It can be challenging in the best of times for government contractors to “see over the horizon” and plan for future risks to their business. As this fiscal year ends, COVID-19 impacts, and budgetary changes make that exercise even harder. Jenner & Block’s former government officials have come together to offer their views to help our clients’ strategic planning and goal setting efforts. The observations are from former senior government contracts leaders, including a former Civilian Board of Contract Appeals Chief Judge, a former Government Accountability Office (GAO) senior bid protest official, and a former Air Force Deputy General Counsel (acting), Suspending and Debarring Official, and co-chair of the Department of Defense Procurement Fraud Working Group.
Procurement Fraud Trends with David Robbins
We are seeing a surge in False Claims Act and other procurement fraud investigations. Part of this is because the pandemic caused delays in investigations and that logjam is clearing now. Another part is the enhanced coordination among government procurement fraud investigators and enforcement officials created by the CARES Act and related oversight structure. The risk for contractors and awardees is at a high water mark. The risk extends beyond contractors to investors and private equity sponsors. We are also seeing more coordination between the US Department of Justice Civil and Criminal Divisions on investigations and prosecutions. Defending this requires cooperation among former prosecutors, former government agency lawyers, and others.
Claims and Appeals Trends with Hon. Jeri Somers (Ret.)
We see several major government contracting trends that initially gained significant prominence in 2020 continuing in 2021. First, President Biden’s “Executive Order on a Sustainable Public Health Supply Chain,” directs federal agencies to use the Defense Production Act to ramp up production and acquisition of anything and everything needed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Second, contractors should expect the Biden administration to continue to prioritize spending on US infrastructure. While contractors will benefit from the massive infusion of funding for infrastructure projects, such as the new emphasis on the development of clean energy technologies, we also see an increase in the traditional infrastructure projects in construction, transit, and telecommunication. cybersecurity and IT initiatives will also lead to more contracting opportunities. With this increased spending, we predict that we will see an increase in claims arising from such contracts.
Bid Protest Trends with Noah Bleicher
A contracting agency’s disparate treatment of competing offerors has historically been a popular basis for GAO to sustain a bid protest. But GAO’s recent adoption of the Federal Circuit’s “substantively indistinguishable” standard necessary to establish an unequal evaluation could make it more difficult for protesters to win these types of arguments. While GAO has represented publicly that the new standard does not reflect a material change in how it resolves these allegations, to date, GAO has sustained only three protests alleging disparate treatment and denied 20 under the standard, suggesting a harder path ahead for protesters. As GAO continues to issue decisions applying this standard, contractors will gain insight as to whether unequal treatment allegations remain a fruitful basis to winning a protest, or whether the pendulum truly has swung in the other direction.
Jenner & Block is equipped with some of the industry’s leading lawyers, including officials from three main government contract arenas. If you have any questions about these trends or are in need of counsel, you can reach out to David B. Robbins, Hon. Jeri Somers (Ret.), or Noah B. Bleicher.