maintains certain domestic content provisions that are unique to defense procurements.  For example, the rule defines domestic content to include components that are mined, produced, or manufactured not only in the U.S., but also in qualifying countries — countries with reciprocal defense procurement memoranda of understanding or international agreements with the U.S. in which both countries agree to remove certain barriers to the purchase of supplies.

Defense contractors should be prepared to comply with the now-effective increased domestic content threshold and make plans for how they will eventually meet the 75 percent threshold before it is implemented in 2029.  Further, contractors should continue to monitor additional developments in this area, as policymakers on both sides of the aisle are increasingly focused on expanding domestic content requirements and incentivizing enforcement.

This is the thirty-third in a series of Covington blogs on implementation of Executive Order 14028, “Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity,” issued by President Biden on May 12, 2021 (the “Cyber EO”).  The first blog summarized the Cyber EO’s key provisions and timelines, and the subsequent blogs described the actions taken by various government agencies to implement the Cyber EO from June 2021 through December 2023.  This blog describes key actions taken to implement the Cyber EO, as well as the U.S. National Cybersecurity Strategy, during January 2024.  It also describes key actions taken during January 2024 to implement President Biden’s Executive Order on Artificial Intelligence (the “AI EO”), particularly its provisions that impact cybersecurity, secure software, and federal government contractors.

Anticipated Q1 2024 Actions Implementing the AI EO

Several agencies are expected to satisfy milestones related to the AI EO’s key requirements in the coming months.  For example, the Secretary of Commerce is expected to issue proposed rules requiring companies that develop certain large and sophisticated AI models to make periodic disclosures to the government.  A new post on the Covington Inside Global Tech blog provides substantive background and a sense of timing for that action and numerous others.  For more on the Executive Order, see our summary of its key provisions. 

This is the thirty-second in a series of Covington blogs on implementation of Executive Order 14028, “Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity,” issued by President Biden on May 12, 2021 (the “Cyber EO”).  The first blog summarized the Cyber EO’s key provisions and timelines, and the subsequent blogs described the actions taken by various government agencies to implement the Cyber EO from June 2021 through November 2023.  This blog describes key actions taken to implement the Cyber EO, as well as the U.S. National Cybersecurity Strategy, during December 2023.  It also describes key actions taken during December 2023 to implement President Biden’s Executive Order on Artificial Intelligence (the “AI EO”), particularly its provisions that impact cybersecurity, secure software, and federal government contractors.

Continue Reading December 2023 Developments Under President Biden’s Cybersecurity Executive Order, National Cybersecurity Strategy, and AI Executive Order

On January 30, 2024, the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council (“FAR Council”) proposed a new “Pay Equity and Transparency in Federal Contracting” rule for government contractors.  The proposed rule intends to increase race and gender equity for employees of federal prime contractors and subcontractors by prohibiting them from requesting and relying on certain information about job applicants’ compensation history and requiring contractors to disclose compensation rates in job announcements for certain positions.  These requirements would apply to all prime contracts and subcontracts – including for commercial products and services – where the principal place of performance is within the United States, regardless of dollar amount or tier.  The proposed rule is the latest in a number of steps the Biden Administration has taken to address discriminatory pay practices in federal procurement and contracting since announcing an Executive Order on Advancing Economy, Efficiency, and Effectiveness in Federal Contracting by Promoting Pay Equity and Transparency in March 2022. 

The proposed rule’s potential impact and implications for contractors — as well as opportunities to submit comments on the issue — are discussed below.

Continue Reading New Proposed Rule on Pay Equity and Transparency in Federal Contracting

On January 29, 2024, the Department of Commerce (“Department”) published a proposed rule (“Proposed Rule”) to require providers and foreign resellers of U.S. Infrastructure-as-a-Service (“IaaS”) products to (i) verify the identity of their foreign customers and (ii) notify the Department when a foreign person transacts with that provider or reseller to train a large artificial intelligence (“AI”) model with potential capabilities that could be used in malicious cyber-enabled activity. The proposed rule also contemplates that the Department may impose special measures to be undertaken by U.S. IaaS providers to deter foreign malicious cyber actors’ use of U.S. IaaS products.  The accompanying request for comments has a deadline of April 29, 2024.

The Proposed Rule would effectuate many of the requirements laid out in the Executive Order on Taking Additional Steps to Address the National Emergency with Respect to Significant Malicious Cyber-Enabled Activities (“E.O. 13984”).  E.O. 13984, issued three years prior to the Proposed Rule, set in motion requirements for IaaS providers to enact certain customer identity verification procedures and take special measures to prevent their services from being used by foreign actors for malicious cyber-enabled activities.  The AI provisions of the Proposed Rule stem from the more recent Executive Order on Safe, Secure, and Trustworthy Development and Use of Artificial Intelligence (“E.O. 14110″), issued on October 30, 2023, which directed the Department to propose regulations for U.S. IaaS providers to (i) submit reports to the Department when a customer transacts with the provider to train an AI model that could be used for malicious cyber-enabled activities and (ii) ensure foreign resellers of IaaS products also conduct identity verification of foreign account holders.

The proposed regulations are further explained and summarized below:

Continue Reading Department of Commerce Issues Proposed Rule to Regulate Infrastructure-as-a-Service Providers and Resellers

On January 4, 2024, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey announced that it has filed criminal wire fraud and false statement charges against the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of a company that knowingly sold certain surveillance and security cameras to prosecutors’ offices, sheriffs’ offices, and police departments in the state of New Jersey that were prohibited by Section 889.

As described in more detail in a prior client alert, Section 889 contains two prohibitions.

