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Centre Law & Consulting

Federal contractors often feel a great sense of relief when they are selected for an award. However, the recent GAO decision  regarding a request for quotations for supplying diesel shows just how quickly a business relationship with the federal government can sour.

Bluehorse Corporation, an Indian Small Business, successfully submitted the lowest price quote on supply and delivery of around 30,000 gallons of diesel for use in a construction project. The Request for Quotations stated; “All fuel delivery must be coordinated with the construction manager who will schedule delivery dates and quantities. Please note: that all fuel will not be delivered at one time but in stages as the project progresses.” Bluehorse submitted its quotation noting it had “the ability to 7,500 gallons of fuel per delivery.”

After choosing Bluehorse’s quote, the contracting officer (“CO”) forwarded the purchase order to Bluehorse for 4,000 gallons of fuel every three to four weeks, delivered to two 4,000 gallon capacity tanks. Things between the two quickly turned south in one day. Bluehorse responded in confusion, pointing to the solicitation, which stated the two tanks had a 5,000 gallon capacity.  The CO ignored this provision and instead pointed to language indicating 4,000 gallons would be delivered every three to four weeks.  Bluehorse insisted on clarification for the tank capacity, and receiving no response then wrote, “be aware that our offer was made on the ability to make a 7,500 (gallon) drop (into two 5,000 tanks.)”

The CO offered only an ultimatum, sign the purchase agreement or refuse. The two parties went back and forth with the CO informing Bluehorse their delivery of 7,500 gallons was unacceptable. When Bluehorse did not immediately provided the signed purchase order, the CO rescinded the offer.  Bluehorse filed a protest the very next day claiming the Agency relied upon unstated criteria.

The GAO disagreed, stating a quotation that fails to conform to a solicitation’s material terms and conditions is unacceptable. Here the solicitation explicitly stated the CO would determine delivery dates and quantities. The solicitation also suggested the Agency “typically” orders 4,000 gallons per delivery. In its email exchange, Bluehorse indicated it would only be making 7,500 gallon deliveries, which is a condition unacceptable in the GAO’s decision.

The Bluehorse decision should be takin as a serious warning that awards can quickly dissolve without a tactful hand steering the negotiations.  It is easy to imagine the protest would not have been necessary had Bluehorse approached the tank capacity confusion with more deference or humility to the CO.

About the Author:

Tyler Freiberger Headshot | Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons, VA Tyler Freiberger
Associate Attorney

Tyler Freiberger is an associate attorney at Centre Law & Consulting primarily focusing on employment law and litigation. He has successfully litigated employment issues before the EEOC, MSPB, local counties human rights commissions, the United States D.C. District Court, Maryland District Court, and the Eastern District of Virginia.

The post How to Lose an Award in a Single Email Exchange appeared first on Centre Law & Consulting.


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Centre Law & Consulting

 

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released a report recommending several changes to the Department of Defense’s (DoD) deployable biometrics programs. Deployable biometric capabilities like fingerprint scanners, voice recognition hardware, and iris scanning devices are used as intelligence collection platforms by the DoD. According to the report, these programs are responsible for DoD capturing or killing 1,700 individuals and preventing 92,000 more from accessing DoD bases over the past decade.

While the GAO acknowledged several successful components of DoD’s biometric capabilities, it also made six recommendations to enhance biometric strategic planning. Further, GAO warned that DoD “may have missed an opportunity to leverage existing, viable, and less costly alternatives.”

A critical recommendation was GAO’s final one: DoD should stop determining which contract support to use based on the lowest price. Too often, DoD relies on lowest cost, technically-acceptable solicitations (i.e. choosing the lowest priced bid by a contractor that meets the minimum requirements.) According to the report, this absolute preference for low bidding has resulted in staffing shortages in contractor provided services. While the GAO still supports use of the lowest price solicitation structure for low skilled services, GAO expressed concern of its usefulness for highly technical/skilled tasks, such as information technology security and latent fingerprint examination. GAO recommends using tradeoff selection criteria in determining contract support; this approach could enhance the quality of contract offers and improve contractor hiring and retention through better compensation.

The advantages of using a best value solicitation for these more advanced DoD services are clear. The Department would have greater discretion to determine if a price discount is worth a reduction in quality, and what effect that sacrifice could have on the end goal – for example, quickly and properly processing a potentially hostile individual’s DNA. With the passing of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017, DOD will almost certainly follow GAO’s recommendation for a solicitation method. The Act directs the DoD to avoid using lowest price solicitations for information technology contracts, to the maximum extent practicable. (Pub. L. No. 114-328, div. A, title VIII, subtitle C, § 813(c) (Dec. 23, 2016)). Further, DoD reviewed a draft of the GAO report, and concurred with all six recommendations. DoD also cited actions it plans to take to address the recommendations. GAO believes that if DoD completes these actions, it will adequately address the concerns outlined.

About the Author:

Tyler Freiberger Headshot | Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons, VA Tyler Freiberger
Associate Attorney

Tyler Freiberger is an associate attorney at Centre Law & Consulting primarily focusing on employment law and litigation. He has successfully litigated employment issues before the EEOC, MSPB, local counties human rights commissions, the United States D.C. District Court, Maryland District Court, and the Eastern District of Virginia.

The post GAO to DoD – Acquisitions for Intelligence Collection Capabilities: there’s a better way. appeared first on Centre Law & Consulting.


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Centre Law & Consulting

NDAA Provision Requires Federal Procurement Through ‘Online Marketplaces’

A provision contained in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 (NDAA), H.R. 2810, covers “Procurement Through Online Marketplaces.”  Section 801 of Act requires the Administrator of the General Services Administration (GSA) to establish for government-wide use a program to procure products through online marketplaces for the purposes of expediting procurements while ensuring reasonable pricing of commercial products.

The GSA Administrator is required to carry out this program by the issuance of more than one contract with more than one online marketplace provider.

Although the program will be available government-wide, the Act specifically directs the Secretary of Defense to (shall) use the online Marketplaces, as appropriate, in the purchase of commercial products.

The Act also provides criteria for use in establishing Federal online marketplaces under the program:

  • is used widely in the private sector, including in business-to-business e-commerce;
  • provides dynamic selection, in which suppliers and products may be frequently updated, and dynamic pricing, in which product prices may be frequently updated;
  • enables offers from multiple suppliers on the same or similar products to be sorted or fileted based on product and shipping price, delivery date, and reviews of suppliers or products;
  • does not feature or prioritize a product of a supplier based on any compensation or fee paid to the online marketplace by the supplier that is exclusively for such featuring or prioritization on the online marketplace;
  • provides the capability for procurement oversight controls, including spending limits, order approval, and order tracking;
  • provides consolidated invoicing, payment, and customer service functions for all transactions;
  • satisfies requirements for supplier and product screening requirements of the Act; and
  • collects information necessary to fulfil the order information requirements of the Act

The Act includes requirements for supplier and product screening.

Products procured through the Federal online marketplace will be deemed to have satisfied competitive procurement requirements if there are offers from two or more suppliers of such a product or similar product with substantially the same physical, functional, or performance characteristics on the online marketplace.  Procurements consummated using the online marketplace will be deemed an award of a prime contract for purposes of goals under the Small Business Act.  Nothing in the Act shall be construed as limiting the authority of a department or agency to restrict competition to small business concerns.

NDAA passed the U.S. House of Representatives on July 14, 2017.  The U.S. Senate agreed to a motion to proceed with action on July 25, 2017.

 

About the Author:

Wayne Simpson | Centre Law & Consulting Wayne Simpson
Consultant

Wayne Simpson is a seasoned former Federal executive and acquisition professional who is also a highly-motivated and demonstrative small business advocate, with nearly 38 years of Federal Civilian Service with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and its predecessor organization, the Veterans Administration.

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Centre Law & Consulting

In its July 28, 2017 decision, the GAO denied a protest and found an agency’s decision to negotiate a sole-source contract with a Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone) to be reasonable based on the agency’s lack of progress in meeting its HUBZone goals. JRS Staffing Services, B-414630, B414630.2 (July 28, 2017).

The original solicitation process from the Department of Justice, Bureau of Prisons (BOP), underwent several rounds. The BOP originally issued a solicitation without any restriction on competition. However, following a protest from JRS, they agency canceled the solicitation in order to conduct market research to determine whether it would be feasible to set the contract aside for small businesses. Several months later, the BOP awarded a HUBZone sole-source contract to ProHill. JRS subsequently protested that award, challenging the BOP’s failure to post a notice of its intent to award a sole-source contract on the FedBizOpps website. The BOP subsequently terminated the sole-source contract in order to being the procurement process over. One month later, the BOP posted a statement of work and a sources sought notice for the requirement on the FedBizOpps website, which included a market research questionnaire. One more month later, BOP posted a notice of the agency’s intent to negotiate a sole-source contract with ProHill, a HUBZone. JRS subsequently filed its third protest regarding this BOP contract.

