“Advocacy’s Small Business Profiles are an annual portrait of each state’s small businesses. Included in each are snapshots into each state’s small business health and economic activity. Some economic data is also supplied for U.S. territories.“
“The basic idea behind a procurement challenge is that the government announces a problem it seeks to have solved. Anyone may then submit their solution, and the government chooses a winner or winners.
You don’t need to be an expert on government procurement to submit an entry. There is no proposal — it is a great example of the idea of “show, don’t tell” that should be more important in government procurement in general.“
“Many blog readers will be aware that I have over the years been a big fan of challenges (also known as prizes) as a procurement technique.
When it announces a challenge, the government also specifies a monetary prize (hence the moniker “contest”) and further steps the government might take to support the winner or winners.
I first wrote enthusiastically about these way back in 2009, based on a DARPA contest for developing an all-terrain vehicle. Most recently I wrote about the Army using a challenge to develop a better and cheaper ventilator in the context of COVID-19. I have written, and continue to believe, that the use of challenges in procurement is the most significant procurement innovation of the last decade.
Challenges have varied from very elementary and not very consequential (e.g. a contest to develop an agency logo) to much more mission-critical. For example, a few years ago the IRS conducted a challenge to design an online experience that more clearly and easily organizes and presents a person’s tax information, including ways to more easily use tax data to help people with other financial decisions, such as applying for a loan.
However, even more difficult and complex challenges have up to now been one-off efforts: the government publishes the challenge, bidders respond, and the government chooses winners. Now, though, the Department of Veterans Affairs has published an RFI for a challenge that will take this procurement tool where it has never been before. VA officials are seeking to develop approaches to reduce suicide among veterans.
The agency is envisioning creation of a user-friendly platform where veterans (and possibly others in at-risk groups) can gain enhanced access to a range of suicide-prevention services, such as scheduling, assessments and mental health resources, while preserving their identities and privacy. The VA also hopes to personalize and customize services to directly meet veterans’ needs and recognize certain risks in users’ personal lives, information about care paths and more.
The VA’s vision is that the platform would involve automated learning to update information provided the user. Data analytics and AI would learn from the “user journey” through the VA ecosystem, adapting and responding to the individual user’s needs, fears and concerns. Over time, the information presented to that user would be increasingly curated for their specific needs.
Not only is the topic of the challenge difficult and high-visibility — about as far from designing an agency logo as you can get — but the way the challenge will be organized will be far more ambitious than any the government has attempted in the past. The VA will be doing a procurement not for the challenge itself but to manage challenges that then would be put out for submissions.
As the VA puts it in their RFI, “the chosen partner would need to provide management support services necessary to help build the program from the ground up—and seamlessly execute the competition from beginning to end. The dedicated collaborator would support the delivery of everything from the timeline, scope and design of the complex challenge, to technical support, Though VA would provide some of those funds, said. in raising money for the prizes winners will receive. “the hope is the vendor would be able to facilitate outreach and increase fundraising for the prize purse, so that it’s not just taxpayer-funded money that goes to support this effort, but actually potentially private funds from companies and others who are interested in solving this problem,” the VA states.
This will be a complex and large enough activity that the VA doesn’t have the bandwidth to do it with in-house resources. So, to allow development of challenges at scale, it is actually seeking to let a contractor organize that effort.
This is a first, and an amazing innovation by the VA. The idea has been shepherded by the VA’s Chief Innovation Officer Michael Akinyele. It was in the works before COVID-19, but the explosion of unemployment will make the suicide problem worse and hence has prompted the VA to move the effort faster.
If this works, it will add an important new tool to the government’s contracting toolkit, available to others across government. VA, congratulations on a great idea, and good luck making it work.”
“The veneration of service members in the United States today manifests benignly in the refrain, “Thank you for your service,” and the much appreciated discounts at the local home improvement center, but this reverence can also have less benign effects. The number of retired flag officers serving in high government positions, sitting on the boards of defense contractors, and appearing as talking heads on television shapes policy, which in turn drives Pentagon budgets.
