On May 17, 2017, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) published a proposed rule in the Federal Register to revise and streamline the VA Acquisition Regulation (VAAR). Public comments are invited and must be submitted no later than July 17, 2017, to be considered in formulating the Final Rule. Codified acquisition regulations may only be amended and revised through formal rulemaking under the Office of Federal Procurement Policy Act. For ease of reference, information on how to submit comments appears at the end of this post.
VA is proposing to revise, streamline, and update its acquisition regulation, whereby all parts of the VAAR will be reviewed in phased increments to revise or remove any policy superseded by changes in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), to remove any procedural guidance internal to VA, and to incorporate any new regulations or policies.
According to VA, the proposed rule will correct inconsistencies, remove redundant and duplicative material covered by the FAR, deleted outdated material and information, and appropriately renumber VAAR text, clauses and provisions where required, to comport with the FAR format numbering and arrangement. The Proposed Rule is intended to streamline the VAAR to implement and supplement the FAR only when required, and remove internal agency guidance in keeping with the FAR principles concerning agency acquisition regulations.
A VAAR Section-by-Section Synopsis of Changes Covered by the Proposed Rule is attached.
How to Submit Written Comments:
Written comments may be submitted through www.Regulations.gov; by mail or hand-delivery to Director, Regulation Policy and Management (00REG), Department of Veterans Affairs, 810 Vermont Avenue NW., Room 1068, Washington, DC 20420; or by fax to (202) 273-9026. Comments should indicate that they are submitted in response to “RIN 2900-AP50—Revise and Streamline VA Acquisition Regulation to Adhere to Federal Acquisition Regulation Principles (VAAR Case 2014-V001—parts 801, 802, 803, 812, 814, 822, and 852).” Copies of comments received will be available for public inspection in the Office of Regulation Policy and Management, Room 1068, between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday (except holidays). Please call (202) 461-4902 for an appointment. This is not a toll-free number. In addition, during the comment period, comments may be viewed online through the Federal Docket Management System (FDMS) at www.Regulations.gov.
VAAR Section-by-Section Synopsis of Changes Covered by the Proposed Rule:
VAAR Part 801 – Department of Veterans Affairs Acquisition Regulation System
- Removes an information collection burden previously included in the VAAR based on an outdated practice of providing bid envelopes.
VAAR Part 802 – Definition of Words and Terms
- Adds two new definitions to define key terms used within the revised VAAR Part 803, Improper Business Practices and Personal Conflicts of Interest, dealing with debarment and suspensions which will be applicable when referenced in the future in other VAAR Parts: Debarment and Suspension Committee; and Suspension and Debarring Official.
VAAR Part 803 – Improper Business Practices and Personal Conflicts of Interest
- Proposes clarifying language regarding the prohibition of contracts from making reference in their commercial advertising regarding VA contracts to avoid implying the government approves or endorses the contractor’s products, services, or commercial line of endeavor.
- Proposes removal and reserves for future use, VAAR Subpart 803.1, Safeguards, and VAAR Section 803.101, Standards of Conduct, since it contains procedural guidance and a delegation of authority internal to VA and will be in the VA Acquisition Manual (VAAM).
- The Proposed Rule removes Section 803.101-3, Department Regulations, since it contains information on standards of conduct and financial disclosure for VA employees and is internal procedural guidance internal to VA and will be in the VAAM.
- VA’s Proposed Rule will remove Section 803.104, Procurement Integrity, and Section 803.104-7, Violations or possible violations, since they contain procedural guidance and a delegation of authority is internal to VA and will be in the VAAM.
- In Subpart 803.2, Contractor Gratuities to Government Personnel, VA proposes to update its policy governing improper business practices and personal conflicts of interests to make VA’s policies clear, to provide notice of due process rights and to establish who in VA determines whether or not a violation of the Gratuities clause has occurred and what procedures are followed when the Suspension and Debarring Official (SDO) makes that decision.
- In Section 803.204, VA’s Proposed Rule removes portions of Section 803.204, Treatment of violations, which contain procedural guidance and a delegation of authority internal to VA and will be moved to the VAAM. To ensure VA contractors are apprised of their rights, VA proposes to revise Section 803.204 to add the responsibility of the SDO for determining whether or not a violation of the Gratuities clauses has occurred and what action will be taken, as well as a paragraph stating that when the SDO determines a violation has occurred and debarment is being considered, the SDO shall follow the requirements at VAAR 809.406-3.
