Biden’s Buy American Policy & What it Means for Contractors

On January 25, 2021, President Biden signed an Executive Order (EO) “Ensuring the Future is Made in All America by All of America’s Workers”, which seeks to bolster U.S. manufacturing through the federal procurement process. Note that, just six day earlier, on January 18, the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Counsel issued a final rule implementing former President Trump’s July 2019 EO, titled “Maximizing Use of American-Made Goods, Products, and Materials” (EO No. 13881) on the then-current Buy American standards. For context, Trump’s proposed revisions – adopted and implemented by the FAR Council earlier this year – imposed three (3) significant changes worth noting: (1) increasing the percentage of domestic content (other than iron or steel) from 50% to 55% that an end product must contain in order to qualify as a “domestic end product”; (2) implementing an even higher increase in the domestic content requirement for iron and steel products to at least 95% U.S. “predominately” iron or steel product; and (3) increasing the price evaluation preference for domestic offerors from 6% to 20% (for other than small business) and 30% (for small businesses). The FAR’s rule became effective January 21, 2021, and applies to solicitations issued on or after February 22, 2021, and resulting contracts let. Biden’s EO rescinds Trump’s EO No. 13881 “to the extent inconsistent with [Biden’s] EO.” However, when dissected, it is clear Biden’s Buy American plan does little to modify thresholds inconsistent with the Trump Administration; rather, the White House’s latest EO implements changes in the form of BA administration. Nonetheless, Biden’s EO does expressly note that it supersedes and replaces Trump’s EO on the same issues.

Notably, Biden’s EO creates a Made in America Office (MAO) under the Office of Management and Budget (OMB)1 for the purpose of overseeing domestic preference laws and waivers by federal agencies. The EO, further, directs the FAR Council to consider replacing the component test requirements currently found at FAR Part 25 to ensure that domestic end products contact the requisite domestic content required. Biden’s EO goes on to request that the FAR Council (1) “increase the numerical threshold for domestic content requirements for end products and construction materials” and “increase the price preference for domestic end products and construction materials.” The Biden Administration’s EO, however, does not specify numbers for domestic content requirements or price preferences (i.e. greater than 55% domestic content or more than a 30% price preference for small businesses). It is unclear if – or by how much – these percentages will increase from those adopted by the FAR Council’s latest rule per the Trump administration’s July 2019 EO on these very issues. Biden’s EO also increases transparency in the exemption and waiver process, requiring waivers and their respective justification be available for public view via MAO’s website.

For now, it is clear our new Administration has done little to substantively change Buy American laws, as the EO focuses on waiver oversight, enforcement, and transparency. Government contractors and suppliers should closely monitor formally-approved changes to ensure compliance As the FAR Council may opt to revisit its recently adopted regulations and/or “consider” replacing the component test itself, affected contractors should keep abreast of any component test related revisions.
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1 In comparison, the Trump EO “directed each agency to go back and look at their own processes and strengthen them where necessary.”

Will Subcontractor Default Insurance Still Have Value in the Recovering Economy?

The COVID-19 pandemic has burdened subcontractors with workforce shortages, supply chain issues, and financial difficulties. Therefore, as states lift their stay-at-home orders issued to limit the spread of COVID-19 and construction projects resume, subcontractors’ ability to complete demanding, time-sensitive projects might be impacted. Subcontractor default is already a common and costly problem for general contractors. When subcontractors fail to complete their contractual obligations, a general contractor’s profitability and reputation are greatly impacted. Effectively managing the risk of subcontractor default will be increasingly important for general contractors in the post-pandemic economy. Buy a new car can be a very difficult decision, for that reason before buy a car is very important that you do a good research in articles like the 7 Things About New Electric Vw Transporter T6.1 Your Boss Wants to Know.

