As the recent SolarWinds Orion attack makes clear, cybersecurity will be a focus in the coming years for both governmental and non-governmental entities alike.  In the federal contracting community, it has long been predicted that the government’s increased cybersecurity requirements will eventually lead to a corresponding increase in False Claims Act (FCA) litigation involving cybersecurity compliance.  This prediction may soon be proven true, as a December 2020 speech from Deputy Assistant Attorney General Michael Granston specifically identified “cybersecurity related fraud” as an “area where we could see enhanced False Claims Act activity.”  This post discusses recent efforts to use the FCA to enforce cybersecurity compliance — and, based on those efforts, what government contractors may expect to see in the future.
Continue Reading Cybersecurity and Government Contracting: False Claims Act Considerations

As described in an earlier blog post, the Department of Defense (DoD) released an Interim Rule on September 29, 2020 that address DoD’s increased requirements for assessing whether contractors are compliant with the 110 security controls in National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Special Publication (SP) 800-171 (NIST 800-171).[1]  Under this new Interim Rule, DoD offerors must have a current assessment on file with DoD to document their compliance with NIST 800-171 before they can be eligible to be considered for award.  The Interim Rule specifically requires contractors to ensure that a summary score from an assessment conducted under DoD’s NIST 800-171 Assessment Methodology is submitted into a DoD enterprise application called the Supplier Performance Risk System (SPRS).[2]  We evaluate below how DoD may use the NIST 800-171 assessment scores in SPRS, as well as how updates to SPRS more generally are likely to impact contractors.

Continue Reading How is DoD Planning to Use the Supplier Performance Risk System (SPRS)?

On September 29, 2020, the Department of Defense (DoD) released an interim rule that industry hoped would provide clear guidance with regard to DoD’s implementation of its Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) framework.  The vast majority of the rule focuses on DoD’s increased requirements for confirming that contractors are currently in compliance with all 110 security controls in National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Special Publication (SP) 800-171 (NIST 800-171).  The interim rule also includes a clause for adding CMMC as a requirement in a DoD contract, but the clause fails to address many of the questions that industry has with regard to implementation of the CMMC program.  The rule becomes effective November 30, 2020.  We have written previously on NIST 800-171 and the CMMC here and here respectively.

DoD has been focused on improving the cyber resiliency and security of the Defense Industrial Base (DIB) sector for over a decade.  The Council of Economic Advisors estimates that malicious cyber activity cost the U.S. economy between $57 billion and $109 billion in 2016.  The interim rule is one of multiple efforts by DoD focused on the broader supply chain security and resiliency of the DIB and builds on existing FAR and DFARS clause cybersecurity requirements.  Increasing security concerns coupled with recent high-profile data breaches have led DoD to move beyond self-certification to auditable verification systems when it comes to protecting sensitive Government information.


Continue Reading Department of Defense’s Interim Rule Imposes New Assessment Requirements But is Short on Detail on Implementation of CMMC

On August 13, 2020, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released new revisions to its Guidance for Grants and Agreements set forth under 2 CFR (commonly referred to as the Uniform Guidance).  The Uniform Guidance governs the terms of federal funding issued by agencies, including grants, cooperative agreements, federal loans, and non-cash assistance awards. 

The Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) released a decision on Friday finding that the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) followed the wrong order of succession after Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen resigned in April 2019.  As a result, the Acting Secretaries who have served since then were invalidly selected.  In particular, GAO has questioned the appointments of Acting Secretary Chad Wolf, former Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan, and Deputy Secretary Kenneth Cuccinelli.

GAO’s decision tees up a thorny question for DHS contractors:  If these officials were invalidly selected, what does it mean for the agency’s policies and procurement decisions made during their tenure?


Continue Reading [Updated] If the Acting DHS Secretary Was Unlawfully Selected, What Does that Mean for DHS Procurements?

The National Institute for Standards and Technology released the draft of NIST Special Publication 800-172 (“NIST SP 800-172”) on July 6, 2020.  This draft special publication succeeds the prior draft NIST SP 800-171B that NIST published in June 2019, and operates as a supplement to the NIST SP 800-171 controls that federal contractors generally must comply with in order to transmit, process, and store Controlled Unclassified Information (“CUI”).

Like the draft of NIST SP 800-171B released last year that it replaces, the publication recognizes that the basic and derived security controls in NIST SP 800-171 are “not designed to address APTs [Advanced Persistent Threats].”  As the publication notes,  “the APT may find ways to breach and/or compromise boundary defenses and deploy malicious code within a defender’s system.”  Thus, the additional safeguards in NIST SP 800-172 are meant to “outmaneuver, confuse, deceive, mislead, and impede the adversary—that is, take away the adversary’s tactical advantage and protect and preserve the organization’s critical programs and high value assets.”

