Category Archives: Business Success

FBI Warns On Zoom Conference Security

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Image: “Threatpost.com

FCW

As telework expands across the U.S., new users unfamiliar with security precautions can unintentionally expose their videoconferences to unauthorized participants.

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“The FBI is warning Zoom video-conferencing platform users to guard against “VTC hijacking” and “Zoom-bombing” by outsiders intent on making threats and offensive displays.

According to the FBI’s Boston Division, two Massachusetts high schools reported separate instances of individuals breaking into online classes in late March being conducted via Zoom teleconferencing software. In one incident, said the FBI, an unidentified individual dialed into a videoconference class, yelled out a profanity and the teacher’s home address. In the other, a school reported an unidentified individual with swastika tattoos dialing into a Zoom videoconference class.

FBI Special Agent Doug Domin told FCW that unauthorized participants are not just an issue on the Zoom platform. “Other providers have similar platforms,” he said, that are just as vulnerable to such intrusion if they’re misused.

“Organizations should have policies for VTC” and its associated software, as well as training on how to use it, said Domin. Individual session passwords should be used, even for audio bridges, he said. “The bigger the group, the bigger the possibilities” for unauthorized entry.

“We take the security of Zoom meetings seriously and we are deeply upset to hear about the incidents involving this type of attack,” a Zoom spokesman told FCW in an email. “For those hosting large, public group meetings, we strongly encourage hosts to review their settings and confirm that only the host can share their screen. For those hosting private meetings, password protections are on by default and we recommend that users keep those protections on to prevent uninvited users from joining,” they said.

The Zoom for Government platform is on the General Services Administration’s buying schedule and also has that agency’s Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program moderate level approval. Zoom was sponsored in the FedRAMP approval process by the Department of Homeland Security, according to the company. The authorization allows federal agencies and contractors to securely use Zoom for government video meetings and API integrations, according to the company.

Typically, government-approved versions of commercial off-the-shelf products to not allow for data collection for marketing purposes.

Zoom’s standard product has many newer users in public school environments, since company CEO Eric Yuan removed time limits on the app for elementary and high schools as the COVID-19 pandemic closed down the facilities across the U.S.

The company’s video teleconferencing offering has raised the hackles of some privacy experts, including Consumer Reports, who say it collects and sells user data to online advertisers. It revised its privacy policy on March 29 to say it does not sell personal data.

Additionally, a company official told the Intercept in a March 31 report that Zoom does not offer end-to-end encryption as it is commonly understood – that is encrypting data between user end points. The content of a video conference hosted by Zoom is potentially visible to the company itself.

An IT manager FCW spoke with about Zoom said they were confident that with the FedRAMP moderate rating that conforms services to FISMA standards, a federal Authority to Operate, and familiarity with the platform, most federal users could be reasonably confident with the platform’s integrity.”

https://fcw.com/articles/2020/03/31/zoom-bombers-fbi-rockwell.aspx

Labor Department Waives COVID-19 Contractor Affirmative Action Requirements

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FCW

The waiver applies to clauses in federal construction and service/supply contracts for COVID-19 relief which require contractors to hire and advance minorities, women and veterans.

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“The Labor Department’s compliance office has waived some contractor affirmative action requirements for three months as the COVID-19 pandemic presses companies and federal agencies to quickly meet demands.

The Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) on March 17 temporarily waived some contractors’ affirmative action requirements under the three statutes it oversees.

The waiver will last until June 17, but it doesn’t put aside requirements for those contractors to enforce other federal, state and local civil rights laws, nor does it stop processing of discrimination complaints.

“Following President Trump’s direction, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs is committed to swiftly responding to COVID-19,” said OFCCP Director Craig Leen, in the statement. “Today’s memorandum helps federal agencies and federal contractors engaged in relief efforts to protect the safety, security and health of the American people.”

“The waiver is not uncommon” in times of big crisis situations, Shirley Wilcher, executive director of the American Association for Access, Equity and Diversity, a Washington D.C.-based equal opportunity advocacy and training group, told FCW on March 23.

Similar contracting actions have been taken in the wake of other major disasters such as catastrophic hurricanes to help speed response, but they’re hardly welcomed with open arms, according to Wilcher. “Equal opportunity shouldn’t take a holiday.”