Dr. Steele Brand, a professor of history at The King’s College in New York City, explored the differences between the citizen-soldier and the soldier-citizen in his recent book, “Killing for the Republic.”Republican Rome produced highly adaptive armies with farmers who would moonlight as effective soldiers during the campaigning season and then return to their families and plows—a practice that helped to remove the barriers between the military and the society it served, according to Brand. He says Rome’s part-time soldiers faced an uphill battle against enemy professionals, but that their ability to adapt meant they usually prevailed in the end. In this interview, Dr. Brand explains the differences between the Roman and American models of training soldiers and how those differences contribute to the civilian-military divide.”
“We all know that, at a minimum, proposals must be compliant and responsive. If a proposal meets this minimum bar, the evaluator is likely to award it an Acceptable rating. But what if, despite several rounds of color team reviews, the proposal barely meets this mark?
A Mediocre Proposal
We can assume that an Acceptable proposal will not win in a federal government competitive best value trade-off, unless other bidders also submit Acceptable proposals, and price is the determining factor.
Under the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), government evaluators must make an award based on benefits offered by the proposer. Those benefits may include features of the proposed offering with proven benefits, or a low price, or some combination of the two. Still, unless the win strategy is based on a low bid, the goal of our color team reviews is to improve proposal quality. As a result, we would hope that our proposal rises from merely Acceptable to Good or even Outstanding as we move from Pink to Red to Gold Team.
However, we encounter situations where despite the best efforts of reviewers and writers, the proposal never rises above mediocre. Why did this happen? In the case of some recent reviews we at Lohfeld Consulting joined as consultants, there were too many reviewers with no training or direction, too many comments and too little consensus, too little time to recover between reviews, and an ill-defined solution.
A Compelling Solution is Rich in Strengths
Writers cannot create masterful text with no direction. Communicating the win themes to writers is not enough direction. Writers need annotated outlines and/or content plans with Strengths mapped to evaluation factors.
If the capture team did not work with subject matter experts and solution architects to craft a solution of merit, and/or failed to vet potential Strengths with customers, then the writers will not write about Strengths. The reviewers will therefore not find any Strengths. The proposal will therefore remain mediocre.
Ten Lessons Learned
The lessons learned below assume that the team has developed and vetted a solution rich in discriminating Strengths. Assuming there is a well-defined solution, here are ten lessons learned our team identified to improve color team reviews and proposal quality.
Types of Reviews: Not all color team reviews are created equal. Determine, up front, what type of color team reviews you will conduct and the purpose of each. We recommend that at least one group of reviewers act like a mock government source selection board to score and rate the proposal like the customer evaluation team. Every type of review should have discrete, well-defined roles that are clear and manageable.
Team Composition: Get the right people committed early and get the reviews on their calendars. Keep review team membership consistent across reviews. Involve proposal professionals in the review to inspect for quality of proposal writing tradecraft (including graphics). Also, involve independent reviewers who know nothing about the opportunity.
Training in the Art of Review: The right reviewers are trained reviewers. Make sure all the reviewers understand the proposal color team protocol. Set expectations for the reviews, provide agendas and scoresheets, and offer guidance/training on using automation, virtual proposal sites and/or evaluation tools.
Team Size and Review Duration: Size the review team and review duration to the proposal size and complexity. Ensure each reviewer has adequate time to review assigned sections. A good rule of thumb is 25-30 pages per day per reviewer. Ideally, two or more reviewers will review each assigned evaluation factor or proposal section for a complete picture.
Preparation: Ensure all review team members prepare in advance. Advance preparation includes reading the RFP, Q&A and amendments. The review team should also have access to the proposal manager’s compliance matrix and the capture manager’s win strategy. (If some reviewers are to act completely independent, do not provide the win strategy in order to see what a fresh pair of eyes finds).
