Government Contracts Regulatory Compliance

On December 30, 2021, the FAR Council issued a final rule to update the trade agreements thresholds implemented under the Trade Agreements Act (“TAA”).  The new thresholds take effect January 1, 2022.

The TAA thresholds are adjusted every two years and set the value a contract must meet or exceed in order for the World Trade Organization Government Procurement Agreement (“WTO GPA”) and free trade agreements (“FTAs”) to apply.  For supply, service, and construction contracts that meet or exceed the stated thresholds, Buy American Act (“BAA”) requirements are waived in accordance with the TAA, and the Government is required to treat eligible products and services from designated countries on an equal basis as domestic products and services.

The updated thresholds, to be listed in FAR 25.402(b), are provided below.


Continue Reading New Trade Agreements Act Thresholds Take Effect January 1, 2022

If a contractor is working on a fixed-price contract, can it charge the government for attorney’s fees to defend a False Claim Act (“FCA”) case related to the contract?

In The Tolliver Group, Inc. v. United States (Fed. Cl. Jan. 22, 2020), the Court of Federal Claims (“COFC”) said the answer was “yes,” if the government was liable for an equitable adjustment under the circumstances.  The decision was welcomed by contractors facing meritless FCA suits, which are often costly to defend even when the relator plainly does not have a case.

But the Federal Circuit has thrown cold water on Tolliver — at least for now.  In a decision last week, the court of appeals vacated Tolliver on jurisdictional grounds, concluding that the legal theory of the COFC’s decision was never presented to the contracting officer for a final decision under the Contract Disputes Act of 1978 (“CDA”), and that the COFC therefore lacked jurisdiction over the contractor’s claim.  The Tolliver Group, Inc. v. United States (Fed. Cir. Dec. 13, 2021).


Continue Reading FCA Defendants May Be Able to Recover Attorney Fees Under Their Fixed-Price Contracts, At Least For Now

On December 8, 2021, President Biden signed Executive Order 14057 (“Catalyzing Clean Energy Industries and Jobs Through Federal Sustainability”), the Administration’s latest – and most significant – effort to promote cleaner and more sustainable federal procurement.  At the heart of the new Order is the Administration’s goal to meet a net-zero emissions target across the federal government by 2050.  To do so, the Administration promises to “transform federal procurement and operations” and to leverage the government’s portfolio of “300,000 buildings, fleet of 600,000 cars and trucks, and annual purchasing power of $650 billion [in] goods and services” to facilitate increased adoption of green technology.  The new Executive Order will require further agency action to pursue and execute on these objectives, but once implemented, it appears poised to usher in a new – and greener – era of federal contracting.

In order to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, the Executive Order and an accompanying “Federal Sustainability Plan” set four primary goals:

  1. Power: 100 percent carbon pollution-free electricity on a net annual basis by 2030;
  2. Vehicles: 100 percent zero-emission vehicle acquisitions by 2035, including 100 percent zero-emission light-duty vehicle acquisitions by 2027;
  3. Buildings: A net-zero emissions building portfolio by 2045, including a 50 percent emissions reduction by 2032; and
  4. Materials: Net-zero emissions from federal procurement no later than 2050, including a Buy Clean policy to promote use of construction materials with lower embodied emissions.

This blog post consists of three parts: (1) a summary of each of the four major goals referenced above; (2) a description of the Executive Order’s procedures for implementation, together with the exceptions to its coverage; and (3) concluding thoughts about key takeaways of this Executive Order for the contracting community and potential new entrants into the federal marketplace.


Continue Reading Biden Executive Order Promises to “Transform Federal Procurement” to Meet Net-Zero Emissions Target

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

On December 2, 2021, the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contractor Compliance Programs (“OFCCP”) announced the creation of a new Contractor Portal.  Starting next year, federal prime contractors and subcontractors will be required to register on the portal and submit a formal certification, on an annual basis, as to whether they have developed and maintained an Affirmative Action Program (“AAP”) in accordance with OFCCP requirements.  If selected by OFCCP for a compliance review, contractors will use the same portal to upload their AAPs in addition to any other requested information.  The Contractor Portal is expected to open for registrations on February 1, 2022, with the certification features available March 31, 2022.  By June 30, 2022, all existing contractors and subcontractors must certify compliance with the AAP requirements.

