It seems like a yearly ritual.  The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee (“SASC”) drafts and passes a version of the annual National Defense Authorization Act (“NDAA”) that includes reforms aimed at curtailing bid protests, while the House Armed Services Committee (“HASC”) drafts and passes a version of the NDAA that omits these bid protest reforms.  Every year, the majority of the reforms in Senate are eliminated during the conference committee process.  However, the FY2019 NDAA appears to be headed towards a break in this yearly ritual.

On June 5, 2018, the SASC introduced its version of the FY2019 NDAA to the Senate.  For the first time in several years, the SASC’s proposed version of the FY2019 NDAA does not contain any major reforms to limit bid protests.  The SASC’s proposed FY2019 NDAA (Section 811) contains only a few provisions aimed at bid protests, neither of which would limit bid protests.  Both provisions appear to be related to findings in RAND’s 2018 report of DoD bid protests:

Continue Reading Senate’s Proposed FY2019 NDAA Includes No Major Bid Protests Reforms (Despite DoD’s Request for Legislation to Curtail Second-Bite Protests)

Back when Congress passed the FY2017 NDAA, they included a provision (Section 1822) requiring SBA to create a pilot program to provide opportunities for qualified subcontractors to obtain past performance ratings. Specifically, Congress mandated that SBA create a 3-year pilot program whereby small business concerns without a past performance rating as a prime contractor in the Past Performance Information Retrieval System (PPIRS) (i.e., without a CPAR) may request a past performance rating in the Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System (CPARS), if the small business is a first tier subcontractor under a “covered contract.”  This pilot program has been codified at 15 U.S.C. 637(d)(17).

Recently, SBA published notice indicating that it will soon – possibly as early as late June 2018 – be commencing this pilot program. This exciting program could give both small business subcontractors and large business primes an additional tool to improve their chances of winning future contract awards. SBA has called for comments on the pilot program by June 19, specifically on the process outlined in SBA’s notice and SBA’s proposed application form for the pilot program (proposed SBA Form 2465).

Who is Eligible to Participate in the Pilot Program

In order to be eligible for the pilot program, a subcontractor must meet all of the following criteria:

  1. Be a Small Business Concern;
  2. Be without a Past Performance Rating as a prime contractor in CPARS;
  3. The application must be made in connection with the Small Business Concern’s performance of a first-tier subcontract under a contract that requires a subcontracting plan;
  4. Completed an application and submitted within 270 days after the Small Business Concern completed the work for which it seeks a past performance rating OR 180 days after the prime contractor completes work on the contract, whichever is earlier.
  5. Subcontract value meets the mandatory CPARS level: exceed the simplified acquisition threshold (as defined in FAR 2.101) or subcontracts for architect-engineer services valued at $35,000 or more as provided in FAR 42.1502; and
  6. Subcontractor is registered and active in the System for Award Management (SAM) located at www.sam.gov.

As seen above, the biggest restriction to this program is that to qualify the small business subcontractor cannot already have any past performance rating “as a prime” in CPARS. However, the pilot program does not necessarily limit a subcontractor to a single past performance review. Nothing prevents a subcontractor from receiving multiple past performance reviews as a subcontractor in CPARS under the pilot program. Small business concerns who only do work as subcontractors may be able to use this program multiple times, which could make them both a significantly more attractive teaming partner for large business primes and increase their own chances of winning prime contracts in the future.

How do Subcontractors Request a Past Performance Rating Under the Pilot Program?

  1. An eligible small business subcontractor completes a SBA Form 2465, which includes, amongst other things, the subcontractor’s suggested performance ratings for each past performance element (i.e. self-ratings) and “justification and written evidence supporting [each] suggested rating.”  The small business subcontractor then certifies the form and sends it to SBA’s Commercial Market Representative (the “Appropriate Official”) at SPPP@sba.gov.
  2. The Appropriate Official forwards the SBA Form 2465 to the Prime Contractor and the Office of Small Disadvantaged Business Utilization (“OSDBU”). The OSDBU and Prime Contractor have 30 calendar days to concur with the small business subcontractor’s suggested ratings, or to contest the suggested ratings and provide justifications for disagreement.
  3. If the OSDBU and the Prime Contractor both agree on a rating, or if either the OSDBU or Prime Contractor fail to respond and the responding person agrees with the small business subcontractor’s suggested ratings, the Appropriate Official shall enter the agreed-upon past performance rating in CPARS.
  4. Alternatively, if the OSDBU and the Prime Contractor both fail to respond to the submitted SBA Form 2465 within 30 days, or if they disagree about the rating, or if either the OSDBU or Prime Contractor fail to respond and the responding person disagrees with the small business subcontractor’s suggested rating, the disagreeing persons (OSDBU and/or Prime Contractor) shall submit a notice contesting the application to the Appropriate Official. The small business subcontractor then has an opportunity to submit comments, rebuttals, or additional information relating to its past performance. The Appropriate Official shall enter into CPARS “a rating that is neither favorable nor unfavorable” along with the initial application from the small business subcontractor, any responses of the OSDBU, the prime contractor, and any additional information provided by the small business subcontractor.

