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  1. By Wayne Simpson, CFCM, CSCM Discretionary Use by VA Contracting Officers Authorized; Must Be Approved First In what many will see as VA’s continued assault on its Veterans First Contracting Program post-Kingdomware, VA recently implemented “Cascading” set-asides. VA refers to these set-asides as “Tiered Evaluations,” noting they are also known as “Cascading” set-asides. VA issued Acquisition Policy Flash (No. 18-15), transmitting Procurement Policy Memorandum (PPM) No. 2018-04, dated and effective February 8, 2018. VA issued the PPM in response to requests from VA contracting officers requesting guidance and procedures for the use of tiered evaluations within a single synopsized solicitation when applying the “VA Rule of Two.” The “goal” of the PPM is to minimize delays in the re-solicitation process incurred subsequent to the application of the “VA Rule of Two” at either the Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) and the Veteran-Owned Small Business (VOSB) priority tiers within a single-synopsized solicitation According to VA, this change will also streamline the process of satisfying VA’s obligation under Section 8127 of Title 38 United States Code when “viable” offers are not received at the SDVOSB or VOSB priority tiers within a single synopsized procurement. There are three types of tiered evaluations which VA will use. The first is “Tiered Evaluations Limited to SDVOSB or VOSB.” The second, “Tiered Evaluations Including Small Business Concerns. The third is “Tiered Evaluations Including Large Business Concerns.” The type tiered evaluation used will be based on the results of market research which must be conducted and documented in advance of the solicitation’s issuance. VA must include a notice in all solicitations issued using tiered evaluation. VA issued a Class Deviation to the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) on March 22, 2018, which was also effective immediately. The FAR Class Deviation was required to allow VA contracting officers to follow tiered evaluation procedures in PPM No. 2018-004. The language at FAR 19.502, prior to issuance of the Class Deviation limited the effectiveness of VA’s PPM No. 2018-04, as the FAR required contracting officers to withdraw the set-aside and resolicit the requirement if no acceptable offers are received from responsible small business concerns. PPM No. 2018-04 applies to all competitive procurements using tiered evaluations. The use of tiered evaluations for procurements of supplies, products, and services (including commercial items) is at the discretion of the contracting officer. When using tiered evaluations, the solicitation must be approved by a contracting official at least one level above the contracting officer who issues and prepares the solicitation. The approving official will validate the supporting market research has been thoroughly documented in advance of issuing the solicitation. About the Author: Wayne Simpson Consultant Wayne Simpson is retired from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) after 38 years of federal service. He served as the Executive Assistant to VA’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Acquisition and Logistics where he was the primary staff advisor to the Deputy Assistant Secretary, who serves concurrently as VA’s Senior Procurement Executive and Debarring Official. The post IT’S OFFICIAL: “Cascading” Set-Asides Are Now Authorized at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) appeared first on Centre Law & Consulting. View the full article
  2. By Heather Mims Ordinarily, the GAO will decline to review the termination of contracts for convenience because such actions are matters of contract interpretation and are more properly brought within the context of a CDA claim. However, in the recent decision of AutoFlex, Inc., B-415926 (Apr. 19, 2018), the GAO noted that it will review the propriety of a termination for convenience where the termination flows from a defect the contracting agency perceived in the award process. AutoFlex, Inc. was one such case. There, the RFQ was issued as a small business set-aside for a fixed-price contract for the lease of four 2018 Chevrolet Suburbans. The RFQ stated award would be made on a lowest-price, technically acceptable basis. The agency received five quotes in response to the solicitation, including, as relevant here, quotes from AutoFlex and District Fleet. District Fleet filed the lowest-price quotation, which the agency originally found technically unacceptable. The agency then subsequently made the award to AutoFlex, the incumbent, and the second lowest-price offeror. District Fleet then filed an agency-level protest. The agency ultimately found that its evaluation of District Fleet’s quotation was erroneous and found that District Fleet’s quote was technically acceptable. Thus, the agency terminated AutoFlex’s contract and awarded the contract to District Fleet. AutoFlex’s protest to the GAO followed. Specifically, AutoFlex argued that the agency unreasonably terminated its contract. The GAO first noted that generally, it will not review the termination of contracts for convenience. However, the GAO will review the propriety of a termination where it flows from a defect the agency perceived in the award process. In such cases, the GAO will review the award procedures that underlie the termination decision for the limited purpose of determining whether the initial award was improper and, if so, whether the corrective action taken was proper. However, the GAO will not object to the corrective action taken so long as the action taken is appropriate to remedy the impropriety in the award process. While the GAO ultimately denied AutoFlex’s protest, this protest serves as a good reminder that, under the right circumstances, the GAO will occasionally review a termination for convenience decision. About the Author: 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 GAO Will Occasionally Review Terminations for Convenience appeared first on Centre Law & Consulting. View the full article
  3. Centre Law & Consulting

    Communication, Consistency and … the OFCCP?