Horizontal and Vertical: Review horizontally for cross-section consistency. Review vertically to determine if the proposal is compliant and responsive (Acceptable) as well as persuasive and compelling (Outstanding). Do reviews at multiple entry points in case customer evaluators review only one section or one evaluation factor.
Consensus: Review teams should have different roles. Some may be reviewing like a government evaluator. Others may be doing a compliance review. Still others may read the proposal for persuasiveness. No matter how you divide the roles, require each review team to provide a consensus out-brief including the proposal score or rating as well as perceived Strengths, Weaknesses, Deficiencies and Risks.
High Level Out brief: Avoid time wasting, long-winded out briefs. Instead keep the group out brief under an hour with a focus on a prioritized set of recommendations for improvement. Save details for one-on-ones with authors to speed recovery and improve quality.
Writer One-On-Ones: Too often, writers receive hundreds of comments and must fend for themselves during proposal recovery. Assign reviewers to fully brief the writers on consensus findings. Conduct iterative reviews before the next formal color team to ensure recovery is on track.
Lessons Learned: After proposal submission, conduct an internal lessons learned using a standard template. Which review processes worked, and which didn’t? Do you need more training in proposal solutioning, writing, and/or reviews? Develop and implement corrective actions as needed.
It All Begins with a Solution
Just write and solution later is the worst way to develop winning content. Yet, too often, reviewers are expected to evaluate proposal drafts that reflect the lack of a compelling solution. If you want color team reviews that work, solution before you write. Give writers effective templates and fully developed content plans with Strengths mapped to evaluation factors. Then, implement the ten lessons learned above, and see your color team reviews improve and win rates soar.”
“Vietnam today is what we had tried to make it: a free-market consumer society. The tragedy of it is that over 58,000 Americans and some 2 million Vietnamese had to die just so that Vietnam could get there on its own timetable rather than ours.
The great majority of us served honorably and proved ourselves to be better than the muddle-headed politicians who had sent us. That’s something to be proud of.“
“Back in the mid-80s, an Army officer of my acquaintance succinctly summed up the mood of the post-Vietnam military: “It’s OK to be a Vietnam veteran in today’s military,” he observed, “so long as you don’t dwell on it or refer back to it.”
He was right. He had intuited the largely unspoken, but widely understood, politically correct attitude toward our humiliating defeat. Vietnam had been an aberration, the kind of war we would never fight again. And the less said about it, the better.
Ironically, this same spirit of denial and revision has spread to American society in general in recent years. It’s OK to be a Vietnam veteran in today’s America, so long as you remember that war the way President Reagan portrayed it, as a “noble crusade,” and so long as you profess utter admiration for our armed forces and unwavering support for our current crusades.
Thursday, April 30, marked the 45th anniversary of the fall of Saigon — and the end of our Vietnam misadventure. The Vietnam War I remember, and later studied, was anything but a “noble crusade.” It was a profoundly existential experience. Survival was the only moral touchstone, and getting through to our rotation tour dates the only goal we cared about. All the Marines I knew “in country” were profoundly skeptical of the official rationales for why we were there and increasingly embittered by the reluctance of the South Vietnamese to fight their own war.
My fellow Vietnam veterans seem to have forgotten how traumatized we were about all this. We have been co-opted, bought off with belated handshakes and glib expressions of gratitude. We have forgotten what really occasioned all the bitterness and fueled the post-traumatic stress of our generation.
It wasn’t that the country failed to welcome us home or to honor our service with parades. It was the discovery that our leaders had lied to us about the nature and the necessity of the war and that the conduct of the war put the lie to the ideals and values in which we had all been raised to believe.
