NASA looks to prioritize technology spending

September 1, 2011 by

Scarce resources are the new reality at NASA, which sought feedback from the National Research Council to inform the tough investment decisions it will soon face. “The necessary technological developments have become less clear, and more effort is thus required to evaluate the best path for a forward-leaning technology program,” write authors of a NRC interim report [1] published Aug. 30 and commissioned by NASA’s Office of the Chief Technologist.

Gaps in technology roadmaps and little consideration for the commercial space sector highlight problems that further complicate program decision making, finds the report.

“NASA has now entered a transitional stage, moving from the past era in which desirable technological goals were evident to all, to one in which careful choices among many conflicting alternatives must be made,” the researchers say.

A later report will provide more specific feedback on NASA’s technology roadmaps and recommendations for OCT. The overall structure of NASA’s individual technology roadmaps is fine, says NRC, but the committee proposed some changes in the technology areas’ breakdown structures.

The most significant changes suggested by NRC are in area 4–Robotics, TeleRobotics and Autonomous Systems–which include broad changes in the lowest level of the breakdown structure (the “level 3″ technologies). The level 3 technology changes greatly affect the rest of the roadmap and so “the 04 roadmap would have to be largely rewritten,” conclude authors.

The report also finds NASA roadmaps fail to consider the needs of the commercial space sector or opportunities for partnership. Authors suggest NASA could include commercial space at the second level of the structure in some roadmaps.

NASA generally agrees with the interim report and “is pleased that the committee will conclude its work in time for NASA to use the NRC findings as guidance for its FY 2012 space technology investment decisions,” said [2] NASA Chief Technologist Bobby Braun in a statement.

The final study on NASA’s technology roadmaps will be issued in early 2012, says the report, and will provide specific guidance on how NASA OCT’s technology development program can prioritize projects “in the face of scarce resources.”

For more:
- download [1] the report
- see [3] more on NASA technology roadmaps
- see [2] NASA’s response to the report

– Written by M. Bernhart – Fierce Government IT - Sept. 1 2011 – at http://www.fiercegovernmentit.com/story/nasa-looks-prioritize-technology-spending/2011-09-01?utm_medium=nl&utm_source=internal

OMB seeks to clarify 2013 budget guidance

August 24, 2011 by

The Office of Management and Budget is looking to clarify last week’s memorandum instructing federal agencies to submit fiscal 2013 budget requests that are between 5 percent and 10 percent lower than current discretionary funding levels.

The guidance is aimed at providing options for deficit reduction in light of the recently enacted Budget Control Act, said OMB Director Jack Lew in an Aug. 18 blog post. “This does not mean that we will institute either a 5 percent or a 10 percent cut in an individual agency’s budget or in all agency budgets,” Lew wrote.

He emphasized that the Obama administration does not want agencies to make across-the-board cuts, but rather to focus on eliminating waste and putting resources into cost-effective programs. “Thus, some agency budgets will decrease (and some more than others), some will stay flat, and some may increase (and, again, some more than others) — and the same goes for programs within agencies,” Lew said.

OMB did not return a request for comment on what, if any, feedback agencies have provided on the memo.

The Obama administration sent an Aug. 17 memo to agencies asking them to outline two budget-cutting scenarios when they devise their 2013 requests, which are due next month. The guidance instructed agencies to plan a 2013 budget that is at least 5 percent below their 2011 spending levels. Agencies also should identify additional savings that would bring their 2013 budget requests to at least 10 percent below their current enacted appropriations, the memo stated.

Such guidance from OMB is not unusual. In a June 2010 memo, then-OMB Director Peter Orszag directed nonsecurity agencies to submit a fiscal 2012 budget request 5 percent below the discretionary total provided for them in the fiscal 2011 budget.

When looking for places to cut, federal managers must step back and consider all the factors driving program and operation costs, including people, real estate and technology, said Janet Hale, a director at Deloitte Consulting LLP. Hale, who worked in government for nearly two decades — most recently as the first undersecretary for management at the Homeland Security Department — said various agencies have found significant cost savings over the years, whether through scaling back on long-term technology projects or consolidating redundant programs.

“This is a journey,” said Hale, of effectively managing federal budgets and spending. “There are lots of steps along the way. So the actions they [agencies] take in 2011 and ’12 are going to set the stage for how well they face the budget pressures of ’13, ’14 and ’15,” she said.