In challenging the BOP’s decision to negotiate a HUBZone sole-source award with ProHill, JRS argued that the award was based on flawed market research as the solicitation could have been competed as a WOSB set aside as both JRS and ProHill are WOSBs. In denying JRS’s protest, the GAO noted that the FAR expressly provides that there is no order of precedence between the WOSB and HUBZone programs and agencies may consider both the results of their market research and their progress in fulfilling their small business goals. Here, it was reasonable that the agency’s decision to use the HUBZone program was based primarily on its lack of progress in meeting its HUBZone goals whereas the agency had already exceeded its WOSB goals. Therefore, the GAO dismissed JRS’s protest.

 

About the Author:

Heather Mims | Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons VA Heather Mims
Associate Attorney

Heather Mims is an associate attorney at Centre Law & Consulting. Her practice is primarily focused on government contracts law, employment law, and litigation. Heather graduated magna cum laude from the George Mason School of Law where she was the Senior Research Editor for the Law Review and a Writing Fellow.

The post Third Time’s the Charm? Not so Much for this Protester appeared first on Centre Law & Consulting.


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Centre Law & Consulting

In its July 17, 2017, decision the GAO partially sustained a protest after an agency conducted an unreasonable past performance evaluation.

Timberline LLC’s award for the maintenance and deactivation of manufactured housing units in Louisiana was protested by MLU services after MLU noticed an oddity about Timberline LLC’s submitted past performance history. Put simply, the contracts submitted for evaluation were not Timberline LLC’s. In fact, the past contracts were not even the Timberline LLC’s proposed subcontractor’s, its sister company, Timberline Construction Group, LLC.

In its submission, Timberline LLC’s proposal provided seven completed contracts to demonstrate its “proven ability to successfully perform a diverse group of services in response to different kinds of disasters in many different geographical locations.” These submissions simply identified “Timberline” as the performing party. At first, this strategy worked. The agency considered Timberline LLC’s past experience “outstanding.” However, as alleged by the protestor, these contracts were performed by Timberline Home, Inc., a wholly separate corporate entity.

The Agency defended its decision, claiming it had confirmed “key personnel” from Timberline LLC had performed the work under Timberline Home. However the GAO held this was not nearly enough to comply with the solicitation requirements. While an agency is free to consider the experience of key individuals and predecessor companies, Timberline LLC didn’t provide this information in its proposal. As a result, the agency’s reliance on those past contracts to evaluate Timberline LLC was not reasonable, and therefore the protest was sustained.

About the Author:

Tyler Freiberger Headshot | Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons, VA Tyler Freiberger
Associate Attorney

Tyler Freiberger is an associate attorney at Centre Law & Consulting primarily focusing on employment law and litigation. He has successfully litigated employment issues before the EEOC, MSPB, local counties human rights commissions, the United States D.C. District Court, Maryland District Court, and the Eastern District of Virginia.

The post What’s In A Name? appeared first on Centre Law & Consulting.


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Just when you thought Service Contract Act compliance couldn’t get any more complicated, along comes the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) to prove you wrong.

Last week, the DOL issued All Agency Memorandum No. 225 which increased the applicable Health and Welfare (“H&W”) fringe rate from $4.27 per hour to $4.41 effective today, August 1, 2017. While the adjustment to H&W was expected, the DOL’s actions with respect to federal contracts subject to Executive Order 13706 was not.

As a refresher, Executive Order 13706 established mandatory paid sick leave for federal contractors. Specifically, the Order requires covered contractors to provide employees with up to 56 hours (seven days) of paid sick leave annually, including for family care and absences resulting from domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. The requirement applies to new contracts with the federal government that result from solicitations issued on or after January 1, 2017 (or that are awarded outside the solicitation process on or after January 1, 2017).

In an unexpected development, AAM No. 225 noted that “[e]mployer contributions that are made to satisfy the employer’s obligations under EO 13707 may not be credited toward the contractor’s [H&W] obligations under the SCA.” The Memorandum continued, “[t]o comply with EO 13706, an alternate health and welfare rate has been established that excludes the sick leave portion of the calculated health and welfare rate.” Specifically, as of August 1, 2017, the H&W rate for contracts subject to EO 13706 will be $4.13 per hour – i.e., $.28 lower than the $4.41 H&W rate applicable to contracts that do not require paid sick leave.

While reasonable minds can differ over whether this reduced rate is in fact necessary “to comply with EO 13706,” fallout from the lower alternative rate will likely be immediate. First, affected employees receiving cash in lieu of benefits will undoubtedly note the reduction in pay. In addition, affected contractors may be required to provide negative contract price adjustments in light of the H&W rate decrease. Finally, it will be necessary for contractors to monitor contracts and task orders to determine the appropriate rate particularly as the EO 13706 becomes more prevalent as legacy contracts expire and are replaced by contracts solicited after January 1, 2017.

About the Author:

David Warner | Centre Law & Consulting David Warner
Partner

David Warner is a seasoned legal counselor with extensive experience in the resolution and litigation of complex employment and business disputes. His practice is focused on the government contractor, nonprofit, and hospitality industries. David leads Centre’s audit, investigation, and litigation practices.

The post DOL Raises (and Lowers) Health and Welfare Fringe Rate for Service Contractors appeared first on Centre Law & Consulting.


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Federal Contractor and Subcontractor Labor Reporting Requirements Under the Vietnam Era Veterans Readjustment Assistance Act

This is a reminder to Federal contractors and subcontractors of an important annual Federal labor reporting requirement coming due September 30, 2017.  The Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act (VEVRAA) requires Federal contractors and subcontractors with contracts valued at > $150,000 to annually report employment data for protected Veterans in their employ.

If Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Clause 52.222-37, Employment Reports on Veterans (Feb 2016) (or earlier versions of this clause) is contained in your Federal contract or has been “flowed down” to your subcontract from the prime contractor, you may have a reporting obligation.

What is a VETS-4212 Report?

The report, known as “VETS-4212” (formerly known as VETS-100 or VETS-100A, and often referred to as such in contracts awarded using earlier versions of FAR Clause 52.222-37) is due for submission to the Veterans Employment Training Service (VETS) at the U.S. Department of Labor, no later than September 30, 2017.  Fiscal Year 2017 reporting opens up Tuesday, August 1, 2017.

Reporting is legislatively mandated under 38 U.S. Code, Section 4212, codified at 41 CFR Section 61-300, respectively, contractors and subcontractors who enter into, or modify a contract or subcontract with the Federal government, and whose contract meets the criteria set forth in the aforementioned legislation/regulations, are required to report annually on their affirmative action efforts in employing veterans. VETS has a legislative requirement to collect, and make available to the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), U.S. Department of Labor, reported data contained on the VETS-4212 report for compliance enforcement.

Although the threshold for VETS-4212 reporting shown at 41 C.F.R. § 60-300.4, Coverage and waivers, shows reporting applicability for contracts and subcontracts valued at $100,000 and greater, in 2015 the amount was increased to $150,00 as a result of inflation adjustments to acquisition-related thresholds as required by the  Ronald Reagan National Defense Authorization Act of 2004.  OFCCP adopted the Federal Acquisition Regulation Council’s adjusted thresholds for determining whether a contract or subcontract is covered by VEVRAA regulatory requirements.

Accurate and timely reporting, as well as record keeping is critical to stellar contract administration.  A contractor’s affirmative action obligations in the hiring and retention of Veterans is subject to audit by the OFCCP.

A special note to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Federal Supply Schedule Contract holders.  VA requires submission of this report to the U.S. Department of Labor regardless of the dollar amount of sales under the contract, and failure to submit can impact processing of modifications, extension packages, and new and ensuing offers.

Just in time for VETS-4212, Centre Law & Consulting is offering an informative “VETS-4212 Reporting” Webinar on August 17, 2017.  This timely webinar is designed for contractor personnel responsible for administering Federal government contracts with values > $150,000, containing FAR Clause 52.222-37, Employment Reports on Veterans, and for subcontracts where the contractor has flowed the clause down to the subcontractor.  The webinar is an excellent refresher for seasoned contract administrators and is ideal for new contractor personnel and for those who are being trained as back-ups or support personnel for contract administrators.  Click here to learn more about the VETS-4212 Reporting Webinar.

 

By Wayne Simpson

The post VETS-4212 Reporting Begins August 1, 2017 appeared first on Centre Law & Consulting.


