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On December 15, 2021, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (“CISA”) announced the publication of a warning for “critical infrastructure owners and operators to take immediate steps to strengthen their computer network defenses against potential malicious cyber attacks” before the upcoming holiday season.  CISA’s warning emphasizes that “[s]ophisticated threat actors

Almost a year after Assistant Secretary of the Navy James Geurts issued his September 28, 2018 memorandum (Geurts Memo) imposing enhanced security controls on “critical” Navy programs, the Navy has issued an update to the Navy Marine Corps Acquisition Regulations Supplement (NMCARS) to implement those changes more formally across the Navy.  Pursuant to this update, a new Annex 16 in the NMCARS provides Statement of Work (SOW) language that must be added into Navy solicitations and contracts where the Navy has determined “the risk to a critical program and/or technology warrants its inclusion.”  In addition to the technical requirements reflected in the Geurts Memo, the Navy has added Subpart 5204.73 to the NMCARS that, among other things, instructs Contracting Officers (COs) to seek equitable reductions or consider reducing or suspending progress payments for contractor non-compliance with the Annex 16 and DFARS 252.204-7012 (DFARS clause) requirements.

SUBPART 5204.73

Equitable Price Reductions/Suspension and Reduction of Progress Payments.  The Navy added Subpart 5204.73 “Safeguarding Covered Defense Information and Cyber Incident Reporting” to the NMCARS.  This Subpart provides direction to COs in three areas.  First, it provides that Annex 16 must be included in the SOWs of relevant solicitations, contracts and task or delivery orders.  Second, the Subpart directs COs to consider the DFARS clause, Annex 16 and the Geurts Memo as material requirements.[1]  Finally, if COs accept supplies or services with “critical or major non-conformances (e.g., failure to comply with material requirement)” they are directed to impose an equitable price reduction.  The Subpart identifies a “reasonable amount” for this reduction as 5% of the total contract value.  That amount can be increased if there is an increased risk from the non-conformance.  If the CO decides to require correction of nonconforming services or supplies rather than acceptance, the CO is directed to withhold/reduce or suspend progress payments if correction is not made in a timely manner.

This revision to the NMCARS represents a powerful enforcement mechanism for the Navy.  Until now, DOD has stated that the failure to comply with the DFARS clause requirements would be treated as a contract performance issue.  Although that basic concept continues, the Subpart explicitly defines the DFARS clause, Annex 16 and the Geurts Memo as “material requirements” of the contract.  A failure to comply with a material requirement would make contractors potentially liable for significant equitable reductions or for a suspension or reduction of progress payments.  Read literally, a contractor that reports a cyber incident 76 hours (and not 72 hours) after discovery may be violating a material requirement of the contract. Contractors may derive some comfort from the NMCARS’ reliance on FAR 32.503-6, “Suspension or reduction of payments,” which at least requires COs to “act fairly and reasonably” and “base decisions on substantial evidence.”  However, the nonconforming supplies or services provision  in FAR 46.407 does not impose a similar fairness requirement on COs.

ANNEX 16

The Navy’s Annex 16 covers five areas: (1) System Security Plans (SSPs) and Plans of Action and Milestones (POA&Ms) Reviews; (2) Compliance with NIST Special Publication (SP) 800-171; (3) Cyber Incident Response; (4) Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) Outreach; and (5) NCIS/Industry Monitoring.  The requirements of Annex 16 are similar to various requirements that have been included in various Navy solicitations over the past year.  As described below, although the Annex provides more detail than the Geurts Memo, significant questions remain about how each of these requirements will be interpreted by the Navy going forward.
Continue Reading Navy Modifies Acquisition Supplement to Tighten Cybersecurity Requirements and Implement the Geurts Memorandum