March Madness: A Policy Version—The Elite Eight

By Ann Sullivan, WIPP Chief Advocate

For many years, my son Matt and I watched March Madness together (that was until he moved to Los Angeles). Not only are many of the games squeakers, I love the upsets and Cinderella teams that emerge during the tournament. Half of the fun is filling out the brackets and guessing which teams will move forward.

So, in honor of March madness, we bring you March policy madness. We have created a policy bracket of the issues we expect will make it past the first round of Congressional action. Just for fun.

WIPP Works Bracket March 2017.png 

Here’s an explanation of the Policy Brackets:

Upper Left: Healthcare vs. Border Wall

President Trump’s Executive Actions have identified both repeal of Obamacare and the potential construction of a border wall. Congressional attention is focused on repealing and or replacing the Affordable Care Act.

Healthcare wins this round.

Upper Left: Regulatory Reform vs. FY2018 Appropriations

Congress is hungry to take back policy-making power from the Executive Branch and has found a sweet spot—rolling back regulations—a move President Trump agrees with. He has already signed legislation repealing a Department of Interior rule and is expected to sign more repeals in the coming months.

On the other hand, appropriations is a long and cumbersome process. To get started, on Fiscal Year 2018 appropriations, President Trump needs to share a budget outline with Congress expected next month, and both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees will need to pass all 11 appropriations bills by the end of September. This is a process that has not occurred in over 20 years.

Regulatory reform wins this round.

Lower Left: Trade vs. Supreme Court Nominee

President Trump has indicated that reforming trade policy is a high priority.  But revamping global trade deals into bilateral negotiations will prove to be complicated. The Supreme Court vacancy, on the other hand, has been top of mind. Some Senate Democrats have privately conceded that they expect Neil Gorsuch to be confirmed, taking the place of Antonin Scalia.

The bracket goes to Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.

Lower Left: Debt Ceiling v. Government Shutdown

Toward the end of the summer, the Treasury Department will have exhausted all “extraordinary measures” to continue paying the government’s bills. Once again, Congress will need to raise the debt ceiling. This close-to-annual exercise used to be non-controversial. But not anymore. This is an opportunity for Congress to discuss fiscal policy.

Another opportunity to discuss fiscal policy is the expiration of the Continuing Resolution on April 28th. In the past, government shutdowns have been threatened/executed, putting continued funding of the government at risk. Given that both Houses of Congress and the president are from the same party, it doesn’t seem likely that shutting down the government is an option. That being said, crazier things have happened in Washington.

Due to timing, debt ceiling wins by a single foul shot.

Upper Right: Taxes vs. Immigration

Tax reform, a priority of both the president and the Congress, is long overdue. In fact, comprehensive tax reform has not been successful since 1986. But don’t look for action overnight. Congressional Republicans are suggesting it will be undertaken sometime this fall.

On the other hand, immigration is even more contentious and bipartisan reform plans were last successful in 1996 under President Clinton. Since then, although there have been many efforts, reform has been elusive.

Tax wins this round.

Upper Right: Defense Spending vs. Infrastructure

Appropriators are currently preparing a special supplemental funding bill for the Defense Department and President Trump announced he would like to add $54 billion to the defense budget. The infrastructure bill hasn’t gained as much traction as the rhetoric about its importance.

Defense spending wins this round.

Lower right: FY17 Omnibus Appropriations vs. NDAA

The National Defense Authorization Act has a 55-year history of being signed into law each year. It is considered in Congress a “must pass” bill. Omnibus appropriations that combine multiple appropriations into a single bill have a spotty record at best. While Omnibus appropriations passed in Fiscal Year 2016, it is still unclear how the rest of FY17 will be funded. Because no one is quite sure, we declare NDAA the winner.

NDAA wins this round.

Lower right: Spending Cuts vs. Elimination of a Federal Agency

President Trump made a campaign promise to significantly decrease agency spending and is expected to propose major cuts in the FY2018 budget. Although eliminating agencies is possible, it is easier to starve an agency than eliminate it altogether.