Section 889(a)(1)(A) took effect on August 13, 2019 and provides that “The head of an executive agency may not … procure or obtain or extend or renew a contract to procure or obtain any equipment, system, or service that uses covered telecommunications equipment or services as a substantial or essential component of any system, or as critical technology as part of any system.”  A similar prohibition, Section 889(b)(1), effective on August 13, 2020, is imposed on loan and grant funds, and prohibits agencies from expending any such funds on covered telecommunications equipment or services.  Because state and local governments regularly receive federal loans and grants, they are generally prohibited from using any of those funds to purchase covered telecommunications equipment or services.

Section 889(a)(1)(B) took effect on August 13, 2020 and prohibits the head of an executive agency contracting with (including extending or renewing a contract) any “entity” that “uses” “covered telecommunications equipment or services as a substantial or essential component of any system or as a critical technology of any system.”  In each case, covered telecommunications equipment or services includes all telecommunications equipment or services produced and provided by Huawei Technologies Company or ZTE Corporation, and video surveillance and telecommunications equipment or services produced and provided by Hytera Communications Corporation, Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Company, or Dahua Technology Company, or any subsidiaries or affiliates of the five entities.

The Complaint alleges that the CEO (1) knew that state and local customers were subject to Section 889 prohibitions when expending certain funds used to buy cameras manufactured by Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Company, and (2) falsely represented to those customers that the cameras that he was selling were compliant with Section 889 requirements.  The Complaint specifically notes that the CEO helped certain customers to obtain federal funding to purchase products that he was selling, and that approximately $15 million of the $35 million in cameras and equipment purchased by state and local government customers from the CEO’s company was federally funded. 

The Complaint further alleges that the CEO’s company sent wire transactions to an unnamed entity that was identified as one of the five entities or their affiliates that are defined within Section 889 as providers of covered telecommunications equipment.  The Complaint also alleges that when purchasing cameras from the prohibited company, the CEO’s company would take steps to conceal the origins of the cameras, including by requesting that the branding of the cameras be removed.  The compliant also states that the CEO informed state and local customers that his company had previously sold these cameras to federal agencies when he had not. 

Ultimately, although the facts described by the Complaint paint a picture of more extreme and willful efforts to skirt Section 889 requirements, the charges reflect that the Government is increasingly focused on supply chain security, and that is willing to bring criminal action for non-compliance where it feels that prosecution is appropriate. 

The Civilian Board of Contract Appeals has published its annual report for FY 2023, providing data regarding the number of appeals and contractor success rates at the Board.  The data illustrated a number of noteworthy points — and a few welcome trends — for the contracting community.

Continue Reading Contractors Had a Strong Success Rate Before the CBCA in FY 2023

This post continues our ongoing coverage of the FY 2024 NDAA. 

The FY 2024 NDAA includes numerous supply chain and stockpile management provisions aimed at addressing a host of perceived vulnerabilities and weaknesses in Department of Defense (“DoD”) supply chain networks used to secure goods and services for our national defense.  Of particular note, this year’s NDAA seeks to address China’s and Russia’s continued dominance in the global supply chain for many critical materials and rare earth elements.  Supply chain- and stockpile-related measures in the NDAA could present significant opportunities for contractors poised to support the U.S. Government’s efforts to on-shore and friend-shore U.S. and DoD sourcing and manufacturing, but Congress’s focus on increasing supply chain visibility could also herald new rounds of compliance and reporting requirements attached to federal procurements.

Continue Reading Key Supply Chain Provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act (“NDAA”) for Fiscal Year (“FY”) 2024

On December 22, 2023, President Biden signed into law the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (“FY 2024 NDAA”).  Sections 1841 through 1843 of the new law address Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena (“UAP”).

The version of the FY 2024 NDAA enacted in the Senate in July of this year incorporated the Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena Disclosure Act of 2023—which would have mandated the Federal Government’s exercise of eminent domain over UAP-related material controlled by private persons or entities.  As discussed in greater detail below, the eminent domain mandate was not included in the final version of the NDAA passed by both chambers of Congress.  The newly enacted law requires only the establishment of a government wide UAP records collection; that government offices transfer UAP records to the collection; and that records be reviewed for disclosure (or not) against a set of criteria under which public release could be “postponed.”  Nonetheless, the substance of these final UAP provisions and Congress’s renewed interest in UAP may be a harbinger of things to come for government contractors and research entities, especially those involved in defense, intelligence, and other national security projects.  We expand on the background, evolution, and national security implications of the UAP amendment—and its potential impacts on contractors and other private entities—below.

Continue Reading Implications of the Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena (UAP) Amendment in the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)

In keeping with the trend of increased attention on the False Claims Act’s (“FCA”) qui tam provisions, the Second Circuit recently weighed in on a seeming conflict between the statute and the relator’s obligations under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (“FCRP”). Under Rule 4(m) of the FRCP, the court generally must dismiss a complaint if the plaintiff fails to serve the defendant with a complaint and summons within 90 days of filing. Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(m). But a relator bringing suit under the qui tam provisions of the FCA may not serve a defendant until the complaint is unsealed and “until the court so orders.” 31 U.S.C. § 3730(b)(2). In cases brought under the qui tam provisions of the FCA, this creates the potential for questions regarding when the Rule 4(m) service-of-process clock begins to tick.

These questions seldom arise because courts ordinarily unseal a relator’s complaint and simultaneously order the relator to serve the defendant. In which case, the express order to serve the defendant plainly triggers the service-of-process clock under Rule 4(m). But what if the court unseals the relator’s complaint and then delays (or never issues) the order to serve the defendant? This was the question before the Second Circuit last month in U.S. ex rel. Weiner v. Siemens AG, No. 22-2656, 2023 WL 8227913, at 3 (2d Cir. Nov. 28, 2023).

Continue Reading Tick-tock, the Court Starts the Clock: Deconflicting the FCA and Rule 4(m) of the FRCP