    By David Warner, As most federal contractors are aware, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (“OFCCP”) is the agency responsible for ensuring that contractors and subcontractors doing business with the U.S. government comply with affirmative action and non-discrimination obligations under federal laws, executive orders, and regulations. In September 2016, the Government Accounting Office (“GAO”) issued a report recommending that OFCCP review its compliance assistance efforts to identify opportunities for enhancing contractors’ understanding of their obligations. To provide the opportunity for contractors to offer their perspectives while implementing the GAO’s recommendation, in 2017 the OFCCP conducted three “Compliance Assistance Town Halls,” followed by three “stakeholder meetings” in Washington DC, in January of this year. Last month, the agency issued its resulting “Town Hall Action Plan,” which identified three over-arching areas of focus – training, communication, and trust – as well as three responsive initiatives: Review and enhance contractor compliance assistance materials Assess and improve the quality of contractor and compliance officer training and education Increase transparency and communication with agency stakeholders. Of most interest (at least to this author), is the “transparency and communication” initiative, which the OFCCP expects to include a “Bill of Rights” styled, What Can Contractors Can Expect, document that will “outline certain OFCCP principles that contractors can expect to exist during an engagement with OFCCP.” They identified these principles as including, but not limited to, “such things as timeliness, accuracy, communication, confidentiality, and professionalism.” Perhaps more important than the aspirational bromides, however, is the effort to “achieve consistency across regional and district offices” through the use of a Predetermination Notice (PDN) in those instances where the agency believes it finds evidence of potential discrimination. The use of PDNs prior to the issuance of a Notice of Violations (NOV) is intended to encourage communication between contractor and OFCCP and to allow the opportunity to respond with supplemental information. Also, per the Action Plan, “regional discretion is no longer permitted and the national office will review all PDNs to ensure appropriate consistency and uniformity.” Time will – of course – tell; but, for those of us interacting regularly with the agency, an effort to achieve “consistency and uniformity” as to the investigative approach across the nation’s various regions and districts would be a welcome development. Similarly, promised updates to long outdated Technical Assistance Guides should help contractors who might be relatively unfamiliar with the OFCCP and its processes to stay clear of compliance challenges. About the Author: 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 Communication, Consistency and … the OFCCP? appeared first on Centre Law & Consulting. View the full article
  4. By Wayne Simpson, CFCM, CSCM On May 1, 2018, the General Services Administration (GSA) published FAC 2005-98 in the Federal Register, covering a number of FAR Cases with Final Rules effective May 31, 2018. The online version of the FAR (www.acquisition.gov) will not be updated until May 31, 2018. FAR Case 2017-007, Task-and-Delivery Order Protest; Final Rule, effective May 31, 2018. This Final Rule amends FAR Part 16 and implements § 835 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2017 (P.L. 114-328), which raises the protest threshold for task and delivery orders from $10 million to $25 million. According to GAO, there are fewer than 10 protests per year of procurements between $10 million and $25 million, the higher threshold for protests of task or delivery orders for DoD, NASA, and the Coast Guard will result in savings for GAO and the affected Executive branch agencies, because there will no longer be protests of orders valued between $10 million and $25 million based on dollar value. FAR Case 2017-004, Liquidated Damages Rate Adjustment, Final Rule, effective May 31, 2018. This Final Rule amends FAR Parts 22 and 52 and implements the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) interim final rule published in the Federal Register July 1, 2016, and the final rule published in the Federal Register on January 18, 2017, and subsequent adjustments for inflation pursuant to the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Act of 1990, as amended by the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act of 2015. The final rule specifically addresses violations and liability for unpaid wages (overtime) under the Contract Work Hours and Safety Standards Statute. FAR Case 2015-039, Audit of Settlement Proposals, Final Rule, effective May 31, 2018. This final rule to amends FAR Part 49 to raise the dollar threshold requirement for the audit of prime contract settlement proposals and subcontract settlements from $100,000 to align with the threshold for obtaining certified cost or pricing data, which is $750,000. This final rule impacts contractors subject to audits of their termination settlement proposals and eliminates termination settlements audits between $100,000 and the threshold for obtaining certified cost or pricing data, currently $750,000. Contractors will save costs associated with the preparation and support for the termination settlement audits. This will also enable faster final settlement payments to contractors, thereby improving contractor cash flow. FAR Case 2017-008 (Item II), Duties of the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU), Final Rule, effective May 31, 2018. This final rule amends FAR Part 19 to reflect sections of NDAA 2017, P.L. 114-238, amends § 15(k) of the Small Business Act to provide additional duties for OSDBUs. These additional duties also apply to DOD Offices of Small Business Programs. NDAA § 1812, § 1813, § 1821 of the NDAA for FY 2017 amend section 15(k) of the Small Business Act to add duties for OSDBUs and OSBPs. Section 1812 of the NDAA for FY 2017 amends the Small Business Act to specifically reference the existing duties of OSDBUs and OSBPs with respect to the various small business programs and consolidation of contract requirements. Section 1812 also requires OSDBUs and OSBPs review summary purchase card data for acquisitions above the micro-purchase threshold (e.g., $3,500)*, but below the simplified acquisition threshold (e.g., $150,000)*, to ensure these acquisitions are compliant with the Small Business