Category Archives: Us Economy

CARES Act Delivery Hampered By Old Tech, Bad Data

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Image: “FCW”

FCW

Aspects of the federal government’s economic response to the coronavirus pandemic were marred by outdated state technology software and a crushing volume of beneficiaries that overwhelmed many systems, according to a new report from the watchdog Government Accountability Office.

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“Federal officials said “the ability to easily modify data systems to incorporate new flexibilities varies among state and local agencies,” leading to numerous delays and interoperability challenges across multiple recovery programs related to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act passed in March.

Agencies like Health and Human Services reported that states had to coordinate across different data systems to serve existing beneficiaries as well as a surge of new applicants for programs like Electronic Benefit Transfer and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program payments. Meanwhile, uneven technological sophistication across different states made remote collaboration in the wake of the pandemic caused challenges while coordinating payments for the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program.

According to Department of Labor officials, many states processing unemployment claims were using “information technology systems that date as far back as the 1970s” and crashed under the load of newly laid off workers filing for benefits. The department has provided federal grants, technical assistance and guidance to help modernize those systems, but “relatively few” states conducted adequate load-testing to handle the volume of claims they have received since March.

These systems was already straining, with federal and state governments overseeing more than $2.7 billion in improper unemployment payments in 2019, and overseers worry the numbers will look even worse this year as the government has rushed to respond to the economic fallout of the virus.

“DOL’s experience with temporary UI programs following natural disasters suggests there may be an increased risk of improper payments associated with CARES Act UI programs,” auditors wrote.

A rushed response also led the IRS to send more than a million stimulus checks to citizens who were deceased. As FCW has reported, the agency emphasized speed to get relief dollars into the hands of Americans as soon as possible, leading to processing errors and opening the door to potential fraud. Auditors suggest that implementing 2018 recommendations to align their authentication practices with NIST cybersecurity guidance making better use of death data housed at the Department of Treasury and other agencies could address the problem.

Auditors noted that ” IRS has full access to the death data maintained by the Social Security Administration…but Treasury and its Bureau of the Fiscal Service, which distribute the payments, do not.”

In a response attached to the audit, IRS Chief Risk Officer Tom Brandt said employee worked “around the clock since mid-March to develop new tools and new guidance” to make handle economic impact payments but that “our work is not done yet” and the agency will consider the GAO’s recommendations further.

Information technology challenges and delays also reportedly hampered efforts by the Small Business Administration to process economic injury disaster loans, though details are scarce. The report paints a portrait of disorganized agency that at times unresponsive to oversight. While auditors asked to meet with agency officials on April 13 to get more detailed information on individual loan data and other aspects of the response, SBA didn’t agree to a meeting until June 1 and provided “primarily publicly available information in response to our inquiries” about loan data.

In a statement, House Oversight and Government Reform Chairwoman Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) said the report “provides a comprehensive and independent look at the Trump administration’s incompetent and dangerous response to the coronavirus pandemic” and pressed for more information on IRS stimulus payments to dead Americans. She also called on SBA to address transparency concerns about its loan program “immediately.”

SBA responded to a draft version of the report disputing GAO’s claims, saying they offered staff for interviews and provided 420 pages, including “information on loan numbers and loan volume, the number and type of lenders participating in [the Paycheck Protection Program], loan numbers and loan volume for each type of lender, loan numbers and volume by industry and state” and other figures.

“To be clear, SBA has never refused to provide data to GAO,” wrote William Manger, Chief of Staff for Administrator Jovita Carranza.

Federal agencies were of course not immune from technological troubles, and the audit suggests modernization efforts at the IRS, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and other agencies can better position them to process funds related to the CARES Act.

The report also posits that agencies could make better use of a number of existing contracting authorities and programs, including contracts that allow work to begin before a final agreement is reached, Other Transaction Authority (OTA) that sidestep certain federal regulations to prototype new technologies and higher spending thresholds for emergency purchases.

GAO is currently working on separate reports examining how agencies planned and managed contracts related to the pandemic, reimbursement policies for contractors who performed emergency work and the use of the Defense Product Act.”

First Time Fed Contractors With No Experience Or Competition Receive COVID-19 Supply Contracts

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Image: Getty Images

PROPUBLICA

BlackPoint Distribution is one of more than 445 first-time federal contractors awarded contracts during the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a ProPublica analysis of federal contracting data.

