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Sarah Schuler is an associate in the firm’s Washington, DC office. She is a member of the Government Contracts Practice Group, advising clients across a broad range of government contracting issues. She also maintains an active pro bono practice.

This is the fifteenth 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

UPDATED AS OF 9/1/2022: On August 31, 2022, the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force officially announced that the Federal Government will not enforce the federal government contractor vaccination mandate, absent further written notice. The Task Force announcement is posted on its website here.

An analysis of the Eleventh Circuit decision that preceded this announcement is below.

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On Friday, August 26, 2022, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld but narrowed a preliminary injunction currently in place against the Biden Administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for federal government contractors (“the mandate”).  As discussed in our previous post, in December 2021, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia issued a nationwide preliminary injunction blocking the mandate.  The Eleventh Circuit’s decision drops the nationwide injunction, and now blocks enforcement of the mandate only with respect to the plaintiffs in the case: Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, South Carolina, Utah, and West Virginia, and the construction trade group Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc. 

Continue Reading Eleventh Circuit Upholds But Narrows Federal Contractor Vaccine Mandate Injunction

Two federal agencies recently released a joint Request for Information (“RFI”) in the latest in a series of concrete steps to meet the Biden Administration’s goal to achieve 100 percent carbon pollution-free electricity (CFE)[1] in federal operations by 2030.  The RFI, issued by DLA-Energy and GSA, offers industry a chance to shape future federal CFE procurements by providing information on carbon-free electricity supplied in competitive retail markets.  Although not itself a procurement opportunity, the information submitted under the RFI will inform the parameters and conditions of CFE competitions that the federal government expects to begin as soon as this year, with contract deliveries starting in 2023.

Continue Reading RFI Begins to Chart Course for Federal Clean Energy Procurements

Addressing climate change has been a priority for President Biden since his first day in office.  On December 8, 2021, President Biden continued that focus by issuing Executive Order (EO) 14057, Catalyzing Clean Energy Industries and Jobs Through Federal Sustainability, which includes a number of requirements directed at introducing sustainability to federal acquisitions.

This most recent EO announces an administration policy to achieve net-zero emissions from federal procurement by 2050 and comes on the heels of the public comment period extension to January 13, 2022 in response to EO 14030, Climate-Related Financial Risk.  Although the administration will likely be rolling out additional sustainability requirements in the coming months, contractors currently have an opportunity to help shape an initial requirement that may end up effectively establishing an environmental, social, and governance or “ESG” reporting requirement.
Continue Reading Contractors Have an Opportunity to Help Shape ESG Requirements

Last month, the Biden administration released its report on the results of its 100-day review of U.S. supply chains for critical products:  “Building Resilient Supply Chains, Revitalizing American Manufacturing, and Fostering Broad-Based Growth” (the “Report”).  Alongside the Report’s slate of policy recommendations, the Biden administration also announced immediate actions to strengthen supply chains and stimulate domestic competitiveness.

The Report is the result of President Biden’s February 24 “Executive Order on America’s Supply Chains” (the “Order”), which directed federal departments and agencies to conduct a review of supply chain risks in four critical product areas,[1] including pharmaceuticals and active pharmaceutical ingredients (“APIs”).  The Report and its recommendations further the Biden administration’s broader goal of rebuilding the U.S. industrial base, reducing reliance on foreign competitors, and bolstering national and economic security.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) led the review of the supply chain for pharmaceuticals and APIs, which focused primarily on drugs, in particular small-molecule drugs and therapeutic biological products.  The Report makes a number of recommendations discussed herein that have the potential to impact pharmaceutical companies’ business plans and generate significant opportunities, though many such recommendations are long-term and will require dedicated funding so the actual impact of the Report’s suggestions remains to be seen.
Continue Reading Biden Administration 100-Day Supply Chain Assessment: Insights for Pharmaceutical Manufacturers

As GSA Multiple Award Schedule contractors know all too well, Schedule contracting involves a complex web of customer-tracking, reporting, and price-adjustment requirements.  Those of us who navigate these often byzantine rules understand why many in the industry have called for the adoption of an alternative approach to verifying price reasonableness.

For the last several years, GSA has been piloting just such an alternative:  the Transactional Data Reporting (“TDR”) program, through which the government collects transaction-level data on products and services purchased through the Schedule to make data-driven decisions that save taxpayer dollars.  GSA has been running a TDR pilot program for several years to test the potential for a new regulatory regime, though the program sometimes has been the source of criticism and controversy.  Now that controversy has heightened further:  GSA’s Office of Inspector General published an audit report on June 24, 2021 that is sharply critical of the program, only to see GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service (“FAS”) Commissioner publicly reject the report’s conclusions and defend TDR’s effectiveness.

Time will tell whether the TDR rule becomes the new standard for GSA Schedule contracting.  But the latest round of controversy suggests that the current maze of requirements are not going away any time soon.