In 2005, the Labor Department’s Employment Standards Office issued a similar three-month waiver for contractor affirmative action rules to aid in Hurricane Katrina recovery.”

https://fcw.com/articles/2020/03/23/labor-dept-contract-requirements.aspx?oly_enc_id=

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“Adversarial Capital” Threatens Small Business Industrial Base

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Image: “Investors Business Daily”

FCW

“The Defense Department is concerned that foreign investment will take advantage of small businesses in the defense industrial base reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The defense industrial base, which consists of more than 300,000 companies, is “vulnerable to adversarial capital,” and DOD wants them to “stay in business without losing their technology” or be subject to intellectual property theft.

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“Ellen Lord, DOD’s top acquisition executive: “The foreign investment issue is something that I have been tracking for the last couple years. There is no question that we have adversarial capital coming into our markets through nefarious means,” Lord said.

“So what we are doing, on the defense side, looking at [the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States], on the offensive side, we’re looking at our Trusted Capital mechanisms.”

DOD has been conducting periodic Trusted Capital Marketplace virtual events to pre-empt CFIUS concerns and ensure companies’ access to “clean capital.”

Lord said the global outbreak of COVID-19 has created instability and uncertainty, especially for small businesses that aren’t sure if government contracts will continue.

“I think it presents a greater attack surface as there is greater uncertainty, especially to small businesses as to whether their contract will continue,” Lord said. “So we want to basically mitigate that uncertainty.”

DOD under the Trump administration has been pushing for more domestic manufacturing and reducing foreign investments, namely with drone production. It has also been adamant about finding U.S.-based solutions for telecommunications services and hardware production, barring the use of Huawei and ZTE products because those companies have ties to the Chinese government and military.

These moves, especially as the global health crisis persists, could have broader implications and shrink direct foreign investment up 15%, according to a United Nations report.

The Defense Department has also created a new task force to synchronize its COVID-19 efforts led by Stacy Cummings, the principal deputy assistant defense secretary and leader of the Acquisition Enablers office.

The Joint Acquisition Task Force will coordinate with military services and agencies’ acquisition resources and field requests from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Departments of Health and Human Services and  Homeland Security and other federal agencies for medical resources and personal protective equipment.

The task force aims to identify weak points in workforce and industrial capability and ultimately reduce companies’ reliance on foreign supply sources. It will also direct use of Defense Production Act authorities, which include being able to use economic incentives and priority-rate defense contracts to best serve the need of troops in the field and team with industry to boost commercial capabilities.”

https://fcw.com/articles/2020/03/25/defense-china-cfius-corona-lord.aspx?oly_enc_id=

Small Business Government Contracting and Federal Financial Recovery Resources

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Image: SBA/CDC

The COVID-19 battle will continue as a local issue.  It is at the local level in which federal funding programs are enacted, grown and made part of the culture.


Small businesses within states or territories may apply for a disaster assistance loan. There will be dramatic roles for small business, not just in medically related fields but also in logistics to geospatial technology fields and others.

https://www.smalltofeds.com/2020/04/small-business-government-contracting.html

HUBZone Program Updates And Flexibilities During COVID-19

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Image: SBA

Summarizing the following updates of interest to HUBZone enterprises:

I. HUBZone Program flexibilities during COVID-19

II. HUBZone Program updates related to a regulation change

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U.S. SMALL BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION (SBA)

 I.  HUBZone Program flexibilities during COVID-19

How can firms maintain the 35% HUBZone residency requirement if some employees are college students whose residence hall has closed?  SBA recognizes that some HUBZone employees are students who have been called home to locations no longer in a HUBZone, even though they continue to work remotely, impacting firms’ ability to maintain the 35% HUBZone residency requirement.  SBA will determine affected firms’ compliance with the 35% HUBZone residency requirement by reviewing documentation showing where the impacted employee lived prior to the COVID-19 response measures being put in place. Accordingly, a firm that has a HUBZone  employee that was required to move from student housing to a non-HUBZone location AND continues to work for the HUBZone firm, the firm may continue to count that employee as a HUBZone resident by providing documentation showing:  1) the university/college closed the student’s residence and 2) the employee has been maintained on the payroll.  This applies only to students who, at the time of the firm’s application for certification or recertification, were already on payroll and had residency established prior to the university closing student housing. 