Comments on the draft are due on August 21, 2020.


Continue Reading National Institute for Standards and Technology Releases Draft of NIST SP 800-172

(This article was originally published in Law360 and has been modified for this blog.)

Companies in a range of industries that contract with the U.S. Government—including aerospace, defense, healthcare, technology, and energy—are actively working to assess whether or not their information technology systems comply with significant new restrictions that will take effect on August 13, 2020.  These new restrictions prohibit the use of certain Chinese telecommunications equipment and services, and a failure to comply can have dramatic consequences for these companies.  The new restrictions also will have an immediate impact on mergers and acquisitions involving a company that does—or hopes to do—business with the Federal government.  In this article, we highlight some key considerations for M&A practitioners relating to these restrictions.

Background

On July 14, 2020, the U.S. Government’s Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council (“FAR Council”) published an interim rule to implement Section 889(a)(1)(B) of the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 (“FY19 NDAA”).[1]  When the new rule takes effect on August 13, it will prohibit the Department of Defense and all other executive branch agencies from contracting—or extending or renewing a contract—with an “entity” that “uses” “covered telecommunications equipment or services as a substantial or essential part of any system.”  The restrictions cover broad categories of equipment and services produced and provided by certain Chinese companies—namely Huawei, ZTE, Hytera, Hangzhou Hikvision, Dahua, and their affiliates.[2]

The new rule will be applicable to all contracts with the U.S. Government, including those for commercial item services and commercially available-off-the-shelf products.[3]  Companies with a single one of these contracts will soon have an ongoing obligation to report any new discovery of its internal “use” of certain covered telecommunications equipment and services to the Government within one business day with a report of how the use will be mitigated ten business days later.[4]  Further, although companies can seek to obtain a waiver on a contract-by-contract basis from agencies, these waivers must be granted by the head of the agency, and may only extend until August 13, 2022 at the latest.[5]

The new rule is the second part of a two-stage implementation of Section 889’s restrictions on covered telecommunications equipment and services in Government contracting.  It builds on an earlier rule that implemented Section 889(a)(1)(A) of the FY19 NDAA on August 13, 2019 by prohibiting an executive branch agency from acquiring certain covered telecommunications equipment or services that is a substantial or essential part of any system.[6]

The new rule is expansive in scope, and its effects will be felt far beyond the traditional defense industrial base.  Thus, mergers and acquisitions practitioners are well advised to become familiar with the rule and consider how it might impact any future transaction where an acquisition target does at least some business with the Government or has aspirations to do so in the future.


Continue Reading M&A and Section 889: Due Diligence and Integration Considerations

In recent years, both Congress and the Executive Branch have made it a key priority to mitigate risks across the industrial and innovation supply chains that provide hardware, software, and services to the U.S. government (“USG”).  Five of these initiatives are likely to result in new regulations in 2020, each of which could have a fundamental impact on companies’ ability to sell Information, Communications, Technology and Services (“ICTS”) to the USG.  As these requirements begin to take hold, federal contractors should be mindful of potential impacts and the actions that can be taken now to prepare for increased USG scrutiny of their supply chain security.

Continue Reading Contractor Supply Chain Readiness – An Update on Expected Regulatory Changes

On January 31, the Department of Defense (“DoD”) released Version 1.0 of its Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (“CMMC”).  This is the fourth iteration of the CMMC that DoD has publicly released since it issued the first draft in October, and it is intended to be the version that auditors will be trained against, and that will eventually govern defense contractors’ cybersecurity obligations.  (We discussed the draft versions of the CMMC in earlier blog posts, as well as DoD’s Version 1.0 release announcement.)

As outlined in more detail below, the CMMC is a framework that “is designed to provide increased assurance to the DoD that a DIB [Defense Industrial Base] contractor can adequately protect CUI [Controlled Unclassified Information] at a level commensurate with the risk, accounting for information flow down to its subcontractors in a multi-tier supply chain.”

DoD stated publicly that it plans to add CMMC requirements to ten Requests for Information (“RFIs”) and ten Requests for Proposals (“RFPs”) by the end of this year, with contractors and subcontractors expected to meet all applicable CMMC requirements at the time of award.  DoD has indicated that these RFPs may involve relatively large awards, as it anticipates that each award will impact approximately 150 different contractors at all levels of the supply chain and at various levels of CMMC certification.  DoD’s goal is to have CMMC requirements fully implemented in all new contract awards by Fiscal Year 2026.


Continue Reading A Closer Look at Version 1.0 of DoD’s Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification

On Friday January 31, 2020, Ellen Lord, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, Kevin Fahey, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, and Katie Arrington, the Chief Information Security Officer for the Department of Defense (“DoD”), briefed reporters on the release of the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (“CMMC”) Version 1.0.  We have discussed draft