Attention ‘agile’ contractors: Come show and tell for 18F

February 13, 2015 by

The Obama administration has ambitious plans to embed a full-scale digital-service team within each agency to help overhaul the way government delivers IT projects.

But the teams won’t do it alone.

Officials at the General Services Administration (GSA) and its in-house digital shop 18F are now sending a message to the traditional contracting industry: We need your help, too.

That was the takeaway from the February 3, 2015 joint GSA-18F industry day where officials and industry representatives mulled over plans for a new agile-only contracting vehicle that will eventually help agencies purchase services specifically from companies that specialize in quick-turnaround software deployments

18F has been doing its part over the past year to help agencies revamp citizen-facing services. All told, the office has agreements with about 18 agencies to perform development and design work, officials said.

The relatively small shop — its staff size currently hovers around 100 — has faced “explosive” demand for its services and can’t keep up, said Greg Godbout, 18F’s executive director.

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Survey: Federal procurement culture impedes innovation

January 29, 2015 by

Signs of technology malaise can be seen across the federal government. The Pentagon has warned that it is losing its military technological superiority as other countries rush to develop advanced conventional and cyber weapons to counter U.S. armaments and satellites. The U.S. intelligence community worries that technologies it used to own almost exclusively — like high-resolution satellite imagery, encryption and biometrics — are progressing far more rapidly in the civilian world.

These appear to be symptoms of a widespread ailment that affects government contracting, say procurement experts. “Agency acquisition professionals are not focused on innovation,” says a new report by the consulting firm Grant Thornton LLP and the Professional Services Council, a trade group that represents government contractors.

The report is based on a survey of 51 acquisition executives. Asked to rank issues based on their importance, innovation placed low. It was rated as the fifth of six objectives of a “sound acquisition process” even though senior administration officials have been emphatic about the need for agencies to become more innovative.

“Innovation is the word of the day,” and yet the bulk of the federal acquisition community has neither the incentives nor the skills to change the status quo and attract innovative vendors, says Stan Soloway, president and CEO of the Professional Services Council.

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Contractors, expect 72-hour rule for disclosing corporate hacks

October 22, 2014 by

Look for the whole government to take a page from the Pentagon and require that firms notify their agency customers of hacks into company-owned systems within three days of detection, procurement attorneys and federal officials say.

Right now, vendors only have to report compromises of classified information and defense industry trade secrets. The trade secret rule is new and covers breaches of nonpublic military technological and scientific data, referred to as “unclassified controlled technical information.”

That new reporting requirement kicked in Nov. 18, 2013 and applies to all military contracts inked since.

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When it comes to task order contracting, patience and strategy are needed

September 26, 2014 by

Years ago, federal agencies jumped on the indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract bandwagon and never got off. The preference for agency-specific IDIQ contracts and government-wide acquisition contracts continues as agencies seek ways to centralize and reduce contract spending. This is especially true for IT, where more than half of spending flows through such contracting programs.

However, this is not just an IT story. The prevalence, size and complexity of task order contracts make them market-shaping now and in the future. Here are the factors involved in navigating this market:

Jockey for strategic positioning.

Don’t rely on incumbency.

Be ready for the long haul.

Perform well – then measure and share.

Engage with your agency program managers.

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House bill seeks to reform federal IT acquisition, expand competition to smaller firms

August 8, 2014 by

A new bipartisan House bill seeks to reform how the federal government buys IT goods and services and also make it easier for smaller firms to compete for federal contracts.

The Reforming Federal Procurement of Information Technology, or RFP-IT Act was introduced July 30, 2014.   The legislation proposes to enhance competition for government IT contracts, promote innovation, and strengthen accountability by creating a new government office.

According to its sponsors, the bill will improve competition by expanding the number of contracts using a simplified process that makes it easier for small and innovative firms to bid. The process will shorten lead times on contracts, cut administrative costs, and create a larger pool of bidders for federal contracts, the bill’s authors claim.

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Georgia Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center is a startup powerhouse

June 18, 2014 by

When he enrolled as a Ph.D. student in Georgia Tech’s College of Computing five years ago, Vijay Balasubramaniyan never expected to become the CEO of one of Atlanta’s hottest young information security companies.

Today, the phone call fingerprinting technique he developed provides the foundation for Pindrop Security. The three-year-old company has attracted $12 million in investment from Andreessen Horowitz, one of Silicon Valley’s most prestigious venture capital firms. Pindrop already has customers among the top U.S. companies, including two of the nation’s five largest banks.