How can firms maintain compliance with the Principal Office requirement if their employees are required to telework?  SBA recognizes that if all of a firm’s employees are required to telework in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, this might impact a firm’s ability to comply with the HUBZone program’s principal office requirement.  In response to this concern, SBA will determine affected firms’ compliance with the principal office requirement by reviewing the firm’s compliance prior to the telework measures being put in place. Accordingly, at the time of application for certification or recertification, a firm that has placed its employees on mandatory telework will have to provide documentation showing where its employees performed their work prior to requiring telework.  Such an applicant will also be required to provide a signed statement that: the firm put all their employees on telework associated with social distancing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic;  the teleworking measure is temporary in nature; and the employees will return to their normal work location once the teleworking measures have been lifted.

How can firms maintain compliance with the requirement for uninterrupted and continued employment for “Legacy HUBZone employees,” as outlined in the HUBZone regulations at 13 C.F.R. 126.200(d)(ii)(3), if employees are laid off or on extended sick leave?  The revised HUBZone regulations, which became effective December 26, 2019, allow firms to count “Legacy” HUBZone resident employees as permanent HUBZone resident employees if they are able to demonstrate that the employee was a HUBZone resident for 180 days prior to and for 180 days following the firm’s HUBZone certification or recertification.  In addition, the requirement states, “The certified HUBZone small business concern must maintain records of the employee’s original HUBZone address, as well as records of the individual’s continued and uninterrupted employment by the HUBZone small business concern, for the duration of the concern’s participation in the HUBZone program.”  SBA recognizes that many firms have placed employees on extended (unpaid) sick leave status or are contemplating layoffs. SBA will allow HUBZone companies to place an employee in a temporary non-paid status such as FMLA to care for themselves or a sick family member during COVID-19 if the firm attests to their intent to put such individuals back on payroll after the period of extended sick leave. However, there is no such exception for employees that have been laid-off.  If a firm lays off an individual, that individual cannot be counted as a “legacy HUBZone employee” for any future HUBZone certification or recertification.

Can the HUBZone Program expedite my application for certification?  SBA may expedite the application of any firm that submits a complete package for certification and indicates that they intend to respond to a specified solicitation that relates to COVID-19. 

Can the HUBZone Program waive or reduce the 35% residency requirement?  This statutory requirement would necessitate Congressional action to change

     II.  HUBZone Program updates related to a change in regulations

When and why did SBA propose new rule changes to the HUBZone program? The SBA proposed new regulations to make it easier for small businesses to participate in the HUBZone program. These changes will make the program more attractive for small businesses to invest in HUBZones and hire HUBZone residents, providing greater impact to communities and making it easier for federal agencies to meet their goal to award 3 percent of contracts to certified HUBZone small businesses.  The rule change was published in November 2019 and took effect December 26, 2019.   

What are the new rules around recertification? All firms will be required to undergo an annual recertification rather than a triennial recertification, with a full documentation review taking place every three years.  Once certified, a firm is eligible for all HUBZone contracts for which the business qualifies as small, for a period of one year from the date of its initial certification or most recent recertification (unless the concern acquires, is acquired by, or merges with another firm during that period).   Prior to this change, in order to be eligible for a HUBZone contract, firms had to prove their HUBZone eligibility at both the time of offer and the time of award, lengthening the procurement process for HUBZone firms uniquely among all small businesses—and serving as a disincentive for federal agencies to contract with HUBZone companies. 

When and how will annual recertification begin? SBA has experienced a delay in the implementation of our new annual recertification process.   Firms which, based on the prior triennial recertification schedule, were due for recertification in 2020 will be contacted automatically by the HUBZone Certification and Tracking System (HCTS) and will be required to recertify on the anniversary date of their initial certification.  (For example, if a firm was initially certified on December 1, 2017, the firm will receive a notice from HCTS that it is due to recertify its HUBZone status within 30 days of December 1, 2020.)   All other firms (which were not scheduled to recertify in 2020 under the triennial recertification rules) will continue to be considered eligible as of the date of their initial certification or most recent recertification, and must be prepared to prove their eligibility at that time if their HUBZone status is protested in connection with a HUBZone solicitation issued after December 26, 2019.    Until such time as we have introduced a fully automated recertification process for all firms, we will also allow firms to voluntarily recertify on the anniversary date of their initial certification, if they choose to do so. We will advise firms within the next two weeks regarding the process for voluntary recertification on their anniversary date.

