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Centre Law & Consulting

One DOE Procurement Produced 24 Protests and a Request for Reconsideration | Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons, VA
 
On March 31, 2017, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a press release concerning a bid protest decision that resolved seventeen protests, which challenged the award of contracts by the Department of Education (DOE) for student loan debt collection services.

On March 27, 2017, the GAO sustained several of the protests in part, finding that DOE made several prejudicial errors in evaluating the proposals, which led it to making unreasonable source selection decisions. The GAO recommended that the DOE reevaluate proposals and make new source selection decisions. The decision itself was issued under a protective order – hence the press release – because the decision may contain proprietary or source selection sensitive information.

While the decision regarding the seventeen protests discussed above is still not publicly available, on April 6, 2017, the GAO issued a decision in which it declined to reconsider the protests decision. Two intervenors who had received awards in the original procurement filed “motions to vacate” asking that the GAO reconsider and rescind its decision issued on March 27, 2017.

This denial of reconsideration gives us a little bit more background into the procurement. The GAO notes in its decision that between December 19, 2016 and January 9, 2017, it received twenty-four protests relating to the DOE procurement. The GAO dismissed five for various procedural or pleading deficiencies. Of the remaining nineteen, seventeen of those were consolidated as they raised several common challenges to the agency’s evaluation of proposals and ultimate award decisions. Those seventeen were decided in the above referenced protected decision. The remaining protests were withdrawn and are currently being pursued at the Court of Federal Claims. Notice of intent to file at the Court was filed by the protestor at the Court of Federal Claims on March 24, and the GAO was notified on March 28 that the protestor was withdrawing its protest.

In their request for reconsideration, the two intervenors sought to nullify the GAO’s decision sustaining the protests based on the March 24 pre-filing notice arguing that the notice had the immediate and automatic effect of divesting the GAO of jurisdiction under 4 C.F.R. § 21.11(b). In denying the request, the GAO noted that it was not actually provided notice until March 28 when the protester withdrew its protest, which was one day after it issued its decision on March 27. Furthermore, this particular protest was not among the seventeen consolidated protests that the GAO decided in the March 27 decision. Finally, the GAO noted that the mere fact that a notice of intent to file a complaint was filed does not automatically divest the GAO of jurisdiction but rather triggers the requirement for it to consider whether dismissal is required under 4 C.F.R. § 21.11(b). Specifically, (b) only requires dismissal where the GAO determines that the subject matter of the protest is before a court of competent jurisdiction. Therefore, all things considered, the GAO dismissed the requests for reconsideration.

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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Effective July 1, 2016, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) began using its new scheduling letter for compliance evaluations.

One of the most significant changes in the form document relates to the agency’s use of data and information submitted by contractors. The “old” letter stated:

Rest assured that OFCCP considers the information you provide in response to this Scheduling Letter as sensitive and confidential. Therefore, any disclosures we may make will be consistent with the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.”

In contrast, the new letter states:

Please also be aware that OFCCP may use the information you provide during a compliance evaluation in an enforcement action. We may also share that information with other enforcement agencies within DOL, as well as with other federal civil rights enforcement agencies with which we have information sharing agreements.”

The National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) issuance of its memorandum on July 1, 2016 concerning the collection of information regarding labor law violations per the “Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces” Executive Order must be purely coincidental, no? (OM 16-23)

“Interesting times ahead,” contractors.

About the Author:

David Warner | Centre Law & Consulting David Warner
Partner

David Warner is a seasoned counselor in the resolution and litigation of complex employment and business disputes. His practice is focused on the government contractor, nonprofit, and hospitality industries. David has extensive experience representing contractors in affirmative action, Davis-Bacon Act, and Service Contract Act compliance audits. He also represents businesses with regard to wage and hour compliance, DOL audits, and litigation.

 

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Of Mistletoe and Employee Misclassification | Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons, VA
 
Earlier this week, a U.S. Department of Labor webpage dedicated to the issue of employee misclassification went live. Just in time for the holidays!

While much ink has been spilled in recent weeks regarding potential changes of direction at the DOL in a Trump Administration, the new webpage suggests that the agency will continue to view the abuse of independent contractor status as an enforcement priority for the foreseeable future. The new page does not provide any novel substantive content, but it does bring together at a single location a wealth of information in what the DOL self-describes (accurately, one must admit) as a “user-friendly webpage where workers, employers, and government agencies can find information and resources.”

For example, some of the substantive topics appearing on the “Pay and Misclassification” page include:

It is clear that the webpage is intended to arm individuals with the information and tools needed to understand the boundaries of independent contractor/employee status as well as the rights appurtenant to such status.

Given the widespread use (and abuse) of independent contractor arrangements in the government contracts industry, contractors would be well counseled to review their current 1099s to ensure that the status can withstand scrutiny as this issue is unlikely to move to the backburner, even with new leadership coming onto the scene in early 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.

 

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Bid Protests: No Completed PPQs? No Contract. | Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons, VA
 
Last month, in Genesis Design and Development, Inc., B-414254 (Feb. 28, 2017), the Government Accountability Office (GAO) denied a protest challenging the rejection of a proposal where the contractor had failed to provide three past performance questionnaires (PPQs) completed by previous customers.

In its proposal, Genesis provided PPQs that provided customer contact information but which did not contain substantive responses from the previous customers. The company argued that it submitted PPQs containing information identifying its past clients and that it reasonably anticipated that the agency would seek the required information directly from its clients. Genesis also suggested that it can be difficult to obtain such information from its clients because they often are too busy to respond in the absence of an inquiry directly from the acquiring activity, and the company noted that, in previous cases, agencies had sought out such information.

The GAO was unmoved, holding that the RFP specifically required offerors to submit completed PPQs and that Genesis’s submission did not comply with the express requirements. Given that the RFP also provided that failure to supply required documentation – including PPQs – could result in a proposal’s elimination from consideration, the agency’s rejection of Genesis’s proposal was reasonable.

While PPQs can often place offerors in the uncomfortable position of needing to rely on prior COs who are under no obligation to respond or respond in a timely manner, the Genesis decision makes clear that failure to submit completed PPQs can preclude consideration for contract award.

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.

 

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No April Fools Joke: GSA Refresh/Mass Mods Are Coming | Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons, VA
 
The General Services Administration (GSA) Federal Acquisition Service (FAS) is planning to refresh ALL Multiple Award Schedules (MAS). The purpose of the refresh is to incorporate provision and clause changes into MAS solicitations and contracts. Be on the lookout for updates tentatively planned for April 2017.

Major changes to the Small Business Subcontracting Plan will be included in these Refreshes/Mass Mods that will impact both large and small businesses. Look for changes in the Model Subcontracting Plan that reflect additional requirements. These changes were effective November 1, 2016 when DoD, GSA, and NASA issued a final rule amending the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) to implement changes made by the Small Business Administration.

