Category Archives: Technology

The One Year Budget Cycle Must Go

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         Photo Courtesy “Dabble With” dot com     

By  Ken Larson                               
Having  dealt with the funding process in the government contracting industry  (both large and small business) for over 40 years through many  administrations and much frustration, I can discuss with  some  credibility a major weakness in the huge machine we call the US  Federal  Government — the one year budget cycle. Its tail end is whipping everybody this month and we have undergone previous sanctimonious “Shutdowns”, with the promise of more to come.

A huge reason for much of the largess in this entire area is the one year budget cycle in which the US Government is entrenched.

About mid-summer every agency begins to get paranoid about whether or not they have spent all their money, worried about having to return some and be cut back the next year. They flood the market with sources sought notifications and open solicitations to get the money committed. Many of these projects are meaningless.

Then during the last fiscal month (September) proposals are stacked up all over the place and everything is bottle-necked. If you are a small business trying to get the paperwork processed and be under contract before the new fiscal year starts you are facing a major challenge.

Surely the one year cycle has become a ludicrous exercise we can no longer afford and our government is choking on it. It is a political monstrosity that occurs too frequently to be managed.

Government must lay out a formal baseline over multiple years (I suggest at least 2 fiscal years – ideally 4 – tied to a presidential election)  – then fund in accordance with it and hold some principals in the agencies funded accountable by controlling their spending incrementally – not once year in a panic mode.

Naturally exigencies can occur. A management reserve can be set aside if events mandate scope changes in the baseline due to unforeseen circumstances. Congress could approve such baseline changes as they arise.

There is a management technique for the above that DOD, NASA and the major agencies require by regulation in large government contracts.    It is called “Earned Value Management” and it came about as a result of some of the biggest White Elephant overruns in Defense Department History.

http://www.smalltofeds.com/2008/…

I contend we have one of the biggest White Elephants ever in front of us (a National Debt approaching $20 Trillion)

We need to get this mess under control, manage our finances and our debt or it will manage us into default.

 

Modest Small Business Innovative Research Program (SBIR) Investments Bring Big Benefits

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Blackbox Biometrics’ Blast Gauge System

“NATIONAL DEFENSE MAGAZINE”

“The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program makes funding available to small companies to develop technologies to meet warfighting requirements and that can transition to a program of record and commercialization.

The Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program is similar to SBIR, but requires the small business to formally collaborate with a research institution.

The defense industry is big, technologically complex and highly competitive. The bar for entry can be high. For small companies who think they have something new or different to offer, vying for a chance to compete can be daunting.

The cost and risk involved with science and technology and research and development to bring a new product or service to market can exceed the ability and resources of many small businesses. So special funding is available to help them develop their ideas and prove their technologies. Meanwhile, program managers and prime contractors have incentives to bring small companies to the table.

Then-Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Acquisition and Development Sean Stackley said in a 2015 memo that a competitive, healthy small business industrial base is vital to the long term success and affordability of the service. “Where affordability is paramount, a strategy that includes small business creates more affordable outcomes and promotes innovation and technical advancement,” he said.

Bob Smith, director of the Navy’s SBIR/STTR program, said in May 2016 that the service announces topics three times a year. It issued about 170 topics in its most recent cycle. From that it received about 2,800 proposals. It reviewed, evaluated and prioritized each one, and selected two proposals for each topic. One of the two is chosen to go forward as a Phase II project. The Navy looked at 252 Phase II proposals, and selected 137 Phase III awards to help those technologies transition.

“These might seem like low numbers, but if you talk to any venture capitalist, that’s a pretty good track record,” Smith said.

While SBIR can help small companies introduce and develop their new technologies, Smith said companies should not focus solely on winning these awards. “Do not make SBIR your only business model. It will not work.”

For Midé Technology Corp., a small business in Medford, Massachusetts, SBIR efforts have led to some surprising developments. From missile instrumentation to bulkhead shaft seals to smart wetsuits, Midé has seen SBIR grant activity evolve into further opportunities including the development of products for the military and commercial markets. One good idea has led to another.

“We know the cycles when the topics and solicitations come out from the different agencies and departments,” said Midé’s Vice President of Corporate Programs Rick Orlando. We have a process in our company that ties into their schedules. We look at the topics, and glean the ones where we have interest and are suited to submit a proposal.”

In general, Orlando said a high proportion of Midé’s R&D work is funded by SBIR funding. “It’s about 80 percent of our R&D expenditures, but that doesn’t count our product revenue.”

A small company in Melbourne, Florida, has used SBIR to match existing technology with a requirement to provide communications relay radios between unmanned systems and host platforms.