- In Subpart 803.3, Reports of Suspected Antitrust Violations, VA proposes to remove Section 803.303, Reporting suspected antitrust violations, since it contains guidance to VA employees internal to VA and will be moved to the VAAM.
- In Subpart 803.4, Contingent Fees, VA’s Proposed Rule removes and reserves the entire subpart and to remove the underlying Section 803.405, Misrepresentations or Violations of the Covenant Against Contingent Fees, since it contains guidance to VA employees internal to VA and will be moved to the VAAM.
- In Subpart 803.5, Other Improper Business Practices, VA proposes to remove Section 803.502, Subcontractor Kickbacks, since it provides direction to VA employees and is internal VA and will be moved to the VAAM.
- In Section 803.570, Commercial advertising, VA’s Proposed Rule revises the language of Subsection 803.570-1, Policy, to clarify the intent to prohibit advertising which implies a Government endorsement of the contractor’s products or services.
- In Subpart 803.6, Contracts with Government Employees or Organizations Owned or Controlled by Them, VA is proposing to remove and reserve the entire subpart and to remove the underlying Section 803.602, Exceptions, since it delegates authority to authorize an exception to the policy in FAR 3.601. This delegation will be moved to the VAAM.
- In Subpart 803.7, Voiding and Rescinding Contracts, VA proposes to remove and reserve the entire subpart and to remove the underlying sections. VA further proposes to remove Section 803.703, Authority, since it is a delegation of authority, internal to VA, moving the delegation to the VAAM. VA also proposes to remove Section 803.705, Procedures, as it duplicates FAR 3.705. A short paragraph directing VA Heads of Contracting Activities to follow the procedures of FAR 3.705 was added to the VAAM.
- In Subpart 803.8, Limitation on the Payment of Funds to Influence Federal Transactions, VA’s Proposed Rule removes and reserves the entire subpart and to remove the underlying sections. VA also propose to remove Section 803.804, Policy, and Section 803.806, Processing Suspected Violations, all internal VA procedural guidance being moved to the VAAM.
- VA further proposes to add Subpart 803.11, Preventing Personal Conflicts of Interest for Contractor Employees Performing Acquisition Functions. This implements part of FAR Clause 52.203-16, Preventing Personal Conflicts of Interest, by requiring the signing of a Non-Disclosure Agreement by certain contractor covered employees performing acquisition functions closely associated with inherently governmental functions in order to prohibit disclosure of non-public information accessed through performance on a Government contract. This will also each contractor and subcontractor at any tier whose employees perform acquisition functions closely associated with inherently governmental functions to obtain the signed non-disclosure forms from each covered employee.
- The Proposed Rule also removes and reserves subpart 803.70, Contractor Responsibility to Avoid Improper Business Practices, and to remove its underlying Section 803.7000, Display of the VA Hotline Poster and its prescription at section 803.7001, Contract clause, because it is unnecessary and duplicates FAR coverage. FAR 52.203-14, Display of Hotline Poster(s), as prescribed at FAR 3.1004(b), which provides adequate coverage for VA. VA internal procedures regarding fill-in information for the clause will be covered in the VAAM.
VAAR Part 812 – Acquisition of Commercial Items
- VAAR Section 812.301, paragraph (b)(13), VA proposes to change the name of provision at VAAR 852.214-74 to Marking of Bid Samples to better reflect the requirement of the provision.
VAAR Part 814 – Sealed Bidding
- VA proposes to delete VAAR Subpart 814.1, Sealed Bidding, in its entirety. The Proposed Rule also deletes Sections 814.104, Types of Contracts, and Section 814.104-70, Fixed-Price Contracts with Escalation, as unnecessary since both simply require compliance with FAR 16.303-1 through 16.203-4. Ergo, no additional VAAR text is required.
- VA also proposes to revise Section 814.201(a)-(f) by removing paragraphs (a)-(b) since they deal with numbering of Invitations for Bids (IFBs) and consist of internal agency procedures more properly covered in Subpart 804-16 of the VAAM.
- The Proposed Rule adds a new Subsection, 814.201-2, Part I—The Schedule, to explain how award will be made on summary bids and bids on groups of items to ensure this is clear to the public.