Key changes of the refresh and mass modifications are as follows:

Small Business Subcontracting Plans:

Large Business Prime Contractors Must:

  • Make good faith efforts to utilize their small business subcontractors during the contract term to the same degree the prime contractor relied on the small business in preparing and submitting its bid or proposal
  • Resubmit a revised subcontracting report within 30 days of receipt of a notice of report rejection
  • Assign North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes to subcontracts
  • Not prohibit discussion of payment or utilization matters between a subcontractor and the contracting officer
  • Report order level subcontracting information if prime has a subcontracting plan on task and delivery order contracts after November 2017*

Contracting Officers May:

  • Require a subcontracting plan after a small business re-represents its size as other than small
  • Necessitate subcontracting goal calculation in terms of total contract dollars** as well as in terms of total subcontracted dollars

Updates to Non-Federal Entities Purchasing off Federal Supply Schedules (FSS):

  • The State/Local Disaster Purchasing Program*** extends to cover disaster preparation and response as well as recovery from major disasters
  • Access extends to certain qualifying organizations including the American National Red Cross and National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster

Revisions to I-FSS-600 Contract Price Lists:

  • Requirement for submission of contractor’s electronic files is updated to no later than 30 days after award

Other Changes:

  • Removal of Pathway to Success training requirement for streamlined (Successful Legacy) offers
  • Updated Service Contract Labor Standards Act (SCLS) Wage Determinations (WDs) to be added to all schedules
    • Contractors to ensure pricing and WD references are updated and included in SCA matrix

 
For the latest proposed draft updates, see more on GSA Interact.
 

* Requirement date may be extended as updates to the Electronic Subcontracting Reporting System (eSRS) are ongoing.
** Offeror may include a proportional amount of products and services that are ordinarily allocated as indirect costs.
*** Disaster Purchasing Program participation is voluntary and vendors may opt in or out at any time during their contract term.

About the Author:

Johanna Moore
Consultant

Johanna 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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Ninth Circuit Rules Employer Can Pay Female Employee Less Than Male Based On Prior Salary | Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons, VA
 
The Ninth Circuit recently ruled in Rizo v. Yovino that a female’s prior salary can be a “factor other than sex,” thus justifying a pay disparity between comparable male and female employees for purposes of the Equal Pay Act.

The plaintiff was an employee of the public schools in Fresno County, California. Upon discovering that the County paid her less than her male counterparts for the same work, she brought an action against the County under the Equal Pay Act. The County conceded that it paid the plaintiff less than male employees but argued that the pay differential was based on the plaintiff’s prior salary.

Under the Equal Pay Act, there are four exceptions that permit a wage disparity; one of those exceptions is “a differential based on any other factor other than sex.”

In determining that prior salary alone can never qualify as a factor other than sex, the district court reasoned that “a pay structure based exclusively on prior wages is so inherently fraught with the risk…that it will perpetuate a discriminatory wage disparity between men and women that it cannot stand, even if motivated by a legitimate non-discriminatory business purpose.” In vacating the district court’s order, the Ninth Circuit held that an employer may base its pay differential on prior salary so long as its use effectuated some business policy and the employer reasonably used it in light of its stated purpose and other practices. The Ninth Circuit remanded the matter back to the district court to evaluate the employer’s business reasons in setting the salaries.

Therefore, in essence, the Ninth Circuit has held that an employer may perpetuate existing pay disparities so long as it is part of a company’s business policy. However, this case has the potential to go to the U.S. Supreme Court as other appeals courts have decided this issue differently.

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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New Overtime Rule Blocked by Federal Judge | Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons VA
 
Hopefully you had already heard by now that the Department of Labor issued a new overtime rule that would require employers to pay time and a half to employees that worked more than forty hours a week and earned less than $47,476 a year. This raised the minimum earning level by about two times – from the current standard of $23,660 – and would have affected about 4.2 million American workers. The rule also established an automatic updating mechanism that would adjust the minimum salary level every three years. It was supposed to take effect on December 1, 2016; however, this rule has been blocked from going into effect by a federal judge in Texas.

U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant issued a preliminary injunction on November 22 in a case filed by several states (twenty-one to be exact) challenging the rule against the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor. The state plaintiffs argued that that new rule would cause an increase in government costs in their states and would cause businesses to have to pay substantially larger salaries.

In issuing the preliminary injunction, Judge Mazzant found that the plaintiffs have shown a likelihood of success on the merits because the rule exceeds the Department’s authority under Chevron. He further found that the plaintiffs will suffer irreparable harm if the preliminary injunction is not granted as agencies operating within budget constraints will have to comply with the rule to the detrimental effect on government services that benefit the public.

Furthermore, the judge found that the balance of hardships favors the plaintiff because: “(1) the States will be required to spend substantial sums of unrecoverable public funds if the Final Rule goes into effect; and (2) the Final Rule causes interference with government services, administrative disruption, employee terminations or reclassifications, and harm to the general public.”

In issuing the injunction, Judge Mazzant found a nationwide injunction to be proper as the new overtime rule is applicable to all states, not just the states participating in the suit. Furthermore, it is unclear the duration of this nationwide preliminary injunction. Specifically, Judge Mazzant enjoined the Department from implementing and enforcing the new overtime regulations “pending further order of this Court.”

In a prepared statement, the Department of Labor stated that it “strongly disagrees with the decision by the court, which has the effect of delaying a fair day’s pay for a long day’s work for millions of hardworking Americans.”

The statement goes on to read, “The Department’s Overtime Final Rule is the result of a comprehensive, inclusive rule-making process, and we remain confident in the legality of all aspects of the rule. We are currently considering all of our legal options.”

Read the statement in full or find more information, including Judge Mazzant’s order.

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 June 23, 2016, the General Services Administration (GSA) amended the General Services Administration Acquisition Regulation (GSAR) to include clauses that require vendors to report transactional data from orders placed against certain Federal Supply Schedule (FSS) contracts, Governmentwide Acquisition Contracts (GWACs), and Governmentwide Indefinite-Delivery, Indefinite-Quantity (IDIQ) contracts.

What does this mean and what do you need to know?

First, it’s important to clarify what Transactional Data is. Transactional data refers to the information generated when the Government purchases goods or services from a vendor. It includes specific details such as descriptions, part numbers, quantities, and prices paid for the items purchased.

With this final rule, key points to note are:

  • The TDR clause is being implemented under the GSA Schedules program on a pilot basis. TDR implementation for several Schedules and Special Item Numbers (SINs) will begin in August 2016 and extend through Q1 FY2017.
  • Currently, GSA plans for a 3-year pilot affecting specific SINS at which point the pilot will be reassessed. The following Schedules/SINs are impacted by the pilot:
    • 03FAC
    • 51V
    • 58 I
    • 72
    • 73
    • 75
    • Professional Services Schedule (only for the Engineering SINs)
    • 70 (only for the following SINs: 132 8, 132 32, 132 33, 132 34, 132 54, and 132 55)
  • The new TDR requirements will be mandatory only for new Schedule contracts awarded after the Schedule becomes subject to the pilot and at the time to extend the term of the Schedule contract. Please note that vendors holding existing contracts under pilot Schedules will be encouraged to accept the new clause via a bilateral contract modification. Once accepted, vendors will not need to comply with the Commercial Sales Practices (CSP) and Price Reductions Clause (PRC).
  • Contractors in the pilot program will have ninety (90) days to accept the Mass Mod incorporating TDR.
  • TDR data is reported monthly, and there is a 30-day window to report after the end of the month.
  • GSA is amending its pricing instructions in the General Services Administration Acquisition Manual (GSAM) to place greater emphasis on price analysis when negotiating prices with Schedule vendors.
  • IFF must still be paid quarterly. However, Contractors may choose to remit IFF on a monthly basis when they report their sales, but they must do so through the TDR system.

The impact of this new rule remains to be seen, so Centre Law and Consulting will continue to report on TDR news as it develops.

About the Author

Maureen Jamieson | Centre Law & Consulting Maureen Jamieson
Executive Director of Contracts & Consulting

Maureen Jamieson has more than twenty-five years of experience managing federal contracts. She is highly experienced in solving client pricing problems and implementing effective pricing strategies for placing products and services on GSA Schedule contracts. Maureen also frequently works with clients on effective selling and marketing strategies in the federal market space.