Act and have been properly recorded in the Federal Procurement Data System (FPDS). The revision to the FAR reflecting section 1812 of the NDAA includes flexibility for each OSDBU or OSBP to identify the best purchase card data available to their agency when implementing the statutory requirement. *Note: The micro-purchase and simplified acquisition thresholds were raised by NDAA 2018 to $10,000 and $250,000, respectively. A final rule has not been implemented (FAR Case 2018-004), but agencies have been authorized to implement Class Deviations to begin using the new thresholds before the Final Rule is promulgated (see Civilian Agency Acquisition Council Letter No 2018-03, dated February 16, 2018) Paragraph (a) of section 1813 requires OSDBUs and OSBPs to provide assistance to a small business prime contractor or subcontractor in finding resources for education and training on compliance with the FAR after award of their contract or subcontract. Paragraph (b) of section 1821 requires OSDBUs and OSBPs to review all required small business subcontracting plans to ensure that they provide maximum practicable opportunity for small business concerns to participate as subcontractors. Currently, acquisition-related duties of OSDBUs and OSBPs are found in FAR 19.201, General policy. The duties found in FAR 19.201 are based on the duties found in section 15(k) of the Small Business Act (15 U.S.C. 644(k)). Additional OSDBU and OSBP acquisition-related duties enacted before the NDAA for FY 2017 listed at 15 U.S.C. 644(k), which were not previously updated in the FAR, are also included in this rule. Additionally, this rule revises the OSDBU and OSBP duty at FAR 19.201(c)(5), which relates to increasing small business participation in solicitations that involve bundling. This revision reflects that OSDBUs and OSBPs perform much broader functions under those scenarios than what is currently listed in the FAR. FAC 2005-98 contains GSA’s introduction to the FAC, as well as the Small Entity Compliance Guide required by § 212 of the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996. About the Author: Wayne Simpson Consultant Wayne Simpson is retired from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) after 38 years of federal service. He served as the Executive Assistant to VA’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Acquisition and Logistics where he was the primary staff advisor to the Deputy Assistant Secretary, who serves concurrently as VA’s Senior Procurement Executive and Debarring Official. The post Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Update—New Rules appeared first on Centre Law & Consulting. View the full article
  5. By Barbara Kinosky General Dynamics Information Technology (GDIT) has been accused of underpaying about 10,000 workers allegedly covered by the Service Contract Act (SCA). These workers run help hotlines for public insurance programs. Four complaints were filed Monday at the Department of Labor by the Communication Workers of America. It’s interesting that this union does not represent any of the workers. There is no private right of action under the SCA so I am a bit perplexed over how this union can bring a complaint. The complaint alleges that most of the call center workers are paid $10.52 an hour which is below the service contract act rate for such jobs in Kentucky. It doesn’t matter what side you are on in this case, one thing I think we can all agree upon is that the service contract act is a very complicated act indeed. Ways to avoid this issue is to ask the contracting officer in writing, during the solicitation process, if the SCA applies to the contract, if you think it might, and to definitely ask when the SCA FAR clause is in the solicitation but no wage determinations are attached to the RFP. Click to read Washington Post article The big question in Washington is whether Navy Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, appointed by Pres. Trump to lead Veterans Affairs, will continue to have White House support. New allegations have come out from former military staff who allege that Jackson was drunk while on duty. The concern over Jackson’s nomination is bipartisan. Currently his confirmation hearing, which was supposed to occur this week, has been postponed indefinitely in light of the new information presented to the committee. I think his confirmation is doubtful. Thanks to Fran and Chris Craig of Unanet for hosting a dinner with Bloomberg’s Kevin Brancato. Kevin is predicting a big spend in the last quarter of this fiscal year. Money has been dribbling out in small contracts in the first two quarters so he says the burn will be higher than usual at the end of this fiscal year. Bloomberg thinks the winners will be small businesses particularly WOSB and SDVOSB. Bloomberg also spoke highly of NASA SEWP, for how well managed it is (congrats to Joanne Wojtek, Darleen Cohen and the rest of the awesome SEWP team). That’s all the news. I hope to see you at our Mid-Year Update: Hot Issues in Federal Contracting, on June 13th. Mid-Year provides everything you need to stay current on the developments that have come out over the first half of the year in the ever-changing field of government contracts. About the Author: Barbara Kinosky Managing Partner Barbara Kinosky is the Managing Partner of Centre Law and Consulting and has more than twenty-five years of experience in all aspects of federal government contracting. Barbara is a nationally known expert on GSA and VA Schedules and the Service Contract Act, and she has served as an expert witness for federal government contracting cases. The post Federal Contractor Breaches Service Contract Act: Thousands of Underpaid Workers appeared first on Centre Law & Consulting. View the full article