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Centre Law & Consulting

 

Any contractor is frustrated when they fail to win a solicitation award.  Getting edged out on price by a few percentage points, receiving a low technical rating due to a misread proposal, or dealing with confusing evaluation criteria; all legitimate complaints. But imagine if your protest was not even considered, despite clear proof you sent it on time, as instructed.  That’s exactly what happened to Ghazan Neft Gas, for its proposal on a fixed-priced supply and delivery contract of fuel to the US Embassy in Afghanistan.

The solicitation instructed proposals to be sent via email, and Ghazan did just that on March 13th, well before the April 3rd deadline.  On April 8th, Ghazan inquired as to the status of its application, only to learn the Agency had not received the proposal. When Ghazan discovered the contract had been rewarded to another, it filed a protest with the GAO.

Ghazan provided screenshots and declarations showing the proposal was sent to the correct email address on March 13th. The original email was also forwarded from Ghazan’s sent folder.    The Agency simply denied receiving the document and that a review of its inbox and junk folders did not find the email.

The GAO sided with the Agency, stating it was Ghazan’s responsibility to ensure the Agency received the protest and also its burden to prove the delivery occurred. Given Ghazan could show they clearly did send the proposal electronically to the correct place, but still failed to meet the burden, contractors should expect that only written confirmation by the government agency would meet the test.

 

About the Author:

Tyler Freiberger Headshot | Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons, VA Tyler Freiberger
Associate Attorney

Tyler Freiberger is an associate attorney at Centre Law & Consulting primarily focusing on employment law and litigation. He has successfully litigated employment issues before the EEOC, MSPB, local counties human rights commissions, the United States D.C. District Court, Maryland District Court, and the Eastern District of Virginia.

The post Get a Receipt! appeared first on Centre Law & Consulting.


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On August 24, 2017, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) final rule amending the NASA Federal Acquisition Supplement by adding a policy on the use of “award terms” will take effect. Award terms are an incentive for contractors to go above and beyond a satisfactory performance to obtain an additional period of performance. Each award term cannot exceed one year in length, but is in addition to the base and option years.

The difference between exercising an option and an award term is that award terms require excellent performance, while exercising an option only requires acceptable performance. This provides contractors additional incentives to perform as best as possible. Both award terms and contract options can be used under the same contract.

Award terms will most likely be found in contracts that involve long term relationships and for service contracts valued at more than $20 million dollars.  In considering whether to use an award term, the government must weigh the administrative burden and cost of more frequent procurements versus market stability, technology advances, and the need for flexibility.  Contractors may be evaluated and earn an award term for their work in the base period, option periods, and even during earned award terms.  The requirements to provide an award term is that there must be an on-going need for the service, funds available, and the contractor must not be listed in the SAM Exclusions List.  An award term plan must also be included in all contracts that include award terms and contain the following information: evaluation factors, performance standards, adjectival ratings, weighting system, the evaluation period, and decision point timeframes. This rule has the potential to incentivize greater contractor performance on large service contracts.

The full final rule can be found here:

https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2017/07/25/2017-15520/nasa-federal-acquisition-regulation-supplement-award-term-nfs-case-2016-n027

 

About the Author

Colin Johnson | Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons VA Colin Johnson
Contracts Manager

Colin Johnson is a Contracts Manager who focuses on business development and federal contracts management. His expertise is in preparing quotes and responses for both government and commercial entities for training and legal support services.

The post Award Terms Now an Option at NASA appeared first on Centre Law & Consulting.


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Interim Final Rule Adopted as Final Rule Without Change

In the July 12, 2017, edition of the Federal Register, VA published its Final Rule implementing its revisions regarding the length of the eligibility period for inclusion in the VA Vendor Information Pages Database (VIP) (www.vip.vetbiz.gov).  This Final Rule implements an Interim Final Rule published in the Federal Register on February 21, 2017, extending the length of eligibility from two years to three years.  VA invited public comments on or before April 24, 2017.

VA’s Final Rule notice discusses comments received in response to its request for public comment, including comments requesting clarification as to whether currently verified SDVOSBs/VOSBs would be automatically extended.  VA indicates all verified firms in the VIP Database automatically had their eligibility term extended by one year.

The Final Rule notice also reiterates information contained in the February 21, 2017, where VA sets forth its rationale for extending the eligibility period for re-verification from two to three years.  VA expresses high confidence in the robust examination process conducted by its Center for Verification and Eligibility, citing Fiscal Year 2016 data to support this conclusion.  Moreover, the change reduces the administrative burden on SDVOSBs/VOSBs participating in the Veterans First Contracting Program at VA.

The post VA Adopts Final Rule for Veteran-Owned Small Business Verification Guidelines appeared first on Centre Law & Consulting.


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In a decision on July 10, 2017, the GAO found that an agency reasonably canceled its solicitation after a protest where the agency’s requirements were time dependent.

Tien Walker, a small business, protested the cancelation of the solicitation issued by the Department of State for public opinion polling surveys to be conducted in South Asia. Specifically, the selected contractor was to conduct two public opinion surveys in Afghanistan, with the first survey to be completed before the start of the Muslim observance of Ramadan. Before the solicitation’s closing time, Tien Walker filed a protest with the GAO alleging that the solicitation was unduly restrictive and not properly set aside for small businesses. In response, the Department of State notified that GAO that it had canceled the solicitation and would not resolicit the polling survey. The GAO then dismissed Tien Walker’s protest as academic.

Tien Walker has now protested the cancelation of the solicitation as improper. Specifically, Tien Walker argued that the Department of State unreasonably canceled the solicitation as a pretext to avoid the GAO’s review of its protest.

In denying the protest, the GAO noted that a contracting agency has broad discretion in deciding whether to cancel a solicitation. The GAO further noted that an agency need only establish a reasonable basis to support its decision to cancel a solicitation. Where a protester argues that the agency’s rational for cancellation of a solicitation is mere pretext, the GAO will nonetheless still examine the reasonableness of the agency’s actions.

The Department of State’s rationale for canceling the solicitation relied upon the required stay of contract award and performance due to Tien Walker’s initial protest. The agency further clarified that even if Tien Walker’s first protest was denied, no contractor would have been able to complete the first survey prior to Ramadan. Therefore, the GAO found that the agency’s rationale for canceling the solicitation was reasonable and was not a pretext to avoid awarding the contract on a competitive basis. As such, the GAO denied the protest.

 

About the Author:

Heather Mims | Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons VA Heather Mims
Associate Attorney

Heather Mims is an associate attorney at Centre Law & Consulting. Her practice is primarily focused on government contracts law, employment law, and litigation. Heather graduated magna cum laude from the George Mason School of Law where she was the Senior Research Editor for the Law Review and a Writing Fellow.

The post Agency Found to Have Reasonably Canceled Solicitation Due to Protest appeared first on Centre Law & Consulting.


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Centre Law & Consulting will be at NCMA World Congress in Chicago from July 23-26, 2017. A number of Centre’s staff have been invited to speak about various federal contracting topics (see below for the topics and times). Centre will also be exhibiting at booth 417.


Monday July 24

Corporate Ethics: Lead from the Top or Pay Through the Nose

A07 • Managing Contracting Organizations • Room 309/311 • Intermediate

David Warner, Partner, Centre Law & Consulting

This session will review recent enforcement actions—including whistleblower, qui tam, and debarment processes— with respect to federal contractors. Hear about the current state of the law concerning “hidden” ethical traps for import/export, ITAR/EAR, and TAA, in addition to the more common traps of the False Claims Act and Foreign Corrupt Practices. Corporate ethics are expected to remain a significant concern for contractors even under the new administration. Leave with guidance to understand the current legal landscape and to identify and mitigate such risk.

The Acquisition Profession’s Essential Tools: Principles of Interpretation

C11 · Foundational Contracting Training • Room 325 · Basic

Kenneth Allen, JD, Attorney and Consultant, Semi-Retired Academic
Barbara Kinosky, Esq., Managing Partner, Centre Law and Consulting

What’s in a word? Lots. Contract interpretation is one of the most important skill sets an acquisition professional can have. Attendees will explore the application of the principles of contract interpretation through real court cases and key federal exceptions.


Tuesday, July 25

Protests Happen, so Now What?

D12 · Foundational Contracting Training · Room 326 · Intermediate

James Phillips Jr, PMP, CFCM, Fellow, Acquisition Consultant, Phillips Training and Consulting Inc.
Barbara S. Kinosky, Esq., Managing Partner, Centre Law and Consulting

When the word protest is used often, both buyer and seller bristle. This presenter speculates on the thinking that the government buyer goes through that ultimately results in a decision that is sustained. Hear key decision points of actual sustained protests.
ACTIVITY: 8-10 short scenarios will be provided for group discussion.