Hale said the executive branch and Capitol Hill have to work together to identify savings in federal programs and the most efficient ways to deliver services to American taxpayers. “Agencies are trying to do what’s right,” but often get caught in the middle of tussles between the administration and Congress, she said.

– by Kellie Lunney-Government Executive – August 22, 2011 – http://www.govexec.com/story_page.cfm?articleid=48590&dcn=e_gvet

OMB directs agencies to cut 2013 budgets

August 22, 2011 by

The Obama administration is directing federal agencies to submit fiscal 2013 budget requests that are at least 10 percent below their current appropriation level.

Citing fiscal pressures and the recently enacted deficit reduction package that raised the debt limit, Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew sent a memo Aug. 17 to agencies instructing them to plan a 2013 budget that is at least 5 percent below their 2011 spending levels. Agencies also should identify additional savings that would bring their 2013 budget requests to at least 10 percent below their current enacted appropriations.

“By providing budgets pegged to these two scenarios, you will provide the president with the information to make the tough choices necessary to meet the hard spending targets in place and the needs of the nation,” Lew said in the memo.

To identify savings, agencies cannot propose across-the-board reductions or reductions to mandatory spending in appropriations bills, reclassifications of existing discretionary spending to mandatory, or any new user fees to offset existing spending. Agencies can include funding reduction proposals that fall into those categories as separate items on their own merits, or for consideration as alternatives to the main cuts outlined in the budget request, Lew said.

He also directed agencies to identify programs that are cost-effective and “provide the best opportunity for economic growth,” by eliminating duplicate or inefficient programs. Agencies should consider program integration, reorganization and realignment of resources.

“I know this will be a difficult year, but it will also offer an opportunity to make the hard decisions to invest where we can get the most done and pare back in other areas,” Lew wrote in the memo.

Carol Bonosaro, president of the Senior Executives Association, hopes agencies target wasteful or redundant programs for cuts rather than slash funds for things like employee training.

“While agencies cannot propose across-the-board reductions, that is exactly what OMB has ordered — an across-the-board reduction, albeit while telling agencies to identify programs that are cost effective,” she said.

The largest federal employee union criticized the administration’s directive to cut spending at a time of high unemployment.

“With 14 million Americans officially unemployed, and another 10 million who have either given up looking or are stuck with part-time work when they want and need full-time work, why on earth would the administration be trying to dig an even deeper hole?” asked John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees. “Spending either 5 percent or 10 percent less in 2013 than we spent in 2011 on public safety, veterans’ services, law enforcement, anti-terrorism activity and education support will not solve our problems — it will only make them worse.”

Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, called the approach “unwise and counterproductive” when it comes to ensuring agencies meet their missions.

“Budget cuts of as much as 10 percent would seriously impede critical progress at federal agencies,” she said in a statement. Kelley cited examples of programs at agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration and Internal Revenue Service that could suffer as a result of decreased funding, adversely affecting the public.

–  by Kellie Lunney – Government Executive – August 18, 2011 – http://www.govexec.com/story_page_pf.cfm?articleid=48572&printerfriendlyvers=1

Congressman questions agencies on small-business advocates’ authority

August 16, 2011 by

Senior executives at several Cabinet-level departments received letters Aug. 5 that asked why their small-business advocacy offices have not been given the authority the law dictates.

Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), chairman of the Small Business Committee’s Contracting and Workforce Subcommittee, wants to know why departments’ office of small and disadvantaged business utilization (OSDBU) officials don’t have access to top officials to deal with small-business problems, such as contract bundling and paying firms promptly.

The Small Business Act requires that heads of a department’s OSDBU should “be responsible only to, or report directly to, the head of such agency or to the deputy of such head.”

It’s not happening, according to a Government Accountability Office report from June.

Only nine of the 16 federal agencies that GAO reviewed were in compliance with that part of the Small Business Act. The remaining seven agencies failed to comply with the law. Those agencies’ OSDBU directors reported to lower-level officials or had delegated OSDBU responsibilities to officials who did not meet the reporting requirement, GAO wrote.

Further, these agencies were not in compliance when GAO last examined them in 2003.