“We had the technology, but we had to find a way to militarize it. It had to handle the vibrations and temperatures, and be small enough to fit inside an unmanned aerial vehicle,” said Emilio Power of RSS Technology.

The RT 1944 U radio was developed by RSS using a Navy SBIR investment. Power says the RSS radio is now part of the littoral combat ship program, and the company’s equipment is on the ship and its off-board vehicles, such as the MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned aircraft.
SBIR and STTR projects require a technology transition plan, that specifies the “fiscal and transition commitment of participants in the transition stream to develop, deliver and integrate a technology/product into an acquisition program.”  It calls for a “seminal transition event,” to test the technology in a mission environment before it can be used by the warfighter.

“Our Phase III funding is allowing us to finish our software and conduct the seminal transition event, which is to do 80 MB at 30 miles. We’re getting ready to put that radio into production,” Power said.

RSS Technology is taking advantage of a related funding mechanism, the Rapid Innovation Fund, to further validate the concept. The Navy’s RIF enables participants to develop concepts and technologies to meet operational or national security needs, and invests in ways to reduce technical risk and cost.

“The SBIR program is fantastic,” Power said. “But one has to know how to work it. There is only a certain amount of money. But that investment can make the difference between an idea and a reality.”

Powers understands the importance and value of working with big companies. But being smaller is an advantage. “A lot of the big guys have tried doing some of these projects, but it takes a long time. A small company can act and react faster.”

Janet Hughes with Robotic Research of Gaithersburg, Maryland, said her company has participated in SBIRs for a number of agencies, such as the Army, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Department of Homeland Security.

“We’ve had success moving to Phase II and III by working closely with the TPOCs (technical points of contact),” Hughes said. “We’ve taken technologies developed through one agency’s SBIR program and transitioned them into other agencies.

“Today we use SBIR funding almost exclusively for our research and development,” added Hughes.

Rochester, New York-based BlackBox Biometrics (B3), has been selling the Blast Gauge System, a small, wearable sensor that can detect and measure overpressure from explosions such as artillery or bombs, that can cause brain injuries. According to B3’s Scott Featherman, the Blast Gauge technology was first developed with DARPA, and was adopted by the Army. Now, because of a SBIR from the Marine Corps Systems Command, BlackBox has demonstrated the effectiveness of the technology to the service.

“We’re completing our Phase II now and getting ready to enter Phase III, and begin commercial sales,” Featherman said.

Once a company wins a Phase II SBIR award, the Navy SBIR program offers a course to the company to learn how to create a business plan and navigate the complex Defense Department business structure. This is called the SBIR/STTR Transition Program (STP).

A good percentage of NAVSEA’s SBIR companies participate in the program, Smith said. “We teach them how to be a success. That’s what STP does; we foster the relationship between the Navy and the company and teach these companies how to transition their technology.”

“Our naval acquisition community considers SBIR/STTR part of the solution for delivering quality innovation to our warfighters — quickly and cost-effectively,” said Smith. “The Navy cares about our small businesses, and we care about them succeeding.”

Tad Dickenson, Raytheon’s director of the company’s SPY-6(V) Air and Missile Defense Radar program, said Raytheon has some big reasons why it embraces small business. “Small companies offer more diverse input, and help us to think like a smaller company.”

Raytheon has developed the radar with open architecture to be flexible.  “There’s nothing proprietary, and any-sized company can be involved in the program. In fact, we can insert different algorithms for the same function next to each other to see which works best. We can select one, or both. And we can easily put in new functionality, or replace something with a better version.”

Raytheon’s SBIR teammates bring important attributes to a project, Dickenson said, because they are lean and agile, and can produce results quickly at a lower cost. “Their ideas evolve very quickly, and we can leverage that innovation. That adds up to better capability, performance and affordability for the Navy.”

Dickenson said the SBIR program creates win-win-win situations that benefit the Navy, Raytheon and the small businesses. “We look to nurture these relationships. We learn a lot from our small business partners, and we think we can offer them a mentorship relationship with our experience and expertise.”

http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/articles/2017/4/5/modest-sbir-investments-bring-big-benefits

Top Federal Contractors Paid Billions for Environmental Damage

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Skimming oil in the Gulf of Mexico during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Photo by NOAA Office of Response and Restoration

“THE PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT (POGO)”

“In keeping with [Earth Day’s] purpose as a national teach-in about the environment, we direct you to our Federal Contractor Misconduct Database to explore the environmental track records of the federal government’s largest contractors.