Would that we all knew then what we know now. Ho Chi Minh was first and foremost a nationalist. Early on, he had appealed to us to help dissuade France from reclaiming its former colony at the end of World War II. But we needed France’s help in blocking communist expansion in Europe, and the ensuing Cold War clouded our judgment. We feared falling dominoes. By 1950, we were mired in Korea and bankrolling France’s Indochina War. With the fall of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, we took over. We sent in intelligence operatives to subvert the Geneva Accords, especially the plebiscite that would have reunited North and South Vietnam under whichever government the majority chose. Having defeated the French, Ho Chi Minh was the hands-down favorite to win. The South Vietnamese president we had installed, Ngo Dinh Diem, was almost as alien to his own people as we were. Ho Chi Minh had cornered the market on Vietnamese nationalism, and out in the countryside, most of the people seemed to want no part of what we were selling.
What’s worse, once we had taken over in our own right, we began to take that indifference personally. Contrary to popular belief, we weren’t forced to fight with one hand tied behind our back. We unleashed a greater tonnage of bombs on Vietnam than we did in all of World War II. We declared free-fire zones. We defoliated large areas with Agent Orange. We made liberal use of close-air support and indirect fire weapons with little regard for the so-called “collateral damage” such weapons inevitably inflict.
Racists that we were, we dehumanized the Vietnamese as “gooks” and “slopes.” Unable to distinguish friend from foe, we viewed them all as potential threats. Hence, the worst atrocity of the war — the My Lai Massacre. Hell hath no fury like a country scorned, especially one that considers itself to be exceptional and eminently deserving of admiration and emulation.
This is not to say that, because we were wrong, the other side was wholly righteous. They resorted to terror. They mistreated our POWs. They were hardly magnanimous in victory. But the irony is that we seem to have won after all.
So how then should those of us who served in Vietnam feel about participating in such an unnecessary and misguided war? While so many of our contemporaries sat in self-indulgent safety and comfort, we put ourselves on the line. Some of us went in believing. Others suspended judgment or even went against our better judgment. But the great majority of us served honorably and proved ourselves to be better than the muddle-headed politicians who had sent us. That’s something to be proud of.”
A native of New Castle, Delaware, Edward Palm served as an enlisted Marine with the Combined Action Program in Vietnam from 1966 to 1968. He went on to earn a Ph.D. in English literature at the University of Pennsylvania. Returning to the Marine Corps in later life, Palm served as the Marine Officer Instructor with the NROTC unit at University of California, Berkeley and taught English at the Naval Academy before retiring as a major in 1993. His civilian academic career included appointments as a tenured professor and college dean. He now lives in Forest, Virginia. Contact Ed Palm at firstname.lastname@example.org
“The Naval Criminal Investigative Service is seeing an uptick in reports from sailors and Marines who have been duped in a card-cracking scam on social media — in some cases after being promised money as a gesture of gratitude for their military service.“
“The scammers are reaching out to service members through several different ways, NCIS warned.
In some cases, service members are receiving friend requests on Facebook from someone with mutual friends. The scammer then tells the service members they would like to offer them grant money to thank them for their service, or offer them money for their “debt relief.”
Another trend NCIS has witnessed is scammers connecting with service members on social media through either posts or messages, all under the guise of being a debt consolidator or business owner.
Regardless of initial contact, scammers then ask service members to share their bank login information, along with some of the security question prompts that appear on their online bank account.
“Victims have reported that after the money is deposited directly into their accounts, the scammer then asks the victim to send a portion of the money via wire or cash to a third party,” NCIS said in a recent news release.
“Victims then discover that loans have been opened in their name with the same financial institution. Any attempts to further contact the scammer are unsuccessful, leaving the victim to pay off the loan.”
These scams have resulted in “severe financial losses” for service members, NCIS said.
NCIS provided a series of recommendations to sailors, such as halting continued contact with the scammer, alerting their banks or financial institutions to lock accounts, and looking into a credit lock through credit bureaus like Equifax.
Likewise, NCIS recommended sailors inform their commands, the NCIS office, and also law enforcement authorities, and advised against sharing bank login details with anyone.