These new contractors have received more than $2 billion in federal spending as of June 25, often without competitive bidding or direct experience in the areas they won deals in.

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“A company created by a former Pentagon official who describes himself as a White House volunteer for Vice President Mike Pence won a $2.4 million dollar contract in May — its first federal award — to supply the Bureau of Prisons with surgical gowns.

Mathew J. Konkler, who worked in the Department of Defense during the George W. Bush administration, formed BlackPoint Distribution Company LLC in August 2019 in Indiana, state records show, but had won no federal work until May 26. The Bureau of Prisons chose the company with limited competition for a contract to supply surgical gowns to its facilities.

It is at least the second contract awarded to a company formed by an individual who had worked in or volunteered for the Trump administration; a company formed by Zach Fuentes, a former White House deputy chief of staff, won a $3 million contract just days after forming to supply face masks to the Indian Health Service. The masks did not meet FDA standards for use in health care settings, and an IHS spokesman said this week that the agency is trying to return the masks to Fuentes. Members of Congress called for investigations into the contract, and the Government Accountability Office now plans to review the deal “in the coming few months, as staff become available,” spokesman Charles Young said last week.

A lawyer for Fuentes’ company said the firm fulfilled all of its obligations to IHS under the contract.

BlackPoint Distribution’s website does not mention Konkler but describes its work as “locating, verifying and successfully delivering vital products and equipment in the midst of extremely challenging environments.” The domain name was registered on April 9, 2020. In its incorporation documents, Konkler is listed as the CEO of BlackPoint Distribution. The only contact information on the site is a web form and an email address. Emails sent to it were returned as undeliverable, and Konkler did not return multiple phone calls and messages seeking comment.

On the website for BlackPoint Creative LLC, another Indiana firm where Konkler serves as managing partner, his bio says that “since 2018, Mr. Konkler has also served as a volunteer at the White House on the staff of the Vice President, Michael R. Pence.”

In a 2018 interview with an Indiana business publication, Konkler said that another of his companies, BlackPoint Strategies was a “full-service consulting firm offering a variety of other advisory services, which focus on strategic marketing, digital marketing and crisis communications,” but also assisted Indiana companies in selling products in international markets. A search of Indiana state contracts yielded no previous or current government contracts for BlackPoint Distribution or other firms that Konkler is involved in.

A spokesman for Pence said that Konkler previously had helped coordinate some of the vice president’s travel but was not currently a volunteer.

“Mr. Konkler is not nor ever has been a member of Vice President Pence’s staff,” said Devin O’Malley in an email. “Mr. Konkler has previously helped in a volunteer capacity doing advance on trips, but has not done so since June 2019. No one in the Office of the Vice President was aware of or had any role in Mr. Konkler receiving this contract.”

Researchers at American Bridge 21st Century, a Democratic opposition research group, identified Konkler’s role.

White House volunteers are not uncommon, and typically they are involved in specific projects such as the correspondence office, which reads and answers messages sent to the administration, or in holiday decoration efforts.

Government ethics experts said that conflict of interest rules do apply to volunteers but depend on the kind of work being done. “I’m worried about conflicts of interest but also about someone who isn’t a government employee knowing the [vice president’s] travel plans,” said Scott Amey, general counsel at the Project on Government Oversight. Konkler’s online biography states that he has held a Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information security clearance.

“The Bureau of Prisons took a risk awarding a $2.5 million contract to a new company,” Amey said. “Let’s hope this ends up as a success story and not another example of a pop-up contractor trying to profit from an emergency situation.”

The contract itself was awarded under urgent circumstances. The Bureau of Prisons did not issue a request for proposals because the pandemic “resulted in the need to limit competition due to compelling urgency,” Justin Long, a spokesman for the bureau, wrote in an email. The contract originally stated June 3 as the date for gown delivery to six different federal prisons, but Long said in an email that the final shipment was delivered on June 25.

BlackPoint’s contract is the largest of all federal contracts that specifically mention “surgical gowns,” according to federal contracting data.

Records show that the agency received three offers and that the contract was awarded under what are known as “simplified acquisition procedures,” a process typically used for contracts involving smaller amounts of money. Because of the national emergency declared in response to the pandemic, the threshold for using simplified procedures was raised to $13 million when purchasing commercial items such as surgical gowns. BlackPoint Distribution’s bid was the lowest, Long said.

