TAA

[This article was originally published in Law360.]

President Trump took a significant step this week towards implementing his often touted objective of protecting U.S. manufacturers and workers by signing the “Presidential Executive Order on Buy American and Hire American” (the “EO”) on April 18, 2017.  In addition to addressing reforms to the H1-B visa program to protect U.S. workers, the EO sets forth a policy and action plan intended to “support the American manufacturing and defense industrial bases” by “maximiz[ing]” the Federal Government’s procurement of “goods, products, and materials produced in the United States,” and mandates strict compliance with the statutory and regulatory regimes for domestic sourcing preferences and restrictions (jointly referred to as “Buy American Laws”), such as the Buy American Act (41 U.S.C. §§ 8301–8305) and other buy America legislation, and implementing regulations.

In short, and as to procurement, the EO:

  • Requires all agencies to assess their monitoring, enforcement, implementation, and compliance with Buy American Laws and the use of waivers to those laws, and to propose policies designed to ensure that the use of domestic sources is maximized, consistent with existing law.
  • Requires an assessment of the impact on domestic procurement preferences of all free trade agreements and the World Trade Organization Agreement on Government Procurement.
  • Elevates to the Head of the Agency the granting of any public interest waivers to Buy American Laws requirements and requires such determinations to consider whether the cost advantage of the foreign product is due to dumping or the use of an injuriously subsidized product.
  • Requires the Secretary of Commerce to submit a report to President Trump within 220 days of the date of the EO which shall include “specific recommendations to strengthen implementation of Buy American Laws, including domestic procurement preference policies and programs.”
  • Requires agencies to submit annual reports to the Secretary of Commerce and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget on agency efforts to maximize the procurement of domestic products, and requires the Secretary of Commerce to submit an annual report to the President based on the agency submissions.

Although this EO establishes the Administration’s policy to strictly enforce Buy American Laws to maximize the use of domestic manufacturers and labor, it does not change existing law or regulation.[1]

Here are our key takeaways.

Continue Reading Key Takeaways From President Trump’s “Buy American” Executive Order

A U.S. District Court recently dismissed a False Claims Act (FCA) qui tam action alleging that numerous GSA Schedule contractors violated their obligations under the Trade Agreements Act (TAA), resulting in the submission of false claims under the “implied certification” theory of FCA liability.  As discussed further below, the court’s decision — United States ex rel. Berkowitz v. Automation Aids, No. 13-C-08185, 2017 WL 1036575 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 12, 2017) — is important for at least two reasons:

  1. The court found that “often” it is “tougher” to satisfy the heightened pleading requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(b) when FCA allegations are based on an implied certification theory.
  2. The court held that, when dealing with conduct arising from a “sprawling federal procurement statutory and regulatory framework” (like the TAA), general allegations of non-compliance may support a breach-of-contract claim, but are insufficient in an FCA case. Rather, “specific allegations” about the fraudulent scheme are needed.

This decision comes at a particularly opportune time for contractors, given the likelihood of increased TAA and Buy American Act (BAA) enforcement during the Trump Administration and the corresponding potential uptick in whistleblower FCA activity involving these country-of-origin issues.
Continue Reading Common Sense Prevails: “Tougher” To Satisfy Rule 9(b) Standard in “Implied Certification” FCA Case Arising from GSA Schedule Contractors’ Alleged TAA Non-Compliance

On February 28, 2017, President Donald J. Trump addressed a joint session of Congress for the first time and outlined his plan for a “new chapter of American Greatness.”  That plan included continued emphasis on protecting United States labor and manufacturing, and can be summarized in a few words often repeated by President Trump: “Buy American and Hire American.”  This rhetoric foreshadows the significant likelihood that enforcement of requirements for domestic sourcing and content, including the Buy American Act,  41 U.S.C. §§ 8301–8305, and the Trade Agreements Act, 19 U.S.C. §§ 2501–2581, will be a priority of the Trump Administration.

Continue Reading President Trump’s First Address to Congress Foreshadows Increased Buy American Act Enforcement

Earlier this month, a medical device company settled allegations that it had violated the False Claims Act (FCA) by improperly certifying that it had complied with the Trade Agreements Act (TAA) when providing the U.S. Government with end products manufactured in Malaysia.  The TAA requires certain end products sold to the U.S. Government to be made in the United States or a country covered by a trade agreement with the United States.  End products manufactured in Malaysia, as well as India and the People’s Republic of China, are not compliant with the TAA.

The settlement resolved litigation that began in 2008 when a former employee alleged that the company sold orthopedic devices on a federal supply schedule administered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) after purchasing the devices from a third-party manufacturer in Malaysia.  Although the TAA only applies to end products sold to the U.S. Government if the value of the end products meets a specific monetary threshold, the U.S. General Services Administration and the VA have taken the position that all end products sold on a federal supply schedule must comply with the TAA because the orders placed under a federal supply schedule are expected to meet the applicable threshold.  As a result, different country-of-origin requirements may apply to commercial contractors depending on whether they sell their products to the U.S. Government on the open market, through a federal supply schedule, or under a separate federal contract.  The company at issue had used multiple sales mechanisms to provide end products to the U.S. Government.

Continue Reading Recent Settlement Highlights Importance of Tracing Country of Origin When Selling Commercial Products to the U.S. Government

On August 29, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld the dismissal of a qui tam suit under the False Claims Act (“FCA”) alleging that government contractor Govplace made false statements and false claims by selling to the Government, via its GSA schedule contract, computer and other products not originating in designated countries under the Trade Agreements Act (“TAA”). The decision shows that a contractor may defend against an FCA action by showing that it reasonably relied on a supplier’s certification as to TAA compliance.

The D.C. Circuit Decision: Govplace has been providing information technology (“IT”) integration and product solutions to the Government via a GSA schedule contract since 1999. Products on GSA schedule contracts must comply with the TAA requirement that “only U.S.-made or designated country end products [can] be offered and sold” under such contracts. Govplace acquires many of the products listed in its schedule contract from a distributor, Ingram Micro, which expressly certifies that its products are TAA compliant.

In the Govplace case, the relator alleged that certain products that Govplace acquired from Ingram Micro were manufactured in China, a non-designated country, and that Govplace acted with reckless disregard in relying on Ingram Micro’s certifications.

Continue Reading D.C. Circuit Dismisses FCA Suit & Provides Guidance for Contractor Reliance on Supplier Certifications