Defense Industry Calls on the Pentagon to Withdraw Proposed Changes to IR&D Rules

In public comments submitted earlier this month, the defense industry and the public contract bar called upon the Department of Defense (DoD) to withdraw or significantly revise a proposed rule altering how independent research and development (IR&D) costs are treated.  These public comments reflect the defense industry’s growing concern that DoD is moving to constrain the industry’s ability to utilize IR&D projects as a tool for furthering technical innovation.

The proposed DFARS rule change would require contracting officers managing procurements for major defense acquisition programs and major automated information systems in a development phase to adjust the total evaluated cost/price of a proposal to account for the contractor’s proposed reliance on government-funded IR&D projects. The goal of the rule is to address the concern in the Better Buying Power 3.0 Implementation Directive that contractors may use IR&D such that “development price proposals are reduced by using a separate source of government funding (allowable IR&D overhead expenses spread across the total business) to gain a price advantage in a specific competitive bid.”

Public comments were submitted by the American Bar Association Section of Public Contract Law (SPCL) and the Council of Defense and Space Industry Association (CODSIA), as well as several private law firms. These comments uniformly oppose the proposed rule, raising a range of concerns, such as the following:

  • The proposed rule conflicts with the statutory framework governing IR&D, which encourages contractors to administer IR&D programs independently to encourage IR&D investment by contractors.
  • The proposed rule disadvantages contractors undertaking research that is directly relevant and applicable to current government needs, and the proposed rule instead favors contractors that have not invested in innovation.
  • The proposed rule addresses a problem that has not been clearly identified or articulated. As the SPCL comments observe, the Department of Defense has failed to articulate a basis for differentiating between IR&D and other indirect costs.
  • The propose rule ignores relevant case law that already determined that burdening a single contract with underlying R&D costs related to contract performance is unreasonable and would curtail innovation.

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DARPA Seeks to Establish New Platforms for Rapid Development of Medical Countermeasures

Last week, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (“DARPA”) issued a new broad agency announcement (“BAA”) seeking proposals to support the creation of an integrated “capability platform” for the delivery of medical countermeasures to prevent a pandemic threat within sixty days of targeting a known or newly emerging pathogen.  The BAA confirms DARPA’s commitment to addressing national security concerns raised by both naturally occurring public health emergencies and bioterrorism, as well other biological threats to members of the U.S. military.  Learning from recent experiences with Ebola, Zika, and Middle East respiratory syndrome, DARPA is targeting prophylactic solutions that are designed to prevent or halt the spread of an infectious outbreak, rather than solutions intended solely or primarily to treat infected individuals.

DARPA’s approach is consistent with recent guidance from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology in that it focuses on platform technologies and processes, which represent general approaches to medical countermeasure development that can be rapidly and reliably applied to varying threats.  The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority has adopted a similar focus in its own platform-based BAA, and additional opportunities for platform development will likely arise in the near future under the most recent strategy and implementation plan of the Public Health Emergency Medical Countermeasures Enterprise.

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CBCA Narrows Scope of Implied Duty of Good Faith and Fair Dealing in IDIQ Contracts

In TranBen, Ltd. v. Department of Transportation, CBCA 5448 (Jan. 26, 2017), the Civilian Board of Contract Appeals (“Board”) recently applied a restrictive view of the implied duty of good faith and fair dealing under an indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (“IDIQ”) contract.  In its appeal seeking almost $14 million, TranBen, Ltd. (“TranBen”) alleged that the Department of Transportation (“DOT” or “Government”) breached the implied duty by misleading the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) about the availability of paper vouchers in order to receive IRS guidance allowing DOT to issue transit subsidies on debit cards, instead of vouchers, without rendering them taxable.  The Board dismissed the appeal for failure to state a claim in a troubling decision that calls into question the viability of the implied duty under an IDIQ contract where the Government satisfies its minimum ordering obligation.  At the very least, the Board’s decision indicates contractors should be even more vigilant, at the early stages of IDIQ contract formation, to ensure that their legitimate expectations are protected through express contract language.  Continue Reading

DoD Further Clarifies Its DFARS Cybersecurity Requirements

On January 27, 2017, the Department of Defense (DoD) issued an updated Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) regarding the application and requirements of DFARS 252.204.7012 Safeguarding Covered Defense Information and Cyber Incident Reporting. Though questions remain regarding various nuances of the rule, the FAQ is a helpful document for those contractors still working on implementation of DFARS 252.204.7012.  Divided into three sections — (1) General Application, (2) Security Requirements, and (3) Cloud Computing — the FAC provides answers to 59 commonly asked questions and provides greater clarity on a number of important points, which are discussed in greater detail below.