After declaring a national emergency on March 13, the federal government relaxed procurement rules to allow federal agencies to skip competitive bidding at times in favor of a more streamlined process that could deliver personal protective equipment and other products quickly. But in doing so, it also has made deals with vendors who were unable to fulfill orders or who have provided inadequate equipment.”

https://www.propublica.org/article/a-company-run-by-a-white-house-volunteer-with-no-experience-in-medical-supplies-got-2.4-million-from-the-feds-for-medical-supplies

US-Mexico-Canada Agreement Enters into Force, Officially Replacing NAFTA

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Image: “U.S. Grains Council

U.S. SMALL BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION “- By Loretta Greene, Associate Administrator

“On July 1, 2020, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) enters into force, officially replacing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

USMCA is a ground-breaking achievement for U.S. small businesses and is the first trade agreement ever to include a full chapter dedicated to small business interests.”

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“Supporting and expanding U.S. small business trade with Mexico and Canada is a top priority for me as the new Associate Administrator for SBA’s Office of International Trade (OIT).  SBA OIT has a team of talented trade finance specialists and finance products to help small businesses involved in international trade to access capital, purchase inventory as a manufacturer or supplier, and expand through trade.  OIT helps ensure small businesses are adequately represented in trade negotiations led by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and educates U.S. small businesses on the wide range of federal and state resources that can increase their ability to compete in international trade. 

The modernization of trade with Mexico and Canada under USMCA is designed to benefit U.S. small businesses and to ensure more balanced trade. U.S. companies with fewer than 500 employees comprise 65 to 70 percent of all identified U.S. companies trading goods with our closest neighbors, according to the most recent statistics. 

Companies selling goods to Mexico and Canada can now achieve expanded export opportunities under the USMCA.   In 2019, U.S. companies sold $292.6 billion in U.S. goods to Canada and $256.5 billion in U.S. goods to Mexico. 

As part of USMCA, SBA OIT launched a new international sales information resource sitewww.sba.gov/tradetools, which is part of the http://www.trade.gov/usmca to assist small businesses to use USMCA. Both links also connect to pages created by Mexico and Canada.  Small businesses can explore the agreement, learn about the rules, and identify where to direct questions and find resources through these information sharing platforms. Resources include a new Customs and Border Protection’s USMCA Center staffed with experts.

As small businesses use the USMCA, they will find important commitments across the agreement including:

  • The Small and Medium-Sized Enterprise Chapter creates a SME Dialogue to consider small business trade opportunities and challenges across the three countries.  This is an important innovation to ensure U.S. small businesses will continue to be heard and considered.
  • The USMCA Cross-Border Trade in ServicesChapter enhances market access.  U.S. small business services can now be provided market access across North America without requirements for a foreign office or foreign representative.
  • The Customs and Trade Facilitation Chapter increases certainty by providing for advance rulings commitments with expanded scope and a free, publicly accessible websites for advance rulings.  
  • Furthermore, to decrease unintended trade costs, this Chapter also provides procedures to correct errors.
  • To support small e-commerce sellers shipping with express services, Canada has raised its de minimis level for North American express shipments for the first time in decades, doubling it from $C20 to $C40 for taxes.
  • Canada will also provide for duty free shipments up to $C150.
  • Mexico will continue to provide tax free treatment for shipments up to $US50 and will provide duty free treatment for shipments up to US$117.
  • The Good Regulatory Practices Chapter, a first in a U.S. trade agreement, specifically includes provisions encouraging the Parties to take into consideration the effects on small businesses in the development and implementation of regulations.  The USMCA’s prioritization of small business traders is exciting as it will increase small business friendly ecosystems in North America and facilitate more trade.

SBA is proud to be part of this achievement. We look forward to helping more U.S. small businesses trade with Mexico and Canada, while supporting those already exporting to further expand their sales. To learn more, visit www.sba.gov/tradetools or contact the SBA International Trade Ombudsman Hotline at (855) 722-4877 or international@sba.gov with questions.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Loretta Greene

Loretta Greene is the Associate Administrator for SBA’s Office of International Trade https://www.sba.gov/person/loretta-greene/

New SBA On-Line Tool Matches Small Business to Lenders

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Image: SBA

SBA

SBA’s Lender Match is an additional resource for pandemic-affected small businesses who have not applied for or received an approved PPP loan to connect with lenders.  

