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Nooree is a Special Counsel in Covington's Government Contracts practice.  He represents government contractors in a wide variety of transactional, litigation, and compliance matters. His primary areas of practice include corporate transactions involving contractors, international contracting and domestic sourcing matters, and grants and cooperative agreements.

On May 23, 2019, multiple news outlets reported that the White House was considering an emergency declaration to permit arms shipments to Saudi Arabia without Congressional approval.  These reports were met with sharp criticism by multiple legislators.  These recent developments shine a spotlight on the contours of the Congressional notice and approval mechanisms set forth in the Arms Export Control Act (AECA).

AECA (22 U.S.C. § 2751 et seq.) is the authorizing statute for the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program.  AECA and the implementing guidance from the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) set forth the procedures for the development of a transaction under the FMS program, referred to as an FMS case.

Once an FMS case has been negotiated between the U.S. Government and the foreign government purchaser, the White House is required submit a formal notification to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations (although this requirement is subject to country- and defense article-specific dollar value thresholds).  Congress then has 30 days (or 15 days for certain proposed sales to a NATO county, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Israel, or New Zealand) to enact a joint resolution opposing the sale.  Unless a joint resolution is passed within the time period, Congress is considered to have consented to the sale.

Continue Reading Congress Braces for a Fight Over Executive Authority Under the Arms Export Control Act

Earlier this month, the FAR Council issued a proposed rule to expand the definition of “commercial item” under the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) to include certain items sold in substantial quantities to foreign governments.  This new rule implements section 847 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for FY 2018 (Pub. L. 115-91), and has the potential to extend commercial item status to defense articles that have been sold to foreign militaries, including sales under the Foreign Military Financing program.

Ensuring the commercial item status of products and services has long been a key point of federal contracting compliance for many businesses, as commercial item contracts typically avoid many of the more burdensome provisions imposed by the FAR.  While the term “commercial item” is often generalized to refer to items offered for sale to the general public for non-governmental purposes, the definition of “commercial item” under FAR 2.101 includes certain items used for governmental purposes and sold in substantial quantities to multiple state and local governments.  See FAR 2.101.  This provision permitted products like protective equipment used by police and fire departments to be deemed commercial items.

Continue Reading Proposed Rule Offers Foreign Military Sales as a Potential Pathway to Commerciality

Last month, the Department of Defense Inspector General announced that it was undertaking an audit of the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) Agreement Development Process.  The audit will assess how the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), Military Departments, and other organizations coordinate foreign government requirements for defense articles and services and whether DoD maximizes the results of the FMS agreement development process.

The audit is in response to a congressional reporting requirement included in the House Report to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019.  The House Report noted Congressional concern that the FMS process is “slow, cumbersome, and overly complicated,” and that the acquisition decisions supporting the FMS process are “stovepiped,” leading to an FMS program that is “not coordinated holistically across [DoD] to prioritize resources and effort in support of U.S. national security objectives and the defense industrial base.”  Consequently, Congress directed DoD to conduct this audit of the FMS program and submit a final report to Congress.  The tone and language of the House Report indicates that Congress is seeking to streamline the process for all stakeholders, including the U.S. military, foreign partners, and industry.  The House Report specifically calls out precision guided munitions as a focal point for additional foreign military sales that may mitigate risk to the U.S. industrial base.

Continue Reading Inspector General Audit of the FMS Program Underway

In corporate transactions involving government contracts, “novation” has become a dreaded process.  Many buyers and sellers express uneasiness and concern about having to subject their deal to the U.S. Government’s discretionary framework for accepting the transfer of a government contract from one party to another.  In particular, they fear the uncertain timeline and arcane requirements for securing approval.

While the cumbersome novation approval process has drawn significant attention in recent years, the National Defense Authorization Act mark-up released by the House Armed Services Committee earlier this month was again silent on the issue.  In the absence of Congressional enthusiasm, the government contracts bar seems to have focused its efforts to fix the novation process on the Section 809 Panel, which is considering ideas to streamline and simplify the defense acquisition system.  The American Bar Association Section of Public Contract Law offered thoughts on the current novation process in comments to the panel late last year, and it remains to be seen how the Section 809 Panel will react to those comments in the two public reports the Panel is expected to publish over the coming months.

The ABA comments focused on three primary issues with the current novation process under FAR 42.1204:  (1) the timing of novation approvals; (2) corporate entity conversions; and (3) the content of novation packages.

