White House to launch online resource for small businesses

January 23, 2012 by

The White House will be unveiling a new website that will act as one-stop virtual shop to provide information and resources for small businesses and help owners succeed in their entrepreneurial endeavors.

Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel made the announcement Jan. 13 when delivering a speech about federal mobility at a luncheon hosted by the Association for Federal Information Resources Management.

BusinessUSA.gov,  which VanRoekel said will launch in “a few weeks,” pools information and services from the government into one integrated network for U.S. business owners and entrepreneurs.

The main focus of the website is to help U.S. business succeed and grow, VanRoekel said. The website will provide entrepreneurs with relevant information from one consolidated source instead of having them navigate through several different options, he said.

About the Author: Camille Tuutti is a staff writer covering the federal workforce for Federal Computer Week.  This article appeared Jan. 13, 2012 at http://washingtontechnology.com/articles/2012/01/13/white-house-to-launch-online-resource-for-small-businesses.aspx?s=wtdaily_170112

SBA’s elevation to Cabinet-level is a symbolic move, experts say

January 20, 2012 by

President Obama’s announcement Friday that he was “elevating the Small
Business Administration to a Cabinet-level agency” was a largely symbolic
gesture, government scholars say.

“The president has the ability to designate his Cabinet and the SBA will be
now part of his Cabinet,” Federal Chief Performance Officer Jeffrey Zients
reiterated during the White House press briefing, after Obama’s remarks.

There is a distinction to be made, however, between the president inviting
the head of an agency to his Cabinet, as Obama will do with SBA Administrator
Karen Mills, and elevating the entire agency to “Cabinet-level status,”
according to Paul Light, Paulette Goddard Professor of Public Service at New
York University.

Light described Cabinet-level status as “a formal designation that only
Congress can make by giving the individual and the agency a particular level in
the executive pay structure.” He explained that Mills’ future attendance at
Cabinet meetings is purely symbolic and will in no way affect her pay grade
unless Congress passes additional legislation.

“He’s basically saying, ‘I’m going to call this person a BFF . . . and I’m
going to invite this person to our clubhouse for our quarterly Cabinet
meetings,’ ” Light said, comparing the process to the ceremonial act of
knighthood.

Don Kettl, dean of the University of Maryland School of Public Policy, also
sees the act as mostly symbolic.

“Whether an agency is Cabinet rank or not, in terms of getting the job done,
doesn’t really matter a whole lot,” Kettl said. “It has much more to do with
political symbolism.”

SBA has been on and off the presidential guest list for nearly two decades.
President Clinton first extended an invitation to the agency head to join his
Cabinet in 1994, when, according to Light, he also misused the legislative term
“elevate.” President Bush rescinded the Cabinet invitation after he took
office.

In 1988, Congress elevated the Veteran Affairs Department to Cabinet-level
status. At the time, President George H.W. Bush remarked, “There is only one
place for the veterans of America: in the Cabinet room, at the table with the
president of the United States of America.”

VA’s promotion may have been a mixed blessing: “They got the name change,
they got the accoutrements of Cabinet status, the limousine,” Light said. But
the department couldn’t get additional employees or funding for new signs,
thanks to provisions in the elevation legislation that prohibited such
expenditures.

Light said in the grand scheme of things, federal agencies are “probably
better off” not receiving Cabinet-level status. “That table’s not very important
anymore — we don’t have Cabinet government as presidents once imagined,” he
said.

SBA’s seat at the table is likely temporary. The president’s full
reorganization plan, which must be approved by Congress, would roll SBA and five
other trade-related entities into one, still-unnamed agency.

– by Andrew Lapin – Government Executive – January 13, 2012 at http://www.govexec.com/story_page.cfm?articleid=49775&dcn=e_gvet

Public release of contractor data delayed

January 18, 2012 by

Contractors can still challenge information tjat goes into the Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity System, but they have just a two-week window before the information becomes public.

The new provision takes affect Jan. 17, 2012. The start date was missing when the final rule was published Jan. 3.

Any information that agencies enter into database from Jan. 17 onward will be subject to a two-week delay before it is transferred to the publicly available part of FAPIIS. Past performance information won’t be published at all. Contractors will receive notice when new information about their company goes into FAPIIS, and they will have 7 days to point out information that should be exempt under the Freedom of Information Act.

