Earlier this year we wrote about the final regulation consolidating most of the Federal Small Business Mentor-Protégé program under one office at the Small Business Administration. See 81 Fed. Reg. 48558 (July 25, 2016). The regulation expands the popular Mentor-Protégé program and should provide significant benefits to many more large and small companies. You can read our original post here.

One of the questions raised in comments on the draft regulation was how the SBA would cope with the expected significant increase in its workload. Accuracy and turn-around time are important elements of the SBA’s review role. In the final regulation, SBA generally addressed those concerns by promising to find new and improved ways to deliver the service. They committed to take one step at a time and scale up as needed.

It has now been five months since the final rule was published. We asked SBA Mentor-Protégé Director Holly Schick for a progress report on the transition. Director Schick says that the SBA has moved steadily if incrementally, to ramp-up the program.

Continue Reading Progress Report: SBA Mentor-Protégé Program rolls out and moves forward

Under a final rule published on July 25, 2016, the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Mentor-Protégé Program is now open to all small businesses. See 81 Fed. Reg. 48558 (July 25, 2016). This significant expansion can be expected to provide real benefits to small businesses, large businesses, and government agencies. The revamped program will no doubt increase the popularity of mentor-protégé agreements among companies seeking federal contracts for goods, services, and construction. With more small-business ventures available to compete, it may also increase the number of contract opportunities actually set aside for small business.

Origin of SBA’s 8(a) Mentor-Protégé Program

The Mentor-Protégé Program was authorized by Congress in 1991 as a pilot program to help certain small businesses compete for Defense Department contracts. By 1998, the SBA was administering a program to help socially and economically disadvantaged small businesses. These businesses were called “8(a) companies” because the program was authorized by section 8(a) of the Small Business Act. Qualified companies acting as mentors provided technical, managerial, and financial assistance to help 8(a) companies compete for federal contracts.

By 2011, roughly 1,000 participating mentor-protégé joint ventures held federal contracts, with about half of those monitored by the SBA. Twelve other participating agencies oversee and administer the other half of existing mentor-protégé participants. Each agency has its own rules and monitoring program. Continue Reading SBA’s new-and-improved Mentor-Protégé Program

Submitted by Husch Blackwell Associate Kayt Kopen

Federal contractors will soon need to update their Equal Employment Opportunity policies and their Affirmative Action Plans. According to an announcement by DOL’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, federal contracts and subcontracts awarded or modified after April 8, 2015, must include new contract language prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The new rule implements Executive Order 13672, signed by President Obama on July 21, 2014.

For most purposes, the new rule requires contractors to treat sexual orientation and gender identity just like race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. It prohibits discrimination and segregation, for example, and requires contractors to take affirmative action to ensure the fair treatment of job applicants. Contractors will be required to flow down the new requirements to their subcontractors, to put up new notification posters, and to refer specifically to sexual orientation and gender identity in job postings.

But not all of the requirements carry over directly from existing law. Contractors will not be required to include sexual orientation or gender identity in their affirmative action placement goals or to collect or analyze data to quantify their compliance. Contractors also will not be required to ask individuals to identify themselves on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

DOL’s list of answers to frequently asked questions about the new rule is available here.

 

Related entries—

OFCCP’s five-year moratorium on enforcement actions against Tricare providers (Apr. 14, 2014)

Affirmative action for protected veterans and individuals with disabilities (Sept. 19, 2013)

TRICARE hospitals and pharmacies are not subcontractors (Jan. 9, 2012)

OFCCP’ push for a 7% disabled workforce (Dec. 27, 2011)

 

The Severin doctrine restricts the ability of prime contractors to hold the government responsible for costs incurred by subcontractors. It is often of limited practical effect because it can usually be avoided by contract. Liquidation agreements, sponsorship agreements, pass-through agreements, and other similar agreements often include a conditional release that limits the subcontractor’s recovery to the amount that the prime contractor recovers from the government. With this protection, prime contractors are often willing to pursue subcontractor claims on a pass-through basis.

As we discussed in part one of this post, the Severin doctrine is nevertheless a recurring issue in federal contracts. Here we address two recent cases that explore the application of the Severin doctrine when the rights of the prime contractor and subcontractor are not expressed in a written agreement.