Environmental violations comprise only 17 percent of the 2,300-plus instances in the database, but account for more than 40 percent of the penalty total.

The lion’s share of violations have been racked up by five energy companies ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, Valero, and Royal Dutch Shell and Honeywell.

The five largest environmental misconduct penalties in the database involve the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. BP, which leased and operated the rig, paid over $32 billion to settle governmental and private-citizen legal actions stemming from the disaster. Citing BP’s “lack of business integrity as demonstrated by the company’s conduct with regard to the Deepwater Horizon blowout, explosion, oil spill, and response,” the federal government temporarily suspended BP from contracting. Halliburton, which performed cementing work on the oil well, paid $2.1 billion to settle private claims.

Earth Day celebration marks the launch of an “environmental and climate literacy” campaign, which focuses on climate change and its threat to our planet. Recently, Exxon has been hit with accusations that it engaged in a decades-long campaign to conceal and discredit scientific evidence linking global climate change to fossil fuels. Our database includes two civil lawsuits—one filed by Exxon shareholders and one filed by a nonprofit environmental group—seeking damages for Exxon’s alleged cover-up. A third instance, a complaint filed with the Internal Revenue Service, claims Exxon violated federal tax laws in pushing its climate denial policies and legislative agenda.

We invite you to peruse our database to see how the government’s largest contractors have violated local, state, federal, and international laws protecting the air, ground, and water. And remember to check back frequently—we’re always adding or updating instances.”

http://www.pogo.org/blog/2017/04/top-federal-contractors-paid-billions-for-environmental-damage.html

Secrets That Highly Successful Government Contractors Use Everyday

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“WASHINGTON TECHNOLOGY”

“What does it take to deliver at least 20 percent revenue growth year after year?

Last month, we released a new study of high-growth firms, including 445 government contractors. We found three key findings from that study that your  business can use to improve your growth prospects.

Each of these findings can be folded into a cohesive strategy. And a characteristic of high-growth firms is that they often employ all three.

Strategy 1: High-Growth Government Contractors Specialize

Our first finding was that high-growth government contractors tend to specialize. Interestingly, so do the firms that exhibited little or no growth. The difference was what they chose to specialize in.

As you can see in Figure 1 below, high-growth firms often focus on solving a particular challenge or providing a specialized service. In fact, high-growth contractors were two-and-a-half times more likely to be highly specialized. No-growth firms that described a specialty usually specialized in an industry.

~ most valuable digital content

Why does specialization matter? In a related finding, 68 percent  of buyers cited specialized skills and expertise as their top criterion when selecting a firm. Specialization implies expertise, and buyers value that.

Takeaway: Try to define an area of focus for your firm. As you do so, consider building it around a specialized service or common client challenge.

Strategy 2: High-Growth Contractors Are Well Differentiated

According to our research, high-growth firms are three times more likely than their no-growth peers to have a strong differentiator.

Differentiation is the way in which a business separates itself from other similar firms. Usually this difference is expressed in the language a contractor uses to describe itself or its services. But there is more to a differentiator than lip service. It has to meet three criteria. A differentiator must be:

  1. True
  2. Relevant
  3. Provable

And of course, it must be different from most of your competitors. Figure 2 lists the differentiators cited most often by the high-growth firms in our study.

~ most valuable digital content

Now, this data begs the question, how can a characteristic that’s favored by over 80 percent of high-growth firms still be a differentiator?  After all, isn’t the point of a differentiator to be different?

The answer is that many of the responses in Figure 2 are aggregated and categorized. That means “The expertise of our team,” for example, represents a diverse range of answers that are more specialized than the generic category name implies. A firm that differentiates around its expertise might have deep experience in a narrow discipline, such as conducting insider threat risk assessments or designing secure but welcoming embassy facilities.

Takeaway: Figure out how you are different from your competitors and develop messaging to convey this to your audiences. Make sure your differentiators really are in fact truly different.

Strategy 3: High-Growth Firms Invest in Marketing Techniques that Build Their Visibility and Reputation

While high-growth firms grow much faster than their peers, they actually invest less time and money doing so. That means their marketing is more efficient. Figure 3 lists the 10 most favored marketing techniques of high-growth and no-growth firms.

~ most valuable digital content

One thing you will notice is that high-growth firms tend to use more marketing techniques overall than their no-growth brethren. Now let’s look at the five techniques high-growth contractors identified as having the most impact on their business.

~ most valuable digital content

All five of these share two characteristics: 1) they build the firm’s visibility, and 2) they leverage their expertise to enhance their reputation.