In the new Federal Register notice, officials wrote that the delay until Jan. 17 will give agencies time to complete necessary system changes to support the two-week waiting period before contractors’ information goes live.

The current system is designed to automatically transfer information to the publicly available part of FAPIIS. Until officials make the change, companies would not have an opportunity to request withholding the information, the notice states.

FAPIIS is a one-stop website for contracting officers and federal employees to look at the history of companies’ work with the federal government. It includes data from the Performance Information Retrieval System, as well as information from other databases, including the Excluded Parties List System, which cites companies that are suspended or debarred from federal contracting.

The final rule gives companies seven days to find any information that should not be disclosed because it should be considered exempt. In such a case, officials will remove the information from FAPIIS to resolve the issue.

If the government official does not remove the item, it will be automatically released to the public website within 14 days after beginning entered into FAPIIS, according to the notice.

About the Author: Matthew Weigelt is a senior writer covering acquisition and procurement for Federal Computer Week. This article appeared Jan. 11, 2012 at http://washingtontechnology.com/articles/2012/01/10/fapiis-contractor-information.aspx?s=wtdaily_120112.

Defense technology to grow despite Pentagon budget cuts

January 17, 2012 by

As the Defense Department slashes its budget by at least $487 billion in 10 years, technology investment is one of the few areas that will continue to grow, according to a new military strategy that President Obama and Pentagon officials released Thursday.

The increased spending will focus on cyberspace, intelligence systems, space and science research, according to the review.

President Obama told a Pentagon press briefing that Defense has to develop “smart, strategic priorities.” Specifically, he called for enhanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems.

In his written introduction to the review, Obama said the new strategy will “ensure that our military is agile, flexible and ready for the full range of contingencies.” He added this includes investments to ensure that the United States can prevail in all domains of military operations, including cyberspace.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said broad cuts in the new Defense budget, due for release in late January, do not apply to investments in technology, including unmanned systems, space capabilities and “particularly cyberspace capabilities.”

Defense budgeted $3.2 billion for cybersecurity in 2012. The Pentagon, Panetta said, must continue to invest “in new capabilities to maintain a decisive edge.”

He declined to provide specific funding figures for any military programs, deferring that action until release of the 2013 Defense budget. But, Panetta said, the strategy will drive the structure of the budget.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter said the new strategy envisions budget increases in “all aspects of cyber,” along with science and technology research. Defense cannot abandon that research, Carter said, as it would be akin to “eating our seed corn.”

Highlighting the importance of networks and space systems in the future, the strategy document said: “Modern armed forces cannot conduct high-temp, effective operations without reliable information and communication networks and assured access to cyberspace and space. Today space systems and their supporting infrastructure face a range of threats that may degrade, disrupt or destroy assets. Accordingly, DoD will continue to work with domestic and international allies and partners and invest in advanced capabilities to defend its networks, operational capability and resiliency in cyberspace and space.”

Trey Hodgkins, vice president of national security and procurement policy at TechAmerica, an industry trade group, said the new military strategy reflects an increasing awareness within Defense that technology, including information technology, sits at the core of multiple missions, and the Pentagon has to continue to beef up investments in this area.

Obama pointed out that the new military strategy shifts the Pentagon focus from Europe and the Mideast to the Asia-Pacifc region, including a beefed-up U.S. force presence in Australia that he announced in November 2011.

“As we end today’s wars, we will focus on a broader range of challenges and opportunities, including the security and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific [region],” Obama wrote in his introduction to the review. This shift includes dealing with the growth of the military power of China, which should be balanced by greater U.S. military presence in the region, the document said.

Hodgkins said this increased focus on the Asia-Pacific region will boost the importance of the U.S. Pacific Command headquartered in Honolulu and will require greater Defense network capacity in the region.

– by Bob Brewin – NextGov –  01/05/12 at http://www.nextgov.com/nextgov/ng_20120105_8406.php?oref=rss?zone=NGtoday

DOD tries to calm industry fears

January 16, 2012 by

Government contractors shouldn’t fear the looming defense budget cuts, the private sector still has a critical role to play, said the leader of the military’s acquisition arm on Jan. 6.

Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, said in a conference call that the department convened a joint DOD-private sector task force to determine the potential effects on industry of impending budget cuts and the military drawdown in Southwest Asia.