- In Subsection 814.201-6, Solicitation Provisions, VA proposes to remove as unnecessary paragraph (a), which addresses bid envelopes, since labeling of bids is a customary and usual commercial practice, and the use of the Optional Form (OF) 17, which is optional, and is no longer a standard practice.
- The Proposed Rule proposes to redesignate paragraph (b) as (a) and to revise item (1) to prescribe new Provision 852.214-71, Restrictions on Alternate Item(s); item (2) to clarify the conditions for including the VAAR Provision 852.214-72, Alternate Items; and item (3) to prescribe the VAAR Provision 852.214-73, Alternate Packaging and Packing, when bids will be allowed based on different packaging and packing. VA also proposes to redesignate paragraph (c) as (b) and to add a prescription for VAAR Provision 852.214-74, Marking of Bid Samples.
- The Proposed Rule adds Section 814.202, General rules for solicitation of bids and Subsection 814.202-4, Bid samples, requiring samples to be from the manufacturer providing supplies or services under the contract. This ensures the products that are actually proposed and would be delivered under the contract, if awarded, are the products submitted for evaluation. Paragraph (g), requires bid samples be retained for the period of contract performance or until settlement of any claim the Government may have against the contractor. Retention is intended for inspection purposes under FAR 14.202-4(g)(4).
- The Proposed Rule deletes Section 814.203, Methods of Soliciting Bids, and Subsection 814.203-1, Transmittal to Prospective Bidders, as the practice specified of furnishing a bid envelope or sealed bid label is out of date with existing practices.
- VA proposes to delete Section 814.204, Records of Invitations for Bids and Records of Bids, as it contains instructions internal to VA and will be moved to the VAAM.
- The Proposed Rule also deletes Section 814.208, Amendment of Invitation for Bids as out-of-date with existing practices regarding sending amendments.
- In Subpart 814.3, Submission of Bids, VA proposes to delete Section 814.301, Responsiveness of Bids, since there is no authority to refer the question of timeliness to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) except in the context of a protest.
- The Proposed Rule also deletes Section 814.302, Bid submission, as duplicative of FAR 14.302(a) and therefore unnecessary.
- VA proposes to revise Section 814.304, Submission, Modification, and Withdrawal of Bids, to delete internal procedures, to stipulate a limited time period for a late bidder to submit evidence of timeliness, and to renumber this paragraph (f) accordingly to comport with FAR and VAAR numbering conventions.
- In subpart 814.4, Opening of Bids and Award of Contract, VA proposes to delete the entire subpart because the information is either redundant to the FAR and is adequately covered there or it is comprised of agency internal procedures to be incorporated into the VAAM, as noted specifically below.
- VA proposes to delete Section 814.401, Receipt and Safeguarding of Bids, because coverage in the VAAR is unnecessary as the FAR adequately covers.
- The Proposed Rule also deletes Sections 814.402, Opening of Bids; 814.403, Recording of Bids; 814.404, Rejection of Bids; 814.404-1, Cancellation of Invitations After Opening; 814.404-2, Rejection of Individual Bids; 814.407, Mistakes in Bids; 814.407-3, Other Mistakes Disclosed Before Award; and, 814.407-4, Mistakes After Award, as these are VA internal procedures and will be incorporated into the VAAM.
- VA also proposes to delete Section 814.404-70, Questions Involving the Responsiveness of a Bid, as there is no authority to refer questions of bid responsiveness to the GAO other than in the context of a protest, and, the overall responsibility for this determination rests with the contracting officer. Coverage in FAR 14.301, Responsiveness of Bids, is adequate and no further VAAR coverage is required.
- The Proposed Rule deletes Sections 814.408, Award, and 814.408-70, Award When Only One Bid is Received, because coverage in the VAAR is unnecessary as it is adequately covered by FAR 14.408-1(b).
- VA proposes to delete Section 814.408-71, Recommendation for Award (Construction) as these procedures are no longer in use within VA’s Office of Construction and Facilities Management.
- VA’s Proposed Rule also deletes Section 814.409, Information to Bidders, as unnecessary since the requirement not to disclose is contained in FAR part 3 and need not be duplicated in the VAAR.