As CEO, Balasubramaniyan handles duties that are vastly different from his Ph.D. days, such as meeting with marketing and engineering staff and dashing off to customer meetings on the West Coast. In addition, he regularly checks a large computer screen that monitors potentially fraudulent calls going into call centers of the company’s customers.

From an office in Georgia Tech’s Technology Square, the company is building a business to help battle the multi-billion dollar problem of fraud committed using the telephone.

On March 27, Pindrop will be one of three companies celebrating their success with “graduation” from the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC), Georgia Tech’s startup incubator. The ATDC was started 33 years ago to create technology jobs and economic growth for the state of Georgia.

Three companies show the technology diversity of ATDC

  • Pindrop Security​
    Pindrop Security provides solutions to protect enterprise call centers and phone users from fraud.
  • SalesLoft
    Headed by Georgia Tech graduate Kyle Porter, SalesLoft helps companies find prospective customers using information available on the Internet.
  • MessageGears
    MessageGears helps clients customize their email marketing messages while keeping customer data securely behind firewalls.

“These three companies demonstrate the kind of diversity that we have in the ATDC,” said K.P. Reddy, an entrepreneur, author, and Georgia Tech graduate who serves as the incubator’s interim general manager. “If you look at any ecosystem – and we are part of a larger technology ecosystem – diversity like this is what drives its health.”

Making a difference for startups

ATDC assists companies spinning out of Georgia Tech, those headed up by Georgia Tech alumni, and companies that have no direct Georgia Tech connection. The common denominator is fit with the ATDC program.

ATDC emphasizes coaching, support from a community of entrepreneurs, and connections to a broad range of resources. The companies receive access to Georgia Tech resources – students, faculty, and research facilities. Additionally, they can connect to industry giants such as AT&T, which recently located one of its Foundries in Technology Square to be close to the startup community there.

“We are not trying move the needle 5 percent or 10 percent,” Reddy explained. “We are trying to make orders of magnitude differences for startup companies. We are able to help companies do much more than they could on their own.”

Everything an entrepreneur needs

Each of the 2014 graduates cites a different benefit from ATDC, which isn’t surprising, said Reddy.

“We are all about supporting entrepreneurs,” he explained. “It isn’t just about space. It isn’t just about coaching or mentoring. It isn’t just about investors or customers. We have all the things that an entrepreneur needs at ATDC.”

Among the newest programs are Industry Connect and Campus Connect. Industry Connect brings in representatives from Atlanta’s largest corporations to learn about startups that may have solutions to the challenges they face. In 2013, ATDC’s Industry Connect program facilitated more than 20 contracts between ATDC startups and Global 1000 companies.

Campus Connect helps ATDC companies leverage Georgia Tech resources, connecting them to one of the nation’s top ten 10 publicly-supported universities, with a science and engineering research program that is among the largest in the United States.

“There is a lot of brain power and a lot of talent at Georgia Tech, and we are leveraging that,” said Reddy. “Being connected to a top university really makes a difference.”

Beyond faculty and research assistance, the Georgia Tech connections also lead to great students. A recent career fair held with the Georgia Tech College of Computing and School of Electrical and Computer Engineering attracted 150 students, who learned about opportunities at 25 startups. Internships and new hires will likely result, Reddy said.

ATDC companies tend to fall into two categories: those with high market risk and low technical risk – such as social media companies, and those with high technical risk and low market risk, including many of the science-based startups spinning out of Georgia Tech. Those two groups help one another, and build a robust ecosystem.

“Our scientists have to learn how to market, and our marketers have to learn about science,” Reddy noted. “That’s where the ecosystem gets really strong.”

Reddy believes ATDC has a great reputation, one that should make it top of mind for any technology entrepreneur in Georgia.

“If I’m looking for hash browns, I go to Waffle House,” he added. “If I’m going to start a company, I go to ATDC.”

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Grants and missile defense hit hardest in DoD’s science and technology budget request

April 25, 2014 by

Overall funding for the Defense Department’s science and technology budget undergo about a $500 million reduction in the president’s fiscal 2015 budget proposal, with grants and missile defense bearing the brunt of the cut, says a DoD official.

About $200 million of the proposed budget reduction would come from cuts to grant programs nationwide, which equates to about 1,500 grants, said Alan Shaffer, acting assistant secretary of defense for research and engineering.

The department also took about $150 million out of its Missile Defense Agency Science and Technology program, said Shaffer during an April 8 hearing of the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on emerging threats and capabilities. The decision made sense because much of the technology has matured to a level where it could be moved to other parts of the department, he added.

