Finding a cure for what ails Defense acquisition

May 19, 2015 by

US CongressAround the nation’s capital, defense acquisition reform is surely in vogue. Last month, Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, capped off his multiyear expedition in this space with the unveiling of a House bill to modernize the Pentagon contracting. On the other side of Capitol Hill, Sen. John McCain. R-Ariz., and the Senate Armed Services Committee have taken up the issue as well.

pentagon-sealEnter Frank Kendall. Just a few short weeks after Thornberry put his stake in the ground, the Pentagon’s undersecretary for acquisition, logistics, and technology released Better Buying Power 3.0. The initiative complements Thornberry’s broad legislative push with a set of tactical recommendations that aim to coax the many stakeholders in the defense sector toward more efficient collaboration and more effective outcomes. Though BBP 3.0’s provisions get way down into the weeds of the Defense Department’s acquisition machine, its fundamental (and lofty) goal is to protect American “technological superiority.” In this light, the initiative builds on earlier versions appropriately in certain respects and falls short in others.

While the message is “stay the course” in some areas, this latest cut ventures into new terrain in several ways to preserve the military’s technological edge. BBP 3.0 reinvigorates “prototyping and experimentation” to get greater capabilities out to soldiers at a faster clip. The initiative also promotes stronger long-range research and development efforts, positioning the Pentagon to harness new technologies for tomorrow as well as for 2030. It’s a prudent, yet ambitious campaign.

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Software vendors be warned: The old rules may no longer apply to government

May 5, 2015 by

Software vendors take notice: The General Services Administration (GSA) is proposing a new rule regarding something arcane but important.

GSA logoGSA has identified 15 terms and conditions common in commercial supplier agreements that it considers incompatible with existing federal law. And where there is a conflict, government’s own commercial terms rule. It’s designed to save everyone time. Vendors won’t have to comb their contracts for offending clauses — they just can’t be enforced.

For now it applies to any GSA contract that includes software. But don’t rule out the possibility of the rule going governmentwide.

For example, GSA is forcing an end to automatic renewals of period-limited software licenses or maintenance agreements. Instead, ordering agencies will award one-year with renewal options to be negotiated and re-awarded in subsequent years. The legal basis for this is that a contracting officer may not obligate funds that have not been appropriated, lest he or she be found in violation of the Anti-Deficiency Act.

Keep reading this article for a complete description of all the nullified terms and conditions:

Pentagon strives for even better buying power

April 16, 2015 by

The Defense Department (DoD) on Thursday, April 9 released the third update of its Better Buying Power acquisition strategy in five years, aiming to preserve U.S. technological superiority by protecting budgets for long-term research and development while enhancing cybersecurity.

“We want to identify the weapons, in the systems in the force today, that we can use in more innovative ways, and we’re looking for these promising technologies that we can pull forward,” Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work told a Pentagon press conference Thursday. The goal is to reverse “a steady erosion of our technological superiority that we have relied upon for so long in all of our defense strategies.”

Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, in releasing a memo to top management outlining Better Buying Power 3.0, said that flat budgets and sequestration have required the department to raid modernization dollars to pay for readiness. “Our technological superiority is dependent on the effectiveness of our research and development efforts that span science and technology, component development, early prototyping, full-scale development, and technology insertion into fielded products,” Kendall wrote.

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Small is big in DoD business systems contracts … and that’s a good thing

April 6, 2015 by

Thirty-six years ago, a young computer programmer working out of his parents’ garage was looking for investments so he could create the world’s most user-friendly personal computer. “The programmer in question is the late Steve Jobs, and the fund that helped seed Apple in its infancy was part of the Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) program – the SBA’s investment arm,” said the December 19, 2014 SBA Blog.

Until recently, the Air Force struggled to meet SBA “negotiated” small business goals (SBA Agency Small Business Contracts Data), but there have been steady improvements due to a number of factors, such as implementation of the AF Small Business Improvement Plan. On January 20, the headquarters of the Air Force Materiel Command announced they’d met small business goals for the first time in nine years.

From my perspective as a member of the Air Force for 31 years who has been working on small business contracts for the Air Force the past two years, I have observed the following 10 factors driving the recent success of small business in the Air Force and other services/agencies:

Defense budgets are puckered up. Our Department of Defense (DoD) is painfully trying to balance the needs for research and development, modernizing major weapon systems, increasing personnel costs, heavy deployment requirements and soaring sustainment costs and risks for weapon systems and infrastructure. Amidst all the sequestration, continuing resolutions for funding, budget cuts and racking and stacking priorities, DoD still confronts greater requirement vs. resource deltas than ever before.

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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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