In GAO’s latest review, Social Security Administration officials said they fixed the problem. Officials at the Interior Department agreed to re-evaluate their reporting structure.

On the other hand, the Commerce, Justice, State and Treasury departments disagreed with GAO, saying they were in compliance. The Agriculture Department also got a letter because officials delegated the OSDBU director’s authority in a way that was contrary to the law.

Mulvaney wants to know more details about each agencies’ OSDBU, including the assigned functions and budget. He also asked when the OSDBU will actually have access to top officials, in addition to a copy of the new organizational chart. He expects responses by Aug. 31.

The subcommittee is planning a hearing in September to look further into this situation.

– About the Author: Matthew Weigelt is a senior writer covering acquisition and procurement for Federal Computer Week.   Published Aug. 8, 2011 at http://fcw.com/articles/2011/08/08/osdbu-direct-access-department-secretary-rep-mick-mulvaney.aspx.

Veteran-preferred contracting programs rife with fraud, say VA OIG, GAO

August 8, 2011 by

Fraud pervades the Veterans Affairs Department’s contracting program for veteran-owned small businesses, a July 28 House panel was told.

The VA Office of Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office have found the program so rife with deceit that one lawmaker suggested the entire program be scrapped.

“I think if the American people really paid attention…[they] would blow this whole program up and start from scratch again. It is that bad,” Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) told the House Veterans Affairs’ subcommittee on oversight and investigations.

“Hopefully it will get better, ’cause it can’t get much worse.”

Seventy-six percent of the businesses reviewed by the VA Office of Inspector General in a recent audit were ineligible for either the program and/or the specific veteran-owned small businesses or service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses contract award, said Belinda Finn, assistant inspector general for audits and evaluations at the VA OIG. This could total $2.5 billion in contract awards to ineligible businesses over the next five years, Finn estimated.

“Thirty-eight percent of the reviewed businesses were not owned or controlled by a veteran and over half did not meet federal incurred cost and subcontracting thresholds. In many cases ineligible businesses passed through the majority of the contracts’ work requirements and funds to non-veteran-owned businesses,” added Finn.

Ineligible businesses received awards because VA’s office of small and disadvantaged business utilization was not thoroughly reviewing business documentation and performing site visits to verify the veteran-owned status, said Finn. The OIG also found that contracting officers did not always check VA’s enterprise veterans database, business size classification codes, or properly assess subcontracting and partnering agreements.

“This program is highly-vulnerable to fraud and abuse,” said Gregory Kutz, director of forensic audits and investigative service at GAO, who added that while the veteran business verification program has made some progress, it “has a ways to go.”

“We recommend that the Congress consider providing VA with the additional authority and resources necessary to expand the verification program governmentwide. Only 30 percent of service disabled veteran contracts are with the Department of Veteran Affairs. Thus, for the other 70 percent we continue to have a self certification program,” suggested Kutz.

Finn said VA’s verification system provides strong controls, but it also needs to strengthen it’s contracting practices, she said.

“I wouldn’t give up on it yet,” said Finn.

– by Molly Bernhart Walker – Fierce Government – Aug. 2, 2011 at: http://www.fiercegovernment.com/story/veteran-preferred-contracting-programs-rife-fraud-say-va-oig-gao/2011-08-02

Small businesses share in SEWP sales

August 1, 2011 by

The portion of sales going to small businesses in the Solutions for Enterprise-Wide Procurement (SEWP) IV reached 42 percent last year, an increase of 7 percent from the previous year, according to SEWP IV officials.

“The NASA SEWP program office has always promoted the use of small businesses,” said Joanne Woytek, SEWP IV program manager. “Two of our four contract groups are forms of small business set-asides, which all agencies can utilize to help meet their small business goals.”

• 42 percent of SEWP IV spending goes through SEWP’s small businesses.
• 7.2 percent of SEWP IV spending goes through SEWP’s Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (SDVOSB).

[Download a .pdf version of this special report at http://download.1105media.com/GIG/Custom/2011PDFS/SEWP2011.pdf.]

SEWP IV has 38 contract holders, including 21 small businesses. Of the 21 small businesses, six are 8(a) small, disadvantaged businesses and 10 are veteran-owned small businesses, including seven service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses (SDVOSBs). SEWP IV has set-aside authority for small business task orders and SDVOSB task orders. Last year, SEWP IV sales going to SDVOSBs reached 7.2 percent, up from 6 percent the previous year.