The top technique, partnership marketing, deserves a little explanation. Traditional partnership marketing is a strategy in which a firm seeks out other firms, associations or organizations that share one or more target audiences with the firm but don’t directly compete with them. The two parties then pool their resources and market jointly to their audience. For instance they might conduct joint webinars or promote each other’s services to their client lists.

In the case of government contractors, however, partnership marketing takes an interesting twist. Often the partnering firms are direct competitors, but because they have different characteristics, they need each other from time to time to qualify for an RFP or comply with a regulatory requirement, such as 8(a) or HUBZone certification.

Takeaway: Don’t waste your limited marketing dollars on timeworn tactics that no longer produce results. Instead, model your marketing on today’s most successful government contractors.

If you are wondering why your firm is stuck in the doldrums while others grow quickly, take heart. There are changes you can make to change your fortunes.

Reposition your firm as a specialist, clearly articulate how your firm is different, and look to the high-growth firms in your industry to uncover what marketing techniques are most effective.”

About the Author

Elizabeth Harr is a partner with Hinge Marketing and leads the firm’s technology and consulting practice. She is the co-author of two books, the Visible Expert and the Buyer’s Brain.

https://washingtontechnology.com/articles/2017/04/14/insights-harr-differentiation-and-success.aspx

 

National Service Narrows Military-Civilian Divide

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Basic Training Photo Credit: Spc. Emily R. Martin/Army

“AIR FORCE TIMES”
“Since 1974, America has depended on an all-volunteer military for our national defense.
Even in the face of 15 years of war (and counting), the all-volunteer force has proven to be sustainable at the present levels with relatively little adjustment to its selection criteria.
Overall, this force has performed magnificently, in many cases exceeding the expectations of the original architects and surprising many of the naysayers.
While this is good news, especially for those who abhor a draft, it has not been without unintended consequences.

Our nation today faces a growing military-civilian divide, both cultural and societal. Less than one-half of one percent of Americans currently serve in uniform, while the 99-plus percent realize the benefit while bearing none of the burden. Not only do most American families have no one in the military, most do not even know someone who is now serving. This is especially true within the higher economic strata, to include the majority of our nation’s lawmakers.

As a result, most Americans know little or nothing about what life is like for our military families who serve and sacrifice on our behalf. This does not make for a healthy society.

One ray of hope to offset this divide has been a growing interest in national service in a civilian capacity as a way to get more Americans involved. Only about one in four young Americans can even meet the requirements for military service, which makes non-military service options even more important.

While there is much to be said for requiring all young people to serve a year or more in some capacity of national service, that is simply a non-starter in today’s environment. It turns out, however, that a purely voluntary program is already enormously successful.

In fact, demand for very poorly paid national service positions, such as those supported by AmeriCorps, exceeds the availability of these positions many times over. There is an increasing thirst among our nation’s 18- to 24-year-old population to get involved in something bigger than themselves, and, yes, altruistically to “make a difference” in this world.

National service in a civilian capacity still requires a degree of sacrifice on the part of its participants, including financial deprivation and what we might call the “opportunity cost” of a year or more of their lives. The benefits, however, far outweigh these costs, and that’s one reason the demand is so high.

One need look no further than the “greatest generation” and what they subsequently achieved for themselves and for the nation as a direct result of their having served in World War II.

Of course, these veterans, as today’s, were “battle hardened,” which is not likely to be the case for those engaging in civilian national service.

The real benefit to those who served came in the form of maturity, self-discipline, management and leadership experience, and the camaraderie that derived from shared experience, especially with teammates of diverse backgrounds to which they might never have otherwise been exposed.

The thousands of businesses who have been hiring our current generation of veterans have quickly discovered it is not an act of charity, rather it’s the smartest thing that they could be doing for their enterprises. The same can be said for those who hire young Americans coming out of a year or more of national service.

The benefits of national service are legion. What makes the case more compelling is that, by doing their share, these young men and women are actually helping to bridge the military-civilian divide and adding to the moral fiber of our communities and our nation.

We’re stronger as a nation because so many of our young men and women selflessly serve, whether in uniform or in a civilian capacity. Both contribute to “providing for the common defense.”

The recently released federal budget proposal, however, would wipe out this critical element of our national strength by zeroing out both AmeriCorps and the Corporation for National and Community Service, the little-known federal agency that runs national service programs, including AmeriCorps and Senior Corps.

This proposal ignores the enormous return on investment that these very small budget lines represent, especially in comparison to the defense budget, which these programs actually complement.

This would be a tragic outcome for both the nation and those individuals in national service.