  6. By Maureen Jamieson, Executive Director of Consulting Hopefully, you have been following the breaking news regarding the final rule on Order-Level Materials (OLMs). After many years of discussion on this subject, the General Services Administration (GSA) is amending the General Services Administration Acquisition Regulation (GSAR) providing the authority to acquire OLMs when placing task or delivery orders against a Federal Supply Schedule (FSS) or FSS Blanket Purchase Agreement (BPA). And exactly what is the definition of OLMs? OLMs are supplies and/or services acquired in direct support of an individual task or delivery order placed against an FSS Schedule or BPA when the supplies and/or services are not known at the time of schedule or BPA award. Please note that Other Direct Costs, which are known at the time of schedule award, will remain as an option. Examples of these types of Other Direct Costs can be found on the Professional Services Schedule (PSS) under the Ancillary and Other Direct Cost SIN descriptions. Key points of the OLM final rule: The total value of all OLMs cannot be greater than one-third the volume of the total order. (Note that travel is excluded from this calculation). Fair and reasonable pricing, defined as a minimum of three (3) quotes for each OLM exceeding the Simplified Acquisition Threshold, will be required. However, contractors with approved purchasing systems are exempt. Indirect Costs on OLMs are allowed. GSA training is being updated to address indirect cost application. Industrial Funding Fee (IFF) will be incorporated into pricing at the Task Order level. What are the next steps? Advanced notice of the OLM final rule will be provided this month on interact.gsa.gov. Be sure to review and provide comments back to GSA. Next month, look for OLM webinars hosted by GSA. The month of May will also kick off GSA wide internal training including training for Industrial Operations Analysts. GSA expects to issue Mass Modifications for the addition of OLMs by June or July 2018. You will have ninety (90) days to accept or decline this OLM mod. When and if you accept the forthcoming OLM Mass Modification, a new OLM SIN will be created. This new SIN will automatically be uploaded into e-library on GSA Advantage. Centre Law & Consulting will keep you updated on OLM developments via our LinkedIn group GSA Schedule News, Updates, & Discussions. We hope to see you at Boot Camp for GSA Schedules on May 8-9. You can bring your colleague for free*! You’ll gain the necessary skills to understand and negotiate your own GSA Schedule and/or make modifications to an existing schedule, as well as keep up with the changes that affect your contract administration and compliance efforts. *Promotion expires May 1. The post GSA Order-Level Materials (OLMs) – Updates and Next Steps appeared first on Centre Law & Consulting. View the full article
  7. By Tyler Freiberger If you represent government contractors, or if you are one, it seems eventually you will develop a love-hate relationship with The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The purpose and goal of FOIA is somewhat remarkable; quick access to any government information not specifically confidential or otherwise classified. But in practice, this rarely seems to be the case. Some days you need a simple piece of information; you know the Agency wrote a report, you know nothing in it is confidential, and you know it’s going to take six months for them to hand it over anyway. Other times you get an email from a FOIA officer along the lines of this: “Hi, three years ago your competitor requested your contract proposal including your technical and pricing breakdown. If you don’t want us to hand it over, please submit a redacted version of the three-hundred-page document in seven days (December 26th) with your argument for redacting each line.” I thought at first it was just me. Every FOIA Officer or liaison I spoke with when trying to get compliance seemed hardworking and helpful. That hasn’t changed. But a quick look at the numbers told me I was far from alone. How is such a well-intentioned law so frustrating to contractors and agency’s alike? Well, because so far frustrating is cheaper than compliance, but that may be changing. Under 5 U.S. Code § 552, the requirements placed on a federal agency are fairly simple. Once your FOIA request gets in the right agency hands, they have twenty days to grant or deny it. The agency can stall the clock for a few days here and there but in general the deadline would not go over a month. Of course, some requests involve very sensitive material and the agencies can employ legitimate exceptions. For a few thousand examples enjoy the CIA’s answer to frequent FOIA requests about UFOs. See page after page of heavily redacted notes and reports on UFOs since the 1940’s, all published online for a convenient “go fish” response to any request. But that’s not what this post is about. It’s about the simple, non-controversial and short requests that happen every day and are not answered within the statutory deadline. Looking at Homeland Security alone, of the approximate 340,000 FOIA requests that were processed in 2017, about 180,000 of them took longer than twenty days to process. This handy tool can give you a FOIA compliance report on any agency you work with so you can see how they stack up. While Homeland Security is particularly backlogged, no agency really stands out as compliant. The American Battle Monuments Commission, for example, had only 31 FOIA requests in 2017, and half were processed within 20 days. Keep in mind these compliance responses include, “here is the website with that information already publicly available” like the CIA example above. This may all seem obvious; government agencies have an old reputation for being slow and bureaucratic. But what is surprising here is the federal courts seem very unsympathetic. When an agency misses its response deadline without applying a rare exception, courts consider the FOIA request denied. Oglesby v. U.S. Dep’t of Army, 920 F.2d 57, 65 (D.C. Cir. 1990). In practice, most “deemed denials” are just ignored. The requesting party ignores the delay and waits patiently. But why? Here is the fascinating aspect about federal agencies’ overwhelming failure to comply with the mandate clearly described by Congress; if an Agency improperly denies your FOIA request, you have a right to sue, and the Agency pays for your lawyer (well, a “reasonable” fee at least). Clearly, this is rarely done. Look at the Homeland Security numbers again. Of the 180,000 FOIA requests that took more than 20 days to comply within 2017, if even half of them filed complaints to enforce the clear deadlines, then federal courts across the country would immediately clog. Even the massive Homeland Security would suffocate under the legal bills of 90,000 successful complainants. Sure, no one really wants that, but Congress has been very clear on the goals of FOIA and courts are very willing to bring down the gavels for agencies not meeting them. So, what gives? It appears agencies are just underfunding these programs and relying on the laziness of most requesters. Sure, that’s speculation. But how else do you explain a 50% fail rate on compliance when doing so could result in $20,000 in legal fees a pop? But that game seems to be getting more dangerous by the day. After looking at the numbers and seeing how waiting patiently is just the norm, rather than the exception, I know I’m done waiting patiently. About the Author: 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 Welcome to FOIA: Where the rules are made up and the deadline doesn’t matter appeared first on Centre Law & Consulting. View the full article
