Contractors and COVID-19
- By Mark Rockwell
- Mar 09, 2020
From contract meetings to personnel needs, federal and commercial contracting officials are exploring ways to work around the limitations imposed by the spreading COVID-19 outbreak.
In a March 5 letter to agency contractors, Soraya Correa, the Department of Homeland Security's chief procurement officer told her contracting staff to keep advised of the outbreak using the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines. She also advised tapping CDC's information on travel before embarking on a trip.
"If your employees must travel to affected areas, please have them contact you prior to their return to discuss possible telework or leave options," she said in the letter, advising managers to have their employees contact them if they've been in close contact with a person "known to have COVID-19" or if airport screeners told them to self-quarantine after returning from travel overseas.
Correa told contractors that "if contract performance is affected due to the COVID-19 situation, such as the need for alternate work locations, or travel or schedule changes, the contracting officer is the authority to discuss this with your company."
Those kinds of contracting adjustments among federal agencies and their commercial industry counterparts will be the norm in the coming days, according to Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president and counsel for the Professional Services Council.
"Most responses will be local," he said, because of localized impact of the disease's spread. Agencies and contractors, he told FCW in an interview, should be prepared to alter how contracting personnel work, searching for alternatives such as alternate sites and telework. In the case of classified or sensitive work that depends on secure locations and connections, they should prioritize the most sensitive programs.
Chvotkin said PSC is hoping for more detailed guidance from the Office of Management and Budget on how agencies should proceed with contracts, similar to the guidance it issued on the same subject during the last government shutdown. That guidance hasn't come yet, however.
Stan Soloway, president and CEO at Celero Strategies, told FCW that classified work remains a possible risk.
In an extreme case in which a facility is required to close and its work cannot be relocated, the federal government and contractors may have to face a "we all lose" situation in which the work doesn't get done.
That scenario, he said, is highly unlikely, though. In the new world of post-COVID-19 exposure, telecommuting takes on a new urgency, even though the Trump administration has taken steps to roll back the practice.
In the last couple of days, federal agencies have begun adjusting to the situations precipitated by the epidemic. For instance, in a March 6 notice on beta.SAM.gov, the Defense Department reminded attendees of its National Cyber Range Complex Event Planning, Operations, and Support contracting meeting set for next week in Florida, that contractor attendees should have an alternate representative ready to send, if the primary contractor falls ill. It also said it was watching developments and would notify attendees of a cancellation due to the outbreak.
In another notice, the Navy told participants in its March 11 Naval Air Systems Command's Operational Maintenance & Engineering Training industry day that any contractor who had traveled to areas the State Department flagged with a "do not travel" warning within the last two weeks would not be allowed into the Orlando, Fla. event.
Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.
Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.
Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.
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