Although NCIS warned sailors last month to be aware of COVID-19-related schemes, the agency initially said it did not believe these card-cracking scams are connected to the pandemic because there had already been a rise in scams over the past year.
However, NCIS told Military Times it received an image Thursday afternoon of a scam circulating via email targeting Navy Federal Credit Union members that offered to assist them with $800 for COVID-19 relief. The email requested members to validate their Navy Federal customer data in order for the funds to clear.
“We urge the Department of the Navy family to remain vigilant of scams offering promises getting out of debt and making extra money, especially during this challenging time for our nation,” NCIS spokesman Jeff Houston said in an email to Military Times.
Service members have frequently fallen prey to scammers and lost millions of dollars as a result.
According to a December report analyzing data from the Federal Trade Commission and Better Business Bureau, active duty personnel and veterans from the Navy have been tied up in 143,718 scams totaling $62,542,897 since 2012. Those from the Marine Corps have also been involved in 57,204 scams totaling $24,976,528.”
“The purpose of the COVID-19 Disaster Relief Grant is to mitigate the negative effects and economic impact COVID-19 has had on Veterans and their families by providing a one-time financial relief grant in the amount of $1,000.
Applications for the disaster relief grant must be dated no earlier than March 13, 2020. A closing date for the disaster relief grant has yet to be determined and will depend on the length of the peacetime emergency declared by the Governor of the State of Minnesota and the availability of funding.
To qualify for the COVID-19 Special Needs Grant, applicants must be:
A Veteran or the surviving spouse (who has not remarried) of a deceased veteran as defined by MN Statute 197.447, and
A Minnesota Resident, and
Have been negatively financial impacted by COVID-19. * Note: Two Veterans married to each other are both authorized to apply for and receive the disaster relief grant.
The purpose of the COVID-19 Special Needs Grant is to provide one-time financial assistance to a Veteran or surviving spouse who needs assistance due to a COVID-19-related event. Any funding awarded from this grant would go directly to a vendor or creditor of the applicant, and no money awarded goes directly to an applicant or an applicant’s family member.
Applications for the COVID-19 Special Needs Grant must be dated no earlier than March 13, 2020. A closing date for the COVID-19 Special Needs Grant is subject to the length of the peacetime emergency declared by the Governor of the State of Minnesota, and the funding available.
To qualify for the COVID-19 Special Needs Grant, applicants must be:
A Veteran or the surviving spouse (who has not remarried) of a deceased veteran as defined by MN Statute 197.447,
A Minnesota Resident, and
Have been negatively financial impacted by COVID-19. *Note: two Veterans married to each other are only authorized one COVID-19 Special Needs Grant.
The State Soldiers Assistance Program (SSAP) typically provides seven different programs year-round that are not tied to our COVID-19 response. Although they are not specifically intended to assist with our COVID-19 response, SSAP programs may be helpful to any Veteran or dependent who may have been affected by COVID-19.
Special Needs Grant
The purpose of the Special Needs Grant is to provide one-time financial assistance to a Veteran or surviving spouse to assist in their financial crisis and to promote stability and prevent homelessness.
Special Needs Grants are open year round. To qualify for a Special Needs Grant, applicants must be:
Subsistence Assistance provides financial assistance for up to six months to a Veteran or surviving spouse when they are disabled and prevented from working at their usual/normal occupation for at least 30 days, or without a disabling medical condition within one year of the Veterans death.
Subsistence Assistance is available year round, and provides help with:
Shelter associated payments (rent / mortgage / room & board / property taxes / association dues / homeowners’ insurance).
We understand that many County Veterans Service Offices are currently closed or operating at a reduced capacity and that situations around the state are changing daily. If you are in need of assistance with applying for any of our programs and you cannot receive assistance from your County Veterans Service Officer our Field Operations Team has staff standing by and ready to assist you. They can be reached at FO.MDVA@state.mn.us.Permalink: http://mn.gov/mdva/blog/index.jsp?id=1066-425565“
“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.”