Lessons Gleaned from Successful Protests at GAO

F05 · Business Acumen · Room 326 · Basic

Barbara S. Kinosky, Esq., Managing Partner, Centre Law and Consulting

What makes a protest successful and what can you do to avoid stalling your acquisition due to a protest? With the number of protests increasing, this session gives attendees clear guidance on practices to avoid that will lead to protest.
ACTIVITY: Small groups will discuss protest issues related to specific examples.


Wednesday, July 26

An Overview of GSA’s e-Tools – eOffer/eMod, SIP, TDR Sales Reporting

G15 · Leveraging Advancing Technology · Room 306 · Basic

Maureen Jamieson, Executive Director of Consulting, Centre Law and Consulting
Julia Coon, Consultant, Centre Law and Consulting

This session will show participants how to submit a GSA offer, modifications and other electronic forms such as the CSP-1 and Small Business Subcontracting Plan in eOffer/eMod. Walk through the SIP program and step-by-step instructions for the import/upload process for both products and services. Discussion will focus on GSA’s new Transactional Data Reporting (TDR)/FAS Sales Reporting and the anticipated Formatted Product Tool (FPT).

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In a first for the federal government, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin has announced that the VA will now publicly post all major disciplinary actions taken against its employees.  This includes all terminations, demotions, and suspensions of more than fourteen days. While the adverse action report does not include employees’ names, the list does and will continue to include the employee’s component, position, specific adverse action taken, date it took effect, and the employee’s region.

In explaining his decision, Shulkin stated: “Under this administration, VA is committed to becoming the most transparent organization in government.” He further added, “Together with the accountability bill the president signed into law recently, this additional step will continue to shine a light on the actions we’re taking to reform the culture at VA.”

The initial adverse action report was posted on the VA website on July 3, 2017 and dates back to January 20, 2017, the day Trump took office.  The report cites 743 disciplinary cases, of which 526 were removals. Interestingly, this would put the VA on pace to only fire 1,169 employees during Trump’s first year in office while the VA fired 2,575 workers in fiscal year 2016. The adverse action report will continue to be updated weekly.

In other federal government news, the Department of Homeland Security inspector general found that DHS has recently spent millions of dollars on a contract that did not meet its needs. In an OIG report released June 30, 2017, the IG found that, despite DHS spending $24.2 million as of February 2017, the performance and learning management system does not “achieve the intended benefits or address the Department’s needs.” The IG further specified that DHS spend more than $5.7 million for subscriptions to the system that either were unused or expired before the system became operational.

About the Author:

Heather Mims | Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons VA Heather Mims
Associate Attorney

Heather Mims is an associate attorney at Centre Law & Consulting. Her practice is primarily focused on government contracts law, employment law, and litigation. Heather graduated magna cum laude from the George Mason School of Law where she was the Senior Research Editor for the Law Review and a Writing Fellow.

The post VA to Publicly List all Disciplined or Fired Employees Plus How DHS Spent $24.2 Million on a System it Did Not Need appeared first on Centre Law & Consulting.


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In September of 2016, Aurotech Inc. won an award for a blanket purchase agreement with Health and Human Services, FDA. Discover Tech made a persuasive protest of that award, resulting in the FDA taking corrective action, and to reevaluate Aurotech’s and Discover Tech’s quotations. After the FDA revised its initial award, now choosing Discover Tech in the award determination, Aurotech filed an unsuccessful protest.

Aurotech challenged the Agency’s evaluation of how Discover Tech’s reductions to its quoted price would affect the technical and management approaches, and therefore its ratings. It also alleged Discover Tech did not explain in full how it had reduced its price from the first award determination. The GAO found the agency had reasonably evaluated the vendor’s explanation for the price reduction.  Specifically, that Discovery Tech’s new understanding of initial deadlines for the contract, allowed them to reduce labor costs without hurt quality.

Which brings us to the more interesting bid protest topic; when does a clarification become a discussion? Aurotech next alleged that the FDA held unequal exchanges with the two vendors.  Similar to Aurotech’s accusation Discovery Tech failed to explain its price reduction, the Agency was also curious of the price drop during its evaluation. The Agency contract specialist contacted Discovery Tech asking how the reduction in staffing could happen, without adjusting the technical quotation/management approach. Discover Tech explained its initial mistake evaluating deadlines which had caused the previous higher staff prediction.

The GAO considered this a clarification, or limited exchange used to resolve clerical mistakes. Aurotech obviously disagreed, calling this exchange an opportunity for Discovery Tech to cure a crucial failure in its proposal. The GAO was most persuaded by the fact no change to the proposal occurred.  Had the vender been allowed to modify its technical and management approach, the GAO would have considered this a discussion, requiring both parties to be involved. Given Aurotech was also asked for a clarification on a different subject, the GAO denied the bid on the ground the FDA treated the vendors unequally.

About the Author:

Tyler Freiberger Headshot | Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons, VA Tyler Freiberger
Associate Attorney

Tyler Freiberger is an associate attorney at Centre Law & Consulting primarily focusing on employment law and litigation. He has successfully litigated employment issues before the EEOC, MSPB, local counties human rights commissions, the United States D.C. District Court, Maryland District Court, and the Eastern District of Virginia.

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Bill Seeks to Limit Improper LPTA Use

Although Lowest-Price, Technically Acceptable (LPTA) procurements are conducted as part of the “best value” continuum, nothing seems to get the ire of industry up more than LPTA procurements, and the government’s seemingly ever-increasing use of the LPTA method.  Help may be on the way to curb the use of improper LPTA procurements in civilian departments.  The National Defense Authorization Act of 2017 already placed restrictions on use of LPTA procurements by the Department of Defense for procuring knowledge-based services.

Representative Mark Meadows introduced the “Promoting Value Based Procurement Act of 2017,” June 22, 2017.  The Bill, H.R. 3019, currently has three co-sponsors, all representatives from the Federal contractor-saturated Congressional Districts in Northern Virginia.

H.R. 3019 would amend the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) requiring Federal civilian departments and agencies to take additional steps when conducting LPTA procurements.

If enacted, H.R. 3019 will require Federal civilian departments and agencies, when it comes to an LPTA procurement, civilian agencies must:

  1. Describe the agency’s minimum requirements in terms of performance objectives, measures and standards to determine acceptability of LPTA offers.
  1. Articulate in solicitations there is no value in offering items/services which will exceed the technical and performance requirements.
  1. Require solicitation language stating technical approaches will require no subjective judgment by the source selection authority for one LPTA proposal over another.
  1. Require source selection authorities reviewing technical proposals have high confidence offers other than the lowest-priced offer would not result in the identifying factors which provide value or benefit to the contracting agency.
  1. Contracting officers must also document the contract file with a justification for use of the LPTA evaluation methodology.
  1. Determine use of LPTA reflects full life-cycle costs, to include costs for operation and support.

H.R. 3019 restricts use of LPTA for IT services, cybersecurity services, advanced electronic testing, systems engineering and technical assistance services, and other similar “knowledge-based” professional services.  Restrictions also apply to the use of LPTA procurement strategies for acquiring personal protective equipment, and knowledge-based training or logistics services in support of overseas contingency operations.

H.R. 3019 was referred to the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.  There is no related bill in the Senate at this time.

 

By Wayne Simpson

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The System for Award Management (SAM) is a system in which contractors must register in order to do business with the federal government. SAM was created to consolidate and eliminate some of the legacy systems. SAM’s goal is to consolidate a majority of the federal procurement systems into one user friendly system. The next phase for SAM modernization is due to be released in September 2017. The new beta.SAM.gov being released is the Office of the Integrated Award Environment’s (IAE) effort to consolidate the following ten IAE systems, listed here by functionality:

Entity Information: System for Award Management (SAM.gov) – Registrations and Exclusions

Contract Opportunities: Federal Business Opportunities (fbo.gov)

Contract Data: Federal Procurement Data System (fpds.gov)

Sub-Award Data: Electronic Subcontracting Reporting System (eSRS.gov), Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act Subaward Reporting System (fsrs.gov)

Wage Determinations: Wage Determinations OnLine (wdol.gov)

Past Performance: Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System (cpars.gov), Past Performance Information Retrieval System (ppirs.gov),  Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity Information System (fapiis.gov)

Assistance Listings: Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (cfda.gov)

IAE’s ultimate goal is to bring together the personnel who award, receive, and manage federal awards and assistance under one web site. The enhanced beta.SAM.gov will reduce reporting burdens, increase accountability and transparency in the award process, and improve data quality for both government and industry personnel. The new beta.SAM.gov will feature a Google-like search tool able to query data simultaneously from all ten combined systems or by filtering by the seven functionalities listed above. The new site will also feature a help desk as well as a cross mapping of the ten legacy systems to their new beta.SAM.gov functional area to better direct transitioning users to the information they need.