Continue Reading The End of CSP and PRC Requirements? — GSA’s TDR Pilot Program Faces Further Internal Criticism

The American Rescue Plan, signed into law last month, includes $1.9 trillion in economic stimulus, healthcare, and related funding.  And just last week the Biden administration released an infrastructure proposal, the American Jobs Plan, that includes $2.3 trillion in transportation, connectivity, power, and other critical infrastructure investments.

Contractors are right to view these plans as massive opportunities — but should be cognizant of the regulatory strings that often attach to government spending.  In general, these can include Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and agency-specific FAR supplements for federal procurements, as well as the nonprocurement uniform requirements (2 C.F.R. Part 200) and related agency-specific regulations that attach to Federal grant funds even when disbursed by state or local entities.

Now, some Congressional members are seeking to add new restrictions that would significantly overhaul the existing domestic preference regime for Federal procurements — mere weeks after the promulgation of new Buy American regulations and the release of a new Executive Order to further tighten the application of these rules.

Continue Reading U.S. Senators Propose Trade-Pact Waivers Amidst Focus on Domestic Preference Laws

On December 27, 2020, the Economic Aid to Hard-Hit Small Businesses, Nonprofits, and Venues Act opened up the Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) to additional organizations and authorized a second draw of PPP loans.  The U.S. Small Business Administration (“SBA”) has issued guidance on changes to the original Program and new second draw loans, and the Program has been partially reopened for both first and second draw loans as of January 13, 2021.  Loans will initially only be available through community financial institutions, but SBA has indicated that additional lenders will once again be able to participate in the Program on January 15, 2021, with a full reopening scheduled for January 19, 2021.

Similar to the Program’s original rollout, a number of questions remain with respect to SBA’s implementation of the Act.  SBA is also delaying guidance on changes to loan forgiveness, which may once again place borrowers in the position of taking out loans without knowing whether they will be fully forgiven.  However, SBA has now been managing the Program for almost ten months, and borrowers will hopefully not be subject to the same level of policy shifts and reversals that was experienced during the Program’s original rollout.

The Act makes first and second draw loans available until March 31, 2021, but there is a good chance that all available funds will be allocated before that date.

Continue Reading Paycheck Protection Program Expands and Offers Opportunity for Second Draw Loans

On October 21, 2020 the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (“OFCCP”) published a Request for Information (“RFI”) seeking voluntary submissions of workplace diversity and inclusion training information and materials from federal contractors, federal subcontractors, and their employees. The RFI was published pursuant to Executive Order 13950, Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping (“EO”) issued on September 22, 2020, which prohibited certain “divisive concepts” in workplace trainings and instructed OFCCP to solicit information from federal agencies and contractors about the content of their training programs.  The EO also directed OFCCP to establish a hotline to investigate complaints received under the EO, as well as Executive Order 11246. The hotline, and a corresponding email address, were established on September 28, 2020. We provided a full description and explanation of the requirements of the EO here.

Under the new RFI, contractors may submit comments and other information to OFCCP by December 1, 2020, but any submission of information is strictly voluntary.  As discussed below, prior to making any submission, contractors should consider carefully the nuances of the EO and RFI and the potential implications of making a voluntary submission.

Continue Reading Department of Labor Requesting Information on Federal Contractor Workplace Diversity Training

On September 22, 2020, President Trump issued the Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping (“EO”) establishing requirements aimed at “promoting unity in the Federal workforce,” by prohibiting workplace training on “divisive concepts,” including “race or sex stereotyping” and “race or sex scapegoating” as newly-defined in the EO.  The EO is broadly applicable to executive departments and agencies, Uniformed Services, Federal contractors, and Federal grant recipients.  The EO expands on a letter issued in early September by the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”) that directed all agencies to begin to identify contracts or other agency spending on trainings that include “critical race theory,” “white privilege,” or “un-American propaganda,” in an effort to ensure “fair and equal treatment of all individuals in the United States.”

Following the EO, on September 28, 2020, OMB issued a Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies (the “Memo”) with additional guidance aimed at assisting agencies in identifying diversity and inclusion trainings for agency employees that may be subject to the EO.  The Memo suggests that agencies conduct keyword searches of training materials for specific terms, such as “intersectionality,” “systemic racism,” and “unconscious bias.”  Although the Memo primarily explains the terms of the EO, it also provides additional insight concerning the breadth of agency trainings that may ultimately be considered to violate the terms of the EO, which are described below.

Although the EO is likely to be subject to legal challenge (as more fully discussed below), federal contractors, including subcontractors and vendors, could be subject to the compliance requirements outlined below as soon as November 21, 2020.
Continue Reading President Trump Issues Executive Order Prohibiting “Divisive Concepts” in Federal Contractor Trainings