A dedicated online tool for small businesses and non-profits to be matched with Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), Minority Depository Institutions (MDIs), Certified Development Companies (CDCs), Farm Credit System lenders, Microlenders, as well as traditional smaller asset size lenders in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

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“The SBA is focused on assisting eligible borrowers in underserved and disadvantaged communities and connecting them with forgivable PPP loans, especially before the June 30, 2020, application deadline,” said SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza.  “As communities begin to carefully reopen across the country, there are still many more opportunities to provide this assistance to businesses who have yet to access these forgivable loans.  SBA is utilizing these partnerships with CDFIs, MDIs, CDCs, Farm Credit System lenders, Microlenders and many other participating small asset lenders to ensure that access to this emergency funding reaches the most small businesses and their employees in need.”

Lender Match Background

Within two business days after entering their information into the Lender Match platform, a borrower receives an email from lenders who have been matched with them.  The borrower can see lenders’ requests for them to begin an application.  Borrowers are then able to begin the application process directly from the email they receive.

Lender Match was on pause due to CARES Act implementation priorities and loan volume. It is now being reinstated for CDFIs and other Small Asset Lenders.  Leads will only be forwarded to CDFIs and Lenders with < $10b in assets until the PPP program ends on June 30, 2020, at which time Lender Match will be open to all participating SBA Lenders.  Lender Match not only connects borrowers with accessing PPP loans, but also other SBA lending products, such as 7(a), 504, Microloans, and Community Advantage loans which are currently offering debt relief.

About the U.S. Small Business Administration
The U.S. Small Business Administration makes the American dream of business ownership a reality. As the only go-to resource and voice for small businesses backed by the strength of the federal government, the SBA empowers entrepreneurs and small business owners with the resources and support they need to start, grow or expand their businesses, or recover from a declared disaster. It delivers services through an extensive network of SBA field offices and partnerships with public and private organizations. To learn more, visit www.sba.gov.­”

Servant Leadership- A Long Term Change To America’s Work Infrastructure?

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Image: “Servant Leadership.ca

WASHINGTON TECHNOLOGYBy Bruce Lyman

As many companies consider making the transition to remote work more permanent, there are four areas leaders should emphasize to create a successful corporate culture in a coronavirus pandemic-era remote work environment.

They all begin with servant leadership – putting employees and their work first by creating an environment in which employees are safe, challenged, effective, motivated and productive.

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“As the COVID-19 pandemic eases and economies reopen, many companies and people will return to the office. However, according to a recent survey, remote work may become even more popular. The socially responsible coronavirus-related quarantines of the last few months may have created a long-term change to America’s work infrastructure, especially as employees show greater happiness and productivity while working remotely and modern technology makes this option easier than ever.

Once this [Servant Leadership} is accomplished, other leadership goals like organizational performance, profits, and cost-cutting will become more easily — and more naturally — accomplished.

Ensure employees and their families are safe

All servant leaders will agree the focus should be on the employee, and the leader’s job is to block and tackle to enable employees to be effective. More so than in a normal environment, however, this time of COVID-19 pandemic and quarantines require that employees know that their safety and that of their families are important to the company. If the employee is experiencing a battle between protecting their family and meeting the demands at work and the employee does not feel the company cares, the employee will not be as committed to company work or to achieving company goals.

Empower the team

Second, great leaders empower employees to work together in teams to develop ways to get the work done in the most efficient way. Employees who are told what to do may grudgingly follow orders — or they may not. Empowered employees know what work needs to get done, and are creative and hard-working enough to create partial or complete solutions on their own. Leaders need to spend their time identifying goals, providing guidance and offering support as opposed micromanaging daily staff activity and behavior.

This strategy allows the most flexibility for the team and puts results ahead of artificial measures like number of hours worked. It also allows for long-term efficiency because the natural ebb and flow of each team member will, over time, increase their individual contributions as well as their synergy and effectiveness with the rest of the team.

Communicate

Third, create an environment of continual communication. It is easy to fall into the trap of using email or text to task others or to share work products. While this can be an effective way to transfer documents and exchange data, e-mail and texts do little to build team cohesiveness, ensure employees are challenged, or disclose areas where individual or team performance that can be improved. Have team meetings on-line and, as the leader, reach out to each employee often to discuss their work and their life, listening to what they need to be successful.

Effective intra-company communication also creates opportunities to catch and correct employee errors, dis-engagement, and other performance issues before they become long-term problems. Great leaders know that almost every issue is personal – which means that listening is often more important than talking to employees, especially employees experiencing personal or professional challenges.