  8. By Wayne Simpson, CFCM, CSCM, Centre Consultant Some U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Federal Supply Schedule Contractors, and prospective contractors are questioning the value of the VA FSS Program. Changes to VA’s Acquisition Regulations (VAAR) since the unanimous U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decision in the matter of Kingdomware Technologies, Inc. vs. the United States (Kingdomware) and the VA Strategic Acquisition Center’s (SAC) use of open market procurement strategies in its failed attempts at establishing VA’s Med/Surg Prime Vendor Program is causing some to re-think the value of continuing or participating in VA’s FSS Program. Below is a synopsis of the reported VA FSS Sales for each of the nine VA schedules, shown in descending order by dollar value. Charts for each schedule which also show the totals amounts for “Other Government Agency Sales” (OGA) and Sales of “State and Local Governments”, in addition to VA’s Sales, are available for review and download by clicking here. VA’s Total Reported FSS Sales in Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 are in excess of $14 Billion, up from over $13.9 Billion in FY 2016. VA FSS 65 I B—Drugs, Pharmaceuticals, and Hematology Related Products By far the VA’s largest schedule by dollar value, accounting for nearly 79% of all reported sales. Reported sales increased from $10.865 Billion in FY 2016 to nearly $11.070 Billion in FY 2017. Sales for VA, OGA, and State and Local Governments all experienced increases. VA FSS 65 II A—Medical Equipment and Supplies Has experienced decreased sales every year since FY 2015, and the trend continued in FY 2017. Total sales decreased from $1.672 Billion in FY 2016 to $1.633 Billion in FY 2017. Notwithstanding the VA SAC’s open market procurements, VA spending under FSS 65 II A increased from $1.337 Billion in FY 2016 to $1.356 Billion in FY 2017. This is VA’s second largest schedule by sales volume and the one most impacted by VA’s Med/Surg Prime Vendor Program. VA FSS 621 I—Professional and Allied Healthcare Staffing Services Sales decreased in FY 2017 to $433.3 Million, down from $445.1 Million in FY 2016. VA FSS 66 III—Cost-Per-Test Medical Analyzer Sales increased in FY 2017 to $304.1 Million; an increase from $298.1 Million in FY 2016. VA FSS 65 II F—Patient Mobility Services Sales increased in FY 2017 to $204 Million, an increase from $184.2 Million in FY 2016. VA FSS 65 V II—Invitro Diagnostics, Reagents, Test Kits and Test Sets Sales increased to $141.9 Million, up from $137.8 Million in FY 2016. VA FSS 621 II—Medical Laboratory Testing and Analysis Services Sales Increased to $132.2 Million, up from $125.7 Million in FY 2016. VA FSS 65 II C—Dental Equipment and Supplies Sales decreased to $101.4 Million, down from $128.1 Million in FY 2016. VA FSS 65 V A—X-Ray Equipment and Supplies Sales increased in FY 2017 to $5.01 Million, up from $4.4 in FY 2016 So are VA FSS contracts still a viable option for contractors in the VA marketplace? The answer will likely depend on which VA FSS is applicable to your company’s products or services, and the vagaries of VA’s SAC and its quest for a new and ensuring solution to the Next Generation Med/Surg Prime Vendor Program—“Med/Surg Prime Vendor 2.0.” Centre Law & Consulting has seasoned acquisition professionals ready to assist you in applying for or administering a VA FSS Contract, including Subcontracting Plans/Programs. Best wishes to you for every continued success in the Federal Marketplace! CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD FSS TREND CHARTS The post Are VA FSS Contracts Still a Viable Option for Contractors in the VA Marketplace? appeared first on Centre Law & Consulting. View the full article
  9. Centre Law & Consulting

    Fraud Alert: SAM Website Hit Again

    By Wayne Simpson, CFCM, CSCM Thousands of Registrants Potential Fraud Victims—Check Your Info!! Once again, the Federal Government’s System for Award Management (SAM) (www.sam.gov) was the target of fraudulent activity. SAM is the official website of the United States Government for entities to register to do business with the Federal Government. The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), the Federal agency responsible for administering the SAM System, began notifying registrants on March 22, 2018, after discovering a third-party changed financial information in SAM for registrants. GSA’s Inspector General is investigating the cybersecurity breach. GSA advises “entities should contact their federal agency awarding official if they find that payments, which were due to their entity from a Federal agency, have been paid to a bank account other than the entity’s bank account.” As part of the steps GSA is taking to limit further fraud, GSA is now requiring an original, signed notarized letter identifying the authorized entity administrator for the entity associated with the DUNS number before a new SAM.gov entity will be activated. Most assuredly this will be administratively burdensome for new registrants, as well as GSA. It is unclear how many SAM registrants may be impacted by the most recent fraud perpetrated on them. Press accounts indicate GSA states only “a limited number” of contractors registered in SAM had their financial information changed. SAM registrants who have not been notified by GSA of fraudulent activity should log into their respective SAM accounts to review their financial information in SAM to ensure it is correct. Enjoy your freedom? Thank a Veteran! Please consider donating to a Veterans Service Organization About the Author: Wayne Simpson Consultant Wayne Simpson is retired from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) after 38 years of federal service. He served as the Executive Assistant to VA’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Acquisition and Logistics where he was the primary staff advisor to the Deputy Assistant Secretary, who serves concurrently as VA’s Senior Procurement Executive and Debarring Official. The post Fraud Alert: SAM Website Hit Again appeared first on Centre Law & Consulting. View the full article