No subcontract at all

The decision in Parsons-UXB Joint Venture, ASBCA No. 56481, 13-1 BCA ¶ 35,378 (Aug. 1, 2013) [pdf] addresses the application of the Severin doctrine when there is no written subcontract. Parsons and UXB formed a joint venture to complete a Navy project to restore the Hawaiian island of Kaho’olawe, which had been used as a weapons range. The JV was “unpopulated,” meaning that employees of Parsons and UXB did all the work even though the JV formally held the contract. There were no subcontracts in place between the JV and either Parsons or UXB. When a dispute developed over costs incurred on the project and the JV brought the case to the Armed Services Board, the Navy cited the Severin doctrine. Without a subcontract, the Navy asserted that the JV could not be liable for costs incurred by Parsons or UXB and therefore could not pursue claims on their behalf.

Continue Reading Pass-through claims without a contract—Severin doctrine part two

Rochester, New York (1943)

Subcontracting is often the best way to complete a complex project. A subcontractor may have technical expertise, equipment, or human resources that are unavailable to the prime contractor. But assigning work to one or more lower-tier parties carries with it a certain amount of risk. One of the challenges is allocating liability for changes in the scope of work, delays, and other inefficiencies that increase a subcontractor’s cost or time for performance. Today we look at how the allocation of this risk is affected by the Severin doctrine.

The Severin doctrine takes its name from the decision in Severin v. United States, 99 Ct. Cl. 435 (1943). Severin employed a subcontractor on a contract to build a post office in Rochester, New York. As a result of construction delays, Severin sought to recover $702 on behalf of its subcontractor.

The Court of Claims (now the Court of Federal Claims) gave two reasons for rejecting the claim. First, the court held that the subcontractor could not sue on its own because it had no contract directly with the government. The government had waived its sovereign immunity only for its direct contractual agreements.

Second, the court held that Severin could not pursue a claim on the subcontractor’s behalf because Severin itself could not be held liable for the same damages under its subcontract agreement.

A strict application of the Severin doctrine would increase risks for both prime contractors and subcontractors and would hamper the efficient resolution of claims. It would restrict the use of no-damage-for-delay clauses and other risk-shifting clauses that have widely been seen as effective. But in practice, the Severin doctrine has not been strictly enforced.

Continue Reading Lessons learned from 71 years of the Severin doctrine

You’ve heard by now that the Supreme Court’s decision in Atlantic Marine Constr. Co. v. United States District Court, No. 12-929 (U.S. Dec. 3, 2013) is a strong endorsement of a contractor’s right to choose the forum that will resolve disputes with subcontractors. We discuss the Court’s decision in an earlier post.

So you know that you can have a forum selection clause. But Atlantic Marine doesn’t answer the hard question, which is this—

How do you write a forum selection clause that will be reliably and economically enforced—without an expensive trip through the court system, perhaps even all the way to the Supreme Court?

Here are some basic points on drafting a forum selection clause, drawn from some of the dozens of reported court cases addressing them—

Continue Reading Forum selection clauses after Atlantic Marine (Part II)

The United States Defense Department has published a final cybersecurity regulation concerning unclassified “controlled technical information.” See 78 Fed. Reg. 69,273 (Nov. 18, 2013) [pdf]. The objective of the regulation is to require contractors to maintain “adequate security” on unclassified information systems on which CTI may reside or transit and to implement detailed reporting requirements for “cyber incidents.” The final rule is narrower than the proposed regulation, which sought to safeguard unclassified DoD information generally.  See 76 Fed. Reg. 38,089 (June 29, 2011) [pdf].

Definition of CTI

The final rule includes a new DFARS provision (DFARS 204.7300) and a DFARS contract clause (DFARS 252.204.7012), which impose new security measures and reporting requirements on contractors and subcontractors whose work involves unclassified “controlled technical information resident on or transiting through contractor information systems.”

The rule broadly defines CTI as “technical information with military or space application that is subject to controls on the access, use, reproduction, modification, performance, display, release, disclosure, or dissemination.”  DFARS 204.7301.

The term “technical information” is further defined to mean “recorded information, regardless of the form or method of the recording, of a scientific or technical nature . . . .” See DFARS 252.227-7013. Examples of technical information include research and engineering data, engineering drawings and associated lists, specifications, standards, process sheets, manuals, technical reports, technical orders, catalog-item identifications, data sets, studies and analyses and related information, and computer software executable code and source code.