Are Governors now permitted to ask SBA to designate HUBZones?  A new Governor-designated covered areas initiative that became effective on January 1, 2020, represents an opportunity to expand the HUBZone program to reach more distressed rural communities.  The new authority allows state governors to petition SBA to designate as HUBZones rural areas with populations under 50,000 and unemployment levels of 120 percent of the U.S. or state average.  SBA will provide updates and update the HUBZone maps to reflect newly covered areas.

Are there other changes to the HUBZone maps? SBA has frozen the HUBZone maps through 2021, until the results of the 2020 Census are available. This will provide the program and participating small businesses with an opportunity to transition to a new requirement to update the maps and designations on five-year intervals, starting after the 2020 Census. Five-year HUBZone updates will enable small businesses to plan and invest in their HUBZone communities without fear that their designation may change from one year to the next, thus providing stability for both the community and HUBZone businesses. While the maps are frozen, no new Qualified Non-Metropolitan Counties, Qualified Census Tracts, or Redesignated Areas will be removed from or added to the maps. However, SBA will continue to add locations approved through the new Governor-designated covered areas initiative, qualified base closure areas, qualified disaster areas, and Indian lands, as any new data is received.

How has the definition of the Principal Office changed?   A new provision in the HUBZone regulations allows small businesses that invest in HUBZones by purchasing a building or entering a long-term lease (of 10 years or more) to maintain HUBZone eligibility for up to 10 years, even if at some point the office location no longer qualifies as a HUBZone. This provision does not apply to offices located in areas categorized on the HUBZone map as Redesignated areas.

Are there changes to the 35% HUBZone employee residency requirement?  The new rule allows HUBZone companies to retain long-term “Legacy” HUBZone resident employees as permanent HUBZone resident employees, under certain circumstances.  An employee who resides in a HUBZone for at least six months (180 days) at the time of certification or recertification, and continues to reside in a HUBZone for at least six months (180 days) after such time, may continue to be considered a HUBZone resident so long as they are continuously employed by the firm, even if he/she moves to a non-HUBZone area, or if the area of his/her residence loses HUBZone geographical eligibility. If the firm wants to count such a “Legacy” employee as a HUBZone resident for the duration of the individual’s employment, then at the time of any subsequent recertification, the firm will be required to identify any such employee and provide supporting documentation demonstrating that the individual resided in a HUBZone for 180 days before and after certification and that the individual has been an employee of the firm for the entire period of time since the firm’s certification.

How may I obtain help or learn more about the HUBZone Program?  The following resources may be accessed for additional support:

IRS COVID-19 Tax Relief Guidance

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The IRS issued Notice 2020-18, which supersedes and expands on the tax relief originally announced in Notice 2020-17.

The most significant change in 2020-18 is that taxpayers may defer federal income tax payments due on April 15, 2020, to July 15, 2020, without penalties and interest regardless of the amount owed.

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The original payment caps (up to $1 million for individuals and non-corporate filers, and up to $10 million for corporate filers) have been eliminated. The notice also clarifies that this extension applies to estimated tax payments due April 15, 2020.


The deferment applies to all taxpayers, including individuals, trusts and estates, corporations and other non-corporate tax filers, as well as those who pay self-employment tax. Taxpayers do not need to file any additional forms or call the IRS to qualify for this automatic federal tax filing and payment relief. 

 IRS issued Notice 2020-18

Small Tech Companies Got $1 Billion At USAF Virtual South By Southwest

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DEFENSE NEWS

The U.S. Air Force lost its chance to hang out at South by Southwest this week after the new coronavirus known as COVID-19 caused the cancellation of the festival.But the service still awarded nearly $1 billion in contracts during a virtual version of its event held March 12.

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“[The event], included keynotes from Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett, a “Pitch Bowl” where companies delivered short pitches in the hopes of receiving small contracts from the Air Force, and other events meant to deepen the Air Force’s connection to small commercial tech firms.

The largest contracts — worth more than $550 million total — went to 21 companies to develop “big bet” technologies. Those companies are Aerial Applications, Analytical Space, Anduril Industries, Applied Minds, Elroy Air, Enview, Edgybees, Essentium, Falkonry, ICON Technology, Orbital Insight, Orbital Sidekick, Pison, Privoro, Shift.org, Swarm Technologies, Tectus Corp., Virtualitics, Wickr, Wafer and one company that the Air Force has not disclosed.

“For all these awardees, you’re on a four-year, fixed-price contract that we believe, if successful, will disrupt part of our mission in a way that will give a huge advantage for our future airmen,” said Will Roper, the Air Force’s acquisition executive.

