Contractors Seek Guidance, Relief Amid Coronavirus Spread

By Adrian Cruz
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Law360 (March 20, 2020, 6:55 PM EDT) -- Ten trade associations representing government contracting businesses have asked federal lawmakers to provide clear direction on how to fulfill obligations for the government amid the spread of the novel coronavirus, saying the guidance so far has been inconsistent.

In a letter Thursday to congressional leaders from both parties, the National Defense Industrial Association, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and others said that many contractors are in a state of limbo and unable to fulfill their obligations because of the restrictions that have arisen over the past few weeks due to the spread of COVID-19.

"As the COVID-19 pandemic has reached federal offices and is forcing closures and quarantines, there has been inconsistent federal agency guidance and direction as to the treatment of contractors during this uncertain time," the trade groups said.

Given that many states and cities have ordered most government buildings to be closed except for essential workers, the groups said that Congress should provide worksite access exemptions for contractors working in fields related to national security, such as defense, intelligence and aerospace. The groups also asked Congress for more flexibility with contractors who are unable to comply with the terms of their contracts because they can't access their worksites.

The trade groups, representing the aerospace, engineering and information technology industries, also asked for language in relief bills that would encourage the use of alternative work solutions, such as teleworking and virtual workplaces. They recommended legislative language that would require the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Federal Procurement Policy to provide guidance on "fully compensable equitable adjustments to contracts" when access to federal facilities is restricted to control the spread of the coronavirus.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has said that industries considered essential, such as health care, communications, defense and transportation, must be kept running to ensure the nation's health and security aren't impacted.

DHS' Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said in guidance released Thursday that crucial businesses should consider alternative working methods, such as teleworking, and focus on core business activities.

Employers should also encourage social distancing and other forms of staff separation for those who have to be physically present at their workplace to ensure operations continue, CISA said.

"As the nation comes together to slow the spread of COVID-19, everyone has a role to play in protecting public health and safety," CISA Director Christopher Krebs said in a statement. "Many of the men and women who work across our nation's critical infrastructure industries are hard at work keeping the lights on, water flowing from the tap, groceries on the shelves, among other countless essential services."

The industries considered "critical" under a 2013 presidential directive are: chemical, commercial facilities such as lodging and retail, communications, critical manufacturing, dams, defense, emergency services, energy, financial services, food and agriculture, government facilities, health care, information technology, nuclear, transportation and water.

Representatives for the NDIA, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the CISA didn't immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.

--Editing by Orlando Lorenzo.

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