The General Services Administration estimates the size of the federal market for commercial products to be about $50 billion a year. Manufacturers and distributors of commercial products have seen GSA’s multiple award schedule contracts as a good way to way to access federal customers. But a GSA schedule contract does not guarantee sales and the process of obtaining and adhering to such a contract presents its own headaches.

Soon there will be a better way.

Section 846 of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2018 establishes a program that will allow federal agencies to purchase commercially available off-the-shelf (COTS) items through commercial e-commerce portals that are currently available only to the private sector. As long as the procurement is under the new $250,000 Simplified Acquisition Threshold, COTS products (not services) will be available for purchase Government-wide, presumably without additional competition and without a lengthy list of FAR clauses incorporated by reference.

Under the program, GSA will enter into “multiple contracts” with “multiple e-commerce portal providers.” To the maximum extent possible, the Government will adopt and adhere to standard terms and conditions established by the e-commerce portals themselves.


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Small business status impacts government contractors in several ways. Set-aside procurements and financial assistance programs are available for small businesses. Small business status is important for those seeking to meet the goals and commitments set forth in their small business subcontracting plans. Looming over all determinations of small business size status is the concept of affiliation. If the Small Business Administration finds that two business concerns are “affiliates” (one controls or has the power to control the other or a third party controls or has the power to control both), a business may no longer be a “small business.”

Affiliation determinations are likewise essential for pharmaceutical companies seeking to have the Food and Drug Administration waive the user fee for reviewing a new human drug application. Under § 736(d)(4) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, 21 U.S.C. § 379h(d)(4), a small business is entitled to a waiver of the prescription drug user fee when the business meets three criteria:

  1. The business must employ fewer than 500 persons, including employees of its affiliates.
  2. The business does not have a drug product that has been approved under a human drug application and introduced or delivered for introduction into interstate commerce.
  3. The application must be the first human drug application, within the meaning of the FD&C Act, that a company or its affiliate submits to the Food and Drug Administration for review.


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Liberty stamp.jpgWhen selecting a photo to use on its popular “Liberty” stamps, the Postal Service unknowingly used a replica of the 128-year old Statue of Liberty. Instead of the original version welcoming the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses in New York harbor,  USPS selected the “fresh-faced,” “sultry” and “sexier” 17-year old version summoning merry-makers to the New York-New York Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, NV. Robert Davidson, sculptor of the Sin City version of Lady Liberty, has thus filed a copyright infringement action in federal court, seeking unspecified damages.

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It’s a worst-case scenario for many government contractors. Despite using strict confidentiality agreements and bold restrictive legends, the government releases a valuable trade secret to the public. The Trade Secrets Act may result in criminal consequences for the offending individuals, but the more pressing question for the contractor is how to recoup the loss of a valuable asset. The recent decision in Spectrum Sciences and Software, Inc. v. United States, No. 04-1366C (Fed. Cl. Feb. 14, 2011) [pdf], offers some guidance.

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It’s a common assumption in litigation under the Freedom of Information Act that trade secrets lose value with the passage of time. The January 19, 2011 decision in Taylor v. Babbitt, No 03-0173-RMU (D.D.C. Jan. 19, 2011), shows there’s much more to the story. The case involved a 2002 FOIA request seeking “plans, blueprints, specifications, engineering drawings and data” submitted to the government in 1935 in support of a type certificate application for the Fairchild F-45.  After a harrowing ride through the court system, including a trip to the Supreme Court, United States District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina ordered the government to produce the 75-year-old documents.
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