Create a modern governance structure

Employee and company performance are best measured through effective corporate governance structures. Leaders must be able to evaluate individual and team productivity objectively — and correct issues or celebrate high performance. If each employee and each team understand the definition of success, they will know how to manage their time and their work-life balance to achieve this success. If they have input into the definition of their success, they will have more buy-in and be more motivated to achieve personal, team, and company goals.

Effective leaders create a culture which clearly defines and a governance structure that enforces the company’s ethos, practices and client focus. This not only provides focus and creates a culture of high performance for current employees, but it also increases the likelihood of hiring highly motivated, effective employees from the start.

With a high performing, innovative, empowered team, companies will outperform the competition and increase revenue, market share and profit.”

https://washingtontechnology.com/articles/2020/06/10/insights-lyman-team-optimization.aspx

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Bruce Lyman

Bruce Lyman is a former Air Force Colonel and the CEO of Parabilis, a small business government contractor lending company.

Cool It With the ‘America In Decline’ Talk

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Image: AP/ Rich Pedroncelli

DEFENSE ONE

The bottom line: the notion that the United States is shrinking to a shell of its former glory or somehow withering in the face of challenges from its strategic competitors leaves out all nuance and simplifies a highly complicated world into clickbait.

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“With more than 40 million Americans out of work, demonstrations rocking cities coast-to-coast, and projections for a dire economic picture this summer, you can be forgiven for believing the United States is on a rapid decline. 

The conventional wisdom now emerging is one of a distracted, bumbling, and fumbling America ceding the international playing field to strategic competitors and outright adversaries. In the words of a featured June 2 report in the New York Times: “with the United States looking inward, preoccupied by the fear of more viral waves, unemployment soaring over 20 percent and nationwide protests ignited by deadly police brutality, its competitors are moving to fill the vacuum, and quickly.”

While this “U.S. is in decline” narrative is exceedingly popular today, it also happens to be inaccurate — and dangerous. If it becomes widely accepted as fact that Washington is “retreating” and leaving adversaries to “fill the vacuum,” then U.S. policymakers responsible for formulating and executing foreign policy will be increasingly susceptible to making bad policy.

We need to clear the record: discussions about the United States losing its luster, or on its way to meeting the same fate as the Roman Empire, are vastly overblown. To continue making these arguments is to wipe away all context and ignore recent history.

Much has already been written about China’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea, perhaps the world’s most important shipping lane and an area where multiple countries have set out competing sovereignty claims. This year alone, the People’s Liberation Army-Navy has sunk a Vietnamese fishing vessel in disputed waters off the Paracel Islands and engaged in a month-long standoff with a Malaysian oil exploration ship in waters claimed by China, Malaysia, and Vietnam. Beijing has become noticeably more confrontational with Taiwan, dropping the word “peaceful” from its reunification plans and reportedly preparing a military drill simulating the seizure of Taiwanese-held Pratas Island. And as Beijing´s move on Hong Kong last week shows, the Chinese Communist Party is getting bolder and asserting itself on issues it has long considered as vitally important to its national security, despite universal international condemnation. 

We are led to believe that China’s recent activity in the South China Sea is some direct product of a U.S. seemingly incapable of maintaining a global leadership role. This, however, discounts the fact that Beijing has long viewed the waterway as its exclusive domain and has in fact spent the last 25 years coercing, cajoling, and otherwise chipping away at its neighbors’ competing claims through various military maneuvers. To chalk up China’s activity in the Pacific to a lack of U.S. resolve or leadership is to overstate Washington’s ability to deter Chinese behavior in this domain. If this mistaken premise is accepted outright, it will almost certainly convince Washington that a more intensive U.S. military response would be deter future Chinese assertiveness.

It’s important to note that China has continued to improve its posture in the South and East China Seas despite an uptick in U.S. freedom-of-navigation operations and B-1 bomber flights in international airspace. 

Nor does the present narrative explain the recent spate of Russian interceptions of U.S. aircraft in international airspace, which are not exactly a new phenomenon either. On May 26, Russian Su-35 aircraft challenged a U.S. Navy P-8A flying in the eastern Mediterranean in what the U.S. Navy called an “unsafe and unprofessional” operation. Five weeks earlier, a similar Russian aircraft intercepted another U.S. surveillance plane in the same area. The U.S. Air Force has reciprocated; on April 9, U.S. F-22s escorted two Russian maritime surveillance aircraft after they entered the Alaskan Air Identification Zone. Such encounters are likely to continuee, which is precisely why it is urgent for U.S. and Russian officials to establish far more durable channels of communication in order to deescalate the situation and ensure these types of relatively regular incidents don´t result in a miscalculation or mid-air collision. 