SEWP IV’s pool of small businesses also includes woman-owned businesses, Alaska Native businesses, and businesses in historically underutilized business (HUB) zones. Agencies can hold competitions among all small businesses, but then give preference to these other sub-categories in addition to the 8(a) companies.

– from Washington Technology, 7/29/2011 at http://washingtontechnology.com/microsites/2011/sewp2011/07-sewp-iv-small-business-utilization.aspx

SBA names third-party WOSB certifiers

July 8, 2011 by

The Small Business Administration (SBA) has approved four organizations to act as Third Party Certifiers under the recently-adoped woman-owned small business (WOSB) program. The four organizations and contact information are contained in the listing below:

Women Owned Small Businesses may elect to use the services of a Third Party Certifier to demonstrate eligibility for the program, or they may self-certify using the process outlined here on this website. SBA will only accept third party certification from these entities, and firms are still subject to the same eligibility requirements to participate in the program.

For complete details on the WOSB program, please read: http://gtpac.org/2011/05/heres-how-to-upload-documentation-to-sbas-wosb-repository/

White House plans cuts to support service contracts

July 8, 2011 by

The Obama administration will require federal agencies to cut spending for management support service contracts by 15 percent by the end of fiscal year 2012.

As part of the White House Campaign to Cut Waste, Office of Management and Budget officials will announce Thursday their plans to reduce the bill for those services from $40 billion in fiscal year 2010 to $34 billion.

Management support services include such functions as program management, acquisition planning and information technology development. Spending on those services rose four-fold from fiscal year 2000 through 2010, according to administration figures.Most of that jump occurred during President George W. Bush’s administration, which vastly increased the government’s contractor workforce, while allowing the corps of federal employees assigned to oversee the work of contractors to remain flat. As a result, in some cases contractors ended up managing contractors.

Jeffrey Zients, the administration’s chief performance officer and a deputy OMB director, and Dan Gordon, the federal procurement administrator, will lead the White House Forum on Accountability in Federal Contracting. Officials from the Department of Homeland Security, the Defense Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development also are on the agenda.

White House figures show that government spending on outside contractors declined last year for the first time in 13 years.

– By Joe Davidson – The Washington Post – 06:00 AM ET, 07/07/2011 at http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/federal-eye/post/white-house-plans-cuts-to-support-service-contracts/2011/04/15/gIQAz9IR1H_blog.html

Cloud is next step for HUD’s IT infrastructure

July 5, 2011 by

The Department of Housing and Urban Development already outsourced much of its network infrastructure under its HITS contract. Now the agency wants to take its infrastructure one step further and put it in the cloud.

HUD held its second industry day June 24 for its HUDNet program, which eventually will replace the $800 million HITS program, run by Lockheed Martin and Hewlett-Packard.

“HUDNet is a program that is looking at all the constituent pieces of the HITS program, all of its management pieces, the management framework around HITS,” said Mark Day, HUD’s chief technology officer, at a recent conference. “We are in the acquisition strategy phase. There will be RFPs coming out of this, but I can’t go much further than that.”

Day said the difference between outsourced or managed service contract and cloud is the elasticity. He said in a sense, HUD is in a private cloud that is virtualized, highly scalable and fairly agile.

“What is not there in a managed services contract is the business model of cloud. We do not have the elasticity. Prices do not go down when we use less,” Day said. “Managed services is what you might consider the high water mark price. If we ever bought that much of the infrastructure, we pay for that much of the infrastructure. In a cloud, you go up and down as your needs change. That is really what we are doing. It’s not a technical move for us. It’s a business model move in the procurement realm.”

Along with the two industry days, HUD issued a request for information in February.

In the RFI, the agency detailed five main areas, including hosting of its infrastructure in the cloud, self provisioning of capacity as needed and end-to-end monitoring of performance.

HUD is accepting comments, suggestions and recommendations on how to proceed through July 22.

HUD awarded Lockheed and EDS, which HP eventually bought, the HITS contract in 2005 to provide essentially all of HUD’s IT infrastructure, information processing, telecommunications, storage, enterprise middleware, operating systems, end user computing and communications devices (except desktop telephony) and related needs on a nationwide, agencywide basis, as organized around 24 core functions reflecting HUD’s various service needs.