The task force has helped guide some of DOD’s strategy outlined Jan. 5 by President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Kendall said. He was optimistic despite a new report from the task force that revealed worries over the projected spending decreases.

“The industrial base was considered throughout the review as part of total force structure,” Kendall said. “The department is dependent on the industrial base as a partner in the defense enterprise. But less is less…you cannot expect the market to continue to grow as it has in the past.”

But despite his optimism, defense industry executives are worried about the cuts. Their concerns were outlined in a report dated Nov. 11, 2011, but released Jan. 6.he

“This report paints an alarming picture for the future of the aerospace and defense industry,” Marion Blakey, president of the Aerospace Industries Association, said in a release. “Yesterday Secretary Panetta outlined very severe reductions in the defense budget. Any further cuts will cripple crucial industrial base capabilities in the national security sector.”

AIA was part of the Defense Industrial Base Task Force; other groups included the Professional Services Council and the National Defense Industrial Association.

Kendall said technology remains one area that likely will still see investment and the private sector’s partnership would remain critical to military operations.

“Our continued dominance will rely on technological superiority,” he said. “While we will be taking budget cuts, there will be high priority areas of investment,” including cyber, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and space.

The task force’s report assessed the effects of two scenarios: the $480 billion defense spending reduction over 10 years that Obama and Panetta outlined Jan. 5, and the $1 trillion across-the-board cuts that could result from sequestration triggered by the congressional supercommittee’s failure to agree on federal budget cuts.

“Cuts beyond $480 billion…would render major segments of the defense industry unable to produce critical products and components, leaving wide gaps in the domestic capacity needed to sustain an acceptable margin of military superiority in the future,” the report stated.

According to Kendall, he and Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter have met with the task force, and Panetta is slated to meet with members in two weeks.

Kendall stressed that he believes the cuts and strategy implementation are doable, and that industry has a seat at the table as DOD’s leadership determines strategy.

“I believe we can execute the strategy within the context of budget constraints and still preserve military and industrial base,” he said.

About the Author: Amber Corrin is a staff writer covering defense and national security for Federal Computer Week. This article appeared Jan. 6, 2012 at http://washingtontechnology.com/articles/2012/01/06/kendall-defense-industry-task-force-report.aspx?s=wtdaily_090112.

SBA, to be elevated to Cabinet level, is among agencies Obama wants consolidated

January 13, 2012 by

On Friday, Jan 13, 2012, President Obama announced he will ask Congress for the power to merge six federal trade and commerce agencies, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The WSJ report said Obama will ask Congress for “reorganizational” power. The last president to have this power was Ronald Reagan.

The new power would allow the president to propose mergers in order to save money and make the government work more efficiently, according to the report.

The plan would allow Obama to propose mergers that would be “guaranteed an up-or-down vote from Congress within 90 days,” the report said.

The six agencies Obama wants to consolidate include the Commerce Department‘s core business and trade functions, the Small Business Administration, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Trade and Development Agency.

The report cited a White House official who said the merger would save taxpayers around $3 billion over the next decade by eliminating duplicate overhead costs.

In addition, between 1,000 and 2,000 jobs would be eliminated through attrition, according to the WSJ.

Contractors brace for coming defense cuts

January 13, 2012 by

As the Pentagon readies a fiscal 2013 budget expected to map out $487 billion in cuts over the next 10 years, many contractors already are bracing for a new climate of austerity, but they are heartened by the Obama administration’s pledge to preserve America’s industrial base.

At the Pentagon on Thursday (January 5, 2012) with President Obama, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Deputy Secretary Ashton B. Carter stressed the need for innovation and scientific progress. Both touched on the importance of innovation, maintaining the industrial base, and fostering science and technology.

“As we reduce the overall defense budget, we will protect our investments in special operations forces, new technologies like [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] and unmanned systems, space and cyberspace capabilities, and our capacity to quickly mobilize,” Panetta said.

Carter said, “this guidance tells us to preserve investment, and even in some cases to increase our capabilities in key areas that are clearly important to the future — special forces in counterterrorism, countering weapons of mass destruction, building partner capacity, cyber, and aspects of our science and technology investments — making sure that we don’t simply revert to yesterday’s pre-9/11 force structure under the pressure of budget cuts.”