 

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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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Potential Intervenors Denied Intervention in Multi-Billion Dollar Protest as Having No Legal “Interest” in Protest

The Court of Federal Claims issued a decision on September 27, 2016 denying two motions to intervene in a bid protest.

Nevada Site Science Support and Technologies Corporation (NVS3T) filed a bid protest alleging that the Department of Energy’s decision to rescind a multi-billion dollar contract awarded to it based on ownership issues involving the Plaintiff was arbitrary and capricious. Following the bid protest, Mission Support & Test Services, LLC and Nuclear Security & Technology, LLC filed Motions to Intervene.

The Court, in denying the motions to intervene, relied on Rule 24 of the Rules of the Court of Federal Claims and found that the potential intervenors have no real interest in the dispute. Rather, their interest is simply potentially being awarded the contract if the Plaintiff loses the protest.

Perhaps the Court said it best: “However, the simple fact that a party might benefit form another’s legal misfortune does not lead to an understanding that said party should have a role in occurrence of that legal misfortune. If a singer suffers a voice injury and is, as result, fired from her job, it is hardly conceivable to believe that a Court would allow a rival singer to intervene in that case on the side of the employer simply because he might subsequently get the newly vacant job!”

Nevada Site Science Support and Technologies Corporation v. United States, Fed. Cl., No. 16-1118C, 9/27/16, available at https://ecf.cofc.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/show_public_doc?2016cv1118-31-0.

Protest Deemed Moot Due to Completion of Contracts

In a decision on September 26, 2016 from the Court of Federal Claims, the Court found that Plaintiff’s protest was rendered moot in light of the fact that the contracts have been completed.

This post-award bid protest involved a Plaintiff’s challenge to the Government’s use of research and development funds to develop software that the Plaintiff claims is already commercially available.

As way of background, in 2004, the U.S. Navy on behalf of the Department of Defense’s Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office (CTTSO) awarded a contract to Georgia Tech Applied Research Corporation (GTARC) for development of a program to aid first responders dealing with hazardous materials. In 2008, GTARC received a contract to enhance the program it developed. The resulting system was developed as “freeware” – a product free of charge to first responders at all levels of government.

The contracts at issue in Alluviam’s bid protest were not awarded until 2013 and 2014 – the Broad Agency Announcements (BAA) were issued in 2013 and 2014, seeking development of technologies related to chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or explosives. Alluviam submitted a proposal to the 2013 BAA but was eliminated from competition at an early stage, which it did not protest; Alluviam declined to submit a bid for the 2014 BAA. Both contracts were awarded to GTARC and are now near completion.

In February 2016, Alluviam filed an agency protest challenging the 2014 contract claiming that the agency improperly used the BAA procedure and that a member of the agency staff had a conflict of interest with GTARC. After the protest was denied at the agency level, Alluviam filed the protest at the Court of Federal Claims.

The Court, in determining that Plaintiff lacks standing to bring this bid protest, noted the fact that Alluviam did not protest the agency’s rejection of its proposal under the 2013 BAA, nor did it submit any proposal for the 2014 BAA. The Court further found that Alluviam is essentially challenging the Government’s procurement method in developing an already available commercial product, but Alluviam should have challenged that method when the agency begun this process in 2004 – now, nearly twelve years later, Plaintiff lacks the standing to object to the completed contracts.

The agency made its decision to approach the development of hazardous material response programs nearly twelve years ago when it awarded its first contract to GTARC in 2004, and the work performed is now nearly complete. Because Alluviam was aware of this development approach since 2004, it lacked standing to bring the protest. The Court also found that the completion of the contracts rendered the case moot.

Alluviam , LLC v. United States, et al., Fed. Cl., No. 16-614C, 9/26/16, available at https://ecf.cofc.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/show_public_doc?2016cv0614-87-0.

Kim Kardashian Has Made It to the Supreme Court – Kind Of

In more fun news – thanks to Justice Stephen Breyer, Kim Kardashian will be forever included on the transcript for a Supreme Court case.

On October 4, 2016, Justice Breyer brought up the celebrity in oral arguments in the matter of Shaw v. United States, a case involving whether the bank-fraud statute’s language “scheme to defraud a financial institution” requires proof of a specific intent to cheat a bank. Specifically, the case involved the appeal of Lawrence Shaw, who was convicted of bank fraud after transferring $300,000 to his account from another’s.

In discussing the necessary intent for bank-fraud and questioning whether the defendant must have the intent to cause the bank to lose money, Justice Breyer analogized the situation to more recent events (for those of us that don’t keep up with the Kardashians, Kim was recently robbed of nearly $10 million in jewelry while in Paris): “Even Kardashian’s thief, if there is one, believes that all jewelry is insured. Indeed over insured. So it’s not theft?” Breyer continued, “I’m asking you, if the local person comes to the door and says, dear Miss Kardashian, I am your local jewelry cleaner. Please give me your jewelry. She does. And that’s not fraud. He wanted to get the jewelry. He tried to get the – he also believed that the friend has just loaned it for the evening, that she’s triple insured, and that she won’t even lose any money because the publicity will be worth it. Okay?”

A full copy of the Supreme Court transcript is available at https://www.supremecourt.gov/oral_arguments/argument_transcripts/15-5991_7648.pdf.

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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Reproduced with permission from Federal Contracts Report, 105 FCR (May 11, 2016). Copyright 2016 by The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. (800-372-1033) http://www.bna.com

GSA Sends Warning Letters to Contractors Over Origins of Products

The General Services Administration (GSA) is clamping down on thousands of federal contractors to ensure that products sold to government agencies are made in the U.S. or are otherwise in compliance with the Trade Agreement Act (TAA), Bloombery BNA has learned.

Regional GSA offices in Fort Worth, Texas, and Kansas City, Missouri, emailed letters dated May 5 to more than 2,800 schedule contract holders that directed vendors to “review their total offering of product” by submitting a spreadsheet that verified the countries of origin of each schedule contract product, as well as copies of a Certificate of Origin or other certification from the manufacturer on its letterhead for products made in the U.S. or in a TAA-designated country.

“The continued reoccurrence of non-compliant product threatens the integrity of the [Multiple Aware Schedule] contracts and GSA Advantage! website which federal customers rely on to make daily purchases that are compliant with the Federal Acquisition Regular (FAR),” the GSA letter said. “This threat cannot be tolerated for the good for the federal procurement community, MAS business line, and continued success of a primary system you rely on to serve federal customers.”

The letter provided to Bloomberg BNA was unsigned but included the name of a Fort Worth-based GSA contracting officer at the bottom.

The letter, addressed to “Dear GSA Partner,” noted that over the past year, the Multiple Award Schedule program had responded to “numerous” congressional inquiries and Freedom of Information Act requests regarding allegations of failed compliance with the TAA and the Buy American Act.

Made In America

In January, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the GSA Advantage! website had listed products that were described as “made in America” but in fact were produced overseas. He said the GSA should review its website labels and excise products that are falsely listed.

The Buy American Act, in place since 1933, and the regulation that stems from it significantly restricts the federal government from purchasing non-American-made products. The TAA stretches the law by allowing the purchase of end products from the U.S. or designated countries, which, according to GSA’s website, includes World Trade Organization government procurement agreement countries; free-trade agreement countries; least-developed countries; and Caribbean Basin countries. The designated country list, which includes 124 nations, excludes prominent U.S. trading partners China and India.