How a Part Performance Review Issued Under the Pilot Program Can be Used

Congress included the following broad language in the legislation concerning the use of past performance reviewed issued under the pilot program: “A small business subcontractor may use a past performance rating given under [this pilot program] to establish its past performance for a prime contract.”

Why Large and Small Businesses Should be Interested in this Pilot Program

Past performance reviews are the life blood of source selection in federal procurement. Nearly every federal procurement will have a past performance evaluation criteria of some kind, and generally past performance is the second most important evaluation criteria (after price). While the law (FAR 15.305(a)(2)) requires that in “the case of an offeror without a record of relevant past performance or for whom information on past performance is not available, the offeror may not be evaluated favorably or unfavorably on past performance,” the reality is that contractors that receive neutral evaluations on the past performance factor rarely win a contract award, absent a major price advantage. Given the importance of the past performance reviews to the source selection process, especially those past performance reviews that reside in CPARS/PPIRS, the SBA’s Pilot Program for Small Business Subcontractor Past Performance Reviews can provide significant advantages for both large business primes and small business subcontractors.

For small business subcontractors the advantages are clear. The pilot program will allow small business subcontractors to get one (or potentially multiple) past performance reviews in CPARS if they do not already have a past performance review as a prime in CPARS. Moreover, because of the process for program, small business subcontractors will be able to receive a past performance review on their own terms, a distinct advantage from the circumstances a prime contractor encounters. The small business subcontractor will be able to propose ratings (which become the ratings default if not countered by the reviewers), they get to cherry-pick which projects/periods of performance to request past performance review for (which allows the small business to only request a past performance review when it knows its performance has been excellent), and the risk of a negative review is mitigated by the requirement that if their is disagreement on a rating the past performance review will be entered into CPARS with “a rating that is neither favorable nor unfavorable.”  Given all these advantages, small business subcontractors without a review in CPARS as a prime should be able to use the pilot program to build a record of past performance, which will better enable them to compete for procurements as a prime contractor in the future, and which will make them a more attractive teaming partner to large business primes (as many source selections allow or require consideration of the past performance records of both the prime and major subcontractors).

This pilot program could also provide major benefits to large business primes that encourage their small business subcontractors to apply for past performance reviews. As already noted, many source selections allow or require consideration of the past performance records of both the prime and major subcontractors. Thus, large business primes often have an increased chance of receiving award if their subcontractors have a strong record of relevant past performance. Under the pilot program, the large business prime actually has influence on the past performance rating that its subcontractor receives, which essentially gives large business primes a role in improving their own team’s past performance record for use on future procurement. Large business primes should encourage the small business subcontractors that they frequently team with to take advantage of this pilot program, thereby allowing the large business prime to present a stronger record of past performance for its team in future procurements.

For years bid protest filings at the Government Accountability Office (GAO) have been done by e-mail (or even fax, mail or hand delivery).  In January 2014, Congress directed GAO to establish a electronic filing and document dissemination system (not unlike the PACER system used by federal courts), and authorized GAO to charge a filing fee to those filing bid protests.  Since that time, GAO has been working on developing an electronic filing system, which GAO calls “EPDS.”  The process has taken longer than most expected, but in February 2018 GAO announced EPDS was almost ready and started handling some protests on EPDS as part of a pilot program.  Today, GAO issued the final rule for EPDS, and announced that rule would take effect on May 1, 2018.  This means that starting in May all bid protest at GAO must be filed through EPDS (protesters will no longer be able to file protests by email) and GAO will charge a $350 fee for filing a protest.