Subcontractor Default Insurance (“SDI”) is a non-traditional insurance product which can minimize a general contractor’s damages resulting from a subcontractor’s default. It is a two-party indemnity agreement between a general contractor and insurer. It was created as an alternative to surety bonds, with the idea that the general contractor controls the default process and remedy to help keep projects on time and within budget. Under a SDI policy, a general contractor enrolls prequalified subcontractors for either a specific project or policy term. Then, the general contractor is indemnified by the insurance company for any covered costs incurred if one of the subcontractors defaults. Typically, SDI claims stem from labor, work delay and quality issues, as well as financial-related defaults, which are not covered under general liability insurance policies.

In addition to direct costs, SDI coverage usually includes indirect expenses such as liquidated damages, acceleration of other subcontracts, increased overhead and the like. The insurer shares the risk with the general contractor through a deductible and co-pay; the general contractor absorbs some of the costs associated with a subcontractor’s default, usually up the deductible amount. SDI coverage extends to the limits of the individual policy rather than being limited to the value of the subcontract.

In order to lessen their risk, SDI carriers require general contractors to prequalify subcontractors before they can be enrolled on the policy. General contractors are in charge of this process. In order to evaluate a subcontractor both operationally and financially, subcontractors must submit the following types of information: financial statements, proof of available lines of credit, safety record, and history of claims and litigation. For subcontractors, the prequalification process is not different than that for surety bonds, except that it is executed by the general contractor instead of a professional surety underwriter.

After the COVID-19 pandemic, insurance carriers will necessarily adjust their outlook on subcontractors due to the increased risk of loss. Therefore, it will likely be more difficult for general contractors to find subcontractors able to prequalify for SDI policies and, in any event, the process will become more tedious. In addition to the aforementioned information, general contractors will probably be interested in subcontractors’ business continuity plans and specific plans to mitigate impacts like loss of employees and/or project shutdowns.

General contractors must be large and sophisticated enough to have the resources necessary to properly pre-qualify subcontractors, including assessing the financial risks of accepting subcontractors, and monitor their schedules and performance for the duration of the project. While the pre-qualification process is necessary, it is insufficient to thoroughly manage the risk. Even a subcontractor who is prequalified at the outset of a project must be managed throughout the entire course of work. A general contractor’s oversight of subcontractor performance will be even more critical in the post COVID-19 economy as subcontractors are more likely to be operationally and financially stretched thin.

In order to even qualify for SDI insurance, a general contractor typically needs minimum annual subcontractor volume in the $50-$100 million range. In fact, for SDI to be cost-effective, carriers say that annual subcontracted values must exceed $75 million. This is because SDI is expensive, usually ranging from 0.4 to 0.85 percent of total subcontract values.

Given the increased risk of subcontractor default, SDI policies will likely be even more expensive as the economy recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. Deductibles, which are already high, are likely to increase. Currently, it is not unusual for a deductible to be in the $500,000 range. In addition to that, SDI policies have a co-pay which is paid up the retention aggregate—often three to five times the deductible. That said, SDI will still have value and provide cost savings under the right circumstances. For very large jobs, it would be worth taking on part of the financial risk of default for general contractors to accept SDI’s high deductibles because it would cost much less (now typically 50% less) than subcontractors bonding and passing along costs within their bid. Another consideration is whether the costs can be absorbed by the project. General contractors can also strategically utilize SDI to target high-risk subcontractors.

Cost will not be the only determinative factor in evaluating SDI’s value after the pandemic. It is possible insurers will write more exclusions into policies to manage their own risk associated with impacts associated with mandated shutdowns similar to what the United States recently experienced. Accordingly, subcontractor default stemming from such a shutdown (including impacts like workforce shortages and supply chain backlogs) would unlikely be covered. SDI policies also generally do not cover defaults, which result from the following: misrepresentation, fraud, defaults occurring prior to the policy period, material breach of warranty by the contractor, contracts acquired from other entities, war and losses arising from providing professional services.

To determine whether or not SDI is a worthy investment, a general contractor must separately evaluate each project, and carefully weigh the cost, potential savings and risk involved.

For more information on the efficacy of subcontractor default insurance in a recovering economy or other construction law topics, please contact Nicole Lentini and Becky Juhl.