VAAR Part 822 – Application of Labor Laws to Government Acquisitions
- In Subpart 822.3, Contract Work Hours and Safety Standards Act, VA proposes revisions to Section 822.304, Variations, Tolerances, and Exemptions, to use plain language to state the conditions which must be met to permit use of the variation to Contract Work Hours and Safety Standards (the statute) (historically known as the Contract Work Hours and Safety Standards Act), granted by the Secretary of Labor regarding the payment of overtime under contracts for nursing home care for Veterans.
- VA also proposes revisions to Section 822.305, Contract Clause, to change the title of the Cause at VAAR 852.222-70 to Contract Work Hours and Safety Standards—Nursing Home Care for Veterans, in order to reflect the way the FAR refers to the historical titles based on the Positive Law codification.
- In Subpart 822.4, Labor Standards for Contracts Involving Construction, VA’s proposed revisions will remove and reserve Subpart 822.4, Labor Standards for Contracts Involving Construction, since this subpart contains procedural guidance on the types of labor standards involved in construction contracting, internal to VA and more appropriate for inclusion in the VAAM.
- The Proposed Rule also removes the underlying Section 822.406, Administration and Enforcement and Subsection 822.406-11, Contract Terminations, which falls under this subpart since it contains procedural guidance and will be moved to the VAAM.
VAAR Part 852 – Solicitation Provisions and Contract Clauses
- VA’s Proposed Rule revises VAAR Clause 852.203-70, Commercial Advertising, to use plain language, remove gender-specific wording, and to clarify the intent to prohibit advertising which implies a Government endorsement of the contractor’s products or services.
- The Proposed Rule removes VAAR Clause 852.203-71, Display of Department of Veterans Affairs Hotline Poster, because VA will instead use FAR Clause 52.203-14, Display of Hotline Poster(s), as prescribed at FAR 3.1004. The FAR clause permits insertion of fill-in language to identify an agency’s hotline poster and VA will include language in its internal agency procedures detailing the requirement to insert the information regarding its agency specific hotline poster.
- The Proposed Rule also removes VAAR Provision 852.214-70, Caution to Bidders—Bid Envelopes, because the practices described within the provision are obsolete with the advent of posting on the Government-wide point of entry (GPE) via the Federal Business Opportunities (govor FBO.gov) Web page or via a linked interface off of FBO.gov. VA no longer issues Bid Envelopes or OF 17, Sealed Bid Label, described in the provision, when electronically posting IFBs, thus making the provision obsolete and unnecessary.
- VA’s Proposed Rule also revises the individual prescription references for the following clauses based on the restructuring of 814.201-6: 214-71, Restrictions on Alternate Item(s); 852.214-72, Alternate Item(s); and 852.214-73, Alternate Packaging and Packing. The Proposed Rule further revises the title, text and prescription language of VAAR Provision 852.214-74 which now reads, Bid Samples, to Marking of Bid Samples to describe better what the provision is about and to distinguish it from a FAR provision called “Bid Samples.” VA uses plain language to describe the principal purpose, which is to ensure bidder’s packages including bid samples are clearly marked and identified with the words Bid Samples, as well as complete lettering/numbering and description of the related bid item(s), the number of the IFB, and the name of the bidder submitting the bid samples.
- VA’s Proposed Rule also removes language stating the preparation and transportation of the bid sample must be prepaid by the bidder as this language is unnecessary because FAR Clause 52.214-20, Bid Samples, already contains language covering the bidder’s responsibilities in this regard. Further, the prescription language for VAAR Provision at 814.201-6(b) which was renumbered to comport with FAR and VAAR numbering and arrangement will also be revised.
- Lastly, VA’s Proposed Rule revises VAAR Clause 852.222-70, Contract Work-Hours and Safety Standards Act—Nursing Home Care Contract Supplement, to change the title to Contract Work Hours and Safety Standards—Nursing Home Care for Veterans, to better reflect the substance and coverage of the clause and to align the name of the clause with the revised current reference in lieu of the historical title of the act. This revision will also clarify the clause has flow-down requirements and applies to subcontractors at any tier when the stated conditions in the VAAR clause are met.
The Proposed Rule may be viewed in its entirety in the Federal Register by clicking here.
About the Author:
Wayne Simpson is a seasoned former Federal executive and acquisition professional who is also a highly-motivated and demonstrative small business advocate, with nearly 38 years of Federal Civilian Service with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and its predecessor organization, the Veterans Administration.