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New Policies on Sustainable Acquisition: Among the Last Proposed FAR Rules of the Obama Administration

Just two days before Donald Trump’s Inauguration, the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council published a proposed rule to implement Executive Order 13693, Planning for Federal Sustainability in the Next Decade, and certain biobased acquisition provisions of the Agricultural Act of 2014.  The Council characterized the rule as advancing policies put into effect by an interim rule from May 2011, which “established a culture within the Federal acquisition community to. . . foster markets for sustainable technologies and materials, products and services.”  The proposed rule represents a shift in the FAR towards greater alignment with existing government programs that set forth sustainability standards for products and services. Continue Reading

Reining in Regulation: New Year, New Administration, New Confusion

A new administration will often articulate its approach to the management of executive agencies through the issuance of an executive order.  President Clinton issued E.O. 12866 in the fall of 1993 and set forth both the process of regulatory review and a regulatory philosophy meant to guide executive agencies.  E.O. 12866 placed an emphasis on cost-benefit analysis and data with which the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (“OIRA”) was to review agency action.  President Obama, less than two weeks after taking office, announced his intent to adhere to the “fundamental principles and structures governing contemporary regulatory review set out in Executive Order 12866.”  The reinstatement of E.O. 12866 and eventual issuance of the substantially similar E.O. 13563 foreshadowed the Obama Administration’s focus on data and analysis principles that often resulted in industries submitting an ever-increasing amount of information to executive agencies.

A great deal of attention has been placed on agency regulation by President Trump, who has vowed to cut corporate-focused regulations by “75 percent – maybe more.” Although President Trump has yet to release an official approach to managing the administrative state, the new Administration has taken initial steps that seems aimed at reducing regulations.  Further, Congress has taken up the mantle of deregulation by passing two measures in the House that could severely hamper agencies wishing to issue major rulemaking.  However, without an articulated policy of managing executive agencies, it is unclear whether these measures would actually reduce regulation, or simply shift agency focus from major rulemaking to major guidance, leaving industries without a clear sense of the new playing field. Continue Reading

Endgame for the Blacklisting Order

Congress recently began the process to legislatively overturn the regulations implementing President Obama’s “Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces” Executive Order.  Under the Congressional Review Act, Congress can dismantle regulations that were finalized in the waning days of a presidential administration.  Our colleagues in the Public Policy & Government Affairs practice provide some details of the CRA here and here.  The process begins with a joint “resolution of disapproval” in Congress.  If the resolution is signed into law — a safe assumption when the presidency changes parties — the underlying regulation has no effect, and any “substantially similar” rule cannot be re-issued without specific re-authorization legislation.

On Thursday, the House passed the disapproval resolution for the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces regulations on an almost straight party-line vote. It now goes to the Republican-controlled Senate and then to the White House, where the President’s advisors would recommend that he sign it.

Most of the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces provisions had already been blocked since the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas issued a nation-wide injunction in October 2016, but this legislative strategy would dismantle the regulations altogether.  A portion of the regulations regarding pay transparency was allowed to take effect for new solicitations issued on or after January 1, 2017, but that portion will be overturned by this disapproval legislation.  Contractors should remember, however, that separate Labor Department regulations govern pay transparency.  Those regulations still remain in effect.

Ninth Circuit Rejects Heightened Standard for Demonstrating Likelihood of Competitive Harm Under FOIA Exemption 4

The Ninth Circuit recently confirmed that predicting the future with near certainty is not required when seeking to protect information from disclosure under Exemption 4 of FOIA. In a recent unpublished decision, the Ninth Circuit concluded that Sikorsky Aircraft’s small business subcontracting plan was “confidential commercial or financial information” exempt from disclosure under Freedom of Information Act, Exemption 4. See Am. Small Business League v. Department of Defense, No. 15-15120, 2017 WL 65399 (9th Cir. Jan. 6, 2017) (ASBL II). Although the non-precedential decision merely reaffirmed the existing standard for determining competitive harm, the decision was significant because it rejected the lower court’s position that Exemption 4 required a party to show that release in effect “would” produce competitive harm rather than simply “could” lead to such harm.  In addition, the ruling confirmed that employee contact information and signatures are protected from disclosure by Exemption 6 (Personal Privacy).

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The More You Know: Agencies Advised to Increase Use of Post-Award Debriefings

On January 5, 2017, as part of its “myth-busting” series, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (“OFPP”) issued a memorandum encouraging federal agencies to improve their post-award debriefings to increase their “productive interactions with . . . industry partners.” Based on feedback from industry and federal agencies, the OFPP described the numerous benefits of effective debriefings, including affording unsuccessful offerors the opportunity to understand the weaknesses in their proposals and the areas for improvement in future competitions and offering agencies an opportunity to review and improve their evaluation processes.   To encourage agencies to take such measures, OFPP recommended that agencies adopt a “debriefing guide” and to consider commonly-perceived myths regarding the debriefing process. Continue Reading

ASBCA Shoots Down DCAA Overreach on Responsibility to Manage Subcontractors

A prime contractor is responsible for managing its subcontractors, but what exactly does that require? In a recent decision, the answer of the Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals was: not nearly as much as DCAA claimed.

In Lockheed Martin Integrated Sys., Inc., ASBCA Nos. 59508, 59509, the Board ruled on a Government claim seeking more than $100 million from LMIS for allegedly breaching an obligation to manage subcontracts. In DCAA’s reading, this obligation was extensive and required a number of concrete actions by the prime contractor. Continue Reading

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