There is nothing partisan about national service, which for over eight decades has enjoyed bipartisan support at all levels of government. The Kennedy-Hatch Serve America Act of 2009 came about following the 2008 election campaign during which both John McCain and Barack Obama gave their enthusiastic endorsement of national service.

The subsequent passage of that legislation significantly increased the number of AmeriCorps positions available for young Americans to serve their country. We must not lose this momentum.

The signatories to this piece have all proudly served our country in uniform. We strongly believe that a national civilian service program is a vital component of our strength as a nation. We urge the administration to rethink this small, but critical, budget item, and we urge our congressional representatives to ensure that both the AmeriCorps program and the Corporation for National and Community Service are fully funded.
Air Force Gen. John A. Shaud (ret.)
Army Gen. William G. T. Tuttle (ret.)
Salisbury is chairman of the Critical Issues RoundTable, an informal non-partisan group of retired senior military leaders who meet regularly in Washington to discuss contemporary issues of national importance. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Military Times or its staff.
Co-signers:
Army Lt. Gen. Henry J. Hatch (ret.)
Navy Rear Adm. Cameron Fraser (ret.)
Navy Rear Adm. David T. Hart Jr. (ret.)
Army Maj. Gen. Leo M. Childs (ret.)
Army Brig. Gen. Clarke M. Brintnall (ret.)
Army Brig. Gen. Gerald E. Galloway (ret.)
Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas L. Hemingway (ret.)
Air Force Reserve Brig. Gen. John A. Hurley (ret.)
Army Brig. Gen. Richard L. Reynard (ret.)
Army Brig. Gen. Anthony A. Smith (ret.)
G. Kim Wincup
Army Col. Charles B. Giasson (ret.)
Army Reserve Col. Herman E. Bulls
Army Col. George W. Sibert (ret.)
Army Col. John P. Walsh Jr. (ret.)
Army Col. Francis A. Waskowicz (ret.)
Army Lt. Col. William T. Marriott III (ret.)
Army Lt. Col. Palmer McGrew (ret.)
Army Capt. Douglas A. Cohn (ret.)
Army Capt. Joan S. Grey (ret.)
Glen L. Archer III
Jan C. Scruggs”

Revolving Door Picking Up Speed at the Pentagon and Homeland Security

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Pentagon Revolving Door

“THE INTERCEPT”

“Defense firms have eagerly watched as Trump recently unveiled a budget calling for $54 billion in additional military spending next year.

President Trump has weaponized the revolving door by appointing defense contractors and their lobbyists to key government positions as he seeks to rapidly expand the military budget and homeland security programs.”


“The spending spree will provide a brand new opportunity for defense lobbyists to get business for their clients. And the most effective lobbying generally involves contacting former colleagues in positions of power.

Two Department of Homeland Security appointments Trump announced Tuesday morning are perfect examples.

Benjamin Cassidy, installed by Trump as assistant secretary for legislative affairs, previously worked as a senior executive at Boeing’s international business sector, marketing Boeing military products abroad. Jonathan Rath Hoffman, named assistant secretary for public affairs, previously worked as a consultant to the Chertoff Group, the sprawling homeland security consulting firm founded by former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff. The firm has come under fire for advising a variety of firms seeking government contracts, including for full-body scanners deemed invasive by privacy activists. Hoffman also led a state chapter of a neoconservative military-contractor advocacy organization during the 2016 presidential campaign. Neither position requires Senate confirmation.

Personnel from major defense companies now occupy the highest ranks of the administration including cabinet members and political appointees charged with implementing the Trump agenda. At least 15 officials with financial ties to defense contractors have been either nominated or appointed so far, with potentially more industry names on the way as Trump has yet to nominate a variety of roles in the government, including Army and Navy secretaries.

Before their confirmations, Jim Mattis and John Kelly, the secretaries of the departments of Defense and Homeland Security, were primarily paid by defense firms.

Mattis was paid $242,000, along with up to $500,000 in vested stock options, as director of General Dynamics, a company that produces submarines, tanks, and a range of munitions for the military. Mattis also received speaking fees from several firms, including Northrop Grumman. Kelly previously served in a number of roles at defense contracting consulting and lobbying firms and worked directly as an adviser to Dyncorp, a company that contracts with the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.

Major lobbying groups for the arms companies, including the National Defense Industrial Association and the Aerospace Industries Association, welcomed the selection of Secretary Mattis, who has already scheduled meetings with industry executives. Secretary Kelly has pledged to work more closely with the private sector, promising greater collaboration with private firms to accomplish his agency’s goals.

To carry out this private-sector friendly agenda, defense officials have taken major roles throughout Trump’s administration.