Spending cuts win this round.

The Elite Eight issues that we predict will prevail to the next round in Washington are:

  • Regulatory Reform
  • Healthcare
  • Supreme Court Appointment
  • Debt Ceiling
  • Tax
  • Defense spending
  • NDAA
  • Spending Cuts

In Washington policy circles, representing women-owned businesses is often like rooting for the underdog. Women across the country who have joined our voice often end up winning the policy fight even though they are dismissed in the “first round.” But collectively, we can end up being the winners who bring home the victory. Not just for us, but for those who have come before us and those that are coming behind us.

Which issues do you think will score over the coming month? Tweet at us @WIPPWeDecide #DCelite8 with your predictions for the Final Policy Four.

Why Federal Contractors Will Probably Be Working This Labor Day

By John Stanford, WIPP Government Relations

The Department of Labor and FAR Council issued final regulations that require federal contractors to disclose labor violations from the past three years. This blog updates an earlier edition with what you need to know. For more details or if this impacts your business, I encourage you to read official guidance here.

Ahhhh, Labor Day. The unofficial end of summer. A century-old government-granted day off to squeeze in another day at the pool, buy the last of the school supplies (who really needs a protractor anyway?), see the grandparents, and now – for federal contractors – an opportunity to review your company’s legal history.

It doesn’t sound quite right, does it? But for thousands of federal contractors, that is exactly what newly finalized regulations mean. I will get into to the details and timeline of the new requirement in a moment, but first, a little history on a change WIPP has watched closely.

In 2014, President Obama issued an Executive Order with the goal of barring bad companies from winning federal contracts. The following summer the Labor Department (DOL) and the FAR Council (overseers of contracting rulebook, “the FAR”) proposed how this could be achieved. Last week, final rules were published – and contractors nationwide let out a collective groan.

You see, excluding companies with a history of bad acts from winning government work – a generally universally accepted idea – is not easy. WIPP said just that in our formal comment last year. We agreed that companies that follow the rules should not have to compete against companies that break them for federal contracts. But the proposed system would place burdens on women-owned contractors and dump paperwork requirements on contracting officers.

Our comment, along with hundreds from individual business owners and other trade groups, did little to sway the government from moving forward. The new requirement detailed below goes into effect on October 25, 2016.

The regulation requires federal contractors and subcontractors to disclose violations of 14 federal labor laws and the equivalent state laws from the previous three years. Exemptions were provided for companies with contracts valued less than $500,000. Prospective federal contractors will need to declare if they had labor violations in the previous three years when submitting an offer. During an initial evaluation, contracting officers will see that declaration (a simple “yes” or “no”), without any additional detail or explanation.

Later, if a contractor were likely to win an award, the contracting officer would have to decide if the contractor is a responsible company (a requirement of all government contracts already). It is in this phase that details like appeals, remediation, or mitigating factors could be explained. Contracting officers will attempt to identify companies with “serious”, “willful”, “repeated”, and/or “pervasive” violations and not award them contracts. Companies with minor violations could still be considered responsible and win contracts.

In what the government views as a compromise since their initial proposal, the system will be phased-in over the next two years. The DOL released the following timeline:

Phased-In Implementation Schedule

  • Week of September 12, 2016:Preassessment begins, through which current or prospective contractors may come to DOL for a voluntary assessment of their labor compliance history, in anticipation of bids on future contracts but independent of any specific acquisition.
  • October 25, 2016: Thefinal rule takes effect. Mandatory disclosure and assessment of labor law compliance begins for all prime contractors under consideration for contracts with a total value greater than or equal to $50 million. The reporting disclosure period is initially limited to one (1) year and will gradually increase to three (3) years by October 25, 2018.
  • January 1, 2017: The Paycheck Transparency clause takes effect, requiring contractors to provide wage statements and notice of any independent contractor relationship to their covered workers.
  • April 25, 2017: The total contract value threshold for prime contracts requiring disclosure and assessment of labor law compliance is reduced to $500,000.
  • October 25, 2017: Mandatory assessment begins for all subcontractors under consideration for subcontracts with a total value greater than or equal to $500,000.