The letter from the Great Southwest Region in Fort Worth ordered companies that have found products manufactured in non-TAA designated countries to remove all such products from their TAA contract; upload a new and revised catalog to GSA’s Schedule Input Program; and send an updated price list and terms and conditions to the National Schedules Information Center.

The GSA gave companies that received the letter five days, until the close of business May 10, to respond. Businesses that didn’t reply in time face severe penalties, according to the letter, including, typed in bold letters, “the removal of your entire GSAdvantage file.”

In a statement, a GSA spokesperson told Bloomberg BNA: “Once learning of products being offered on a Schedule contract that are potentially non-compliant with the Trade Agreements Act (TAA), or when the country of manufacture is otherwise misrepresented, GSA will conduct an immediate review an take swift action to ensure that vendors remove non-compliant products from Schedule contracts and GSA Advantage!.”

Unmanned Vehicles

According to the GSA spokesperson, 2,872 letters were emailed to contractors from the agency’s offices in Fort Worth and Kansas City. That included 308 emails sent to Schedule 51V Hardware Superstore contractors; 1,184 to Schedule 84 providers of security, facilities management, marine craft and emergency/disaster response-related goods; 641 to Schedule 56 makers of building materials and supplies and alternative energy solutions; 361 to Schedule 66 producers of test and measurement equipment, unmanned scientific vehicles and geographic environmental analysis equipment; and 378 emails to Schedule 7 makers of hospitality and cleaning equipment, sanitizers and toiletries.

The spokesperson confirmed the GSA was targeting those specific schedules and products because of congressional and other complaints. “Those schedules are among the first group of targeted schedules with identified risk that GSA is reviewing,” the spokesperson said.

Attorneys who represent contractors that received the emailed letter told Bloomberg BNA they are asking GSA for extensions to conduct necessary research into their product lines, and to complete all the needed paperwork.

Maureen Jamieson, executive director of contracts and consulting at Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons Corner, Va., said she has heard from several clients concerned about the letter, including some based in Fort Worth and another that was contacted by GSA’s Kansas City office. She said GSA had not yet responded to her requests for an extension.

“I’ve been hearing from clients of many years. They’re coming out of the woodwork,” Jamieson told Bloomberg BNA, adding that she was concerned about the tight turnaround time the GSA’s directive gave contractors. “If you’re going to do it right, it just requires more time, ” she said.

Day One

“It’s definitely been a scramble, I guess you could say,” Gunjan Talati, a Washington-based partner with Thompson Hine, told Bloomberg BNA.

Talati said companies have been responsible for complying with the underlying requirements – that they adhere to the rules put forth in the TAA and Buy American Act – “since Day One.” But regardless of how diligent companies have been in fully adhering to those laws in the past, he said, “I look at this as a wake-up call.”

Compliance with the TAA is often a complicated affair that can require “a detailed examination of the product’s manufacturing process,” Talati and fellow Thompson Hine Partner Lawrence Prosen wrote in a client advisory issued a day after GSA emails were sent. This includes a determination as to whether articles from one country have been “substantially transformed” into a new and different article of commerce that is distinctly different from the original item, they wrote.
 

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In the past I have written about subcontracting compliance from the Contractor Purchasing System Review (CPSR) audit prospective. The three step process of system existence, system procedure adequacy and compliance is a very effective way to meet the FAR 44.3 CPSR goal of “efficiency and effectiveness with which the contractor spends Government funds and complies with Government policy when subcontracting”. How efficient and effective the contractor procurement system performs goes beyond these three steps. Some of the factors that commonly impact on the acquisition process include planning, proper description of needs and funding. This article touches on a few aspects of these factors that if ignored can degrade the efficiency and effectiveness of your outsourcing processes.

Planning is the major factor and can encompass the other two, but each is worth discussing. Planning encompasses many things that don’t always get the attention they deserve. One thing is certain, if you don’t take the time to do a good comprehensive job up front you will pay for it later! One of the major aspects of planning is in the proposal phase make or buy decisions. The make or buy analysis is part of the process for creating a winning team.

You want to offer the client a winning team that meets their needs on time and at the right price. Do you provide the goods, components and services in-house or can you improve the “product” and pricing through partnering and subcontracting? The answer is to look for the best combination to win the contract. Is the outsourcing function within your company adequately represented on the proposal team? The subcontracting team can add value through market research identifying potential source and supporting small business plan development. Additionally, the subcontracting team can work with proposal team members on issue including flow down requirements, terms and conditions and pricing support.

Have you ever hear the complaint that the government wants you to competitively award scope that was promised to a team member? If the original proposal clearly identifies the team member as the teaming source for a specific scope, then the source selection issue is complete. In fact, you may be able to get the Contracting Officer to include the team member in clause 52.244-2(j) excluding them from the consent process. Unfortunately I have seen cases where the winning proposal used information from a subcontractor but did not clearly describe the teaming arrangement in line with FAR 9.6. If the original proposal had included a clear description of the teaming arrangement, you have a solid basis for the subcontract source selection and a solid response when the CPSR team questions the adequacy of your subcontract competition activities. The outsourcing function needs to be an active member of the proposal team to make sure the ground work is laid right up front!

A proper description of needs is not a new subject. Too often the internal customer (aka end user or requisitioner) is left to his or her own to come up with what is needed. The outsourcing function should be involved with the internal customer working with them to identify the best ways to meet their needs. If it is a recurring need, do you set up a competitively awarded catalog or blanket purchase arrangement? Or, do you set up a larger order with multiple deliveries coordinated with the internal customer’s schedule? If the internal customers’ needs are so specific that it limits competition, then you have the opportunity to work with them to do the market research to find alternatives or to substantiate the single or sole-source justification. In either case, you have a solid response when the CPSR team questions the adequacy of competition activities or basis for a commercial item determination. The outsourcing function needs to be actively involved with the internal customer right up front!

Funding is a subject that doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. Sure, you need money to support a purchase order/subcontract, and Under DFARS 252.244-7001 (c) (4), properly authorized requisitions are required.  But there are other issues around funding that can hamper efficient and effective outsourcing. One issue that can negatively impact you is adequate funding.

Inadequate funding on a requisition can lead to delays and increased costs in prime contract performance. Proper project planning and budgeting helps, but the funding source(s) and acquisition planning need to be worked together. For example, rental of heavy construction equipment should be based on the construction schedule the equipment is supporting. You would think that means a six month rental should be funded for six months. But, sometimes you see it “incrementally” funded through a series of requisitions. Here is where efficiency and effectiveness go out the window. The buyer/subcontract administrator must issue a series of monthly modification to add funds (buyer time away from other work). If the funding requisition is delayed, then invoices sit in Accounts Payable waiting for sufficient committed funds to pay the invoice (both buyer and A/P clerk have time away from other work). Late payments leads to stop work threats, complaints to the Contracting Officer, and questions/findings on accounting and purchasing audits (now management, buyers, A/P clerks and others have more time away from other work). When payment is slow, disgruntled subcontractors are less inclined to bid new work or offer better pricing (more work again and potential system audit issues related to a variety of issues such as; timely award, adequate competition, fair and reasonable pricing, subcontract closeout and file documentation).  Again, early involvement of the outsourcing function can help eliminate problems before they occur saving time and resources that would otherwise be consumed trying to patch and fix things later in the process.