Pat Shanahan, nominated last week by Trump to serve as deputy secretary of defense, is a vice president at Boeing who formerly led the company’s missile defense subsidiary. Disclosures show that Elaine Duke, the nominee for deputy secretary of homeland security, previously consulted for Booz Allen Hamilton, General Dynamics, and the Columbia Group, a small contractor that builds unmanned naval drones.

The nominee to lead the Air Force, former New Mexico Congresswoman Heather Wilson, worked as a consultant to a Lockheed Martin subsidiary after retiring from public office. The company sought Wilson’s help to maintain a $2.4 billion a year contract to manage Sandia National Laboratories, the premiere nuclear weapons research facility, and to keep the contract closed to competition. “Lockheed Martin should aggressively lobby Congress, but keep a low profile,” Wilson urged the company in a memo revealed later by an inspector general report.

Trump’s pick for national security council chief of staff, retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, has worked at a variety of defense contracting companies. After serving in senior roles in Iraq’s provisional government after the 2003 invasion, Kellogg left the government for the private sector. He told the Washington Post in 2005 that he joined Oracle to “establish a homeland security business unit” at the firm, and later joined CACI International, a company with major contracts in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Following CACI, Kellogg joined Cubic Defense in 2009 to develop the company’s combat training business.

A list of temporary political appointees recently published by ProPublica reveals a number of less-known influence peddlers who have taken senior roles in the administration.

Chad Wolf and Lora Ries, two recently appointed advisers at the Department of Homeland Security, are formerly registered defense lobbyists. Wolf lobbied for Harris Corp. and the United Launch Alliance, a partnership between Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Ries previously lobbied for a range of defense and homeland security contractors, including Altegrity, Boeing, Implant Sciences Corp., General Dynamics, L1 Identity Solutions, and TASC Inc.

In the White House, one of the newest members of the National Economic Council staff is Michael Catanzaro, formerly a registered lobbyist working for both Boeing and Halliburton.

Palanatir Technology’s Justin Mikolay, formerly a chief in-house lobbyist for the company who worked to win over billions of dollars in Army contracts, was quietly appointed to serve as a special assistant in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Several appointees are associated with SBD Advisors, a consulting that firm that advertises its ability to facilitate “engagements between the technology and defense sectors,” and is advised by a high profile team of former government leaders, including former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff retired Adm. Mike Mullen and former National Security Agency Director of Operations Ron Moultrie.

SBD Advisors’d Sally Donnelly and Tony DeMartino work as temporary political appointees at the Office of the Defense Secretary, according to the list assembled by ProPublica. Kristan King Nevins, recently appointed as chief of staff to Second Lady Karen Pence, also previously worked at SBD Advisors as the director of communications.

The Trump administration is the “military-industrial complex personified,” said William Hartung, director of the Arms & Security Project at the Center for International Policy. Hartung noted that while the administration is bringing arms industry officials into government, it is also demanding a massive increase in military spending and appears to be escalating conflicts in Syria and Yemen.

In short, the Trump proposals are an armsmaker’s dream come true,” he said. “

https://theintercept.com/2017/03/21/revolving-door-military/

 

 

New Website Competes VA Hospitals

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Image:  “Cartoon Stock”

“MILITARY TIMES”

“WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs wants its medical centers to compete over patients, and they’re launching a new online tool to make comparison shopping for health care easier.

The new “access to care” site, launched Wednesday but expected to be refined significantly over the next few weeks, will allow veterans to see how regional VA health centers stack up against each other on wait times, available services and customer satisfaction.

Poonam Alaigh, acting under secretary for health at the department, said the goal is to both increase transparency over the state of VA health services and provide veterans a way to better customize their own care.

Would-be patients willing to travel significant distances can find regional offices with shorter average wait times for primary and specialty care than nearby facilities. Individuals in metro areas can choose between sites based on customer response ratings.

“There’s competition now,” she said. “They’re going to start losing patients if they don’t start watching the patient experience piece.”

The site is the latest step in a three-year response to the 2014 VA wait-times scandal that forced the resignation of several senior department officials, including then VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.

Hospital administrators were found to have manipulated wait-time data to better meet department standards, and in some cases gain bonuses for facility improvements.

Alaigh dismissed concerns about the new public comparison site creating similar incentives for dishonesty, saying the focus is on accountability and public awareness. And she said unrelated to the site, VA has implemented new data-monitoring algorithms to detect similar manipulation in the future.

But she acknowledged the site will highlight “the good and bad” of current facility performance.