He offered assurance that the Defense Department does not “eat the seed corn” by making cuts that are irreversible. “As we make program changes, we want to make sure that 10 years, 15 years from now, we still have an industrial base that supports our key weapon systems even if we’re not able to buy in those areas at the rates or in the volume that we had planned before we were handed this $487 billion cut.”

The Professional Services Council, a contractors trade group, issued a statement applauding the administration for recognizing that a “strong, flexible and resilient industrial base is integral to ensuring future readiness and mission success.” But the council warned against “arbitrary cuts” to contracts, programs and personnel.

“Clearly, the planned reductions will have an impact on both the military and the industry. Those impacts could be exacerbated if the department does not pay close attention to how it can best capitalize on the capabilities of the private sector,” said PSC President and Chief Executive Officer Stan Soloway. “It is therefore more important than ever that the department buy smart and ensure it genuinely incentivizes and rewards performance and innovation rather than simply buying at the lowest price.”

The Aerospace Industries Association also was encouraged by the Pentagon’s approach, saying in a statement that officials “recognized the importance of a strong industrial base” and for planning reductions based on “a new national defense strategy … rather than simply lower numbers across-the-board.”

Richard Rector, a partner with DLA Piper who runs the law firm’s contracting practice, told Government Executive he expects “contractors’ work and the legal work to track the decline in spending, and that companies will be less willing to accept a loss on a key programs as the pie shrinks and there are fewer large programs.”

During the previous defense spending downturn, in the mid-1990s, the number of bid protests went down commensurately, he said, but companies today are apt to be “less sanguine about accepting a loss when profitability and margins are thin, and more likely to fight over things that at other times they would let slide.” That might mean more bid protests and more claims against agency contract officers for changing the scope of contract work, he added.

The American Federation of Government Employees urged the Pentagon “to take a balanced approach to spending reductions that subjects private contractors to the same cost-cutting scrutiny that has already been placed upon the civilian workforce,” AFGE President John Gage said in a statement.

“Tens of thousands of civilian jobs are slated for elimination, despite strong evidence that having civilians perform these jobs is the most cost-effective strategy,” he said. “Meanwhile, the department continues to increase spending on contractors, even though they are more costly and less accountable.”

The nonprofit Project on Government Oversight criticized both Defense officials and an advance story about the Pentagon review in The New York Times for failing to address possible savings through decreased reliance on contractors. “Beyond the secretary’s failure to provide specifics on how he’s going to achieve his budget savings, it was what he didn’t say that left us flabbergasted,” POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian said in a statement. “Not once did he mention the need to take a serious look at the more than $200 billion the Pentagon spends each year on outside service contractors.”

Brian said her group’s research shows the Pentagon spends more on service contractors than on its uniformed military and civilian employees combined, and that contractors, on average, bill the government “nearly twice as much as it would have cost federal employees to do the same jobs.”

Defense budget analysts Barry Watts and Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments wrote a December 2011 op-ed in Politico underlining the importance of contractors in maintaining the industrial base and the need for a long-term Pentagon strategy that sets priorities for critical capabilities.

“For-profit companies, defense firms cannot afford to maintain a broad range of weapon design and production capabilities if there is no funding,” they warned. “In 1997, for example, the British navy wanted to develop a new class of nuclear attack submarine, only to find that the British defense industrial base no longer had the necessary design or production skills. Fortunately, the Royal Navy could turn to a U.S. firm for the lost expertise. But if the Pentagon finds itself in a similar situation, to whom would it turn?”

– by Charles S. Clark - Government Executive – January 6, 2012 at http://www.govexec.com/story_page.cfm?articleid=49718&oref=todaysnews

Contractors to give GSA IT security plans

January 12, 2012 by

The General Services Administration will require vendors to provide information technology security plans detailing how they are meeting federal cyber regulations under a new rule published on Jan. 6, 2012.

GSA said that changes are will apply to IT contracts awarded after Jan. 6, 2012 and that contractors must submit their IT security plans within 30 days of the contract award.

The plan should detail the processes and procedures the contractor will follow for “appropriate security of IT resources… used under the contract.”

GSA said it will use this information to verify that IT data and systems are effectively secured from unauthorized users. GSA will also inspect prime contractors’ and subcontractors’ facilities and IT systems.