The value of the contracts awarded by AFWERX may seem small compared to the multibillion awards for major defense programs. However, these awards go a long way in helping technology firms overcome the “valley of death” between technology development and production, when a lot of companies are vulnerable to failure, said Chris Brose, head of strategy for Anduril Industries, which specializes in developing artificial intelligence technologies.

“For a company like ours or companies of that size, It’s quite significant. It allows us to really kind of do more of the good work that we’re doing, to scale and grow and work with new partners, and it makes a huge difference,” Brose said.

Brose declined to detail the precise nature of Anduril’s contract with the Air Force, but said that the general objective is to prove that an unmanned aerial system can deliver a mass of swarming drones capable of performing complex missions. While a human would still be “in the loop” overseeing the network, certain tasks — such as steering the drones, moving their sensors and processing gathered data — would be automated.”

https://www.defensenews.com/industry/2020/03/13/small-tech-companies-got-a-combined-1b-at-the-air-forces-virtual-version-of-south-by-southwest/

Pentagon Raises Contractor Progress Payment Threshold To Keep Cash Flowing

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Image: Levelset.com

WASHINGTON POST

The Pentagon, in a move to boost cash flow to large and small defense companies during the coronavirus crisis, will temporarily increase the percentages paid to contractors, known as periodic progress payments.


For small businesses the rate will go to 95% from 90% of incurred cost.”

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“Public interest groups called for the policy to be closely monitored.

The change comes as the U.S. Department of Defense was touched by a coronavirus fatality for the first time. A contractor who tested positive for the virus and worked at the Defense Security Cooperation Agency in Crystal City, Virginia, died on Saturday, the Pentagon said.

The Pentagon’s Director of Defense Pricing and Contracting issued a “Deviation on Progress Payments” memo late Friday that increases the rate for contracts to 90% of incurred costs from 80% for large businesses, Pentagon spokesman Air Force Lt. Col. Mike Andrews said in a statement on Sunday.

For small businesses the rate will go to 95% from 90%.

“This is an important avenue where industry cash flow can be improved,” Andrews said. The department also “is accelerating payments through several means to prime contracts, and directing prime contracts to expedite payments to subcontractors,” Andrews said.

In addition, the agency that manages contracts is working with the Pentagon’s accounting organization that makes the payments “to ensure that invoices are continuing to be paid in a timely manner,” Andrews said.

Blow-Back Possible

Pentagon acquisition head Ellen Lord on Friday issued guidance to industry that defense contractors are “expected to maintain their normal work schedules” — within recommended guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — amid the coronavirus outbreak because they’re considered “critical infrastructure.”

Byron Callan, a defense industry analyst for Capital Alpha Partners, said in an email that the new policy “will work if the large contractors assist smaller ones that are typically small and private. Think of the $50 million machining parts company that has 70% of sales for commercial aerospace and 30% of defense.”

The industry also risks negative blow-back if the increased payments are abused, he said. “If the large public companies use this change to accelerate share buybacks, I would expect management to be tarred and feathered,” he said.

“It’s important to help employers to keep paying people during this crisis, but the Pentagon needs to do more than just trust the better angels of these companies’ nature to prevail,” Mandy Smithberger, a director for the Project on Government Oversight, which monitors military spending, said in an email.

Taxpayer-Ripoff?

“They should require companies that receive these funds to commit that this money won’t go to dividends, salaries, and stock buybacks, but to the employees on the front lines who are most vulnerable.”

Shay Assad, the Pentagon’s long-time top official on pricing and contracts financing, said in an email the new effort reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the regulations already in place that already provide for generous reimbursement rates. Assad retired in 2019.

“The fact is that cost of borrowing” from banks “is negligible” and doesn’t require additional Pentagon intervention, Assad said. “There is absolutely no reason to change the progress payment rates for large businesses. Large business is more than capable of using their own cash or borrowing at minimal interest rates. This is a taxpayer rip-off.”

Assad estimated that the top five defense contractors generated $93 billion in free cash flow between 2012 and 2017. “They bought $90.5 billion of their own stock during that same time frame,” he said. “There is no cash-flow intervention required.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/on-small-business/pentagon-raises-contractor-payments-to-keep-cash-flowing/2020/03/22/f4ed6ee6-6c79-11ea-a156-0048b62cdb51_story.html


Many Contractors Awaiting Pandemic Guidance From Government Agencies

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FCW

Lawmakers want federal agencies to publicly post their contingency plans so everyone has a better idea of what to expect as more federal employees move to telework and other alternative operations. Official agency advice is scarce.”

