Increased government attention to Federal Supply Schedule pricing may soon have contractors sharpening their pencils

Contractors supplying goods or services to the government through Federal Supply Schedules should expect increased scrutiny of their pricing in the coming months. In a July 2015 report [pdf], GAO released the results of a year-long performance audit analyzing government competition and pricing practices for FSS orders. The report highlights inconsistencies across FSS procurements, including purchasers’ frequent failure to ask FSS contractors for discounts to list prices (required by FAR 8.405-4 for orders exceeding the simplified acquisition threshold).

TCalculator stock photohe main issues identified in the GAO report are nothing new. GSA is already taking steps to address the inconsistent usage of the FSS system among buyers. In March 2015, GSA proposed a rule that would impose a new transactional data reporting requirement upon FSS vendors. (For an explanation of current Price Reduction Clause requirements, take a look at our discussion here.) The proposed rule is aimed at increasing transparency in pricing across government procurements, with the end goal of an overall reduction in prices paid for FSS supplies and services. While the rule is still pending, a number of the nearly three dozen comments submitted during the comment period reveal considerable opposition to the proposed changes. Regardless of whether the proposed rule is enacted, contractors can prepare to effectively contract through supply schedules in a few simple ways. Continue Reading

Bid protests in Virginia

HB Asbestos_Map_v4Contracts with Virginia agencies, counties, municipal governments, and school boards are governed by the Virginia Public Procurement Act. The Act requires the use of competitive procedures in the solicitation and award of public contracts. It also establishes a procedure for the submission and resolution of bid protests. See Va. Code Ann. § 2.2-4360(A).

How and when to protest a contract award decision

An actual or prospective bidder seeking to challenge the award of a Virginia government contract must submit a protest to the procuring agency or to an official designated by the agency. The protest must be submitted in writing. It must include the basis for the protest and the relief sought. A bid protest must be submitted no later than ten days after the award or the announcement of the decision to award, whichever occurs first. This deadline is extended if the protest depends on obtaining access to documents. In those situations, the protest must be submitted within ten days after the records are made available. The VPPA does not specifically allow for the submission of a pre-award protest that challenges the terms and conditions of a solicitation.

If a protest is timely filed, the award and performance of the contract is automatically stayed unless the agency determines in writing that “proceeding without delay is necessary to protect the public interest or unless that bid or offer would expire.”  Va. Code Ann. § 2.2-4362. Continue Reading

Colorado bid protests

HB Asbestos_Map_v4The Colorado Procurement Code grants the right to submit a protest to “[a]ny actual or prospective bidder, offeror, or contractor who is aggrieved in connection with the solicitation or award of a contract.” Colo. Rev. Stat. § 24-109-102(1).

A protest must be submitted in writing within seven working days after the protester knew or should have known of the grounds for the protest, usually directly after the contract award decision by the agency issuing the solicitation or bid request. The protest must be submitted to the head of the agency or his designee, who is usually the purchasing agent for the agency.

The purchasing agent for the agency may settle and resolve protests concerning the solicitation and contract award. Absent a settlement, a written decision is required within seven working days after the protest is filed. This decision is to be based on and limited to the issues raised in the protest. It must explain each of the factors taken into account in reaching the determination and must advise the protester of its appeal rights. Colo. Rev. Stat. § 24-109-107. The protest decision must be mailed or otherwise furnished immediately to the protester and is final and conclusive unless the protester files a timely appeal or initiates a court proceeding to challenge the decision. Continue Reading

Missouri bid protest procedures

HB Asbestos_Map_v4Public procurement in Missouri is conducted according to statutes and the rules published by the Division of Purchasing and Materials Management within the Missouri Office of Administration. See Chapter 34, Revised Statutes of Missouri; Missouri Code of State Regulations, Title 1, Division 40, Chapter 1—Procurement [pdf]. Although many protesters opt to bring their protest actions directly in court, there are voluntary procedures for the submission and resolution of bid protests involving purchases by Missouri state government agencies in 1 Mo. CSR 40-1.050(9). Continue Reading

The Tennessee bid protest process

Tennessee law explicitly provides interested parties the right to protest the terms of a solicitation for a contract with a state agency or the award or intended award of a state government contract. In each case, Tennessee’s procurement code and procurement regulations require the submission of a protest letter directed to the “Chief Procurement Officer” located in Nashville.