Over the previous week, U.S. officials have suggested Russia is making a power-play in North Africa and establishing its own strategic base in Libya. According to U.S. Africa Command, more than a dozen Russian warplanes recently flew to Eastern Libya purportedly to assist its partner in the civil war, renegade Libyan general Khalifa Haftar, after a series of humiliating setbacks on the battlefield. Russian investment in Libya´s conflict, however, hasn´t exactly panned out the way the Kremlin anticipated. 

Haftar has turned out to be an unreliable, mercurial, stubborn wannabe strongman whose  with other armed, tribal factions is fueled by little more than contempt for the U.N.-recognized government in Tripoli. Russian President Vladimir Putin was publicly embarrassed last December, when Haftar walked out of a Kremlin-orchestrated peace conference. Negotiations remain practically nonexistent, which suggests Russia will soon face an unenviable choice between doubling down on a war that shows no signs of abating or disengaging and looking feckless.

As for Russia´s presence in Syria, this too has become an albatross around Moscow´s neck. While Russian air support in 2015 turned the war around and saved Bashar al-Assad from death or exile, Moscow´s investment in Syria since the conflict erupted more than nine years ago has yet to translate into concrete security benefits for the Kremlin. Notwithstanding the establishment of a few Russian airbases and friendly lease terms for the warm-port in Tartus, Moscow´s so-called victory in Syria consists of nothing more than a broken country led by a government that is corrupt, largely isolated from the West, and woefully incompetent in delivering basic services. Syria´s economy is in utter shambles as a result of the war, a rash of international economic sanctions, and outright mismanagement. Assad, the man the Kremlin has backed despite significant harm to its reputation, remains intransigent on even the slightest compromise with his opponents—leading Russia itself to question whether its support of the Syrian dictator was worth the cost.  

Developing a foreign policy that meets U.S. interests requires working from accurate assessments and the world as it really is. Relying on a black-and-white view of international affairs is risky business and could very well produce policies that will truly weaken the United States.”

https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2020/06/cool-it-america-decline-talk/165913/

Marine Veteran Recalls 1971 Anti-War Protests In Washington D.C.

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Image: International Center
on Nonviolent Conflict

MARINE TIMESBy David Nelson

(Courtesy of David Nelson)

The caption under the photograph of the solitary Marine guarding the Treasury Building indicates that Treasury was the farthest point of Marine control in Washington.

Wow! How difficult is it to imagine a portion of our nation’s capital being under “Marine control”? Have we not progressed much in 49 years in learning to peacefully resolve our nation’s issues?

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Marines stand guard on a bridge in Washington in 1971. (Courtesy of David Nelson)

“During the first six months of 1971, I was consumed with making it through Marine Corps officer training at The Basic School in Quantico, Virginia. I was not particularly aware of Vietnam anti-war protests going on around the country and close by in Washington, D.C. When I did think of the protests, I resented the demonstrators since I was a firm believer in law and order. Also, some of the demonstrations were aimed at our military personnel who were serving, or had served, in Vietnam. That sentiment was particularly hurtful to me, as I had lost a childhood friend and fellow Marine, Lee Herron, who had died heroically in Vietnam in 1969.

Why should any of our nation’s volunteers or draftees be looked down upon for having gone where our country’s leadership had sent them? It was a dark period in our country, much as today is. Why should any ethnicity or group of people in our nation be looked down upon today?

Especially since I had come from Houston, the spring of 1971 seemed to be an extremely cold one that lasted until early June. Going from doing indoor work in Houston to doing pushups in the snow at Quantico seemed like a surreal experience.

As I arrived at the school in Quantico, Virginia, one morning in early May, my class of young officers was told that the field exercises for the next day or so had been canceled. A number of the instructors had been sent to Washington, D.C., to guard a number of government installations in the city, and to keep the major bridges open. The troops also took with them various items of equipment, including a number of the Vietnam-era radios, the so-called PRC-25 radios.