Migration of the ten systems to beta.SAM.gov will be incremental to allow incorporation of user feedback. The new beta.SAM.gov will run in parallel with the ten legacy systems, which will remain the authoritative sources, until testing is fully complete and the previous systems are decommissioned. Beta.SAM.gov will eventually inherit the SAM.gov domain. The following timeline presented by IAE reflects completion in late Fiscal Year 2020:

SAM-timeline.png

 

There can be multiple accounts affiliated with an entity in the new beta.SAM.gov. Users will need to create a new account and migrate their roles which will control privileges on the new site. Entities will be able to assign one or more administrators to manage site users’ associations with their entity and delegate roles on the new site.

Over 200 users, many of which are federal employees, are currently testing the alpha version of the new SAM.gov which began in December 2016. Focus groups will be held in July and August to provide input on the new beta.SAM.gov. If you are interested in participating in the focus groups, sign up information can be found on the Integrated Award Environment (IAE) Industry Community on GSA Interact at https://interact.gsa.gov/group/integrated-award-environment-iae-industry-community.

 

About the Author:

J. Moore
Consultant
J. Moore is a GSA and VA Contract Consultant at Centre Law & Consulting. She collaborates with the consulting team to provide proposal and contract management assistance to clients, focusing on various modification packages, market analysis, and catalog/pricing updates.

 

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Just in time for the consummate workaholic acquisition professional to read while lying on the beach this summer, and for those who never want to get too far away from the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), the General Services Administration (GSA) Office of Government-wide Policy, in conjunction with the FAR Council announced June 20, 2017, the release of the FAR in the Kindle Bookstore.

The FAR is now available in eBook format for free in the Amazon Kindle bookstore.  Users can highlight text, bookmark sections, even send quotes via e-mail.  According to Acquisition.Gov, the eBook format is proving very popular with procurement professionals with thousands of downloads in the Apple iBooks Store.

Information on how to download the FAR on Amazon Kindle and Apple iBooks is available at:  https://www.acquisition.gov/mobileaccess.

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Yes, Congress is doing more than learning “nyet” and other basic Russian.   The House of Representatives passed the Modernizing Government Technology Act of 2017 (the “MGT Act”) in record time.  The legislation is now in the Senate.  If enacted into law it would create funds for agencies to invest in new, innovative information technology solutions and replace aging legacy systems.  The bill establishes a $500 million central fund to support rapid IT modernization across 24 agencies. Better yet, this innovative legislation moves agencies away from the “spend it or lose it” budget mentality and actually rewards savers with leftover cash to spend in future years.  This is great legislation would create dependable funding for agencies to be able to prioritize IT modernization and move into the cloud and away from the previous century.

The legislation was introduced by Reps. Will Hurd (R-Texas), Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) in the House, and Sens. Tom  Udall (D-N.M.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) in the Senate.

https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/2227/related-bills

From the Washington Post.  Proposed legislation to allow the Veterans Administration (VA) to more easily terminate VA employees could be a sign of things to come at all federal agencies. The Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, may be signed into law soon.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2017/06/21/new-va-law-sets-stage-for-government-wide-cut-in-civil-service-protections/?utm_term=.74988474fdf4

Tell your Congressman/woman to support HR 3019 – Promoting Value Based Procurement Act of 2017. It prevents the use of lowest price technically acceptable contract awards (LPTA) for the acquisition of certain services in civilian agencies. It’s a giant step in the right direction. The bill is jointly sponsored by Rep Meadows (R NC) and Rep Beyer (D VA). You can track it on the link below.  https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/3019

About the Author

Barbara Kinosky Barbara Kinosky
Managing Partner

Barbara Kinosky has more than twenty-five years of experience in all aspects of federal government contracting and is a nationally known expert on GSA and VA Schedules and the Service Contract Act. She has a proven track record of solving complex issues for clients by providing strategic and business savvy advice. Barbara was named a top attorney for federal contracting by Smart CEO magazine in 2010, 2012, and 2015.

 

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On Thursday, June 29, 2017, Wayne Simpson will be testifying on behalf of the National Veterans Small Business Coalition (NVSBC), before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Veterans Affairs’, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

The subcommittee is holding a legislative hearing on four bills related to strengthening acquisitions at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). These bills include H.R. 2006, H.R. 2749, H.R. 2781, and another unnumbered bill currently in draft. The hearing is scheduled for 10:00 AM Eastern Time in Room 334 of the Cannon House Office Building.

FedBizAssist, L.L.C., is a supporting member of NVSBC. NVSBC is the largest not-for-profit organization of its kind representing America’s Veteran-owned small businesses to the Federal government, giving a collective voice to these businesses on legislative, regulatory, and policy issues affecting Federal procurement. NVSBC seeks to enhance procurement opportunities for veteran small business entrepreneurs engaged in, or seeking to enter the Federal Marketplace.

Please support America’s Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses and Veteran-Owned Small Businesses and legislation which enhances Federal procurement opportunities for these firms. Consider joining NVSBC and supporting its Communications Campaign.

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On August 29, 2016, the Air Force issued an RFP seeking base operations support services at an Air Force Base in Mississippi. The solicitation advised offerors that the agency would award the contract “to the proposal with the lowest evaluated price from among those proposals evaluated to be acceptable.” The RFP further stated that the technical evaluation team would evaluate the lowest-price offeror and then, as needed, evaluate higher priced offerors in order of price rank, to assign a rating of Acceptable or Unacceptable.

The protester, PAE, was found to be technically acceptable but had the second lowest price of all offerors and, thus, award was made to the lowest offeror. PAE subsequently filed a protest arguing that the agency performed an inadequate evaluation of unbalanced pricing and failed to evaluate the realism of offeror’s pricings.

In evaluating the protest, the GAO found that, absent a solicitation provision expressly or implicitly providing for a price realism evaluation, agencies are neither required nor permitted to conduct one in awarding a fixed-price contract. The GAO further found that, even though the solicitation required the agency to analyze whether the offerors’ prices were unbalanced, PAE failed to sufficiently allege that the awardee’s prices were overstated or unbalanced.

In dismissing the protest, the GAO found that PAE failed to allege a sufficient basis of protest because it had not alleged that the awardee’s prices were overstated or unbalanced and, thus, even where an agency acts in error, the GAO will not sustain a protest unless the protestor can show that it was prejudiced by the error. The GAO likewise found that PAE’s additional protest grounds, including failure to conduct meaningful discussions, were not a legally sufficient basis for a protest because the evaluation scheme challenged by PAE was not the type of deficiency required to be addressed during discussions.

About the Author:

Heather Mims | Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons VA Heather Mims
Associate Attorney

Heather Mims is an associate attorney at Centre Law & Consulting. Her practice is primarily focused on government contracts law, employment law, and litigation. Heather graduated magna cum laude from the George Mason School of Law where she was the Senior Research Editor for the Law Review and a Writing Fellow.

 

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In a decision publicly released on May 30, 2017, Alphaport Inc. – Reconsideration, B-414086.3 (May 23, 2017), the GAO denied a request for reconsideration regarding a nearly $25 million contract. The GAO originally denied Alphaport, Inc.’s bid protest challenging the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) award of a contract to Banner Quality Management, Inc. for technical support services.

The solicitation was awarded as a single cost-plus-fixed-fee contract based on best value, focusing on three evaluation factors: technical capability, cost/price, and relevant experience and past performance. Regarding the cost factor, the solicitation stated that evidence of an approved accounting system would be required for award of the contract. Evidence of the approved accounting system would be shown by submitting four specific documents.

Alphaport initially challenged the award to Banner by alleging that the solicitation contained a material requirement to submit certain documentation to demonstrate the acceptability of the offeror’s accounting system. Despite NASA finding Banner’s accounting system acceptable, Banner only submitted three of the four required documents. Alphaport sought reconsideration after the GAO determined that the agency’s evaluation and selection decision were reasonable and consistent with the terms of the solicitation.

Specifically, Alphaport argued that the GAO erroneously concluded that the agency’s evaluation was reasonable because the adequacy of an accounting system is generally a matter of responsibility. In denying the request for reconsideration, the GAO reminded Alphaport that its decision already addressed its allegation that the agency waived a material requirement of the solicitation when it concluded that the solicitation’s material requirement was for an acceptable accounting system rather than specific documentation. Indeed, the GAO noted that Alphaport did not actually challenge the adequacy of Banner’s accounting system but only that the agency did not comply with a material RFP requirement. The GAO found no error of law and instead found that Alphaport merely disagreed with its determination.