I hope my point is clear. Early involvement by your subcontracting and purchasing staff pays big rewards to the overall success of your company. Beyond timely and successful prime contract performance, another benefit is improved compliance. When I see problems during compliance audits and CPSR reviews, the “root cause” is frequently the result of a “reactive procurement system” trying to fix things that could have been avoided by early, effective involvement with internal customer. With time being taken away from the primary task of procuring the goods and services needed, quality and compliance suffer. When people have the time and tools to do their jobs, they are going to give you the kind of results you need, successfully perform the prime contract and meet client audit expectations. That’s how you maintain an approved purchasing system!

About the Author

Jack Hott headshot | Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons, VA Jack Holt has more than four decades of experience as a contracts professional in Government and the private sector. A retired Air Force officer, he served multiple acquisition related assignments with The Air Force and Defense Contract Management Agency. These assignments included Assistant Professor of Acquisition Management, Air Force Institute of Technology, multiple in-plant assignments where he functioned as Principle Administrative Contracting Officer/DACO managing contract administration, pricing, government property, CAS and overhead approvals, supplier quality, and subcontract management.

After leaving the Air Force, Mr. Hott became principle consultant to a small veteran owned business developing and presenting training on a variety of government contracting subjects including cost/price analysis, contract administration and Cost Accounting Standards.

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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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Give Me 5 Webinar Features Barbara Kinosky and Marina Blickley to Discuss HR Issues for Government Contractors | Centre Law & ConsultingOn May 11, Centre Law & Consulting’s attorneys Barbara Kinosky and Marina Blickley were featured guests on Give Me 5, a webinar hosted by Women in Public Policy (WIPP). The online series is designed to educate women business owners on how to apply for and secure federal procurement opportunities.

Give Me 5: Where Human Resources and Government Contracts Intersect

Webinar Summary: Federal contractors are subject to a unique set of rules, laws and regulations. Many of these laws and regulations also apply to subcontractors. This session covers the more complicated areas where HR and government contracts intersect, including:

  • OFCCP – latest news on increased HR compliance requirements
  • Executive Order actions and recent regulatory changes
  • Common challenges to complying with the Service Contract Labor Standards/Service Contract Act
  • Tips for handling whistleblower and relator complaints
  • Handling mandatory disclosures
  • Changes to implement now

 
Listen to the Podcast  |  View the Presentation

In addition, Marina also wrote a post for Women in Biz Blog discussing new regulations that came out after the webinar and are planned to go into effect on December 1, 2016.
 

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Bid Protests: Incumbent Protests Failure of Navy to Release Incumbent’s Proprietary Data | Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons, VA
 
Just when you think you have heard it all, along comes the preaward protest of Fluor Federal Solutions, LLC, B-414223, March 29, 2017.

Fluor alleged that the Department of the Navy, Naval Facilities Engineering Command, solicitation was ambiguous. Fluor claimed that that offerors could not meaningfully price their proposals because of the ambiguous requirement it contained and that proposals received could not be meaningfully compared and evaluated. The interesting quirk was that Fluor was the incumbent, and they wanted to “level the playing field” so that all offerors were bidding to the same requirement and leaving no ambiguity. Fluor’s method of doing so was to have the Navy release Fluor’s proprietary data, after it waived its rights in the data.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) dismissed this ground of protest. They held that the protester failed to establish that it is an interested party to challenge the lack of data. This is legal speak for saying that Fluor cannot protest on behalf of other potential bidders. Fluor was not prejudiced by the failure of other offerors to see the Fluor proprietary data.

It’s an interesting twist on a protest.
 
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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The answer should be: very worried.  Even if you are involved in a small company or small law firm, you can be a target.  Everyone needs to take appropriate precautions.

Even though we seem to be hearing nonstop horror stories about servers being held for ransom or personal information stolen from websites, there are things that you can do to minimize the chances that you or your company will be the next victim.

You need to establish a set of security rules that will apply to everyone in the firm – and they should be rigorously enforced.  The biggest exposure does not come from hardware or software, but from your humans.  Everyone on the staff should be trained in how to compute safely.   They should never open an email – even if is from someone they know — if it seems suspicious in any way.  Never click on a link in an email unless you are sure that it is taking you someplace safe.  At worst, you’ll delete an email that was legitimate, but if it is important the sender will try to contact you again.  Users should not be able to add new programs to the network.

In order to access your network (whether you are in the cloud or have a server in the office), you should utilize two-factor authentication.  In addition to a complex and frequently changed password, the user should be required to input an additional set of numbers that are texted to a smart phone or a different email address.  These systems are not foolproof, but they reduce the chances that a someone who gets a password will be able to get into the network.  The system should automatically lock-out IDs after a certain number (3? 5?) of unsuccessful attempts to log-in.  If it is really an authorized user who keeps screwing up his or her password, they will call the system operator to straighten it out eventually.

You should make sure that each workstation has modern anti-virus/anti-malware software installed, and it is updated regularly.  The defensive programs should be installed on any device that it attached to your network, including mobile devices.  If you use Windows, you should be on the latest version. Every time an operating system update is released, it should be installed, as much of the updating is to plug security holes.

You should have a back-up system for all of your data, both at the server and workstation level.  If you use a cloud service such as those provided by Microsoft, Amazon, or other big providers, they have a built-in back-up protocol.  If you use a different vendor, check to see what their back-up protocol is.  Often, it will be a replication to a different server farm.   Back-up drives attached to each workstation, if configured properly, will protect against loss of data due to mechanical problems at the workstation.  But they may not protect again a ransomware attack, since the back-up drive may be similarly infected.  Therefore, it is somewhat more secure to use an on-line back-up system be employed since most malware attack software won’t “see” the online connection as an attached drive, and won’t be able to encrypt it.

Any device that stores business or client information should be encrypted.  For office workstations this means a program like Bitlocker.  For mobile devices, the default encryption and password may suffice, but you should supplement this with a remote ability to locate and or wipe the device.  Many of the instances of unauthorized access have been due to loss of a mobile phone or theft of a laptop.  Make sure that if this happens, the finder will be unable to do anything with the data on the device.

If your business or law firm network is going to be accessed by others, make sure that there is strong firewall protections between the various segments of the network.  The greatest vulnerability may come from access to a contractor’s system that has full access to your system.  Before allowing anyone remote access to your system, make sure that they have adequate security.

Lawyers should be aware that there are ethical rules that obligate you to make certain that you have taken “reasonable efforts to prevent the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of, or unauthorized access to, information relating to the representation of a client.”  Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.6(c).  The rules also note that competent representation requires that an attorney, “to maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, . . . keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology . . . . “  Comment 8, Rule 1.1

In spite of all of your protections, some bad guy may still be able to penetrate your system and steal or encrypt your data.   Your protection package should include cybersecurity insurance that will cover the expected costs of investigation, remediation, notification, fines, credit monitoring, litigation defense, an damages flowing from business interruption.   Yes, these premiums will add costs to your overhead, but, like every other type of insurance you are buying peace of mind with the hope that you will never need to use it.

One final note for federal contractors: there are a few formal hoops that you must just through, as defined by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).  Read more on that subject here.

 

About the Author

Theodore Banks concentrates his practice on antitrust, compliance, food law, and other corporate matters. Mr. Banks has extensive experience with corporate litigation, including responsibility for contested mergers, environmental contamination, advertising, insurance coverage, products liability, employment law, consumer protection, and packaging and recycling. He has a national reputation for work in corporate compliance and antitrust, and was an early proponent of corporate opt-out suits as plaintiff in antitrust litigation, such as Vitamin, Carbon Dioxide, Corrugated Container, Folding Carton, and Citric Acid Antitrust Litigation, recovering more than $100 million. Through his experience in all aspects of the food industry, Mr. Banks has deep familiarity with the regulatory frameworks and state and federal laws governing food manufacture, distribution, sales, and safety.