Since those PRC-25 radios were critical to our TBS-planned field exercises, the loss of them to the troops guarding D.C. meant that our missions were “scrubbed” until a later date. But most of my class members and I were pleased at the turn of events, as we got to spend a couple of extremely cold days indoors.

The Quantico Sentry newspaper caption reads: “Marines queried newsmen and demonstrators alike at approaches to George Mason Memorial Bridge. All pedestrians were closely screened before crossing bridges.” (Courtesy of David Nelson)
The Quantico Sentry newspaper caption reads: “Marines queried newsmen and demonstrators alike at approaches to George Mason Memorial Bridge. All pedestrians were closely screened before crossing bridges.” (Courtesy of David Nelson)

I did not keep many articles and photos from the local Quantico Sentry newspaper during that spring, but I did keep several photos and the main article that showed and described the anti-war protests going on in Washington, D.C. The photo that stood out to me more than any other one depicts some Marines screening a long-haired young man and a newsman, as they approached the George Mason Memorial Bridge. I found the contrast quite striking.

On the one hand, there are the Marines in full uniform and obviously with short hair. Approaching them is an assumed civilian demonstrator with long hair down past his shoulders, and a newsman wearing a suit and neatly dressed. The caption accompanying the photograph reads as follows: “Marines queried newsmen and demonstrators alike at approaches to George Mason Memorial Bridge. All pedestrians were closely screened before crossing bridges.”

Another searing photo depicts a Marine Chinook helicopter with Marines onboard from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, about to land on the grounds next to the Washington Monument. According to the photo’s caption, the purpose was to “head off demonstrators moving toward the Treasury Building.” I have always wondered whether there was a concern of demonstrators attempting to loot the Treasury Building! But if that were the case, the Treasury Building was guarded only by a sole Marine, at least in the published photo.

The caption under the photograph of the solitary Marine guarding the Treasury Building indicates that “Treasury was the farthest point of Marine control in Washington.” Wow! How difficult is it to imagine a portion of our nation’s capital being under “Marine control”? Are the protests currently in progress and being planned — are they going to result in Washington, D.C., and perhaps other cities, being under some degree of military control?

Are the protests currently in progress and being planned — are they going to result in Washington, D.C., and perhaps other cities, being under some degree of military control?”

https://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/your-military/2020/06/04/marine-vet-recalls-1971-anti-war-protests-in-washington/

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

David Nelson served in the Marine Corps for three years before separating as a captain in 1973. He lives in Houston.

Air Force “AF Ventures” Small Business Initiative

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Photo by Master Sgt. John Hughel

NATIONAL DEFENSE MAGAZINE

The effort is a collaboration between the Air Force Small Businesses Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer Program and AFWERX to invest in small businesses that may have technology useful to the military, according to a news release.

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“The Air Force is moving forward with an initiative to bring innovative technologies into the service, according to a top acquisition official.

“AFVentures is our process to work with companies that — at least for now — are mainly targeting commercial success,” Will Roper, the Air Force’s assistant secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, said June 4 during a Decode webinar. “It’s not perfect, but I think we’ve come a long way.”

The service is giving out awards through different levels of “bets,” he noted, with “small bets” totaling between $50,000 to $75,000 and “medium bets” totaling between $1 million to $3 million, Roper said.

“The process as it exists today, does about 1,000 very small entry level awards to get companies in,” he said. “The second step is where we move up to medium-sized bets.”

Companies chosen for the small awards don’t have to have a concrete idea of how their products can be used by the military, he noted.

“You don’t have to understand the mission you’re targeting, but if you have a really interesting technology, you’re pretty sure there’s a match with the military, [it’s] meant to get you in and find your potential customer,” he said.

Products chosen for the “medium-sized bets” allow the company to develop a prototype of the technology and pitch it, he noted.

“If they select you for one of those medium bets, well, that’s a pretty good indication of a product market set,” he said. “The fact that we selected you means you have a better chance of getting access to that broader market we represent.”

The service is also investing in a handful of “big bets” from $5 million to $50 million, he said. This would allow a company to prototype, produce and sell its product. In March, Roper said the service has a tentative combined “big bet” awards of about $1 billion total in contracts that will go to over 550 small businesses.