For example, on the site now, visitors can track wait times for new patient primary care appointments for every VA facility in the greater Phoenix area, the center of the 2014 scandal. For the VA clinic in nearby Anthem, Arizona, the average wait is 11 days. For the clinic in Casa Grande south of the city, it’s 56 days.

“I want to use this to help build accountability,” she said. “I don’t want this to be a punitive thing. It also has to be a tool for us to redirect resources to needed areas.”

The site also includes comparisons of standardized health data to other regional, non-VA hospitals, although only a small number of VA sites are currently listed. Alaigh said more will be added in coming weeks.

So will a feedback button for veterans to ask questions about facility offerings and better contact information to help veterans contact medical centers. Alaigh called the site “rushed” and “far from perfect” but said officials wanted to get the available data in veterans hands as quickly as possible.

VA officials for years have promised both better access to medical treatments at department clinics and better customer service throughout the agency, but have received mixed reviews on the work so far from veterans groups and lawmakers.

http://www.militarytimes.com/articles/va-website-medical-care-access-competition

 

 

‘Swimming Bullets’ Can Obliterate a Target Underwater

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Photo by Hope Hodge Seck/Military.com

“MILITARY .COM”

 “Bullets that “swim” and remain effective on target for significant distances underwater.

The secret to DSG Technology’s CAV-X supercavitating bullets is a specially turned tip and carefully calibrated balance and mass, creating an air bubble that allows the munition to shoot through the water.”


“The 12.7mm bullet, a machine gun round, has an effective range of 2,200 meters through the air and 60 meters underwater, according to the company. The 7.62 and 5.56 rifle rounds are effective underwater at 22 and 14 meters, respectively.

The company released the product earlier this year and has already sold small quantities of CAV-X bullets for research and development testing to international militaries.

The company has also fielded interest from the U.S. military, noting that “special communities” who operate in and near the water would find the technology useful. In a promotional video here at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space conference, DSG showed a visualization of an Independence-class littoral combat ship shooting the rounds into the water from a deck-mounted gun.

At larger calibers, he said, the technology has the potential to aid harbor and beachhead defense and to assist in countermine and counter-torpedo operations.”

https://kitup.military.com/2017/04/swimming-bullets-can-obliterate-target-underwater.html

 

Want to Reform Government? Start with the Basics.

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government collaboration

Image:  “IP Dimensions”

“WASHINGTON TECHNOLOGY” By Stan Soloway

“The principal, and ultimately most impactful, evolution that needs to take place has little to do with law and everything to do with culture and people.

The generally poor quality of cross-sector communications and collaboration suggests, the workforce entering government today is being trained and developed in much the same way as multiple generations before them.”


“The email was most unexpected. In the midst of what had been a series of substantive discussions with a Defense Department command about the potential application of a new capability that might help address one of the command’s most pressing concerns, a command attorney effectively directed that the conversations cease. Because no “requirement” exists for the capability being discussed, he said, the conversations had to end.

Of course there is no “requirement” in place; they had only recently become aware of the technology. Our conversations were about whether and how it might be applicable. In other words, one can’t have a requirement for something one doesn’t even know about.

And let’s not even get started on why an attorney even stepped in. One would think the relevant program office could decide when and if their time was being wasted.

As I’ve relayed this story to friends and colleagues in both government and industry, it became clear that it is far from uncommon.

More than 20 years after the passage of acquisition reforms that, among other things, were designed to improve the government’s access to and communications with the private sector, and a half dozen years since the Office of Management and Budget issued its “Mythbusters” memo that was designed to make clear the importance of open communications, the problem remains all too present.

That is not to say there are no good examples of agencies and components swimming against the tide. There most certainly are. The Special Operations Command has created SofWerx, which invites companies of all sizes to demonstrate their capabilities and explore with the command possible applications. SOCOM acquisition executive Jim Geurts says his hope is that SofWerx will become a kind of “mosh pit” of ideas.

And then there is the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, innovation labs in a range of agencies including Homeland Security, HHS and USAID. Beyond that, there have been more than 500 procurement contests and challenges, which by design invite any interested party to propose a solution to an identified problem.

For each of these activities, communications and collaboration are a core operating principle. But the reach of each also remains quite limited and each operates, to one extent or another, outside of the traditional acquisition process.

As the Trump Administration launches its new Office of American Innovation, focused on bringing smart business acumen to government, these examples also provide something of a framework from which to start.

First, whether acquisition is high on their target list or not today, it needs to be. After all, it is a critical engine upon which the government runs. And yes, there are a number of regulatory barriers that need to be eliminated to make that process work as it should.