 

About the Author:

Heather Mims | Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons VA Heather Mims
Associate Attorney

Heather Mims is an associate attorney at Centre Law & Consulting. Her practice is primarily focused on government contracts law, employment law, and litigation. Heather graduated magna cum laude from the George Mason School of Law where she was the Senior Research Editor for the Law Review and a Writing Fellow.

 

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On May 17, 2017, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) published a proposed rule in the Federal Register to revise and streamline the VA Acquisition Regulation (VAAR).  Public comments are invited and must be submitted no later than July 17, 2017, to be considered in formulating the Final Rule.  Codified acquisition regulations may only be amended and revised through formal rulemaking under the Office of Federal Procurement Policy Act.  For ease of reference, information on how to submit comments appears at the end of this post.

Summary

VA is proposing to revise, streamline, and update its acquisition regulation, whereby all parts of the VAAR will be reviewed in phased increments to revise or remove any policy superseded by changes in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), to remove any procedural guidance internal to VA, and to incorporate any new regulations or policies.

According to VA, the proposed rule will correct inconsistencies, remove redundant and duplicative material covered by the FAR, deleted outdated material and information, and appropriately renumber VAAR text, clauses and provisions where required, to comport with the FAR format numbering and arrangement.  The Proposed Rule is intended to streamline the VAAR to implement and supplement the FAR only when required, and remove internal agency guidance in keeping with the FAR principles concerning agency acquisition regulations.

A VAAR Section-by-Section Synopsis of Changes Covered by the Proposed Rule is attached.

How to Submit Written Comments:

Written comments may be submitted through www.Regulations.gov; by mail or hand-delivery to Director, Regulation Policy and Management (00REG), Department of Veterans Affairs, 810 Vermont Avenue NW., Room 1068, Washington, DC 20420; or by fax to (202) 273-9026. Comments should indicate that they are submitted in response to “RIN 2900-AP50—Revise and Streamline VA Acquisition Regulation to Adhere to Federal Acquisition Regulation Principles (VAAR Case 2014-V001—parts 801, 802, 803, 812, 814, 822, and 852).” Copies of comments received will be available for public inspection in the Office of Regulation Policy and Management, Room 1068, between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday (except holidays). Please call (202) 461-4902 for an appointment. This is not a toll-free number. In addition, during the comment period, comments may be viewed online through the Federal Docket Management System (FDMS) at www.Regulations.gov.

VAAR Section-by-Section Synopsis of Changes Covered by the Proposed Rule:

VAAR Part 801 – Department of Veterans Affairs Acquisition Regulation System

  • Removes an information collection burden previously included in the VAAR based on an outdated practice of providing bid envelopes.

VAAR Part 802 – Definition of Words and Terms

  • Adds two new definitions to define key terms used within the revised VAAR Part 803, Improper Business Practices and Personal Conflicts of Interest, dealing with debarment and suspensions which will be applicable when referenced in the future in other VAAR Parts: Debarment and Suspension Committee; and Suspension and Debarring Official.

VAAR Part 803 – Improper Business Practices and Personal Conflicts of Interest

  • Proposes clarifying language regarding the prohibition of contracts from making reference in their commercial advertising regarding VA contracts to avoid implying the government approves or endorses the contractor’s products, services, or commercial line of endeavor.
  • Proposes removal and reserves for future use, VAAR Subpart 803.1, Safeguards, and VAAR Section 803.101, Standards of Conduct, since it contains procedural guidance and a delegation of authority internal to VA and will be in the VA Acquisition Manual (VAAM).
  • The Proposed Rule removes Section 803.101-3, Department Regulations, since it contains information on standards of conduct and financial disclosure for VA employees and is internal procedural guidance internal to VA and will be in the VAAM.
  • VA’s Proposed Rule will remove Section 803.104, Procurement Integrity, and Section 803.104-7, Violations or possible violations, since they contain procedural guidance and a delegation of authority is internal to VA and will be in the VAAM.
  • In Subpart 803.2, Contractor Gratuities to Government Personnel, VA proposes to update its policy governing improper business practices and personal conflicts of interests to make VA’s policies clear, to provide notice of due process rights and to establish who in VA determines whether or not a violation of the Gratuities clause has occurred and what procedures are followed when the Suspension and Debarring Official (SDO) makes that decision.
  • In Section 803.204, VA’s Proposed Rule removes portions of Section 803.204, Treatment of violations, which contain procedural guidance and a delegation of authority internal to VA and will be moved to the VAAM. To ensure VA contractors are apprised of their rights, VA proposes to revise Section 803.204 to add the responsibility of the SDO for determining whether or not a violation of the Gratuities clauses has occurred and what action will be taken, as well as a paragraph stating that when the SDO determines a violation has occurred and debarment is being considered, the SDO shall follow the requirements at VAAR 809.406-3.
  • In Subpart 803.3, Reports of Suspected Antitrust Violations, VA proposes to remove Section 803.303, Reporting suspected antitrust violations, since it contains guidance to VA employees internal to VA and will be moved to the VAAM.
  • In Subpart 803.4, Contingent Fees, VA’s Proposed Rule removes and reserves the entire subpart and to remove the underlying Section 803.405, Misrepresentations or Violations of the Covenant Against Contingent Fees, since it contains guidance to VA employees internal to VA and will be moved to the VAAM.
  • In Subpart 803.5, Other Improper Business Practices, VA proposes to remove Section 803.502, Subcontractor Kickbacks, since it provides direction to VA employees and is internal VA and will be moved to the VAAM.
  • In Section 803.570, Commercial advertising, VA’s Proposed Rule revises the language of Subsection 803.570-1, Policy, to clarify the intent to prohibit advertising which implies a Government endorsement of the contractor’s products or services.
  • In Subpart 803.6, Contracts with Government Employees or Organizations Owned or Controlled by Them, VA is proposing to remove and reserve the entire subpart and to remove the underlying Section 803.602, Exceptions, since it delegates authority to authorize an exception to the policy in FAR 3.601. This delegation will be moved to the VAAM.
  • In Subpart 803.7, Voiding and Rescinding Contracts, VA proposes to remove and reserve the entire subpart and to remove the underlying sections. VA further proposes to remove Section 803.703, Authority, since it is a delegation of authority, internal to VA, moving the delegation to the VAAM.  VA also proposes to remove Section 803.705, Procedures, as it duplicates FAR 3.705.  A short paragraph directing VA Heads of Contracting Activities to follow the procedures of FAR 3.705 was added to the VAAM.
  • In Subpart 803.8, Limitation on the Payment of Funds to Influence Federal Transactions, VA’s Proposed Rule removes and reserves the entire subpart and to remove the underlying sections. VA also propose to remove Section 803.804, Policy, and Section 803.806, Processing Suspected Violations, all internal VA procedural guidance being moved to the VAAM.
  • VA further proposes to add Subpart 803.11, Preventing Personal Conflicts of Interest for Contractor Employees Performing Acquisition Functions. This implements part of FAR Clause 52.203-16, Preventing Personal Conflicts of Interest, by requiring the signing of a Non-Disclosure Agreement by certain contractor covered employees performing acquisition functions closely associated with inherently governmental functions in order to prohibit disclosure of non-public information accessed through performance on a Government contract. This will also each contractor and subcontractor at any tier whose employees perform acquisition functions closely associated with inherently governmental functions to obtain the signed non-disclosure forms from each covered employee.
  • The Proposed Rule also removes and reserves subpart 803.70, Contractor Responsibility to Avoid Improper Business Practices, and to remove its underlying Section 803.7000, Display of the VA Hotline Poster and its prescription at section 803.7001, Contract clause, because it is unnecessary and duplicates FAR coverage. FAR 52.203-14, Display of Hotline Poster(s), as prescribed at FAR 3.1004(b), which provides adequate coverage for VA. VA internal procedures regarding fill-in information for the clause will be covered in the VAAM.

VAAR Part 812 – Acquisition of Commercial Items

  • VAAR Section 812.301, paragraph (b)(13), VA proposes to change the name of provision at VAAR 852.214-74 to Marking of Bid Samples to better reflect the requirement of the provision.