What is required to file a protest?

HB Asbestos_Map_v4Bid protests be submitted in writing and identify all of the reasons for the protest. They should be presented in the form of a letter that identifies the solicitation and the interested parties and summarizes the grounds for the protest. The specific grounds of protest that are available under Tennessee law are listed at Tenn. Comp. R. & Regs. 0690-03-01-.12(2)(a). Continue Reading

South Carolina bid protests

South Carolina law provides a statutory procedure for the submission and resolution of bid protests. Under section 11-35-4210 of South Carolina’s Consolidated Procurement Code and section 19-445 of South Carolina’s procurement regulations, bid protests relating to procurements greater than $50,000 may be initiated with a letter directed to the appropriate chief procurement officer (“CPO”).

Filing the protest

A protest must be in writing and must set forth the grounds of protest and the relief requested with enough particularity to give notice of the issues to be decided. S.C. Code Ann. § 11-35-4210(2).

As with federal procurements and those of many other states, the deadline for the submission of a bid protest is short. If challenging the terms of a solicitation, a prospective bidder must file the protest within 15 days of the issue date of the invitation for bids or request for proposals. If an amendment to the solicitation is at issue, the protest must be filed within 15 days of the amendment.

South CarolinaThe deadline for protesting the award or intended award of a contract is even shorter. Unsuccessful bidders must file such protests within 10 days of the date of award or notification of intent to award, whichever is earlier. The protest can be amended after it is filed, but such amendments must be filed within 15 days after the date of award. S.C. Code Ann. § 11-35-4210(1)(b). Continue Reading

KBR v. US ex rel. Carter—a plain-meaning approach to the Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act and the False Claims Act first-to-file bar

The Supreme Court’s decision in Kellogg Brown & Root Services, Inc. v. United States ex rel. Carter, No. 12-1497 (U.S. May 26, 2015) [pdf], holds that the Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act applies only to criminal offenses. It also holds that the first-to-file bar in the False Claims Act applies only when an earlier-filed action remains “pending.” BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq.  Staff Sgt. Gary Messer, 332nd Expeditionary Aerospace Medical Squadron bioenvironmental engineer, transfers a sample of tap water to a tube before performing tests to confirm that the water is free from bacteria. March 13, 2008. (U.S. Air Force photo / Senior Airman Julianne Showalter.)The unanimous opinion, written by Justice Alito, takes a plain-meaning approach to both of the questions presented.

The Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act

Citing dictionary definitions of the word “offense” and the appearance of the WSLA in Title 18 of the U.S. Code, the Court inferred that Congress intended to toll the applicable statutes of limitations only in criminal cases. As to the removal of the phrase “now indictable” from the text of the WSLA in 1944, the Court found that such a subtle change does not prove that Congress intended to expand the tolling effect of the WSLA beyond criminal cases. “[T]he removal of the ‘now indictable’ provision was more plausibly driven by Congress’ intent to apply the WSLA prospectively, not by any desire to expand the WSLA’s reach to civil suits.”

Carter reverses the Fourth Circuit’s holding in United States ex rel. Carter v. Halliburton Co., 710 F.3d 171 (4th Cir. 2013) as to the scope of the WSLA. Continue Reading

U.S. Postal Service board enters the digital age

PSBCA seal

PSBCA sealThe first Board of Contract Appeals to fully enter the digital age is the Postal Service Board of Contract Appeals, which recently issued new rules on electronic filing.  Although the PSBCA hears claims against the agency that provides U.S. Mail, that method of filing will no longer be allowed (absent permission). The Postal Service, however, is not a Luddite agency and has embraced modern technology in running its business.