No matter the approach HUD eventually chooses for its infrastructure, Day said the agency will need to do a few things, starting with improving the skills of its workforce.

“Now I need very savvy people to oversee that outsourced work. They need to understand IT, they need to understand metrics and management and remote management, if you will,” he said. “And that is an interesting grouping of skills when in fact they will never do actual IT work for you. So how do you get the right people with both a savvy understanding of the subject and an understanding of the management of that subject and how to measure that subject? It’s an interesting problem.”

Day said HUD is looking at career ladders for employees to gain both of these skills.

Metrics is another challenge for HUD. He said the TechStat sessions has helped ensure the agency has the right ones for a limited number of high priority programs.

“We have used TechStat to inform the interest level of our programs and others in doing our internal approach,” he said. “When they see they’ve got to do in front of OMB, it’s very easy to decide we ought to do it internally first. We ought to have the practice right. We ought to have the answers right. And we ought to in fact emulate that because it has driven good decision making.”

Day added TechStat sessions helped HUD focus in on the projects and metrics that really matter the most and how do they drive the agency’s mission. HUD culled their list down to seven from 38 major IT projects.

“The ones that are the same are the obvious ones schedule, budget and time and that type of thing. But really the other metric most people are not doing well is what is the business outcome for this project and how well are we actually meeting the business outcome? And if we are off schedule, what is the opportunity loss? If we are overbudget, what is the cost of that budget compared to the return on investment for that project?”

He added it’s a matter of figuring out the business goal of each project and then measuring what success looks like.

Day said TechStat also has helped HUD instill more rigor into the oversight of their IT programs.

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– by Jason Miller, Executive Editor, Federal News Radio – July 5, 2011 – Copyright 2011 by FederalNewsRadio.com. All Rights Reserved. Published at http://federalnewsradio.com/?sid=2446919&nid=35

GSA blames poor wording for STARS contract snafu

June 29, 2011 by

The General Services Administration is blaming “ambigous” language in an email to bidders on its $10 billion 8(a) contract for giving the mistake impression that it had made contract awards.

The email was intended to give notice that GSA was extending the selection process for the Streamlined Technology Acquisition Resources for Services (STARS) II governmentwide acquisition contract, according to a statement made June 23 by Mary Davie, assistant Federal Acquisition Service commissioner for integrated technology service at GSA.

Davie said the agency intends to award its major governmentwide small-business IT contract by the end of July, although it may have caused some confusion about awards.

GSA asked for a monthlong extension to try to get better prices from the companies bidding on its five-year, $10 billion contract. But because of the language issues some companies believe they had a spot on the IT GWAC and then lost it, Davie said.

A first correspondence, sent June 1, intended to say that officials, who are reviewing bids for STARS II, were continuing their review of submissions. The second letter, sent June 21, gave companies an opportunity for written discussions and called for a final proposal and pricing revision, Davie wrote.

“The second letter did specifically rescind a portion of earlier communications, which appeared to indicate that offerors were considered to be ‘apparently successful.’ This phrasing was ambiguous and should not have been used in these communications,” Davie said.

That second e-mail message, sent to companies, states: “Any part of previous communications from GSA stating or implying that offerors were deemed apparently successful is hereby rescinded.”

GSA was giving the small businesses time to re-examine the prices they offered in their initial bid proposals and adjust the pricing to “amplify its potential to be favorably considered,” the second message also states. Officials included the median price and prices in the 25th percentile as a guide for companies to make their revisions.

GSA had to get the extension to get better prices, Davie said.

“It would not have been possible to ask for more competitive pricing without going back to offerors to ask for an extension, provide them with an opportunity for additional discussions, and then request a final proposal revision,” Davie said.

She added that GSA’s GWAC program office is responding to contractors’ questions as part of the written discussions.

Although GSA’s follow-up message may be awkward, Larry Allen, president of Allen Federal Business Partners, said it’s better than being criticized throughout the life of the contract because of high prices.

About the Author: Matthew Weigelt is acquisition editor for Federal Computer Week – June 24, 2011 at http://washingtontechnology.com/articles/2011/06/24/gsa-stars-ii-gwac-davie-ambiguous.aspx?s=wtdaily_270611