  10. By David Warner In August 2017, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) brought a class action lawsuit against cosmetics giant Estée Lauder alleging that the company violated federal law when it implemented and administered a paid parental leave program that automatically provides male employees who are new fathers lesser parental leave benefits than are provided to female employees who are new mothers. The suit alleged that, under the company’s parental leave program, in addition to paid leave already provided to new mothers to recover from childbirth, new mothers were provided an additional six weeks of paid child bonding leave for child bonding. In contrast, the plan only provided new fathers with two weeks of paid child bonding leave. Recently, the EEOC and Estée Lauder reached a settlement in the matter. While the terms of the settlement remain confidential, it is highly likely that the resolution required the company to equalize child binding leave as between mothers and fathers. This would be consistent with the EEOC’s guidance that, given the prohibition against gender-based discrimination under Title VII, if bonding leave is offered to employees men and women must be able to take equal amounts of that leave. While some commentators have suggested that parental leave policies should no longer have varying levels of benefits for “primary” and “secondary” caregivers, such distinctions would not appear to conflict with Title VII or the EEOC’s guidance so long as they are administered without regard to an employee’s gender. Further, greater leave for “disability” arising out of childbirth is similarly seen as legitimate and non-discriminatory even if it has the practical effect of providing greater leave benefits to bother as opposed to fathers. Parental leave policies are an attractive benefit for employees; but, given the EEOC’s recent success with Estée Lauder, employers are well counseled to review their policies to ensure that disability or maternity-related leave is clearly distinguished from bonding leave and that bonding leave, if provided, is equally available to both mothers and fathers. About the Author: 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 “Hot Take” Alert – Turns Out, Dads Are Parents Too! appeared first on Centre Law & Consulting. View the full article
  11. By Barbara Kinosky: Congress’s Section 809 Panel has made their first move on DoD acquisition system reform. The committee is made up of 18 experts in government contracts and is “charged with making recommendations that will shape DoD’s acquisition system into one that is bold, simple, and effective.” Yours truly testified before them. Section 809 Panel has the difficult job of thoroughly reviewing every DoD acquisition regulation ever written, and then conclude which regulations should remain active and which should be eliminated. After a year of study, the panel has released its first report, containing 73 recommendations for procurement reform. This first volume focuses on commercial buying, contracts audits from DCAA, small business policy, and more. One of the top recommendations is to create a “mission driven” acquisition system to replace the current “process-oriented” system. The idea proposed by the panel is to grant DoD officials the ability to choose from various contracting procedures, so they may choose one that produces the best results for their mission. A major takeaway from the report is the segmentation of the current acquisition process. The report defines these four “lanes” of procurement: Lane 1 – “Readily Available: This lane encompasses existing products and services that require no vendor customization to meet DoD’s needs.” Lane 2 – “Minor Customization: The second lane includes products and services that are primarily sold in the private sector, and for which DoD may be one of many potential buyers.” Lane 3 – “Major Customization: This lane includes products and services for which DoD may be one of few potential buyers, and for which there may be little or no private‐sector applicability.” Lane 4 – “Defense‐Specific Development: In this lane there is no private‐sector applicability, as the products and services are developed exclusively for defense‐related use.” Major missions outlined by the report: Commercial Buying – “Streamline and simplify DoD’s access to the commercial market.” Contract Compliance and Audit – “Improve the contract compliance and audit processes by focusing on the needs of contracting officers and acquisition team members.” Small Business – “Refocus DoD’s small business policies and programs to prioritize mission and advance warfighting capabilities and capacities.” The report outlines various other missions as well, and is only the first volume out of three – which will all cover the panels comprehensive examination of acquisition reform. Source: https://section809panel.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Sec809Panel_Vol1-Report_Jan18_FINAL.pdf About the Author: Barbara Kinosky Managing Partner Barbara Kinosky is the Managing Partner of Centre Law and Consulting and has more than twenty-five years of experience in all aspects of federal government contracting. Barbara is a nationally known expert on GSA and VA Schedules and the Service Contract Act, and she has served as an expert witness for federal government contracting cases. The post Section 809 Panel: Taking Action on Acquisition Reform appeared first on Centre Law & Consulting. View the full article
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    David Warner on Federal Drive with Tom Temin

    On September 15, 2015, President Obama signed the Executive Order requiring federal contractors and subcontractors to provide one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, up to at least seven days per year. It presents both a cost and an administrative burden. David Warner, partner at Centre Law and Consulting joined Federal Drive with Tom Temin to explain what this means to contractors. Hear the interview. David Warner and Tom Temin. Photo credit: Eric White, Federal News Radio The post David Warner on Federal Drive with Tom Temin appeared first on Centre Law & Consulting. View the full article
