Ross Wilkers

COVID

Contractors win extension of COVID workforce-relief provision

In the very late hours of Monday night, Congress passed a pair of spending packages worth $2.3 trillion combined to fund the government and keep the stimulus going in support of an economy roiled by the coronavirus pandemic.

Tucked into the $1.4 trillion appropriations bill to fund agencies for fiscal year 2021 (the current one) is another extension of a government contracting mechanism and authority that industry sees as important to keeping its financial well-being and labor force intact.

Section 3610 of the CARES Act now runs to March 31, 2021 to continue letting federal agencies modify contracts to reimburse companies the labor costs for workers essentially locked out of federal facilities during the pandemic.

Defense and intelligence agencies, plus the Energy Department, are among those who would appear to be the most reliant on Section 3610 authority. A Defense Department inspector general audit released earlier in December offered some detail, albeit somewhat incomplete, on how agencies are applying that authority.

That initial $2 trillion stimulus legislation signed in March of this year included Section 3610, which has come close to expiration more than once. The most recent instances saw one extension enacted through Dec. 11 and others put in place to cover the time needed for budget negotiations on Capitol Hill.

Industry trade associations representing government contractors view Section 3610 as a crucial tool that prevents companies from continuing to pay employees without revenue coming in or having to lay off those workers, especially those with clearances and technical skills.

The remaining $900 billion in spending Congress approved Monday covers continued COVID-19 relief efforts such as stimulus checks, unemployment benefits and more loans for the Paycheck Protection Program.

Both funding packages are headed to the president’s desk for signature to become law.

How GovCon trade associations are responding

“Sufficient funding for the fiscal year enables agencies to keep operating at full capacity even under COVID-19 duress and provides predictability for government agencies and programs and the contractors that provide essential support,” David Berteau, CEO of the Professional Services Council, said in a statement. “Stable funding leads to timely contracts that deliver better results for the government, sooner and at better prices.”

“As normal operations were put on hold, Section 3610 of the CARES Act was a lifeline for our industrial base. It ensured that aerospace and defense employees could continue to access their worksites and support vital NASA and national security programs,” added Eric Fanning, CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association. “The extension of Section 3610 and the Paycheck Protection Program will help companies large and small continue to protect the health and wellbeing of their workers as they support U.S. national security and the pandemic response.”

About the Author

Ross Wilkers is a senior staff writer for Washington Technology. He can be reached at rwilkers@washingtontechnology.com. Follow him on Twitter: @rosswilkers. Also connect with him on LinkedIn.

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