 

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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.

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As many contractors are approaching the end of their 20-year contract period in the FSS program, the General Services Administration (GSA) has made it possible for successful legacy contractors to follow a streamlined offer process for their new 20-year contract. Clause A-FSS-11 has been updated so that a contractor can now submit an offer for a new contract under the same Schedule at any time during the existing contract period.

Process Requirements

In order to follow the streamlined offer process, contractors must meet ALL of the following criteria:

  • The contractor has an existing Schedule and is submitting a new offer for the same SINs and Schedule
  • Sales under the existing contract have averaged a minimum of $25,000 per year for the previous five years of reported sales
  • There is a demonstrated pattern of satisfactory past performance under the existing contract

To simplify the process for successful legacy contractors, GSA added clause SCP-FSS-001-S Instructions Applicable to Successful FSS Program Contractors to all solicitations. The following requirements were eliminated from SCP-FSS-001-S:

  • Readiness Assessment
  • Financial Statements
  • Corporate Experience
  • Past Performance (Open Ratings)
  • Relevant Project Experience

The Pathway to Success training requirement is also expected to be eliminated from SCP-FSS-001-S in all solicitations via a refresh/mass mod that is due to be released shortly. The Pathway to Success training has already been removed from Schedule IT 70 via Refresh 40.

Notes on Proposal Submissions

The eMod system has not been updated to distinguish between successful legacy proposals and new contractor proposals, however. In order to override the eMod system, contractors will need to either add a note manually in the system on the applicable page or upload a blank document for all items that are not required by SCP-FSS-001-S.

When submitting your legacy proposal, you should include a listing of all active submitted quotes, established BPAs, and awarded orders under the existing contract. For each, the contractor must include the ordering activity name and point of contact, RFQ/BPA/order number, dollar value, and period of performance (including options). This information can be uploaded in eOffer as an “Other (optional – offeror defined)” document. The new legacy contract will overlap with the existing one until the agreed upon cancellation date of the existing contract. Contractors will utilize the new legacy contract for all new business opportunities.

Our Recommendation

In order to ensure a smooth transition from the existing contract to the new legacy contract, Centre recommends updating your existing contract prior to submitting a new legacy proposal. Review the labor categories, pricing, and other terms and conditions. If changes need to be made, modify your existing contract now so you can move the existing contract to the new legacy contract. However, please note an updated CSP-1 is required when submitting your legacy contract.

About the Author:

Julia Coon | Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons VA Julia Coon
Consultant

Julia Coon is GSA and VA Contract Consultant at Centre Law & Consulting. Julia works with the GSA/VA team in preparing new schedule proposals and post-award contract administration. She has experience in producing schedule renewal packages, various modification packages, small business subcontracting plans, and updates to GSA pricelists.

 

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GSA’s Streamlined Offer Process for Successful Legacy Contractors | Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons VA
 
As many contractors are approaching the end of their 20-year contract period in the FSS program, the General Services Administration (GSA) has made it possible for successful legacy contractors to follow a streamlined offer process for their new 20-year contract. Clause A-FSS-11 has been updated so that a contractor can now submit an offer for a new contract under the same Schedule at any time during the existing contract period.

Process Requirements

In order to follow the streamlined offer process, contractors must meet ALL of the following criteria:

  • The contractor has an existing Schedule and is submitting a new offer for the same SINs and Schedule
  • Sales under the existing contract have averaged a minimum of $25,000 per year for the previous five years of reported sales
  • There is a demonstrated pattern of satisfactory past performance under the existing contract

To simplify the process for successful legacy contractors, GSA added clause SCP-FSS-001-S Instructions Applicable to Successful FSS Program Contractors to all solicitations. The following requirements were eliminated from SCP-FSS-001-S:

  • Readiness Assessment
  • Financial Statements
  • Corporate Experience
  • Past Performance (Open Ratings)
  • Relevant Project Experience

The Pathway to Success training requirement is also expected to be eliminated from SCP-FSS-001-S in all solicitations via a refresh/mass mod that is due to be released shortly. The Pathway to Success training has already been removed from Schedule IT 70 via Refresh 40.

Notes on Proposal Submissions

The eMod system has not been updated to distinguish between successful legacy proposals and new contractor proposals, however. In order to override the eMod system, contractors will need to either add a note manually in the system on the applicable page or upload a blank document for all items that are not required by SCP-FSS-001-S.

When submitting your legacy proposal, you should include a listing of all active submitted quotes, established BPAs, and awarded orders under the existing contract. For each, the contractor must include the ordering activity name and point of contact, RFQ/BPA/order number, dollar value, and period of performance (including options). This information can be uploaded in eOffer as an “Other (optional – offeror defined)” document. The new legacy contract will overlap with the existing one until the agreed upon cancellation date of the existing contract. Contractors will utilize the new legacy contract for all new business opportunities.

Our Recommendation

In order to ensure a smooth transition from the existing contract to the new legacy contract, Centre recommends updating your existing contract prior to submitting a new legacy proposal. Review the labor categories, pricing, and other terms and conditions. If changes need to be made, modify your existing contract now so you can move the existing contract to the new legacy contract. However, please note an updated CSP-1 is required when submitting your legacy contract.

About the Author:

Julia Coon | Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons VA Julia Coon
Consultant

Julia Coon is GSA and VA Contract Consultant at Centre Law & Consulting. Julia works with the GSA/VA team in preparing new schedule proposals and post-award contract administration. She has experience in producing schedule renewal packages, various modification packages, small business subcontracting plans, and updates to GSA pricelists.

 

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GSA's Horizontal Pricing Analysis Tool and Three Things to Know | Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons, VA
 

It’s A Slant Downward

When you negotiate a GSA Schedule or renewal, the GSA contracting officer reviews your pricing against, well, your past pricing. But when GSA buyers buy, they will now have tools to compare your pricing with the competition. It started with transactional data reporting, and now GSA is openly moving to a horizontal pricing model at least for products. Your carefully prepared sales data to get a product or service on schedule is becoming meaningless as GSA implements more tools for buyers to compare prices for what may or may not be similar items.

Tom Sharpe, FAS Commissioner, has unveiled the latest buying tool, the Horizontal Pricing Analysis Tool. Its purpose is to “analyze price variability for identical Schedule items”. It shows the competitive range of pricing for a specific item and whether or not a vendor is proposing an offer within that range.

Now that the Horizontal Pricing Analysis Tool is in use, COs are reaching out to vendors whose prices exceed a competitive range, notifying them of comparative pricing with identical items on Schedule, and engaging them in a dialogue about both pricing and non-price factors.

Buyers and sellers, please make sure apples are applies and not avocados. Is delivery FOB origin or destination? What are the warranties? What is the delivery time? We all have stories about the deep discount competitor whose delivery time is in dog years, yet their price is low. That may be okay if you don’t need it soon, as defined in your lifetime.

Now on to other news…

Protests

Jacobs Technology is hanging on to its $132 million Army award. ManTech TSG-1 JV protested that it was unreasonably assigned a weakness in its proposal. GAO held that ManTech couldn’t establish that the Army was unreasonable in assigning a weakness to its proposal based upon unstated evaluation criteria. Champagne flows at Jacobs.

That Wall

The Department of Homeland Security does not have enough loose change in its sofa cushions to fund THE wall, so President Trump is preparing a supplemental budget request for at least $6.6 billion. And for those of you wall builders, here is the link to the presolicitation notice.