  13. By Wayne Simpson, Centre Consultant, CFCM, CSCM Good news for Federal contractors and buyers. On February 16, 2018, the Civilian Agency Acquisition Council (CAAC) issued CAAC Letter No. 2018-02 to Federal agencies regarding a class deviation to the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) for implementing the new increased micropurchase and simplified acquisition thresholds. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2018 (Public Law 115-91, December 12, 2017) (NDAA 2018), raises the micropurchase and simplified acquisition thresholds for Federal acquisitions. Section 806 of NDAA 2018 increases the micropurchase threshold for products only from $3,500 to $10,000. The micropurchase thresholds for acquisitions involving services and construction services remain unchanged. The micropurchase threshold for services remains $2,500 (Service Contract Labor Standards—formerly the Service Contract Act of 1965), and $2,000 for construction services (Construction Wage Rate Requirements Statute—formerly the Davis-Bacon Act). Section 805 of NDAA 2018 increases the simplified acquisition threshold from $150,000 to $250,000. FAR Case 2018-004 was established to implement these statutory changes in the FAR. CAAC Letter No. 2018-02 indicates agencies may have a need to use the increased thresholds prior to publication of the FAR changes. The CAAC letter constitutes the consultation required under FAR with the CAAC allowing agencies to authorize a class deviation to implement the changes effective immediately. Some agencies may elect to implement through a FAR class deviation immediately, while others may wait for publication of the actual rule. A change to the micropurchase threshold contained in Section 217(b) of NDAA for Fiscal Year 2017 (Public Law 114-238) (NDAA 2017), not yet implemented, was overtaken by NDAA 2018. NDAA 2017 changed a portion of the micropurchase threshold definition in FAR 2.101, to increase the micropurchase threshold for acquisitions from institutions of higher education or related or affiliated nonprofit entities, or from nonprofit research organizations or independent research institutes to $10,000. The new micropurchase threshold of $10,000 set by NDAA 2018 makes no such distinction. There are some exceptions to the new $10,000 micropurchase threshold. Acquisitions for supplies or services, as determined by the Agency Head, to be used to support contingency operations; to facilitate defense against, or recovery from cyber, nuclear, biological, chemical or radiological attack; to support a request from the Secretary of State or the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development to facilitate provisions of international disaster assistance or to support a response to an emergency or major disaster (except for construction) have a higher micropurchase threshold, $20,000 in the case of any contract to be awarded performed, or purchase to be made, inside the United States, and $30,000 if outside the United States. The simplified acquisition threshold increase will affect the applicability of many FAR-prescribed provisions and clauses which are tied to the simplified acquisition threshold, as well as FAR Part 13, Simplified Acquisition Procedures. The increase will allow government contracting officers to buy more efficiently using FAR Part 13. FAR clauses applicable at the new simplified acquisition threshold should benefit government contractors by reducing the compliance burden for those clauses and provisions. Please also note changes to FAR Part 19, Small Business Programs because of the threshold changes. Specifically, FAR 19.203, Relationship Among Small Business Programs, requires the acquisition of supplies and services with anticipated values exceeding $10,000 (and the exceptions noted above) and $250,000 are automatically reserved for small business (see also FAR 19.502-1). There are also some exceptions to the new $250,000 simplified acquisition threshold. Acquisitions for supplies or services, as determined by the Agency Head, to be used to support contingency operations; to facilitate defense against, or recovery from cyber, nuclear, biological, chemical or radiological attack; to support a request from the Secretary of State or the Administrator U.S. Aid to facilitate provisions of international disaster assistance or to support a response to an emergency or major disaster (except for construction) is $750,000 in the case of any contract to be awarded performed, or purchase to be made, inside the United States, and $1.5 Million if outside the United States. Lastly, the simplified acquisition threshold for acquisitions for supplies or services, as determined by Agency heads, to be used to support a humanitarian or peacekeeping operation is $500,000. About the Author: Wayne Simpson Consultant Wayne Simpson is retired from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) after 38 years of federal service. He served as the Executive Assistant to VA’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Acquisition and Logistics where he was the primary staff advisor to the Deputy Assistant Secretary, who serves concurrently as VA’s Senior Procurement Executive and Debarring Official. The post Increased Micropurchase and Simplified Acquisition Thresholds May be Implemented Sooner Than Later appeared first on Centre Law & Consulting. View the full article
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    As One Protest Door Closes, Another One Opens

    By Heather Mims The protest saga of the Department of Education’s contracts for collection services for defaulted student loans has now been going on for over a year – and the contracts are worth fighting for as it is for a roughly $2.8 billion debt collection procurement. As a refresher, forty-seven companies originally submitted bids in response to the Department of Education’s RFP but only seven companies originally received contract awards back in December 2016. The unsuccessful offerors successfully protested that award at GAO on March 27, 2017. At that time, the GAO recommended that the agency conduct a new evaluation of proposals, potentially amend the solicitation and receive revised proposals, and subsequently document a new source selection decision. The GAO also took the fairly unusual step in awarding costs to several of the protesters. A subsequent bid protest was filed at the Court of Federal Claims on March 28, 2017, the day after the GAO decision was entered (docket number 1:17-cv-00449-TCW). On December 12, 2017, the Court of Federal Claims ordered the Department of Education to complete its corrective action, which the Department of Education completed on January 16, 2018. This corrective action resulted in an $800 million contract award to only two contractors – Windham Professionals Inc. and Performant Recovery Inc. The Court subsequently dismissed the bid protest on February 14, 2018. However, the action did not stop there. A new bid protest was