Given the short and strictly enforced time limits for filing protests at GAO, those who file bid protests should consider signing up for an account immediately at https://epds.gao.gov/, and familiarize themselves with the new rules well before they take effect May 1st.  GAO has provided handy instruction manuals and videos for EPDS at https://www.gao.gov/legal/bid-protests/file-a-bid-protest.

As we previously discussed, when Congress passed the FY 2018 NDAA it required the Department of Defense (“DoD”) to issue regulations providing for enhanced post-award debriefing rights on certain DoD procurements.  Specifically, Congress mandated enhanced content requirements, a follow-up question process, and corresponding changes to the time to file a bid protest at GAO with a suspension of performance of the protested contract (a “CICA stay“):

  • Enhanced Content Requirements:  While protecting the confidential and proprietary information of other offerors, the debriefing shall include, at a minimum, the agency’s written source selection award determination, redacted to protect the confidential and proprietary information of other offerors.  These enhanced content requirements apply to “required” debriefings if (1) the contract award exceeds $100M, or (2) the contract award exceeds $10M and the contractor requesting the debriefing is a small business or nontraditional contractor who request such disclosure.
  • Follow-up Question Process:  Disappointed offeror would be allowed the opportunity for follow-up questions within two business days of receiving a post-award debriefing to be answered in writing by the agency within five business days.
  • Time to file protest at GAO and obtain a CICA stay:  The debriefing would not be considered concluded, and the five day post-debriefing period pertaining to when a protest needs to be filed to invoke a CICA stay would not commence, until the day the agency delivers its written responses to the disappointed offeror’s follow-up questions.

The enhanced content requirements were to be implemented through DFARS regulatory changes, which DoD has until June 2018 to issue.  On the other hand, the follow-up question process, and corresponding changes to the time to file a bid protest at GAO with a CICA stay, are already reflected in statutory changes (10 U.S.C. 2305(a)(5) and 31 U.S.C. 3553(d)(4)).  Still, changes to the DFARS were expected to implement the follow-up question process.  But this week, in advance of changes to the DFARS, DoD issued Class Deviation 2018-O0011 – Enhanced Postaward Debriefing Rights, which provides for the immediate implementation of the follow-up question process (and corresponding changes to the time to file a protest at GAO and obtain a CICA stay): Continue Reading DoD Begins Implementation of Enhanced Post-Award Debriefing Rights

Cooperative Agreements” are legal instruments that facilitate the transfer of something of value from federal executive agencies to states, local governments, and private recipients for a public purpose or benefit.

Cooperative Agreements are distinct from traditional procurement contracts and thus are not subject to the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR). Like Other Transaction Authority, this approach provides agencies greater freedom to craft the terms of an agreement around new or innovative endeavors. For example, the FDA uses this freedom to advance food safety with states by funding implementation of food safety rules. As the Federal contracting landscape becomes increasingly complex, Cooperative Agreements represent an opportunity for some contractors to pivot to a more streamlined federal funding mechanism. Continue Reading An Overview of Cooperative Agreements in Federal Contracting

The Randolph-Sheppard Act (“RSA”) grants blind persons, operating through State Licensing Agencies, mandatory priority in the award of contracts for the operation of vending facilities on federal property so long as the SLA contractor satisfies criteria established by the RSA’s implementing regulations prescribed by the U.S. Secretary of Education.  In its recent decision in State of Texas v. United Statesthe Court of Federal Claims (“COFC”) made two key rulings in relation to the RSA:

  1. Prior Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) decisions related to the RSA are not persuasive on the COFC, as GAO lacked jurisdiction to hear these protests, and
  2. The RSA creates a two pronged test before granting a State Licensing Agency (“SLA”) priority in a solicitation for vending services — (i) the SLA must be within the procurement’s competitive range, and (ii) the the contracting agency must perform cost and food quality evaluations pursuant to the solicitation, which may be in addition to a determination of whether the proposal falls within the competitive range.

In State of Texas v. United States, the Air Force issued a solicitation for vending services at Joint Base San Antonio.  The State of Texas, acting by and through one its state agencies that qualified as a SLA under the RSA for the purposes of the procurement, submitted a proposal.  The Air Force originally found that the State of Texas’ proposal did not fall within the competitive range.  In response to being excluded from the competitive range, the State of Texas filed for arbitration with the U.S. Department of Education, as is required by the RSA.