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“Some agencies posted some contractor-specific contingency guidance in the last few days ahead of the March 19 letter from Senate lawmakers, but federal contractors FCW has spoken with in the last few days said official agency advice for contractors is scarce.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Agency for International Development rolled out guidance for their contractors at the end of last week, telling them to keep in close contact with their agency contracting officers, as well as check their contracts’ language for information on how to move ahead.

In a March 19 letter to the acting directors of OMB and OPM, Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) and seven other senators called on those agencies to require all federal agencies to post their contingency plans for COVID-19 outbreaks, so the public knows what services to expect and federal contractors have some guidance on how to comply with their contracts.

“Making these [contingency] plans transparent and readily available is key to ensuring that our constituents understand what services are continuing in the midst of the uncertainty and disruption caused by COVID-19. It is also important for federal employees and contractors to understand and properly implement the required mitigation measures and for policymakers to ensure compliance with these measures,” said the letter.

The letter said posting the plans was in line with the way the government handles the plans during a non-Coronavirus related government shutdown.

Contractor telework

The Professional Services Council urged Russell Vought, acting OMB director, to extend telework to the contractor workforce where possible.

Many contractors are being sent and home told that “telework is not authorized under the contract,” PSC President and CEO David Berteau wrote in a March 18 letter to Vought.

“Sending contractors home without authorizing telework effectively ends the important work being done for the government by those contractors,” Berteau wrote. He said the lack of guidance also undermines the intent of the President when OMB told federal agencies to allow government workers the “maximum telework flexibilities.”

Additionally, the National Defense Industrial Association, the U.S. Chamber of Congress, PSC and other trade groups are urging Congress to include contractor telework and assistance for contractors who can’t work because of closed federal facilities in coming pandemic relief legislation.

Excusable delays

EPA and USAID rolled out guidance for their contractors on March 13 and March 12 respectively, telling the businesses to keep in close contact with their agency contracting officers, as well as check their contracts’ language for information on how to move ahead.

USAID told contractors in its notice that contractors shouldn’t begin any new work or change work plans without getting written approvals from agency contracting officers and managers.

It told contractors not to begin any new work or change approved work plans.

The agency also said it is considering setting up an expedited procedures package for disease emergency response.

USAID contracting officers, said the agency, will get in touch with contractors if it needs to redirect resources. It said it said it would consider additional contract implementation expenses due to the virus on a “case-by-case basis.”

USAID advised contractors with workers infected by the virus and temporarily unable to work to “continue to incur operating costs–to be able to restart activities immediately if circumstances or instructions change.”

On March 13, the EPA posted a Coronavirus FAQ for small businesses that answered some basic questions about how they should proceed. The guidance advised contractors to review their contracts to see how, and if, those documents offer any latitude for delays. It advised small business contract holders to look to the Federal Acquisition Regulation for further information on how federal contract performance is handled under extreme circumstances, including pandemics. It warned that “force majeure” clauses common in the language of many commercial contracts, are not the same under the FAR.

Contractors that have “Excusable Delays” provisions in their contracts that cover contingencies including epidemics.

EPA advised contractors to consult with customer agencies closely on whether specific federal workers or sites would be available or open for work. It said contractors might also get wind-down and startup costs covered if work can’t be done because of absent workers or closed sites.”

https://fcw.com/articles/2020/03/19/contractors-guidance-coronavirus-rockwell.aspx?oly_enc_id=

Understanding The Challenge Of Short Attention Spans

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Image – “Linked In” – Bristin Appukuttan

WASHINGTON TECHNOLOGY” – By Mark Amtower

Next time you have something to share, people are likely to remember that you make your point quickly, and they may be more likely to give you another look. Violate that by boring them with verbosity or rehashed ideas and you are toast.

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“From 1989 to 1995, HBO presciently produced a comedy that predicted a phenomenon beyond our control, the ever-decreasing attention span. The show, Short Attention Span Theatre, soon become known as SAST (representing yet another growing phenomena- the acronymization of our language…talk about a short attention span).