Effective July 2, 2015, PSBCA filings must be made electronically unless permission to submit physical filings is requested and obtained. The website for electronic filing is Online filers must use this exact web address. Omitting the initial “https://” – or the final “justiceweb” – results in an error message.  To assist users, the Board has created a PSBCA tutorial on electronic filing. Continue Reading

A primer on pre-award protests of federal procurements

You read the agency’s solicitation and realize the specifications are written around a competitor’s product and your product does not qualify. You alert the government to the issue to no avail. Where do you turn?  This can be the ideal situation to lodge a pre-award protest of the specifications.

What is a pre-award protest?

Image 2012 by Thangaraj KumaravelA pre-award specification protest challenges the agency’s description of the requirements contained in a solicitation or the ground rules under which the agency intends to conduct the procurement. Under the Competition in Contacting Act, a contracting agency is generally required to specify its needs and solicit offers in a manner that will achieve full and open competition, so that all responsible sources are permitted to compete. An agency generally may include restrictive provisions or conditions in its solicitations only to the extent necessary to satisfy the agency’s needs. 10 U.S.C. § 2305(a)(1)(A); 41 U.S.C. § 3306(a)(2)(B). When an agency’s solicitation contains restrictions that prevent a potential bidder from competing, potential bidders can protest that the solicitation improperly restricts competition.

Prevailing on this type of protest can be difficult because it requires the protestor to demonstrate that an agency acted unreasonably in describing its requirements, which is an area over which agencies are granted broad discretion. But the equities of such a challenge can be in the favor of the protestor because the protest seeks to expand competition, which ultimately should benefit the agency. The GAO recently sustained a pre-award protest of a Department of Veterans Affairs procurement for sterile foam dressings because the agency was unable to provide a reasonable explanation for a restrictive absorbency specification in its solicitation. Continue Reading

The 2015 amendments to the FAR rule on human trafficking

Redline of 2015 Amendments to FAR 52.222-50

The 2015 amendments to the anti-trafficking provisions in the Federal Acquisition Regulation will apply to all federal contracts and subcontracts awarded after March 2, 2015. Existing IDIQ contracts for which additional orders are anticipated will be modified “on a bilateral basis” to include the new language in FAR 52.222-50. See 80 Fed. Reg. 4967 (Jan. 29, 2015). The changes implement the requirements outlined in Executive Order 13627 (Sept. 25, 2012) and the anti-trafficking provisions of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, Public Law No. 112-239 (Jan. 2, 2013), codified in 22 U.S.C. Chapter 78.

Here we present some of the background on the original FAR clause and a summary of the new requirements. A redline version of the 2015 amendments to FAR 52.222-50 is available here.

The original FAR language on human trafficking

A contract clause prohibiting severe forms of human trafficking, procurement of commercial sex acts, and the use of forced labor has appeared in federal service contracts since April 2006. See 71 Fed. Reg. 20301 (Apr. 19, 2006) [pdf]. The 2006 version of the anti-trafficking clause included a general prohibition applicable to federal service contractors and a requirement to establish policies and procedures to ensure employee compliance. It required contractors to notify employees of the policy and to establish an appropriate employee awareness program. It required contractors to notify the government of an alleged violation and specified penalties for human trafficking violations. The original interim version of FAR 52.222-50 was also a mandatory flowdown in all subcontracts for the acquisition of services.

FAR 52.222-50 was expanded in 2007 to cover all federal contracts and subcontracts, including those for supplies and for commercial items. See 72 Fed. Reg. 46335 (Aug. 7, 2007). The clause was revised again in January 2009. See 74 Fed. Reg. 2741 (Jan. 15, 2009). The main substantive addition at that time was the addition of language making it clear that a contracting officer could consider the adoption of a Trafficking in Persons awareness program as a mitigating factor in determining the appropriate remedy for a trafficking violation.

The 2015 FAR amendments

The 2015 amendments to FAR Subpart 22.17 and FAR 52.222-50 go well beyond the original requirements. They introduce a list of specific types of conduct that had not previously appeared in the clause. They add a requirement for many contractors to implement trafficking compliance plans and to certify the absence of any trafficking activities every year. They also modify the mandatory disclosure obligations and specify the minimum level of cooperation required of contractors responding to a trafficking investigation. Finally, the amendments to the FAR clause expand the list of contracting relationships subject to the anti-trafficking clause. Continue Reading