VAAR Part 814 – Sealed Bidding

  • VA proposes to delete VAAR Subpart 814.1, Sealed Bidding, in its entirety. The Proposed Rule also deletes Sections 814.104, Types of Contracts, and Section 814.104-70, Fixed-Price Contracts with Escalation, as unnecessary since both simply require compliance with FAR 16.303-1 through 16.203-4.  Ergo, no additional VAAR text is required.
  • VA also proposes to revise Section 814.201(a)-(f) by removing paragraphs (a)-(b) since they deal with numbering of Invitations for Bids (IFBs) and consist of internal agency procedures more properly covered in Subpart 804-16 of the VAAM.
  • The Proposed Rule adds a new Subsection, 814.201-2, Part I—The Schedule, to explain how award will be made on summary bids and bids on groups of items to ensure this is clear to the public.
  • In Subsection 814.201-6, Solicitation Provisions, VA proposes to remove as unnecessary paragraph (a), which addresses bid envelopes, since labeling of bids is a customary and usual commercial practice, and the use of the Optional Form (OF) 17, which is optional, and is no longer a standard practice.
  • The Proposed Rule proposes to redesignate paragraph (b) as (a) and to revise item (1) to prescribe new Provision 852.214-71, Restrictions on Alternate Item(s); item (2) to clarify the conditions for including the VAAR Provision 852.214-72, Alternate Items; and item (3) to prescribe the VAAR Provision 852.214-73, Alternate Packaging and Packing, when bids will be allowed based on different packaging and packing. VA also proposes to redesignate paragraph (c) as (b) and to add a prescription for VAAR Provision 852.214-74, Marking of Bid Samples.
  • The Proposed Rule adds Section 814.202, General rules for solicitation of bids and Subsection 814.202-4, Bid samples, requiring samples to be from the manufacturer providing supplies or services under the contract. This ensures the products that are actually proposed and would be delivered under the contract, if awarded, are the products submitted for evaluation.  Paragraph (g), requires bid samples be retained for the period of contract performance or until settlement of any claim the Government may have against the contractor.  Retention is intended for inspection purposes under FAR 14.202-4(g)(4).
  • The Proposed Rule deletes Section 814.203, Methods of Soliciting Bids, and Subsection 814.203-1, Transmittal to Prospective Bidders, as the practice specified of furnishing a bid envelope or sealed bid label is out of date with existing practices.
  • VA proposes to delete Section 814.204, Records of Invitations for Bids and Records of Bids, as it contains instructions internal to VA and will be moved to the VAAM.
  • The Proposed Rule also deletes Section 814.208, Amendment of Invitation for Bids as out-of-date with existing practices regarding sending amendments.
  • In Subpart 814.3, Submission of Bids, VA proposes to delete Section 814.301, Responsiveness of Bids, since there is no authority to refer the question of timeliness to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) except in the context of a protest.
  • The Proposed Rule also deletes Section 814.302, Bid submission, as duplicative of FAR 14.302(a) and therefore unnecessary.
  • VA proposes to revise Section 814.304, Submission, Modification, and Withdrawal of Bids, to delete internal procedures, to stipulate a limited time period for a late bidder to submit evidence of timeliness, and to renumber this paragraph (f) accordingly to comport with FAR and VAAR numbering conventions.
  • In subpart 814.4, Opening of Bids and Award of Contract, VA proposes to delete the entire subpart because the information is either redundant to the FAR and is adequately covered there or it is comprised of agency internal procedures to be incorporated into the VAAM, as noted specifically below.
  • VA proposes to delete Section 814.401, Receipt and Safeguarding of Bids, because coverage in the VAAR is unnecessary as the FAR adequately covers.
  • The Proposed Rule also deletes Sections 814.402, Opening of Bids; 814.403, Recording of Bids; 814.404, Rejection of Bids; 814.404-1, Cancellation of Invitations After Opening; 814.404-2, Rejection of Individual Bids; 814.407, Mistakes in Bids; 814.407-3, Other Mistakes Disclosed Before Award; and, 814.407-4, Mistakes After Award, as these are VA internal procedures and will be incorporated into the VAAM.
  • VA also proposes to delete Section 814.404-70, Questions Involving the Responsiveness of a Bid, as there is no authority to refer questions of bid responsiveness to the GAO other than in the context of a protest, and, the overall responsibility for this determination rests with the contracting officer. Coverage in FAR 14.301, Responsiveness of Bids, is adequate and no further VAAR coverage is required.
  • The Proposed Rule deletes Sections 814.408, Award, and 814.408-70, Award When Only One Bid is Received, because coverage in the VAAR is unnecessary as it is adequately covered by FAR 14.408-1(b).
  • VA proposes to delete Section 814.408-71, Recommendation for Award (Construction) as these procedures are no longer in use within VA’s Office of Construction and Facilities Management.
  • VA’s Proposed Rule also deletes Section 814.409, Information to Bidders, as unnecessary since the requirement not to disclose is contained in FAR part 3 and need not be duplicated in the VAAR.

VAAR Part 822 – Application of Labor Laws to Government Acquisitions

  • In Subpart 822.3, Contract Work Hours and Safety Standards Act, VA proposes revisions to Section 822.304, Variations, Tolerances, and Exemptions, to use plain language to state the conditions which must be met to permit use of the variation to Contract Work Hours and Safety Standards (the statute) (historically known as the Contract Work Hours and Safety Standards Act), granted by the Secretary of Labor regarding the payment of overtime under contracts for nursing home care for Veterans.
  • VA also proposes revisions to Section 822.305, Contract Clause, to change the title of the Cause at VAAR 852.222-70 to Contract Work Hours and Safety Standards—Nursing Home Care for Veterans, in order to reflect the way the FAR refers to the historical titles based on the Positive Law codification.
  • In Subpart 822.4, Labor Standards for Contracts Involving Construction, VA’s proposed revisions will remove and reserve Subpart 822.4, Labor Standards for Contracts Involving Construction, since this subpart contains procedural guidance on the types of labor standards involved in construction contracting, internal to VA and more appropriate for inclusion in the VAAM.
  • The Proposed Rule also removes the underlying Section 822.406, Administration and Enforcement and Subsection 822.406-11, Contract Terminations, which falls under this subpart since it contains procedural guidance and will be moved to the VAAM.

VAAR Part 852 – Solicitation Provisions and Contract Clauses

  • VA’s Proposed Rule revises VAAR Clause 852.203-70, Commercial Advertising, to use plain language, remove gender-specific wording, and to clarify the intent to prohibit advertising which implies a Government endorsement of the contractor’s products or services.
  • The Proposed Rule removes VAAR Clause 852.203-71, Display of Department of Veterans Affairs Hotline Poster, because VA will instead use FAR Clause 52.203-14, Display of Hotline Poster(s), as prescribed at FAR 3.1004. The FAR clause permits insertion of fill-in language to identify an agency’s hotline poster and VA will include language in its internal agency procedures detailing the requirement to insert the information regarding its agency specific hotline poster.
  • The Proposed Rule also removes VAAR Provision 852.214-70, Caution to Bidders—Bid Envelopes, because the practices described within the provision are obsolete with the advent of posting on the Government-wide point of entry (GPE) via the Federal Business Opportunities (govor FBO.gov) Web page or via a linked interface off of FBO.gov.   VA no longer issues Bid Envelopes or OF 17, Sealed Bid Label, described in the provision, when electronically posting IFBs, thus making the provision obsolete and unnecessary.
  • VA’s Proposed Rule also revises the individual prescription references for the following clauses based on the restructuring of 814.201-6: 214-71, Restrictions on Alternate Item(s); 852.214-72, Alternate Item(s); and 852.214-73, Alternate Packaging and Packing.  The Proposed Rule further revises the title, text and prescription language of VAAR Provision 852.214-74 which now reads, Bid Samples, to Marking of Bid Samples to describe better what the provision is about and to distinguish it from a FAR provision called “Bid Samples.”  VA uses plain language to describe the principal purpose, which is to ensure bidder’s packages including bid samples are clearly marked and identified with the words Bid Samples, as well as complete lettering/numbering and description of the related bid item(s), the number of the IFB, and the name of the bidder submitting the bid samples.
  • VA’s Proposed Rule also removes language stating the preparation and transportation of the bid sample must be prepaid by the bidder as this language is unnecessary because FAR Clause 52.214-20, Bid Samples, already contains language covering the bidder’s responsibilities in this regard. Further, the prescription language for VAAR Provision at 814.201-6(b) which was renumbered to comport with FAR and VAAR numbering and arrangement will also be revised.
  • Lastly, VA’s Proposed Rule revises VAAR Clause 852.222-70, Contract Work-Hours and Safety Standards Act—Nursing Home Care Contract Supplement, to change the title to Contract Work Hours and Safety Standards—Nursing Home Care for Veterans, to better reflect the substance and coverage of the clause and to align the name of the clause with the revised current reference in lieu of the historical title of the act. This revision will also clarify the clause has flow-down requirements and applies to subcontractors at any tier when the stated conditions in the VAAR clause are met.