filed February 9, 2018, alleging that the Department of Education’s corrective action and new awards didn’t fix material procurement errors (docket number 1:18-cv-00204-TCW). That matter currently has seventeen plaintiffs arguing against the allegedly improper award. To keep the matter even more interesting, one of the awardees is alleged to have financial ties to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. As the fight over this large value procurement does not appear to be winding down, Judge Thomas Wheeler of the Court of Federal Claims has remarked that the Court may see a large uptick in the number of bid protest cases filed in 2018, due in part to this Department of Education procurement. Judge Wheeler stated that the Court is on track to receive 200 bid protests this calendar year, which is a large increase over the 129 protests that were filed in 2017, which is an average number of bid protests for the Court. About the Author: 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 As One Protest Door Closes, Another One Opens appeared first on Centre Law & Consulting. View the full article
  15. By Tyler Freiberger To much international acclaim, earlier this year Iceland introduced a new equal pay act to fight discrimination against protected classes, particularly historically underpaid women. The introduction of the Act made the cover of Time magazine and garnered wide-spread attention on the 24-hour news networks’ cycles. While the historic Act may warrant such coverage, for domestic industry insiders the celebration of Iceland’s legislative prioritization of gender equality may ring a bit hollow, as the United States’ passed the Equal Pay Act over half a century ago. And, as Centre has discussed in the past, pay discrimination has been illegal ever since. Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) made a related show of force on the issue through its Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (“OFCCP”), issuing a thousand letters to government contractors advising that it may audit contractors for compliance with non-discrimination/affirmative action obligations, including matters of pay equity. Clearly, the global march towards gender equality moves forward, but before we rush toward an “Icelandic model,” there are complicated issues to address. First, there are clear conceptual differences between Iceland’s new model and the United States’ system. The “big move” of the Icelandic law is to demand that employers prove they are not paying women less than men; in contrast, the American system places that burden on the employee attempting to prove their case. Despite that variance in burden of proof, U.S. contractors reading these audit letters from DOL are likely not celebrating an easy road to compliance. In fact, with a recent groundbreaking study out of Stanford, it is clear employers can have a very thin rope to walk when attempting to eliminate a purported “pay gap.” American anti-discrimination laws are based upon the principle that, assuming an absence of discrimination all people will be equally represented and compensated in the workforce. Therefore, if a class of people are underrepresented/under-compensated in a workforce, something is wrong in the employer’s process. Yet, the law is clear that employers cannot make employment decisions based on gender, even if that decision is directly made to further affirmative action goals – i.e., “reverse” discrimination remains illegal even in an affirmative action context. Instead, the employer is meant to study its workforce, identify inequalities, and identify what gaps exist in its process that lead to inequality. Perhaps it is where the employer is recruiting, how it qualifies candidates, who it chooses to make hiring decisions, or what criteria the employer uses to advance current employees. The hundreds of government contractors recently receiving the OFCCP letters will be performing exactly these analyses. Imagine then, if a hard look at your workforce reflected men earning 7% more an hour than women for doing the exact same job; how do you react? It is expressly unlawful to purposely increase women’s pay 7% more an hour, so necessarily employers must identify what in their processes has caused the inequality. For context, this is the scenario Uber finds itself in after the aforementioned Stanford study. Upon examining over a million Uber rides in the Chicago area, researchers noted a substantial pay gap between male and female drivers, while “the average of rider ratings of drivers is statistically indistinguishable between genders.” In sum, women are making less money, while performing the same job, with equal customer satisfaction, and being paid through a computer algorithm where driving X distance at Y time results in a computer-generated rate. Discrimination, right? Well, maybe not. What makes the results so interesting is that under the Uber model, riders and drivers are assigned without gender preference; and, simultaneously riders are fined if they reject the driver pre-pickup. This essentially creates a double-blind system of assigning work. Preference for a male driver over a female driver – i.e. canceling a female driver’s pickup – awards the driver and punishes the rider. And, the study shows no (or at most very little) such driver selecting preference. Rather, the data revealed that the largest cause of the pay gap to be arising from the specific (and varying) times men and women decide to drive. Other than amending its scale to pay women more per ride than men, how might we (or Iceland) assert that Uber solve this problem? And is there even a “problem” to solve? If you are an American company sweating over a similar gap in your workforce, we can offer some relief. While American employers should always be exploring these questions, and considering solutions, the “unknown” currently goes in the employer’s favor. In the United States, employees still must present evidence isolating and identifying the discrete element in the hiring or compensation processes that allegedly produces the discriminatory outcome. See EEOC v. Freeman, 961 F. Supp. 2d 783 (D. Md. 2013), aff’d in part sub nom. E.E.O.C. v. Freeman, 778 F.3d 463 (4th Cir. 2015). Still, under either the U.S. or Iceland model, you do not want to be the last to know. About the Author: 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 Count Your Blessings- A Thousand DOL Audit Letters Never Looked So Good appeared first on Centre Law & Consulting. View the full article
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