Growth Areas 2017

A new study by Onvia lists the top 10 fastest-growing areas in government contracting for 2017 that include technology, telecommunications, healthcare, and construction.
 
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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Have you been hacked yet? Has your personal information been exposed by foreign hackers? Worried this year’s election results might be tampered with foreign cyber attacks? Well, you are not the only one worried about future cyber attacks. The U.S. Government is worried too, and to combat that, the General Services Administration (GSA) will release four Cybersecurity Special Item Numbers (SINs) for its GSA Schedule 70 for Information Technology procurement.

A refresh of the Schedule 70 solicitation is expected to be released in September that will include these new Cybersecurity SINs. GSA is referring to these new SINs as Highly Adaptive Cybersecurity Services (HACS) SINs. The HACS SINs were mandated by the Obama Administration’s Cybersecurity National Action Plan. This is no small initiative, but rather a plan to invest $19 billion in an attempt to ensure “Americans have the security tools to protect their identities online, that companies can protect and defend their operations and information from hackers, and that the U.S. Government protects the private information citizens provide for federal benefits and services” (Source).

The HACS SINs will be divided into four distinct SINs:

  • Penetration Testing under SIN 132-45A
  • Incident Response under SIN 132-45B
  • Cyber Hunt under SIN 132-45C
  • Risk and Vulnerability Assessment under SIN 132-45D

The vetting process for vendors will be the most thorough and detailed of any SIN on Schedule 70. While vendors will have requirements similar to those for services SINs such as SIN 132-51, the HACS SINs will also require vendors to pass an oral technical evaluation. These oral technical evaluations will be scenario-based in an attempt by GSA to ascertain the knowledge level of the prospective vendor. Vendors will be given a pass/fail grade after an undetermined time (target is seven days) from the completion of the oral evaluation. Vendors who are not able to pass this oral evaluation will not be allowed to submit an offer or modification for any HACS SIN for at least six months from the date of their previous evaluation. Oral evaluations will be conducted virtually and each SIN will have its own scenario that vendors will have to address and complete. GSA will allow up to five key personnel to attend these oral evaluations from the vendor, but no recording devices of any kind will be allowed during the evaluation. These evaluations could take anywhere between forty minutes to three hours by GSA’s estimates, depending on how many HACS SINs the vendor is proposing in their offer/modification.

There will be no limit to the number of awardees of the HACS SINs, but GSA is targeting to have an initial fifteen vendors awarded once the HACS SINs are officially rolled out. The turnaround time for GSA will be dependent on the number of vendors who propose the HACS SINs, but GSA is creating a dedicated tiger team to evaluate new offers and modifications that include the HACS SINs. GSA’s target for evaluation is seven days for modifications and forty five days for new offers.

While there is still more to be revealed about these new HACS SINs, it is clear GSA is making a concerted effort to put these new SINs at the top of their priority list. If you want to be in the front of the line to get these new SINs awarded on your contract, be sure to check the GSA Interact site and submit your modifications/offers through the eMod/eOffer site.

For more information regarding GSA and the HACS SINs, be sure to register to attend Centre Law and Consulting’s next Boot Camp for GSA Schedules training course on November 9-10, 2016.

About the Author

Michael Glazer
Contracts Manager

Michael Glazer focuses primarily on GSA/VA Schedule consulting. He regularly assists clients in all aspects of FSS contract management including contract negotiations, modifications, IFF reporting, subcontracting plans and reporting, IOA assessments, and other contract compliance issues. Michael also provides experience with GSA Alliant 1 & 2, ITES 3H and 3S, CIO-CS and SP3, and other large IDIQ contracts on an as needed basis to clients.

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Alleluia! Inconsistence SCA implementation from GSA be gone!

GSA has finally issued guidance on the implementation of the Service Contract Labor Standards (formerly called the Service Contract Act). It seems like dog years ago and certainly several changes of leadership at GSA when I first met with them about issuing uniform SCLS guidance.

How Do We Know This?

GSA published a draft refresh of Schedule 23V (firetrucks, auto, and auto parts and accessories) which contains the draft guidance along with some SCA/SCLS questions and answers. However, GSA tells us that this (draft) guidance will be finalized pronto and implemented across the board on all schedules. The grand Wizard of Oz will finally speak to all in Munchkin Land.

What You Need to Know Now:

  1. We finally have some (forthcoming) guidance from DOL and GSA. In summary, current Wage Determinations (WDs) will be deleted from all existing schedule contracts.
  2. GSA policies and procedures will be updated to direct ordering activity contracting officers to incorporate the appropriate Wage Determinations at the task order level.
  3. I have always said the FAR directs the contracting officers to make this determination and not the contractor. This is consistent with the FAR.
  4. A GSA Mass Mod will be issued in approximately 10 days across all Schedules incorporating these changes.
  5. Although the revised Schedule 23V Refresh is a DRAFT summary of what is to come, it highlights the significant changes. There are FAQs that provide a good summary specific to SCA.

 
Centre’s Concerns:

  1. You can’t bid higher than your Schedule rates.
  2. If you are bidding on a task order proposal that incorporates a WD for an area that is higher priced than your schedule rates, you may have to modify your GSA Schedule. We don’t know if GSA will process modifications to support bidding and not billed rates but GSA, this can be an issue. I predict mass confusion here, just like when the Wicked Witch of the West flies over Oz.
  3. All GSA Catalogs will need to be revised to remove the SCA matrix. There will be less work at the Schedule level now on SCA/SCLS.

 
Need More Information?

Email me at bkinosky@centrelawgroup.com if you want the GSA FAQs and Schedule 23V with the pertinent sections. I will also be posting more details on our SCA LinkedIn Forum. For even more help, consider reaching out to us if you need legal or GSA consulting services. We are all about the SCLS/SCA compliance.

Want Training?

We offer a variety of educational courses throughout the year on these and many other topics. See what’s coming up on our Course Calendar or browse our complete Course Catalog.

About the Author:

Barbara Kinosky Barbara Kinosky
Managing Parnter

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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GSA Reviews FY2016 and FedRAMP Looks Ahead to 2017 | Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons VA
 
As we now have FY2016 in the rear-view mirror, the government has begun to look back at the past year and look ahead to 2017.

GSA

In the case of GSA, the Federal Acquisition Service (FAS) commissioner, Tom Sharpe, reflected on the successes of the FAS program over the past year in a recent blog post. In it, he explains that GSA has achieved its three-year goal as the government acquisition marketplace. Sharpe then goes on to explain that the FAS initiative, Category Management, has helped with those goals. He defines Category Management as “the process of managing product or service categories as strategic business units and customizing them to meet customer needs.” What this means to contractors is that they should expect more initiatives like the Government-wide Laptop/Desktop initiative that includes GSA Schedule 70, SEWP, and CIO-CS.

FedRAMP

FedRAMP has also released its goals for 2017. These goals fall under three categories: More Cloud to Choose From, Transform Security Authorizations, and Stronger FedRAMP Community. To achieve these goals, FedRAMP wants to increase Cloud Services offerings from 72 to 150 and raise the number of FedRAMP ready service providers to 50 within the next year. Over the next six months, FedRAMP wants to increase the efficiency of providers who are able to receive a Provisional Authorization to Operate (P-ATO), redesign the Continuous Monitoring authorization process to be smoother and more agile, and focus on increasing the number of authorizations for low impact Software as a Service (SaaS) offerings. FedRAMP will work to achieve a stronger community over the course of 2017 by hosting two industry days to connect agencies with service providers and two industry roundtables to help agencies connect with one another. With these goals in place, GSA contractors can anticipate an increase in competition on the Cloud Computing Services SIN 132-40 on the IT 70 Schedule as well as an increase in opportunities.