The Proposed Rule may be viewed in its entirety in the Federal Register by clicking here.

 

About the Author:

Wayne Simpson | Centre Law & Consulting Wayne Simpson
Consultant

Wayne Simpson is a seasoned former Federal executive and acquisition professional who is also a highly-motivated and demonstrative small business advocate, with nearly 38 years of Federal Civilian Service with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and its predecessor organization, the Veterans Administration.

 

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On April 18, 2017, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) published a proposed rule in the Federal Register to amend its regulations to adopt and incorporate the U.S Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) revisions for 2017, identified as “NAICS 2017.”  SBA proposes to adopt the updated table of size standards effective October 1, 2017, to coincide with beginning of the government’s next fiscal year.

NAICS 2017 creates 21 new industries by reclassifying, combining or splitting 29 existing industries under changes made in “NAICS 2012.”

SBA’s proposed size standards for the 21 new industries have resulted in an increase in size standards for six NAICS 2012 industries and part of one, a decrease to size standards for two, a change in the size standards measure from average gross annual receipts to average number of employees for one industry.  There are no changes for 20 industries and part of one.

SBA included six tables in its proposed rule showing the changes, which occur in the following NAICS Sectors:  21, Mining; 33, Manufacturing; 45, Retail Trade; 51, Information; 53, Real Estate and Rental Leasing; 54, Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services; and 72, Accommodation and Food Services.  We recommend consulting these tables if your business is engaged in one of these NAICS Sectors to determine if your business is impacted by the changes.

A note to large business prime contractors with Small Business Subcontracting Plans:  These changes could also impact the size status of your suppliers and subcontractors which may impact your ability to meet your Small Business Subcontracting Goals.

Why are NAICS Codes Important to Federal Contractors?

NAICS classifies business establishments for the purpose of collecting, analyzing, and publishing statistical data related to the U.S. economy.  NAICS Industry Codes define establishments based on the activities in which they are primarily engaged.

NAICS Codes are important in the conduct of U.S. Government procurements, as a NAICS Code is assigned to each procurement by the procuring contracting officer.  NAICS Codes have a size standard assigned by SBA which will determine whether a business is small or other than small (large) business in response to a government procurement.  Companies may be a small business under one NAICS Code, and other than small (large) business under another.  Click here to view SBA’s Size Standards Table, updated February 26, 2016.

The corresponding size standard to a NAICS Code assigned by the contracting officer to a government procurement is especially important when the procurement is conducted using a set-aside for small business, as it will determine a company’s eligibility to participate under a small business set-aside.

More Information on NAICS Codes

Visit the U.S Census Bureau’s North American Industry Classification System website where you can use their useful tool to search NAICS by key word, sector, or NAICS Code:

https://www.census.gov/eos/www/naics/

 

About the Author:

Wayne Simpson | Centre Law & Consulting Wayne Simpson
Consultant

Wayne Simpson is a seasoned former Federal executive and acquisition professional who is also a highly-motivated and demonstrative small business advocate, with nearly 38 years of Federal Civilian Service with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and its predecessor organization, the Veterans Administration.

 

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Small Business Contracting Goals for “Manageable Spend”

On May 25, 2017, with only 128 days remaining in Fiscal Year 2017, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs issued VA’s Fiscal Year 2017 small business goals.  This is actually an improvement over when the Fiscal Year 2014 goals were issued with only 38 days remaining in the fiscal year.  Fiscal Year 2014 was the last time the Secretary of Veterans Affairs issued a Small Business Goaling Memorandum.

In response to a May 24, 2017, Freedom of Information Act request for VA’s Fiscal Year 2015, 2016, and 2017 Secretary of Veterans Affairs Goaling Memorandums, VA provided a copy of the Fiscal Year 2017 Secretary’s Goaling Memorandum, along with a no responsive records response for copies of the Fiscal Year 2015 and Fiscal Year 2016 Secretary’s Small Business Goaling Memorandums.  A no responsive records response can only mean the VA Secretary did not issue the annual goaling memorandum for those years.

VA’s Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization, an organizational element of the Office of the Secretary, is responsible for preparing and coordinating the Secretary’s annual small business goaling memorandum.  It appears this was not done for Fiscal Years 2015 and 2016.

The VA Secretary’s Fiscal Year 2017 Small Business Goaling Memorandum makes it official:  VA’s department-wide goals for Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) and Veteran-Owned Small Business (VOSB) remain at 10% and 12%, respectively.  These goals have been flatlined since Fiscal Year 2010, despite VA substantially exceeding the goals each year.

Interestingly, the VA Secretary’s Fiscal Year 2017 Small Business Goaling discusses a Fiscal Year 2016 piloted effort to concentrate on spend areas where active goals management is most likely to produce results.  VA identified “manageable spend” areas based on VA-funded contract actions, but excluded major health care contracts, large-dollar major construction actions, and mandatory domestic delivery service contracts under the Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative.  Since no goaling memorandum was issued by the Secretary in Fiscal Year 2016, it is unlikely many people outside VA would have known of this change.

VA’s Fiscal Year 2017 Small Business Goals are established at the statutory level for Women-Owned Small Business (5%), Small Disadvantaged Business (5%), and HUBZone Small Business (3%).  VA’s Small Business goal was reduced from 32% last fiscal year, to 28.5% for Fiscal Year 2017.  The Secretary’s memorandum also establishes VA’s Fiscal 2017 subcontracting goals.

VA decreased its small business subcontracting goal from 17.5% to 17.0%, while increasing the goals for Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business and Veteran-Owned Small Business by 2%, from 5% and 3%, respectively, to 7% and 5% respectively.

About the Author:

Wayne Simpson | Centre Law & Consulting Wayne Simpson
Consultant

Wayne Simpson is a seasoned former Federal executive and acquisition professional who is also a highly-motivated and demonstrative small business advocate, with nearly 38 years of Federal Civilian Service with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and its predecessor organization, the Veterans Administration.

 

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Employees are expensive. It’s little surprise market forces incentivize companies to search for a way to get the same work out of people without paying for holidays, accommodating disabilities, and paying overtime, among countless other requirements. Imagine if you could save all this money within the law and avoid the risk of employment discrimination lawsuits. With all these savings your company could lower the price of your services/goods and edge out the competition. Figure out how to replace the lion’s share of your workforce as independent contractors and you could be living the dream, right?

Well, if your current company is currently staffed entirely by “independent contractors,” then madam/sir I am happy to meet with you to discuss both your unique staffing model and your likely immediate need for outside legal services.  Very rare is the government contractor that truly has “no employees” (though we’ve seen a few try).

That said, statistics show that there are currently an estimated 40 million independent contractors in America.  Clearly not everyone who takes money from you in exchange for a service should be called your employee. But where is the line between my contracting with a freelance plumber and a commercial company drawing billions in revenue from hundreds of thousands of its drivers? As we’ve discussed in prior blog posts, the government contracts industry is rife with the use (and abuse) of independent contractor status; and federal regulators have been tightening the screws on the use of the status.  This past year, arguably more than ever, the courts and legislators across the country are wrestling with the employee/independent contractor distinction with messy results.

Federal courts have increasingly grown skeptical of massive independent contractor agreements but don’t seem sure how to address it given the long precedent defining the relationship. One way is to decrease the incentives of an independent contractor relationship like the 1st Circuit recently did in Oliveira v. New Prime, Inc., restricting the use of mandatory arbitration agreements on independent contractors. In California, the court forced an extra $15 million out of Lyft in a settlement agreement designed to avoid the costly test of their independent contractor classification.

Coast to coast, states are trying to get a handle on independent contractors too. New York’s recent “Freelance Isn’t Free Act” requires that all entities that engage a freelance worker for $800 or more in services execute a written agreement. Where Nevada is attempting to tackle the problem industry by industry rather than with general rules.  Not everyone wants to put breaks on the independent contractor train though. Alaska and Florida have more clearly defined boundaries in favor independent contracting status, though it may just add problems for employers still wrestling with federal regulations on the same issues.

Perhaps the most hopeful part of the confused situation, is this wide variation in responses. There will certainly continue to be growing pains as the legal standards develop, but the unique effects of these policies may offer a chance to evaluate which can keep independent contractor status alive and appropriately limited.

 

About the Author:

Tyler Freiberger Headshot | Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons, VA Tyler Freiberger
Associate Attorney

Tyler Freiberger is an associate attorney at Centre Law & Consulting primarily focusing on employment law and litigation. He has successfully litigated employment issues before the EEOC, MSPB, local counties human rights commissions, the United States D.C. District Court, Maryland District Court, and the Eastern District of Virginia.

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