Continue Reading The Future of Novations in Contractor M&A

As Congress scrambles in a last ditch attempt to pass a funding proposal to keep the government operating, government contractors face the various employment law implications of potential furloughs caused by a government shutdown. Of particular concern to private employers is how to furlough employees who are exempt from overtime payments under the Fair Labor

On September 14, 2017, the Department of Defense issued a new class deviation that eliminates the requirement on major contractors to engage with the Government in technical interchange meeting prior to the generation of independent research and development (IR&D) costs.  This class deviation represents a continuing reversal in position for the Pentagon, which had been moving forward with placing more guiderails for IR&D spending.

The technical interchange meeting requirement was promulgated on November 4, 2016 and required that for IR&D costs to be allowable, major contractors must engage in technical interchange meetings with operational Department of Defense personnel so that “contractor plans and goals for IR&D projects benefit from the awareness of and feedback by a DoD Government employee who is informed of related ongoing and future potential interest opportunities.”  This rule generated significant industry concern that the Government would unduly interfere in independent research and development by becoming a de facto approval process.  After publication of the final rule, on December 1, 2016, DoD issued a class deviation  eliminating the requirement that the technical interchange occur “before IR&D costs are generated.”  Further addressing industry concerns, the Undersecretary for Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics issued a memorandum clarifying that although the DFARS rule required contractors to share their IR&D plans with DoD, the technical interchange meetings did not represent a government approval process for IR&D projects.
Continue Reading Pentagon Reverses Course and Rolls Back The IR&D Technical Interchange Rule

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.


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

In the recent bid protest decision of Halbert Construction Company Inc., the Government Accountability Office (GAO) illustrated the breadth of a procuring agency’s discretion in conducting a past performance evaluation.  Halbert Construction brought the protest after being excluded from the competitive range, arguing primarily that the Navy unreasonably included a non-relevant prior project in the past performance evaluation which led to Halbert Construction’s exclusion.  The GAO sustained the protest based on the well- established principle that offerors must be treated equally because the Navy excluded another offeror’s past performance reference from the evaluation as not relevant under the solicitation’s relevancy criteria but then failed to do the same for the protestor.

More notable than the relatively straight-forward application of the disparate treatment principle was the decision’s discussion of the very broad discretion of agencies in past performance evaluations.  In this competition for design-build services at multiple Navy installations, the protestor argued that the prior project was not relevant for a number of reasoning, including that the project did not include design-build work and instead “involved a specialized type of construction work that is distinctly different from the commercial and institutional work contemplated by the solicitation.”  In rejecting this argument, the GAO found persuasive that both the prior project and the current competition was under the same North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code for Commercial and Institutional Building Construction.  This point merits attention because certain NAICS codes may be interpreted broadly and some projects may be improperly categorized for NAICS purposes.  Consequently, offerors may need to be mindful of NAICS codes in considering what prior projects may be evaluated for past performance.

Continue Reading GAO Decision Illustrates Breadth of Agency Discretion in Past Performance Evaluations

Offerors in best-value procurements are generally accustomed to a review of their complete proposals during the evaluation process.  The recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) decision in The COGAR Group, Ltd., B-413004 (July 22, 2016) highlights the ability of agencies to blend lowest-price technically-acceptable (LPTA) procurement principles into best-value procurements and thereby limit the scope of proposal evaluations.

The COGAR Group timely submitted a proposal in response to a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) solicitation seeking to award an indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract under FAR Part 12 for professional security services.  This procurement was structured as a best-value competition, but the solicitation also advised that the agency might not evaluate all technical proposals, and instead the agency might limit the competition to those proposals that were “most competitive” on price.  After receiving 19 proposals, DHS considered the mean ($42,501,995) and median ($42,752,035.66) proposal prices, and concluded that only proposals priced under $40,500,000 would proceed to technical evaluations and the ultimate best-value trade-off.

The COGAR Group’s price of $40,531,635 came in just over the threshold, excluding the company from the technical evaluations.  By comparison, the awardee’s price of $40,399,510 came in just under the threshold.  The COGAR Group protested, arguing that there was a difference of only $132,125 (0.3%) between the two offerors, and therefore it was impossible to assess which offeror presented the best value to the Government without a technical evaluation.

Continue Reading Recent GAO Decision Highlights Possibility of Limited Evaluations in Best-Value Procurements

On June 30, 2016, President Obama signed into law the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Improvement Act of 2016.  The new law revises FOIA to codify the Obama Administration’s policy that executives agencies adopt a presumption that openness prevails.  Among other changes, the act also calls for the creation of a new consolidated online