“Our hope is that as companies become amazing successes that they don’t view themselves as either commercial or military,” he said. “We hope that they’ll view themselves as tech companies that have a … history or legacy with the military.”

https://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/articles/2020/6/4/air-force-fleshes-out-afventures-small-business-initiative

Federal Agency Initiatives To Make Selling To The Government Easier

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Image: “Strategic HR Solutions”

WASHINGTON TECHNOLOGY” By Jarrod McAdoo

Contracting with the federal government is often frustrating, but agencies are trying hard to broaden their base of participating businesses. But it is incumbent on the business sector to try harder too.

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“Selling to the federal government can be complicated, particularly for startups, smaller companies, and those unfamiliar with government contracting. The procurement process creates a jungle of barriers including crushing complexity, awkward communications and significant expense just to try and compete for business. 

As a result, a number of companies with innovative products and services have chosen either not to work with government at all, or have given up in futility after trying. That represents a real loss to the public as well as to the business community, and it’s one that federal procurement professionals are well aware of.

In a recent podcast underwritten by my company, two procurement officials – Sandra Oliver Schmidt from the Department of Homeland Security and Jaime Garcia from the IRS – talked about some of the ways their agencies were responding to these acquisition barriers and using innovative approaches to the purchasing process. 

DHS for example, established a Procurement Innovation Lab whose teams are testing the flexibilities built into the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR). Its mission is to reduce the barriers to competition and bring more non-traditional companies into the supplier mix by creating their own terms and making multiple awards from a single solicitation. Together with the Department of Defense and General Services Administration, the agency established the Commercial Solutions Opening Pilot, which allows participants greater discretion and flexibility in buying innovative products valued below $10 million.

The IRS is also attempting to push the envelope with its Pilot IRS program. Its goal is to work with non-traditional and small business to quickly prototype and test emerging technologies. It is also looking carefully at project phasing to avoid becoming locked into a single vendor’s solution when there are better options available. 

In addition to the complexity of federal contracting terms and conditions, one of the most off-putting aspects of selling to the federal government has been the cost of writing a proposal. Proposals that follow FAR’s prescriptive guidelines are lengthy, time-consuming, and expensive to prepare. Whereas a commercial deal can often be closed in a matter of weeks or even days, the federal sales cycle can run anywhere from 12 to 18 months. Beyond that, it has been somewhere between difficult and impossible for potential suppliers to meet with the decision-makers who hold the fate of business proposals in their hands.

One way that DHS is trying to open up the process is with phased proposals. The first phase could involve a lightweight proposal of perhaps five pages, or maybe even a 30-minute phone interview. The agency then advises the company on how competitive it thinks the idea is and leaves up to the vendor to decide whether to move ahead with the detailed proposal. The agency is also welcoming oral presentations and product demonstrations using a paperless process. Not only does it give suppliers a better opportunity to showcase their wares, but it gives the government more confidence in making an award. Initiatives like these also show suppliers that the government is cognizant of small suppliers’ costs and resource limitations, which allow suppliers to remain willing to engage across multiple bids and projects and preserves a competitive and innovative supply base. “

https://washingtontechnology.com/articles/2020/06/02/insights-mcadoo-procurement-initiatives.aspx

SBA Advocacy Office Releases 2020 Small Business State/Territory Profile Stats

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Image: SBA

“U.S. SMALL BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION”

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.

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“This year’s profiles report on state economic growth and employment. The data included in each profile answers the following questions:

  • How many small businesses are in my state?
  • How many jobs do they create?
  • Which industries have the most small businesses and small business jobs?
  • How many establishments opened and closed?
  • How many exports are small businesses responsible for?
  • Which counties in my state have the most small businesses?

The files below contain the 50 individual state profiles, plus profiles for the United States, District of Columbia, and five U.S. territories.

2020 Small Business Profiles
AlabamaAlaskaArizona
ArkansasCaliforniaColorado
ConnecticutDelawareDistrict of Columbia
FloridaGeorgiaHawaii
IdahoIllinoisIndiana
IowaKansasKentucky
LouisianaMaineMaryland
MassachusettsMichiganMinnesota
MississippiMissouriMontana
NebraskaNevadaNew Hampshire
New JerseyNew MexicoNew York
North CarolinaNorth DakotaOhio
OklahomaOregonPennsylvania
Rhode IslandSouth CarolinaSouth Dakota
TennesseeTexasUtah
VermontVirginiaWashington
West VirginiaWisconsinWyoming
American SamoaGuamNorthern Marianas
Puerto RicoU.S. Virgin Islands 
United StatesAll Profiles 

Notes on the data and methodology used are available here.”