Both prime and subcontractors will submit written proof of IT security authorization six months after the award in order to verify the validity of their security plan. The required plans and proposals will be included in IT contract solicitations.

– by Katelyn Noland, ExecutiveGov, on Jan. 6, 2012 at http://www.executivegov.com/2012/01/contractors-to-give-gsa-it-security-plans/

 

Jan. 10 deadline set for fighting disclosure of contractor work history

January 6, 2012 by

The Obama administration solidified an interim rule that requires agency officials to post a government contractor’s work history in a publicly accessible website.

The Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity Information System (FAPIIS) is a one-stop web site for contracting officers and federal employees to look at the history of companies’ work with the federal government.

FAPIIS includes data from the Performance Information Retrieval System, as well as information from other databases, including the Excluded Parties List System, which lists companies that are suspended or debarred from federal contracting. The overall purpose of FAPIIS is to make it easier for contracting officers to get an overall assessment of a company before awarding a contract by not having to search numerous databases.

A year ago, acquisition officials issued an interim rule making all the information public, except for past performance reviews by agencies.

The final rule took effect Jan. 3.

In the Federal Register notice about the rule, officials recognized the risks about the information going public though.

The final rule gives companies seven days to find any information that should not be disclosed because it should be considered exempt from disclosure. In such a case, officials will remove the information from FAPIIS to resolve the issue.

If the government official does not remove the item, it will be automatically released to the public site within two weeks after the review period began, according to the notice.

About the Author: Matthew Weigelt is a senior writer covering acquisition and procurement for Federal Computer Week.  This article was published Jan. 4, 2012 at http://washingtontechnology.com/articles/2012/01/04/fapiis-public-disclosure-objections.aspx?s=wtdaily_050112.

USAID pushes for more competition, less onerous regulations

January 5, 2012 by

The U.S. Agency for International Development is seeking to increase competition for its contracts and make its programs more accessible to small and disadvantaged businesses as part of a larger agency-wide reform effort.

Concerned that a reduction in contracting staff has led to an increased reliance on a fairly small group of contractors and nongovernmental organizations, USAID has made changes to its procurement program a key part of its reform.

In its plan for change, the agency says it is “falling short” in accessing the full range of talent in both U.S. businesses and organizations and those in developing countries.

USAID has started by promoting more competition within its programs, particularly focusing on setting aside more awards for small and disadvantaged businesses.

The agency has established a review board that looks at ways to make large contracts more accessible to small businesses, such as by splitting them into smaller pieces, said Aman S. Djahanbani, USAID’s chief acquisition officer.

“Broadening our partner base … just makes good business sense, and it furthers sustainable development,” Djahanbani said.

At the same time, the agency is trying to work with more of the organizations and companies that are local to a given country. Littleton Tazewell, senior adviser to USAID’s general counsel for implementation and procurement reform, said the agency often relies on intermediaries — such as U.S.-based contractors or international nongovernmental organizations — to work with local bodies.

“The idea here is to increase our direct engagement with local organizations,” said Tazewell, who said a deeper understanding of local
organizations will help USAID craft better solicitations.

The agency also is seeking to make its regulations and rules less burdensome to encourage more companies and organizations to compete for contracts and grants.

USAID acknowledged that some larger contractors or NGOs may see reduced work as a result of its procurement reform moves.

“Our partners need to realize that there is more competition,” said Djahanbani. “However, they definitely have a role to play — maybe a different role.”

For instance, he said, in some cases a local organization could serve as the prime contractor while an international or U.S.-based organization could function as a subcontractor.

Tazewell said USAID has engaged the companies and organizations it frequently uses as it reforms in an effort to identify their particular problems.

Still, USAID is only about 18 months into what it expects to be a five-year process, Tazewell said.

“We’re going to trip and make some mistakes along the way, but our expectation is at the end of that five-year process we’ll be a much better organization,” he said. “We will have a structure [and a] regulatory framework that allows for a broadened partner base that’s both local- and small business-oriented.”

– by Marjorie Censer – The Washington Post – published December 25, 2011 at
http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/capitalbusiness/usaid-pushes-for-more-competition-less-onerous-regulations/2011/11/28/gIQA1chUHP_story.html.