Continue Reading Texas Gets Burned: Court of Federal Claims Finds State’s Randolph-Sheppard Act Protest Premature

Earlier this year, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives passed different versions of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 (“FY 2018 NDAA”).  The Senate version contained dramatic bid protest reforms that, with the exception of the reforms to debriefing, were largely unpopular in the government contracting community.  The House version did not contain these reforms.  After meeting in conference over the past month to iron out the differences between the two bills, on Nov. 8, 2017, the House and Senate Armed Services Committees announced an agreement had been reached.  Contractors can breathe a sigh of relief, as most (if not all) of the protest reforms that the contracting community viewed negatively were left out of the bill agreed to in conference. Continue Reading House and Senate Strike Deal on Bid Protest Reforms in FY 2018 NDAA

Under the National Defense Authorization Acts (NDAAs), Congress provides legislation on various aspects of how the Department of Defense (DOD) defines and purchases commercial items. In July, Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a study on detailing (1) trends in the DOD’s acquisition of commercial items; and (2) recent NDAA changes from fiscal years 2013-2017 related to procurement of commercial items and actions taken by DOD in response to this legislation.

The Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act of 1994, of course, established a preference within the federal government to procure commercial items rather than items developed exclusively for the government.  “Commercial items” are generally defined as products and services readily available in the commercial marketplace. Purchasing commercial items enables the DOD to participate in the commercial marketplace (when appropriate) and to take advantage of market innovations and reduce its acquisition costs. Despite this preference, the GAO study shows the DOD has been slow to embrace the preference to buy commercial items – but why?  Continue Reading GAO Reports Decrease in Department of Defense Commercial Item Acquisitions

With every new administration, there is both great uncertainty and opportunity in federal government contracting. To help you navigate the rough seas of doing business with the federal government in this new administration, we have assembled nationally recognized practitioners who will cover topics relevant to government contractors large and small, novice and seasoned. Session topics include:
– Ten Things Every Contractor Needs to Know When Doing Business with the Federal Government
James F. Nagle | Oles Morrison Rinker & Baker LLP | Seattle, WA
 
– Writing a Winning Technical Proposal – From the Contracting Officer’s Perspective
Mona Carlson, Mary Jo Juarez | PTAC Kitsap Economic Dvlpmnt. Alliance – Navy Contracting Officer (retired) | Kitsap, WA
 
– Keys to Winning Bid Protests and Defending Contract Awards
Adam K. Lasky | Oles Morrison Rinker & Baker LLP | Seattle, WA
 
– Navigating the Complex Rules Governing Data Rights
Jonathan M. Baker | Crowell & Moring LLP | Washington D.C.
 
– Overlooked Risks of Being a Lower-Tier Government Contractor
Alan C. Rither | Pacific Northwest National Laboratory | Richland, WA
 
– Mistakes to Avoid in the Claims and Litigation Process
Donald G. Featherstun | Seyfarth Shaw LLP | San Francisco, CA
 
– Adapting to Buy American and Domestic Preference Rules in the Trump Administration
Howard W. Roth | Oles Morrison Rinker & Baker LLP | Seattle, WA
 
– Understanding & Managing the Risk of Suspension & Debarment
Dominique L. Casimir | Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholler LLP | Washington D.C.

Thursday, November 16th 

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272546436_4edcb4b3e0_bPresident Trump has signed Executive Order 13767 that directs a wall to be built on the Mexico-United States border.  The Department of Homeland Security has sought proposals to design and build a prototype of the border wall, and many contractors have submitted offers.  At the same time, several state and local governments (such as New York City, San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, New York, Illinois, and California) are considering or proposing legislation to prohibit contractors working on the border wall from contracting with that state/local government. These contractor “sanctions” are a complex, untested issue, and contractors bidding, or considering working, on the border wall project need to know that the issue is now in play. Such legislation, if adopted by a state/local government, will raise constitutional issues.  Aside from due process and equal protection issues, there are at least two relevant U.S. Constitution clauses both of which may ultimately doom any proposed state/local legislation to sanction border wall contractors: the Supremacy Clause and the Dormant Commerce Clause. Continue Reading Possible Constitutional Issues with Proposed State/Local Sanctions Against Contractors Working on President Trump’s Border Wall