Continue Reading OFCCP’s New Contractor Portal: What Contractors Need to Know

Several federal courts have issued preliminary injunctions blocking the Biden Administration from enforcing its federal contractor COVID-19 vaccine mandate.  As discussed in our previous posts, President Biden issued Executive Order 14042 mandating that employees of federal contractors and subcontractors be vaccinated against COVID-19 and take various other workplace safety measures.  Executive Order 14042 relies on the president’s authority under the U.S. Constitution and the Federal Property and Administrative Services Act (“FPASA”) to effectuate this policy.  Prior to issuance of the injunctions, contractors were required to have covered employees fully vaccinated by January 18, 2022.

Continue Reading Contractor COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate Blocked Nationwide – UPDATE

This is the sixth in the 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 second, third, fourth, and fifth blogs described the actions taken by various federal agencies to implement the EO during June, July, August, and September 2021, respectively.  This blog summarizes key actions taken to implement the Cyber EO during October 2021.

Although the recent developments this month are directly applicable to the U.S. Government, the standards being established for U.S. Government agencies could be adopted as industry standards for all organizations that develop or acquire software similar to various industries adopting the NIST Cybersecurity Framework as a security controls baseline.


Continue Reading October 2021 Developments Under President Biden’s Cybersecurity Executive Order

Federal government contractors face many uncertainties as they implement President Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. This includes the distinct possibility of civil lawsuits arising out of their implementation of the mandate, including potential allegations of invasion of privacy, wrongful termination, lost wages, discrimination, personal injury or other common law claims or statutory violations. At least one such lawsuit already has been filed. In that suit, dozens of aggrieved employees allege that the contractor’s vaccine mandate violates state law, and they seek an injunction and other relief. Other lawsuits are sure to follow.

But there is good news for contractors: Established legal doctrines should provide contractors some degree of protection—and perhaps complete immunity—against such lawsuits. In addition to the statutory protections afforded to contractors under the PREP Act, contractors may be protected from civil liability based on federal-law-based defenses that have been recognized and applied in analogous government contracting settings. In the coming weeks, as contractors navigate the many challenges associated with the vaccine mandate, they should carefully consider the risk of civil litigation, and, in order to minimize potential exposure in such lawsuits, proactively implement practices that maximize the likelihood that these doctrines and defenses will be applicable, as discussed below.


Continue Reading Are Federal Contractors Immunized From Vaccination Litigation? Mitigating The Risk Of Civil Liabilities Arising Out Of The COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate

This is the fifth 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 second, third, and fourth blogs described the actions taken by various federal government agencies to implement the EO during June, July, and August 2021, respectively.  This blog summarizes  key actions taken to implement the Cyber EO during September 2021.

I.   Actions Taken During September 2021 to Modernize Federal Government Cybersecurity

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) publically released a draft zero trust architecture strategy for federal agencies on September 9, 2021.  On that same day, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA) issued two draft documents designed to further OMB’s zero trust strategy: the Zero Trust Maturity Model and the Cloud Security Technical Reference Architecture.  Each of these documents was required by Section 3 of the Cyber EO to modernize and standardize federal government agency approaches to cybersecurity.


Continue Reading September 2021 Developments Under President Biden’s Cybersecurity Executive Order

Many of our clients have been calling to ask whether failure to comply with the Administration’s Executive Order imposing vaccine mandates on federal contractors could lead to False Claims Act liability, and what steps they can take to minimize the risk of liability.  Much remains unknown, especially what specific obligations will be included in the FAR clause to be released on October 8.  However, we have highlighted a few key considerations that should be front of mind for all contractors and subcontractors.

Continue Reading COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate for Federal Contractors Could Pose False Claims Act Risk