PAHPAI Reauthorizes Key Biodefense Initiatives and Provides Opportunities for Industry Partners

Late last month, the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness and Advancing Innovation Act of 2019 (PAHPAI) was signed into law.[1] The Act is a much anticipated reauthorization of the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act, originally passed in 2006.[2] The legislation is a key development in strengthening the country’s ability to respond to bio-threats, disasters, and other national emergencies by defining federal program initiatives and funding states and private researchers. PAHPAI-authorized grants allow for the research and development of biodefense measures and the stockpiling of preparedness supplies.

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Supreme Court Shakes Up FOIA Exemption for Confidential Information

On Monday, the Supreme Court significantly altered how government agencies will treat confidential commercial information protected from disclosure by Exemption 4 of the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) — an issue that recurs repeatedly with respect to information submitted by contractors to government agencies.  Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media, No. 18-481 (U.S. June 24, 2019). The Court overturned 45 years of lower-court precedent requiring that the submitter show both that the information was not publicly disclosed, and that its release would cause substantial competitive harm.  The Court’s decision seemingly expands the scope of Exemption 4 by removing the “substantial competitive harm” requirement. However, the effect of this apparent expansion is unclear, because the Court suggested but did not resolve whether Exemption 4 also requires a new element: a showing that the submitter’s information was provided under an assurance by the government that it would keep the information confidential.

Notwithstanding the question left open by the Court, Food Marketing points the way to several steps that contractors can take to protect their commercial and financial information from release under the new interpretation of Exemption 4.

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NIST Announces and Seeks Public Comment on 800-171 Update and Related Documents

On June 19, 2019, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (“NIST”) announced the long-awaited update to Special Publication (“SP”) 800-171 Rev. 1, Protecting Controlled Unclassified Information in Nonfederal Systems and Organizations, which includes three separate but related documents.

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Supreme Court Extends Statute of Limitations for Relators in FCA Cases, in Limited Circumstances

As previously discussed on this blog, the Supreme Court announced last year that it would resolve a circuit split over when a relator needed to file a qui tam action under the False Claims Act (“FCA”).  Earlier this month, the Court decided in Cochise Consultancy Inc. v. United States ex rel. Hunt, that relators can — in limited circumstances — take advantage of the FCA’s 3-year “alternative” statute of limitations, which means they may file their complaints up to four years after the default 6-year period has expired.

Now that the dust has settled, it is worth stepping back to take stock of the ruling’s practical effect.  We believe that Cochise will have limited impact on most qui tam actions, although it leaves some important questions open.  For FCA aficionados, the ruling by Justice Thomas also foreshadows a plain-reading, textual approach to future questions that may arise. Continue Reading

Time Stops for No One: COFC Reminds Indemnified Contractors to Mind the CDA Statute of Limitations

The Contract Disputes Act (“CDA”) is probably not the first law that comes to mind when a government contractor is named as a defendant in a personal injury or wrongful death suit. But a recent decision from the U.S. Court of Federal Claims illustrates why the CDA ─ and its six-year statute of limitations ─ should be top of mind for any contractor that is sued in tort and wants the government to take over its defense or to reimburse its uninsured legal fees or settlement/judgment costs. The Court’s decision, which is the latest opinion in a long-running dispute, is an important reminder for contractors that are indemnified by the government for liabilities to third persons, including under clauses such as FAR 52.228-7, Insurance ─ Liability to Third Persons (MAR. 1996) and FAR 52.250-1, Indemnification under Public Law 85-804 (APR. 1984).

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

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.

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

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.

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ASBCA Confirms Contractors May Challenge Unfavorable CPARS Ratings

While you might not be able to fight City Hall, you can fight your CPARS rating. In a short opinion published last week, the ASBCA confirmed it has jurisdiction to annul an inaccurate and unfair government evaluation of a contractor’s performance. Cameron Bell Corporation d/b/a Government Solutions Group, ASBCA No. 61856 (May 1, 2019).  Though the ASBCA cannot require the government to issue a specific rating, it can remand the matter to the contracting officer with instructions to redo the evaluation ─ a perhaps imperfect, yet still potent form of relief available to contractors who believe the government has improperly rated their contract performance. Continue Reading

Flying in Friendly Skies: The Federal Aviation Administration’s Unique Bid Protest Forum

Federal contractors usually think of two bid protest forums: the Government Accountability Office and the Court of Federal Claims.  But there is another protest forum that often flies under the radar: the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Dispute Resolution for Acquisition — aka the ODRA.

The ODRA has exclusive jurisdiction over bid protests of FAA procurements.  ODRA protests are reviewed under the Administrative Procedure Act, adjudicated by one of the ODRA’s Administrative Judges, and subject to direct appeal to a federal circuit court.  While many of the fundamental principles of bid protest practice at GAO and the Court of Federal Claims apply equally at the ODRA, there are several unique features. Continue Reading

Federal Online Shopping Platform Coming Soon — GSA to Issue Prototype RFP Within the Year

In the latest step towards delivering on the long-promised “Procurement Through Commercial e-Commerce Portals” program, the General Services Administration has announced plans to build a proof-of-concept for federal online shopping, aiming to issue an RFP by the end of the year for web-based acquisition platforms.

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