While this is a broad definition, comments on the new rule limit its application to information requiring controls pursuant to DoD Instruction 5230.24 [pdf] and DoD Directive 5230.25 [pdf]. Contractors should not have to devote resources simply to the task of determining whether information is CTI or not.

Continue Reading DoD’s new cybersecurity rules on unclassified “controlled technical information”

The Contract Disputes Act gives prime contractors a straightforward procedure for resolving claims against the federal government. But there is no mandatory approach to resolving disputes between contractors and subcontractors. Private parties may agree to arbitrate their disputes or designate a specific court to hear them. They may identify the applicable law, provide for the recovery of attorney’s fees, and prescribe any number of other details.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Atlantic Marine Constr. Co. v. United States District Court for Western District of Texas, No. 12-929 (U.S. Dec. 3, 2013), holds that forum selection clauses in subcontracts on federal projects are enforceable. In this first blog post of a two-part series, we discuss the decision in Atlantic Marine and the limits of the Supreme Court’s analysis. In the subsequent one, we will discuss the use of subcontract dispute resolution clauses more broadly.

Continue Reading Forum selection clauses after Atlantic Marine

Under the OFCCP’s final rule announced on August 27, 2013, federal contractors and subcontractors that meet the applicability criteria will be required to meet new goals for hiring protected veterans and individuals with disabilities. For veterans, the new “benchmark” is based on the percentage of veterans in the civilian labor force (currently 8 percent) or another figure that reflects the contractor’s unique hiring circumstances. 78 Fed. Reg. 58613 (Sept. 24, 2013) [pdf].  For individuals with disabilities [pdf], the “placement goal” is 7 percent, measured by job groups. 78 Fed. Reg. 58681 (Sept. 24, 2013) [pdf].

In addition to requiring contractors to implement and keep records reflecting their compliance with the new percentage benchmarks and goals, here are some key features of the new rule:

  • Flowdown of the Equal Opportunity clause. The precise language and appearance of contract clauses that impose the affirmative action requirements on subcontractors are specified.
  • Job listing requirements. Contractors will be required to state specifically that they are equal opportunity employers of protected veterans and individuals with disabilities.
  • Invitation to self-identify. Job applicants must be given an opportunity to self-identify as a protected veteran or as an individual with disabilities before they are given an offer of employment. OFCCP intends to publish a form for use by contractors in making this inquiry. All employees must be given an opportunity to self-identify as an individual with disabilities within a year after the rule is effective and thereafter at least every five years.
  • Data collection. Contractors will be required to document and update quantitative data on the number of veterans and individuals with disabilities that apply for jobs and the number that are hired.
  • OFCCP access to records. Contractors are required to allow OFCCP broader access to records needed to verify their compliance. Records would have to be provided on-site or off-site and in any format that OFCCP requests.

The new requirements are expected to go into effect in March 2014. Contractors with a written affirmative action plan in place on the effective date of the new rules will have until the date of their next affirmative action plan year to implement the goal-setting and self-identification requirements.

For more information on the final rule and the specific requirements imposed on federal contractors and subcontractors, Hush Blackwell’s client update is available here. Background on OFCCP’s initiatives for individuals with disabilities is available in these earlier blog entries:

OFCCP’S push for a 7% disabled workforce (Dec. 27, 2011)

Morbid obesity as a disability under the ADA (Oct. 3, 2011)

Section 827 of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act [pdf] permanently enhances whistleblower protections for employees of DoD and NASA contractors and sub-contractors. Section 828 establishes a“pilot program” to provide enhanced whistleblower protections for employees of civilian

Alarmagency contractors and subcontractors for the next four years. In plain English, here is a look at what the enhanced whistleblower protections are:

  • Subcontractor employees are covered by the whistleblower protections. Existing law had extended whistleblower protections only to prime contractor employees.
  • Internal disclosures of non-compliance are protected. Existing law protected whistleblowers only when they made “external disclosures” to government officials.
  • Allegations of “abuse of authority” are included in the list of protected disclosures.
  • Contract clauses limiting whistleblower rights are unenforceable.
  • Individuals who prevail on whistleblower claims may recover their reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.

These amendments are not “new” whistleblower protections, as much as they are an expansion of the whistleblower protections adopted in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Public Law No. 111-5 (Feb. 17, 2009) [pdf], also known as “the Stimulus.” The ARRA whistleblower protections appeared in section 1553.

Audio from McClain Bryant’s interview with Francis Rose is available here [mp3].