Agencies Given More Contract Award Flexibility for COVID-19 Related Research and Support

Published: March 19, 2020

Federal Market AnalysisCoronavirus (COVID-19) PandemicHHS

On March 9th, OMB’s Deputy Director released a memo providing federal agencies with flexibility for granting contracting awards related to COVID-19 research and support. Additionally, NIH put into practice an urgent award mechanism to speed COVID-19 research efforts.

Key Takeaways:

  • OMB is granting federal agencies 10 specific flexibilities related to COVID-19 research and support contracts.
  • NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) is using the NIH Urgent Award grant mechanism for the first time to acquire COVID-19 research.

In a memo entitled “Administrative Relief for Recipients and Applicants of Federal Financial Assistance Directly Impacted by the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19),” OMB is allowing federal agencies to waive certain traditional contracting requirements to support COVID-19 research, services and emergency response.

The memo also reminds agencies of the authority they already have to issue exceptions on a case-by-case basis under the “Exceptions” section of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).

The exceptions granted by the OMB memo, must be related to support of COVID-19 response and deemed necessary to carry out activities during the 90-day Public Health Emergency period declared by HHS.

Specifically, agencies are granted the following flexibilities:

  1. Flexibility with SAM registration/recertification for applicants
  2. Waiver for Notice of Funding Opportunities (NOFOs) Publication
  3. Pre-award costs
  4. No-cost extensions on expiring awards
  5. Abbreviated non-competitive continuation requests
  6. Expenditure of award funds for salaries and other project activities
  7. Waivers from prior approval requirements
  8. Exemption of certain procurement requirements
  9. Extension of financial and other reporting
  10. Extension of Single Audit submission

Additionally, NIH has invoked an urgent award mechanism it established in 2018 for public health crises.  NIH’s Urgent Competitive Revision to Existing NIH Grants and Cooperative Agreements (Urgent Supplement, Clinical Trial Optional) gives NIH another tool for rapidly mobilizing research in response to crises.

On March 17th NIH’s NIAID released a Notice of Special Interest (NOSI) for the “Availability of Administrative Supplements and Revision Supplements on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).” This grant mechanism allows NIAID to solicit research services during emergencies.  NIAID is particularly interested in human research or unique model systems to study the consequences of the COVID-19 infection. The research is expected to inform future efforts to diagnose, prevent, mitigate, or treat this viral infection.

Expect agencies to take advantage of these contracting and grant mechanisms to speed research, medical assistance and relief efforts to the nation during this pandemic. Research institutes, academia, and federal contractors may find opportunities to assist agencies in fighting COVID-19 and providing support efforts under temporarily relaxed contracting regulations.