Steps to Follow for Federal Contractors to Continue Working During COVID- 19 Pandemic

We’ve heard a lot about COVID-19 (Coronavirus) lately, and the mountain of misinformation that has followed in its wake. We’re struggling to figure out what is fact and what is fiction. But we probably can lend a hand in understanding the impact of the current health emergency on federal contracts.

Accordingly, we offer the following guidelines to help you prepare for any potential COVID-19 impact on your federal business (and to give you all something to read while you wait in line for your hand sanitizer, surgical masks, and latex gloves).

Communicate early. If you hold contracts that could be impacted by coronavirus, in terms of performance, schedule, or cost, reach out to your CO sooner rather than later. Among other things, explore mutually acceptable ways to handle issues relating to the virus, e.g., employees at Government facilities unable to report to work, shortages of staff delaying performance, inability to access Government facilities, among other potential issues that may derive from the impact of the virus.

Provide timely notice. Be sure to notify your CO promptly, and memorialize it in writing, if you believe your performance will be impacted by the virus. Make sure your personnel know to bring such situations to your attention as soon as they know.

Document everything. You should document any increased costs or delays attributable to the virus, and more generally, document how the virus impacts your performance.

Consider trying to recover or offset your increased costs. If you experience increased costs on your ongoing contracts, consider requesting a contract modification to cover those costs. If you are a commercial items contractor selling at fixed prices or rates, consider requesting an Economic Price Adjustment under your contract’s EPA clause. The standard EPA clause gives a contracting officer discretion to approve unscheduled increases due to surprising national/international events.

Review your sick-leave policy. Many contractors, like many companies, give their employees only limited sick leave. At the same time, having employees attend work because they are out of sick-leave creates significant risk – whether those workers work at a Government site or a company site. Contractors should consider how they plan to handle sick employees who are unwilling to stay home, or employees who need to stay home to care for a loved one.

Equip your employees to work remotely. Contractors should consider providing technology that allows employees to work from home, a laptop with VPN access to your systems, if remote work is permitted under the applicable contract. If the contract does not permit remote work – and some federal contracts do not – then consider reaching out to the CO to discuss modifying the contract. In either case, communicate with your employees now. Give them an action plan. A simple reminder to bring their laptop home with them every day (if allowed) could go a long way.

Consider your cybersecurity obligations if you have personnel working from home. Remember, your federal contracts bring with them a number of cybersecurity rules. For example, your federal contracts may incorporate data security provisions requiring that sensitive information be maintained on secure systems with specific protections.

Be prepared for novel customer requests. Like contractors, federal agencies are struggling to adapt to the realities of a Corona-fueled purchasing and performance landscape. As federal agencies contemplate sending their own employees to work at home, they are going to face a host of questions not contemplated by their current contracts.

Understand GSA’s Cooperative Purchasing Program. If you are a GSA Schedule contractor, keep in mind that state, local, territorial, and tribal government are authorized to purchase through the MAS program when the Government declares a Public Health Emergency. The Government declared a PHE at the end of January. Accordingly, state, local, territorial, and tribal governments that previously were not permitted to make Schedule purchases now may be permitted to make such purchases through GSA’s Cooperative Purchasing Program.

Look around. Companies are being proactive. United Airlines just sent an email to its customers outlining the steps the company is taking to keep them safe and keep them flying. Among other things, United now is wiping armrests and tray-tables with sanitizing wipes between flights. As these things become the norm, equivalent steps, tailored to the given industry, will be expected of other companies as well. No one wants to be implicated in an outbreak caused by a failure to adhere to industry “best practices.”

In addition to the foregoing, federal contractors, like all companies, will be well served by developing a detailed plan of action. Think through the various ways coronavirus could impact performance, schedule, and/or cost, and develop a concrete mitigation plan. The earlier you get started on that, the better off you’ll be down the road.

Obviously, we’re dealing here with a “live event,” and the facts continue to change. The steps outlined above, however, should keep you ahead of the curve at least contractually. Of course, these are not bible steps a company has to follow. Every contract, every company is dealing with the pandemic situation differently and considering their plan of actions.

Author: Prasanna Haresh Patil


Early FY 2021 Budget – Where is the Money

In February, the White House released an early look at the Fiscal Year 2021 budget. This early look is a great indicator for small business government contracting firms looking to make strategic adjustments. No surprise, the IT industry gets the lion’s share. The figure? $92 Billion. That is a 5% increase.

With the Unites States looking to get ahead of the tech curve in areas like 5G, Cloud Computing, Cyber Security, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, the monetary requirement plays a huge factor. Federal civilian agencies would receive a combined %53.4 billion, while the Defense Department would receive $38.8 billion.

The biggest question for government contracting firms would easily be, “Where is the money?” Agencies seeing a notable increase in IT-specific funding are departments of Veterans Affairs (27%), Energy (18%), State (16%) Health and Human Services (14%), and Education (14%).

On the opposite end, the General Services Administration, Department of Transportation, and Department of Commerce all saw a decrease in IT funding.

Author: Paul McVeigh


Artificial Intelligence in Federal Agencies

The Administrative Conference of the United States commissioned the report, titled “Government by Algorithm: Artificial Intelligence in Federal Administrative Agencies,” from researchers at Stanford and New York Universities. Released in February, it found that 45% of federal agencies have experimented with AI and related machine learning tools and that those agencies are already improving operations in myriad ways, such as monitoring risks to public health and safety and enforcing regulations on environmental protection. “The growing sophistication of and interest in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) is among the most important contextual changes for federal agencies during the past few decades,” the report stated.

The Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs had 12 AI use cases — the most of the responding agencies. The Securities and Exchange Commission and NASA follow with 10 and 9, respectively. In total, the researchers documented 157 use cases across 64 agencies after studying 142 federal departments, agencies and subagencies.

More broadly, the top three policy areas where AI is used were law enforcement, health and financial regulation. In terms of government tasks, regulatory research, analysis and monitoring clocked in at about 80 use cases, while enforcement had about 55, and public services and engagement had about 35. The report also found that agencies were at different stages of AI and ML use. Fifty-three use cases, or 33%, were fully deployed, whereas roughly 60 were in the planning phase and about 45 were piloting or have partially deployed. More than half — 53% — of the AI and ML use cases were developed in-house, while roughly a third were built by commercial contractors and about 13% involved collaboration with non-commercial entities such as an academic lab.

One agency that uses AI for enforcement is SEC, which has a suite of algorithmic tools to identify violators of securities laws. For example, to detect fraud in accounting and financial reporting, the agency developed the Corporate Issuer Risk Assessment, which has a dashboard of about 200 metrics that can find anomalies in the financial reporting of more than 7,000 corporate issuers of securities. An ML tool identifies filers who might be engaging in suspicious activities by using historical data to predict possible misconduct. Two other tools — the Advanced Relational Trading Enforcement Metrics Investigation System and the Abnormal Trading and Link Analysis System — look for suspicious trading. ARTEMIS hunts for potential serial insider trading offenders by using an electronic database of more than 6 billion electronic equities and options trading records to study patterns and relationships among traders. ATLAS analyzes for first-time offenders.

Author: Prasanna Haresh Patil