2017 NDAA Requires “Brand Name Or Equivalent” Justifications

A small but interesting change in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act will require the DoD to obtain an appropriate justification and approval (“J&A”) before restricting any competition to a particular brand name, or imposing similar restrictions.

In adopting this change, Congress doesn’t mince words, using the term “Anti-competitive Specifications” to refer to instances in which competitions are restricted to particular brand names without appropriate justification.

Section 888 of the 2017 NDAA states that the Secretary of Defense “shall ensure that competition in Department of Defense contracts is  not limited through the use of specifying brand names or brand-name or equivalent specifications, or proprietary specifications or standards, in solicitations unless a justification for such specification is provided and approved” in accordance with statutory authority.

FAR 11.105 already imposes restrictions regarding “brand name only” requirements, but the 2017 NDAA seems to go a step beyond FAR 11.105 by including “brand-name or equivalent descriptions” and “proprietary specifications or standards” in its scope. The 2017 NDAA would, however, retain certain exceptions to the justification requirement set forth in the DoD’s acquisition statutes at 10 U.S.C. 2304(f).

In addition to imposing the J&A requirement, the 2017 NDAA provides that within 180 days of enactment, the DoD “shall conduct a review of the policy, guidance, regulations and training related to specifications included in information technology acquisitions to ensure current policies eliminate the unjustified use of potentially anti-competitive specifications.”  The DoD is to brief Congress on its review within 270 days of enactment. Within one year, the DoD is to “revise policies, guidance and training” to reflect any recommendations stemming from its review.

It seems clear from Section 888 that Congress is concerned about the potential overuse of brand name (and similar) requirements. We’ll be keeping our eyes peeled around this time next year to see how DoD adjusts its acquisition policies in response.

2017 NDAA: The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 has been approved by both House and Senate, and will likely be signed into law soon. It includes some massive changes as well as some small but nevertheless significant tweaks sure to impact Federal procurements in the coming year. For the next few days, SmallGovCon will delve into the minutia to provide context and analysis so that you do not have to. Visit smallgovcon.com for the latest on the government contracting provisions of the 2017 NDAA.