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

A new Final Rule addressing sex discrimination in employment by federal contractors and subcontractors will go into effect on August 15, 2016. The new Final Rule was published by DOL’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance https://www.contractorsperspective.com/construction-contracting/dc-circuit-rules-that-the-davis-bacon-act-does-not-apply-to-public-private-partnership-project/Programs. It implements Executive Order 11246, which has been essentially unchanged since it was first issued in 1970. OFCCP’s new rules and guidelines include several significant changes from the 1970 version, but the changes are primarily intended to update DOL requirements so that they conform to well-established federal caselaw and other more recently enacted federal requirements.

Who is affected?

OFCCP’s new Final Rule on sex discrimination applies to any business or organization that (1) holds a single Federal contract, subcontract, or federally assisted construction contract in excess of $10,000; (2) has Federal contracts or subcontracts that, combined, total in excess of $10,000 in any 12-month period; or (3) holds Government bills of lading, serves as a depository of Federal funds, or is an issuing and paying agency for U.S. savings bonds and notes in any amount.

What does the Final Rule address?

As they have for many years, DOL’s regulations require contractors to ensure nondiscrimination in employment on the basis of sex and to take affirmative action to ensure that they treat applicants and employees without regard to their sex. The new Final Rule is much more specific.

Continue Reading Contractor guide to compliance with OFCCP’s new final rule on sex discrimination

Photo by Sgt. Sara WoodThe Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Universal Health Services, Inc. v. United States ex rel. Escobar, No. 15-7 (U.S. June 16, 2016), upholds the viability of the implied certification theory of False Claims Act liability. But it also makes cases arising from minor instances of noncompliance much harder to prove. The Court held that a knowing failure to disclose a violation of a material statutory, regulatory, or contractual requirement can create False Claims Act liability. The requirement need not be an express condition of payment, but it must be material to the Government’s decision to pay.

The requirement for proof of a misleading half-truth

Those hoping that the Court would eliminate implied certification altogether will be disappointed with the decision. It opens up the possibility of new False Claims Act cases in the Seventh Circuit and in other jurisdictions that had rejected the implied certification theory or limited its application to conditions of payment. Some cases that might have been thrown out on a motion to dismiss might stand a better chance of surviving through discovery and trial.

The Court nevertheless takes strong steps to limit misuse of the implied certification theory. According to the opinion in Escobar, liability under the implied certification theory can be imposed only when two conditions are satisfied. First, the claim for payment must make “specific representations about the goods or services provided.” An invoice that makes no affirmative statement about the quality of a contractor’s goods or services cannot be the basis for an implied certification.

Continue Reading Universal Health v. Escobar: the new standard of proof for implied certification liability under the False Claims Act

The Department of Labor has issued its final rule amending the overtime and exemption regulations of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Although the final rule differs in some ways from the July 2015 proposed rule, it will have significant administrative and budgetary impacts on most employers. The new rule becomes effective December 1, 2016, and will update automatically every three years thereafter.

Continue Reading DOL’s new salary level tests for overtime pay

[UPDATE: The Supreme Court resolved the Escobar case in a unanimous decision published on June 16, 2015. A link to our discussion of the Court’s opinion is available here.]

In some courts in the United States today, a government contractor or a healthcare provider seeking reimbursement from a federal program can violate the False Claims Act even when its work is satisfactory and its invoices are correct. Under the theory of “implied certification,” a minor instance of non-compliance with one of the thousands of applicable statutes, regulations, and contract provisions can be the basis for a federal investigation, years of litigation, as well as fines, penalties, suspension and debarment, even imprisonment of company personnel.

This week, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Universal Health Services, Inc. v. United States ex rel. Escobar, Docket No. 15-7, a case involving the viability of the implied certification theory. Here, we look at the questions posed during oral argument to see if we can infer how the Court might resolve the case.

The Supreme Court agreed to consider two questions posed in Escobar. First, the Court agreed to address the current split in the circuits as to the viability of the implied certification theory. The First Circuit’s decision in United States ex rel. Escobar v. Universal Health Services, Inc., 780 F.3d 504 (1st Cir. 2015), broadly adopts implied certification. The Seventh Circuit’s decision in United States v. Sanford-Brown, Ltd., 788 F.3d 696 (7th Cir. 2015), firmly rejects it.