 

Needless to say, our concerns remain. And before I go into a few of them, I would point out that the $50 million threshold sounds like a lot. It includes, however, companies on a multiple award contract with a ceiling amount above $50 million. Meaning a company that wins a BPA or IDIQ valued above $50 million, though not necessarily the amount of work the company will actually perform, will face the October 2016 deadline.

On a broader level, the rule simply is not ready for primetime. The Labor Department and FAR Council chose not to include what state labor law violations must be reported. It is impossible to gauge the impact of a regulation when missing significant portions.

What is in the rule, however, is equally concerning. In some cases, violations that require reporting will not be be fully adjudicated. That is, companies would have to report decisions against them that may ultimately be overturned – as nearly a third of NLRB decisions have been.

This is compounded by WIPP’s worry that simply having violations on record will “blacklist” companies without providing any opportunity to offer explanation. With limited resources and time, contracting officers may elect to avoid companies with any disclosed violations, despite the intent of the order to only bar violations of a certain severity.

Burdens on subcontractors are also being created. They must report violation history as well – directly to DOL. This was a notable change in the final rule, by making the subcontractor and the Labor Department engage each other, and not put the responsibility on the prime contractor.

At the same time the government has admitted it lacks the resources to answer all questions about weighing different labor violations from hundreds of thousands of subcontractors. Ultimately, this change could be the most damning, as many of these companies are unaware of the new requirements because they never sought business with the government in the first place.

Finally, the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces requirement is one of many in a disconcerting trend of new regulations that specifically target federal contractors. Earlier this year, regulations raised the minimum wage solely for workers on federal contracts. New requirements regarding sick leave were also released. These make contracting with the federal government more onerous, particularly for women entrepreneurs seeking to enter the market. At a time when we want more competition and innovation in government, policies impacting only federal contractors put up barriers for entry.

Without question, WIPP supports efforts by the federal government to rid the contracting environment of businesses with a history of abusive and neglectful violations. In doing so, the government levels the playing field for the millions of businesses playing by the rules. But the government already has those tools and this rule will not achieve this goal. Instead, it will be harder to be a contractor, pushing the innovative products and services of women-owned businesses out of the federal market.

So to the federal contractors out there gearing up for a warm holiday weekend, fire up those grills, wear that final white outfit, and head into the office – it’s going to be a busy day.

 

John Stanford is part of WIPP’s Government Relations team in Washington, D.C., specializing in federal procurement and healthcare policy. When not bothering lawmakers about needed changes, he can be found in the woods at local golf courses.

Regulatory Race to the Finish

By Debbie Kobrin, WIPP Government Relations

173414-425x283-government_regulationsWith the party conventions right around the corner, and a few months to a new President, you might think the current administration would be slowing down. But things are moving in the opposite direction. The Administration is churning out plenty of new contracting rules, and shows no signs of stopping anytime.

In June, SBA finalized a new subcontracting rule which will help WOSBs with subcontracting requirements, by easing the “50 percent rule” to allow a WOSB to do less than 50 percent of the work on a contract, as long as the WOSB subcontracts to other WOSBs. The rule also shifts the limitations on subcontracting from requiring a prime to perform at least 50 percent of the labor on the contract, to requiring a prime perform at least 50 percent of the dollar amount of the contract. The rule also contains changes to subcontracting plans, roles for Procurement Center Representatives (PCR), Joint Ventures and more.

Also last month,  the GSA finalized a new regulation requiring contractors to report transaction or task order level data on goods and services to GSA. Under the transactional data rule, businesses are required to tell GSA what federal agencies purchase through GSA. This rule applies to GSA contracts including the Federal Supply Schedule (FSS) and Government-wide Acquisition Contracts (GWAC).

