On January 2, 2011, the President signed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010, Pub. L. No. 111-347, which set up a relief fund for victims, first responders, and construction workers who were injured in the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York City. To pay the estimated $4.3 billion price tag for the Act, Section 301 of the Act imposed on any foreign person a tax equal to 2% of federal procurement payment received by that foreign person. See 26 U.S.C. § 5000C. In addition, any person who makes or otherwise is a withholding agent with respect to such a payment is required to withhold the 2% tax from the federal procurement payment and remit the tax withheld to the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) under tax laws and regulations applicable to withholding of United States taxes from payments made to foreign persons. Although the tax has been in place for more than 14 months and the IRS has issued a revised Form 1042 with revised instructions to implement withholding and reporting obligations, the Government is only now turning to the details of how this tax will be accounted for in connection with the procurement process. And – as is often the case – there is quite a lot of devil in those details.
Just in time for the end-of-year push to fund the Government and to "create more jobs," members of Congress and President Obama had a rare moment of consensus when they unanimously(!) repealed an extremely unpopular withholding requirement that has been haunting recipients of federal funds since 2005. The "3% Withholding Repeal and Job Creation Act" was signed into law on November 21, 2011 (Pub. L. No. 112-56, Title I), eliminating a requirement to withhold 3% on most payments to contractors and grant recipients. While there are many in Government and industry alike who are ecstatic at the passage of the Act, the Ghost of Christmas Future warns that this specter of "withholding" may not have yet fled the scene. Like poor, chained Jacob Marley from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, industry may yet find itself captive, bound, and double-ironed by future Congressional plots to confiscate funds from government contractors. Miserly grasping for every penny, one can almost hear the federal Government grumbling, "Bah! Humbug!"
On January 20, 2010, the President issued a Memorandum ordering the Department of the Treasury and the Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”) to block the award of government contracts to companies that are delinquent on their taxes. The Memorandum calls for the review of certifications of non-delinquency, which was added in 2008 to FAR 52.209-5, “Certification Regarding Responsibility Matters.” Citing GAO reports as a justification, the Memorandum states that “Federal contracts are awarded to tens of thousands of companies with serious tax delinquencies.”