Continue Reading How the Supreme Court will limit False Claims Act liability for implied certification

We have previously written about the Department of Labor’s effort to expand the scope of its regulatory and enforcement jurisdiction over government contractors against the wishes of Congress and even fellow federal agencies. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia struck down an attempt by the DOL to significantly expand the Davis-Bacon Act to apply to the construction of a Public-Private Partnership project. The Davis-Bacon Act requires that contractors on federal and DC government construction projects pay prevailing wages and fringe benefits to the workers on such projects. DOL sought to apply the Act to CityCenterDC, which is a mixed-use development on the site of the DC Convention Center. This project includes 60 retail stores, various private offices, approximately 700 residential units, and a 370-room luxury hotel.  Continue Reading DC Circuit rules that the Davis-Bacon Act does not apply to Public-Private Partnership project

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 [pdf], signed into law just before Thanksgiving, authorizes $607 billion for Department of Defense activities in FY 2016. It also implements a number of acquisition reforms intended to enhance the Government’s cybersecurity efforts and streamline the various acquisition regulations.  Here we break down some of the key acquisition provisions:

  • Rapid acquisition authority for cyber attacks. Section 803 of the 2016 NDAA expands the DoD’s ability to employ rapid acquisition procedures established under the 2003 NDAA to enhance its ability to respond to combat emergencies and urgent operational needs. Under Section 803, rapid acquisition procedures may now be used to acquire “needed offensive or defensive cyber capabilities, supplies, and associated support services” to respond to a cyber attack that “has resulted in critical mission failure, the loss of life, property destruction, or economic effects.” The term “cyber attack” is broadly defined as including any “deliberate action to alter, disrupt, deceive, degrade, or destroy computer systems or networks or the information or programs” in those systems. Acquisitions made pursuant to this authority are subject to an aggregate limit of $200 million in each fiscal year.
  • U.S. Cyber Command acquisition authority and liability protection for cybersecurity contractors. In addition to expanding DoD’s rapid acquisition authority to deal with cyber attacks, Section 807 of the NDAA provides new limited acquisition authority for the Commander of the United States Cyber Command (CYBERCOM). The Commander is authorized to procure “cyber operations-peculiar equipment and capabilities,” subject to an annual limit of $75 million for each fiscal year from 2016 through 2021. Section 1647 of the NDAA also requires the evaluation of cyber vulnerabilities of all major DoD weapons systems by the end of 2019. Section 1641 of the NDAA provides enhanced liability protection for reporting cyber incidents for both “cleared” and “operationally critical” contractors, so long as there is no willful misconduct.

Continue Reading Cybersecurity and acquisition reforms in the FY 2016 National Defense Authorization Act

Photo by Richard MasonerMost court cases filed on the heels of a Department of Labor investigation focus on misconduct by a contractor. In that respect, the Fifth Circuit’s recent decision in Gate Guard Services, L.P. v. Perez, 792 F.3d 554 (5th Cir. 2015), is unusual. The case is the result of an action by a contractor challenging misconduct by the Department of Labor. According to the decision, DOL investigators and attorneys acted unethically, frivolously, and in bad faith. Ultimately, DOL was forced to close the investigation by making a $1.5 million payment to the contractor.

What happened? Gate Guard provides gate attendants at remote drilling sites for oilfield operators. The gate attendants remain at the drilling sites and record the license plates of vehicles entering and leaving the site. Because many locations are isolated, attendants often live on site and Gate Guard hires service technicians to deliver supplies to them. Gate Guard considers attendants to be independent contractors and pays them between $100 and $175 per day.

In July 2010, DOL investigator David Rapstine received a tip that Gate Guard had misclassified its gate attendants as independent contractors instead of employees. If that were true, Gate Guard would be violating the Fair Labor Standards Act by not paying overtime and by not keeping detailed time records. Rapstine had little training or experience in contractor misclassification cases, but he decided to open an investigation.  Continue Reading Gate Guard Services—the 1.5 million consequences of bad faith conduct by DOL investigators and attorneys

Criminal charges for minimum wage violations are certainly rare. But the November 2015 indictment of electrical contractor Marcus Butler shows that they are possible. Mr. Butler faces jail time and heavy fines for allegedly making false certifications regarding $126,514 in Davis-Bacon Act wages on three HUD multi-family housing projects.

Given the rarity of criminal indictments for wage-and-hour violations, I infer that Mr. Butler’s alleged conduct was much worse than simply miscalculating the prevailing wage or losing track of some payroll records. But there is nothing in the indictment that would reveal the underlying aggravating factors that motivated it. The Government asserts simply that Mr. Butler participated in a “scheme” and that he “knowingly and willfully” overstated wages and benefits on his 61 separate certified payrolls (DOL Form WH-347).

It will probably be some time before we see whether this is case is the result of overreaching conduct by DOL and government attorneys (like another recent DOL case) or the application of the new Justice Department policy set forth in the Yates Memorandum on Individual Accountability for Corporate Wrongdoing. This new policy will almost certainly increase the number of criminal charges arising from ordinary non-compliance and administrative oversight. Husch Blackwell’s client alert on the Yates Memorandum is available here.

Either way, now is the right time for federal contractors to take on the task of reviewing and updating their own HR policies and practices.

Continue Reading Overkill or the new normal? Criminal charges for underpayment of prevailing wages and benefits

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 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