Changing that paradigm in government requires that the workforce be given the tools, the training and the support to both understand and incorporate smart business concepts in the execution of their work. It requires that the workforce understand, far more than most do now, how businesses identify, manage and mitigate risk.

And it requires that they recognize that communications can be both appropriately limited and significantly more open than they might think.

Simply put, while the government is not a business, there are a wide array of best business practices from which the government would greatly benefit. And none is more important than the degree to which successful businesses have adapted and changed their approach to people and collaboration.

Every day I see examples where clients are engaged with their commercial customers at levels and depths that are exceptionally rare in the government arena.

As some have suggested, most of the business world has moved from the information age to the collaboration age. It’s past time for the government to embrace that shift as well. Finding new ways to make that happen would be a terrific first step to really changing and moving the government forward.”

About the Author

Stan Soloway is a former deputy undersecretary of Defense and former president and chief executive officer of the Professional Services Council. He is now the CEO of Celero Strategies.

https://washingtontechnology.com/articles/2017/03/27/insights-soloway-kushner-message.aspx

 

 

 

AI Chip Saved Google From Building a Dozen New Data Centers

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Image:  Google –  server racks loaded with TPU’s

“WIRED”

“GOOGLE OPERATES WHAT is surely the largest computer network on Earth, a system that comprises custom-built, warehouse-sized data centers spanning 15 locations in four continents.

Rather than double its data center footprint, Google instead built its own computer chip specifically for running deep neural networks, called the Tensor Processing Unit, or TPU.

“It makes sense to have a solution there that is much more energy efficient,” says Norm Jouppi, one of the more than 70 engineers who worked on the chip. In fact, the TPU outperforms standard processors by 30 to 80 times in the TOPS/Watt measure, a metric of efficiency.

GoogleChipInline.jpg

A Neural Network Niche

Google first revealed this custom processor last May, but gave few details. Now, Jouppi and the rest of his team have a released a paper detailing the project, explaining how the chip operates and the particular problems it solves. Google uses the chip solely for executing neural networks, running them the moment when, say, someone barks a command into their Android phone. It’s not used to train the neural network beforehand. But as Jouppi explains, even that still saves the company quite a bit. It didn’t have to build, say, an e

The chip also represents a much larger shift in the world of computer processors. As Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and other internet giants build more and more services using deep neural networks, they’ve all needed specialized chips both for training and executing these AI models. Most companies train their models using GPUs, chips that were originally designed for rendering graphics for games and other highly visual applications but are also suited to the kind of math at the heart of neural networks. And some, including Microsoft and Baidu, the Chinese internet giant, use alternative chips when executing these models as well, much as Google does with the TPU.

The difference is that Google built its own chip from scratch. As a way of reducing the cost and improving the efficiency of its vast online empire, the company builds much of its own data center hardware, including servers and networking gear. Now, it has pushed this work all the way down to individual processors.

In the process, it has also shifted the larger market for chips. Since Google designs its own, for instance, it’s not buying other processors to accommodate the extra load from neural networks. Google going in-house even for specialized tasks has wide implications; like Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft, it’s among the biggest chip buyers on Earth. Meanwhile the big chip makers—including, most notably, Intel—are building a new breed of processor in an effort to move the market back in their direction.

Focused But Versatile

Jouppi joined Google in late 2013 to work on what became the TPU, after serving as a hardware researcher at places like HP and DEC, a kind of breeding ground for many of Google’s top hardware designers. He says the company considered moving its neural networks onto FPGAs, the kind of programmable chip that Microsoft uses. That route wouldn’t have taken as long, and the adaptability of FPGAs means the company could reprogram the chips for other tasks as needed. But tests indicated that these chips wouldn’t provide the necessary speed boost. “There’s a lot overhead with programmable chips,” he explains. “Our analysis showed that an FPGA wouldn’t be any faster than a GPU.”

In the end, the team settled on an ASIC, a chip built from the ground up for a particular task. According to Jouppi, because Google designed the chip specifically for neural nets, it can run them 15 to 30 times faster than general purpose chips built with similar manufacturing techniques. That said, the chip is suited to any breed of neural network—at least as they exist today—including everything from the convolutional neural networks used in image recognition to the long-short-term-memory network used to recognize voice commands. “It’s not wired to one model,” he says.

Google has used the TPU for a good two years, applying it to everything from image recognition to machine translationto AlphaGo, the machine that cracked the ancient game of Go last spring. Not bad—especially considering all the data construction it helped avoid in the process.”

https://www.wired.com/2017/04/building-ai-chip-saved-google-building-dozen-new-data-centers/