For More Information

If you would like more information or additional training regarding IT 70’s FASt Lane initiative, the Formatted Pricing Tool (FPT), Transactional Data Reporting (TDR), the IT 70 Health SIN, the Cloud SIN, or the Cyber SINs, then be sure to attend the next Bootcamp for GSA Schedules training course on February 7-8, 2017.
 
About the Author

Michael Glazer | Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons VA Michael Glazer
Contracts Manager

Michael Glazer focuses primarily on GSA/VA Schedule consulting. He regularly assists clients in all aspects of FSS contract management including contract negotiations, modifications, IFF reporting, subcontracting plans and reporting, IOA assessments, and other contract compliance issues. Michael also provides experience with GSA Alliant 1 & 2, ITES 3H and 3S, CIO-CS and SP3, and other large IDIQ contracts on an as needed basis to clients.

 

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GSA has finally acted on the request from customer agencies and industry partners to allow Order Level Materials (OLMs), frequently called Other Direct Costs (ODCs), into the Multiple Award Schedule (MAS) program.

GSA is proposing to amend the General Services Administration Acquisition Regulation (GSAR) to establish special ordering procedures per FAR 8.403 (b). These new procedures will clarify the authority to acquire OLMs when placing an order or establishing a BPA against a Federal Supply Schedule contract.

As background, currently most commercial Indefinite-Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contracts have the flexibility to acquire OLMs. This authority extends to contracts awarded pursuant to FAR Part 12 and orders awarded pursuant to FAR Subpart 16.5 and 8.4. However; Subpart 8.4 was never updated and as a result the ability to acquire OLMs was never fully implemented in the MAS program.

The proposed GSA rule includes some of the following amendments (a full list can be found in the proposed rule):

  • Add to GSAR 515.408 (c) that “offerors are not required to complete the commercial sales practices disclosure for order level materials”
  • Prohibiting order-level materials from being the primary basis of the order
  • Limiting the total value of order-level materials to 33 % of the overall order value
  • Require the order-level materials to be purchased under a separate Special Item Number (SIN) to allow GSA to monitor sales and evaluate use
  • Requiring the ordering activity contracting officers to determine that all prices for these materials are fair and reasonable
  • Include controls to ensure any ceiling increases have been justified and approved in accordance with FAR 8.405.6.

The final rule will only apply to the following GSA Schedules:

  1. Federal Supply Schedule 03 FAC: Facilities Maintenance and Management
  2. Federal Supply Schedule 56: Buildings and Building Materials/Industrial Services and Supplies
  3. Federal Supply Schedule 70: General Purpose Information Technology Equipment, Software, and Services
  4. Federal Supply Schedule 71: Furniture
  5. Federal Supply Schedule 84: Total Solutions for Law Enforcement, Security, Facilities Management, Fire, Rescue, Clothing, Marine Craft, and Emergency/Disaster Response
  6. Federal Supply Schedule 00CORP: All Professional Services
  7. Federal Supply Schedule 738X: Human Resources and EEO Services

The proposed GSAR rule was published September 9, 2016 and is open for a 60 day comment period.

About the Author:

Maureen Jamieson | Centre Law & Consulting Maureen Jamieson
Executive Director of Contracts and Consulting

Maureen Jamieson has more than twenty-five years of experience managing federal contracts. She is highly experienced in solving client pricing problems and implementing effective pricing strategies for placing products and services on GSA Schedule contracts.

 

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GSA OIG Reviews Industrial Operations Analysts:  What's In Your IOA’s Report Card? | Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons, VA
 
As a consultant assisting clients prepare for their Industrial Operations Analyst (IOA) visit, I am surprised by the anxiety that precedes these “I’m here to help you” visits. I receive comments from “I didn’t sleep all night” and “I forgot my Basis of Award (BOA) customer” to “Will the IOA cancel my contract as I forgot to pay my Industrial Funding Fee for the last quarter.” The anxiety has increased over the last two years as the IOAs are now reviewing your GSA Schedule annually if you have annual sales exceeding $150,000. While the majority of IOAs are trying to help you understand compliance with your schedule requirements, there are a few that want to add to your anxiety. I witnessed the IOA who started the visit with the comment that she was there to get money back for GSA and an IOA who threatened cancellation of the schedule (and no, IOAs cannot cancel your schedule contract).

In GSA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) Semiannual Report to Congress for the period of April 1, 2016 through September 30, 2016, the tables were turned and the IOAs were reviewed.

IOA Assessment Report Purpose

The OIG conducted an audit of the contractor assessments program to determine if:

  1. Contractor assessments were effective to determine contractors’ compliance with schedule contract terms and conditions
  2. IOAs were conducting their assessments in accordance with FAS guidance
  3. IOAs were communicating those results in a timely fashion and in the appropriate format
  4. IOAs were developing and completing training in accordance with program requirements

 

IOA Assessment Report Findings

As a result, the OIG concluded the following:

  1. Assessments add value as a method to monitor contractor compliance with terms and conditions of schedule contracts
  2. IOAs are generally conducting assessments in accordance with guidance
  3. OAs are effectively communicating those results in a timely fashion and in the required format

 

IOA Assessment Areas of Improvement

The OIG also concluded that although the assessments were generally effective, they identified areas that could be improved “to enhance the consistency, completeness, and value of the assessments and reports.” For example:

  1. FAS guidance does not provide specific requirements for sampling schedule sales transactions to ensure that contractors are properly reporting and remitting Industrial Funding Fees and resumes to verify that qualified labor for services are being provided for customer agencies.
  2. IOAs are not consistently reporting on labor qualifications. As a result, FAS does not have assurance that labor qualifications were assessed.
  3. FAS has not established a formalized, national training curriculum for experienced IOAs.

 
Therefore, recommendations from the OIG to the FAS Commissioner include:

  1. Revising the IOA Training Manual to include details on a risk-based sampling methodology
  2. Revising the assessment report template to include a specific section for reviewing labor qualifications to ensure consistent assessments
  3. Establishing and implementing a formal national training curriculum for experienced IOAs

 

What Can I Do?

In summary, Contract Clause 552.215-71 (Examination of Records) allows the IOA to review contractors’ records to verify contractual compliance. Their role is to conduct contractor assessments as well as monitor sales reporting, sales adjustments, and Industrial Funding Fee remittance (previously conducted by your Administrative Contracting Officer).

Remember that the results of the IOA visit are advisory to your Contracting Officer (CO). Their assessment will be included in your GSA file for review prior to your Option Renewal. If you receive a negative assessment or don’t agree with a finding, you should submit a letter of clarification to your CO.

The best thing you can do to in advance of your IOA visit is to be prepared. Gather all documents requested by your IOA prior to the visit or virtual call. Review the terms and conditions of your schedule and know your Basis of Award and discounting. Ensure your GSA Schedule catalog is up to date and matches the last awarded modification. If you stay compliant with the requirements of your Schedule, then you will have a successful IOA review.

Your IOA contact information can be found at https://vsc.gsa.gov/tools/aco_ioa.cfm and Centre’s GSA Consultants are available to assist you through the process as well.

About the Author:

Maureen Jamieson | Centre Law & Consulting Maureen Jamieson
Executive Director of Contracts and Consulting

Maureen Jamieson has more than twenty-five years of experience managing federal contracts. She is highly experienced in solving client pricing problems and implementing effective pricing strategies for placing products and services on GSA Schedule contracts.

 

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