Last week, the FAR Council finalized a rule strengthening subcontracting regulations by finalizing the “ list us, use us” requiring for prime contractors to make a good faith effort to utilize small subcontractors to the same degree as listed in the bid or proposal. WIPP has supported this change for a number of years, and testified on its value to women business owners. The rule also requires prime contractors to assign NAICS codes to subcontracts, and restricts prime contractors from prohibiting a subcontractor from discussing payment issues with the contracting officer.

In addition to what we have seen over the past several months, SBA is expected to release a new Mentor-Protégé Program for all-small-businesses any day now. The SBA is also expected to work on rules associated with lower-tier subcontracting credit, WOSB certification, and the WBC program.

The FAR Council continues to work through its back-log and plans to release new rules that include creating a government-wide definition for consolidation and bundling, providing subcontractors with additional payment protections, and implementing the Department of Labor Fair Pay, Safe Workplaces Executive Order.

As we enter the home stretch of the Obama Administration, there is a clear impetus to do as much as possible over the next several months. As new information about rules becomes available, WIPP is committed to keeping you informed.

 Let us know what you think about Regulations by taking We Decide 2016 Quick Poll.

Facts About Recent Changes to Overtime

The Administration’s final overtime rule, published on May 18th, will make an estimated 4.2 million new workers eligible for overtime pay. Salaried workers, making up to $47,476 annually, will get time-and-a-half payments for work over 40 hours in a week. The effective date is December 1, 2016.

Background

obamatime-state-mapOn March 13, 2014, President Obama signed a Presidential Memorandum directing the Department of Labor (DOL) to “propose revisions to modernize and streamline the existing overtime regulations.” Specifically, the President cited the exemption for executive, administrative and professional employees as having “not kept up with the modern economy.”

In response to the President’s memorandum, Department of Labor issued the proposed rule on July 6, 2015. The final rule was issued on May 18, 2016 and can be found here.

How The Overtime Rule Works

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) guarantees workers a minimum wage and overtime pay for hours worked above 40 hours in a week. However, some employees are exempted from the overtime pay requirement if:

(1) the employee makes a pre-determined and fixed salary;

(2) the salary is above $47,476 annually;

(3) the employee’s job duties primarily involve executive, administrative, or professional (EAP) tasks.

Since 2004, that salary threshold was set at $23,660 per year. The new rule more than doubles the threshold to $47,476 per year. Employees in executive, administrative, or professional positions making less than the increased salary threshold will not meet this exemption and thus must receive overtime pay. Furthermore, the salary threshold will automatically update every 3 years beginning on January 1, 2020.

WIPP’s Comments and Concerns

The 508-page rule addresses many of the more than 270,000 comments received including specific comments made by WIPP. WIPP advocated for an exemption for small businesses. The DOL recognized WIPP’s concerns, but concluded that their final salary threshold would “provide relief” as it is slightly lower than the $50,440 that was originally proposed. While the salary threshold is lower than estimated, it is still double the current threshold.

DOL also recognized WIPP’s concern of a loss of workplace flexibility. WIPP’s comment noted that many employees perform some of their work remotely and outside of normal business hours, such as working from home. The DOL responded that it “does not believe that workers will incur the significant change in flexibility.” The rule went on to state that, “Employers should be able to trust such valued employees to follow the employers’ instructions regarding when, where, and for how many hours they may work and to accurately record their hours worked.”

WIPP’s also commented on the difficulty of tracking employee hours to ensure compliance. This comment was also recognized by DOL, but they did not address this concern in their final rule.

The Fair Labor Standards Act, which governs the overtime rules, includes a carve-out for businesses that have less than $500,000 in annual revenue and do not engage in interstate commerce. However, DOL guidance suggests that the interstate commerce requirement is likely met by most businesses.

DOL has published additional information on these changes here. Please reach out to WIPP’s Government Relations team at advocacy@wipp.org with any questions.