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GTRI launches Trustmark website at identity ecosystem steering group meeting

February 11, 2014 by

The Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) hosted the 7th plenary of the Identity Ecosystem Steering Group (IDESG) Jan. 14-16, 2014 in support of the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC).

During the event, GTRI launched a new website on the Trustmark technology at A trustmark is a rigorously defined, machine-readable statement of compliance with a specific set of technical or business/policy rules. The use of trustmarks has been pioneered by GTRI and developed with funding from the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC), a White House initiative to work collaboratively with the private sector, advocacy groups and public-sector agencies to create an “identity ecosystem” in which technologies, policies and consensus-based standards support greater choice, trust, security and privacy with online transactions.

IDESG has been established as a new organization led by the private sector in conjunction with, but independent of the federal government.

In October, GTRI was awarded an NSTIC pilot project grant. Under the grant, GTRI will develop and demonstrate a trustmark framework that facilitates cost-effective scaling of interoperable trust across multiple communities of interest within the identity ecosystem and enhances privacy through transparency and third-party validation.

Trustmarks have the potential to enable wide-scale trust and interoperability within the identity ecosystem by helping to foster transparency and widespread operational convergence on the specific requirements for each dimension of interoperability, including communication protocols and profiles, cryptographic algorithms, business-level user attributes for access control and audit purposes and various levels of policy such as privacy policies and practices.

Trustmarks can also reduce the complexity of the identity ecosystem’s trust landscape, and turn what would otherwise be a collection of poorly interconnected “federated identity siloes” into a more cohesive trust environment. In addition, trustmarks can enhance privacy within the identity ecosystem by helping communities of interest define clear, concise and rigorous privacy rules that participating agencies must follow.

“The concept of trustmarks and a trustmark framework mean different things to different stakeholders,” said John Wandelt, principle investigator for the GTRI NSTIC trustmark pilot.  “The vision of identity ecosystem where trustmarks can be broadly re-used and trusted across several communities of interest to satisfy interoperability, privacy, security and trust needs will require transparency, collaboration and sufficient engineering rigor to concretely specify.”

The new website will facilitate a common understanding of trustmarks and a trustmark framework.  Artifacts resulting from the GTRI pilot project will be posted at this website along with blogs and other related information.

“The objective is to solicit comments from the IDESG, other NSTIC pilots, and the community at large while maintaining the integrity of our pilot schedule,” said Wandelt.

“Trustmarks and Trust Frameworks are a common theme across multiple pilots and discussions in the IDESG,” said Jeremy Grant, Senior Executive for the NSTIC Program Office.

“GTRI’s decision to provide visibility into their trustmark pilot artifacts and findings early on is a great example of the type of collaboration we are encouraging between NSTIC pilots and the IDESG,” said Grant.  “It should contribute to accelerating substantive discussion and progress in this important area.”

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Tensions brew between government and contractors over intellectual property

January 24, 2014 by

Tensions are brewing in the defense contracting business over government efforts to secure rights to manufacturers’ intellectual property. The clash pits military buyers who want to break up suppliers’ monopolies against companies whose livelihood depends on keeping tight control over their designs.

With the Defense Department under pressure to slash costs as budgets shrink, officials are targeting weapons programs for potential savings. They are particularly keen on reducing the cost of weapons maintenance and production by opening up the market to new competitors.

To do that in a market that is dominated by single-source manufacturers, the Defense Department needs what is known as “rights in technical data.” When the Pentagon buys a weapon system, it retains unlimited rights to the data if the item was designed with government funds. But when a product is financed by a private company, the firm keeps full control of the intellectual property and the government is simply a buyer.

Except in limited circumstances, contracting officials cannot disclose a private company’s proprietary data outside the government.

As the Pentagon in recent decades has become more dependent on the private sector for high-tech equipment, it now realizes that many of the existing arrangements restrict the government from seeking competing bids for maintenance or production of that equipment unless the manufacturers grant data rights. For most suppliers, that equates to killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.

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Procurement reform is one of 3 tech trends predicted for 2014

January 22, 2014 by

[Note: This article was written by Steve Towns, executive editor of Governing magazine.]

Nobel Prize-winning physicist Niels Bohr famously said, “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.” I tend to agree with him, but as we enter the New Year there are three interrelated technology issues that we can’t ignore. They’ll demand more attention from state and local leaders in 2014.

1. Data Analytics – Governments are great at collecting information, but they often do a lousy job of using it effectively.

2. Civic Innovation – While governments are struggling to get a handle on analytics, many have done a good job of opening data for public consumption.

3. Procurement Reform – One of the biggest barriers to harnessing the growing momentum around civic technology is government procurement.

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