As one might surmise from the name, SAST was a series of short skits and interviews, many of which were LOL (sic) hilarious. Among the hosts was a rising comedic star, Jon Stewart. This was eminently watchable TV for the simple reason that things happened quickly, and if you only had a few minutes to spare, you could watch, laugh, and move on without fear of missing a plot twist. Look it up on YouTube- it stands the test of time

I did a little research on attention spans recently and found that some people’s attention spans were now under ten seconds. TEN seconds.

Our attention spans are getting shorter. I won’t speculate as to why except to say that with the various technologies available the craving for instant gratification continues to outdistance our desire for deeper understanding. I’d blame Gordon Moore (see below), but he was simply pointing out the obvious.

Not only are attention spans getting shorter, but the majority of people are multi-tasking, especially the younger ones, which further reduces the attention given to each task.

So now we get to the crux of this matter: in marketing “content is king.” Companies seeking to grow marketshare have an ever-increasing need to put content into the hands of people who make buying decisions. Unfortunately, it’s likely that their audience lacks the time to consume the tons of daily content that’s coming at them from multiple directions.

And, like most, they probably have a shrinking attention span.

So, we have the collision of short attention spans with the desire to get the attention of decision makers, an audience that may or may not pay attention to your content even if it crosses their screen or even lands in their inbox.

Add to this the fact that content is being produced and shared at a breakneck pace. Think of this as Moore’s Law(1) where computing speed is replaced by the amount of content being generated, and instead of doubling every two years (Moore’s original concept), now it takes maybe a couple of months to double the amount of content being generated. As Moore implied, this is not a reversible condition.

With this addition to our “content is king” premise, how do we get the attention of the audience we seek?

Many marketers understand that being concise is key. I call it the word-per-idea ratio (2) where you strive to keep the ratio as tight as possible while retaining the ability to convey a concept. This is why many business videos, podcasts and blog posts are short. It is why I try to keep most of my articles and blog posts to under 500 words. Make one good point and make it fast. Next time you have something to share, people are likely to remember that you make your point quickly, and they may be more likely to give you another look.

Violate that by boring them with verbosity or rehashed ideas and you are toast.

The biggest problem is getting your content in the queue of the decision makers, and this is never a given. Even if it gets in the queue, a variation of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle(3) occurs: the timing– will it be found and read or will it miss being seen because it was not delivered in the venue (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) when your prospect was present?

Short attention spans + so much content + timing issues = black hole absorbing unseen content.

There is no simple solution to this puzzle. However there are ways to increase the odds in your favor, including

  • Try to produce good content that is germane to your audience
  • Only one main idea per piece of content
  • Use a compelling headline or title that highlights the topic you will discuss
  • In written pieces, use graphics
  • Cite original sources as necessary and when you can link to those original sources
  • Hashtag people and companies mentioned
  • Re-purpose the content into multiple formats
  • Place the content in venues where it will most likely find the right audience
  • Place it in those venues more than once (retweeting is great, posting on LinkedIn in different places should work)
  • Send it directly to those you really need to reach IF you have a relationship with them
  • Generate content on a regular basis, not on rare occasion
  • Make certain the content is edited for clarity and grammar
  • Ask viewers and readers to share (“If you liked this, please share it with those who might find it useful.”)
  • Care and feeding of regular viewers/commenters – comment back on comments and remember to say thank you
  • All of your content (or links to it) should be in one location on your web site

Is this too much to keep in mind when producing content? Initially, yes, but most of it becomes muscle memory with practice.

If and when I come up with a more practical solution, I’ll call it Amtower’s Content Marketing Law.

AND, if you like this article, please share it….

This article is an expanded update of: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/sast-meets-content-marketing-when-heisenberg-collides-mark-amtower/

(1) Moore’s law: IT executive Gordon Moore wrote in 1965 that the speed of computing would double every two years predicated on the number of transistors a microchip can hold.

(2) I first heard the phrase “word per idea ratio” from Chris Trelease, then with telemarketing firm Sturner and Klein. I worked there while in graduate school and a short time beyond that, and I met and worked with some great people.

(3) Uncertainty principle, also called Heisenberg uncertainty principle or indeterminacy principle, statement, articulated (1927) by the German physicist Werner Heisenberg, that the position and the velocity of an object cannot both be measured exactly, at the same time, even in theory.”

https://washingtontechnology.com/articles/2020/03/11/insight-amtower-content-overload.aspx

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mark Amtower
Mark Amtower

Mark Amtower advises government contractors on all facets of business-to-government (B2G) marketing and leveraging LinkedIn. Find Mark on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/markamtower.