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

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DEFENSE NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pentagon Raises Contractor Progress Payment Threshold To Keep Cash Flowing

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Image: Levelset.com

WASHINGTON POST

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blow-Back Possible

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

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

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

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

Taxpayer-Ripoff?

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

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

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

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

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


Returning Troops Denied Water, Bathrooms Under Quarantine

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(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Zach VanDyke via AP)

MILITARY TIMES

 “It wasn’t the welcome home that U.S. soldiers expected when they returned from war zones in the Middle East in the past week.

When their planes landed at Fort Bliss, Texas, they were herded into buses, denied water and the use of bathrooms, then quarantined in packed barracks, with little food or access to the outdoors.

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“This is no way to treat Soldiers returning from war,” one soldier told The Associated Press in an email.

The soldiers posted notes on social media about the poor conditions. Their complaints got quick attention from senior Army and Pentagon leaders. Now changes are under way at Fort Bliss and at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, where the first soldiers placed under quarantine also complained of poor, cramped conditions.

Quarantining troops on military bases is becoming a greater challenge for military officials. While continuing missions and training, they also have to try to prevent the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus by enforcing two-week quarantines of soldiers who have spent months overseas.

In one of Bragg’s remote training areas, large white tents have popped up over the past few days to house hundreds of 82nd Airborne Division troops returning to the base from Afghanistan and Middle East deployments. The tent city, being called Forward Operating Base Patriot (FOB Patriot), materialized almost overnight, after commanders realized the limits of the barracks when troops began arriving on Saturday.

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said senior leaders were looking into soldiers’ complaints and seeking answers from Fort Bliss. Pentagon chief spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters that Defense Secretary Mark Esper had heard about the problems and “his response is, we can do better and we need to do better.”

Hoffman said the commander at Fort Bliss has met with all of the quarantined soldiers and “talked through some of their concerns. The spokesman added, “We are going to do better. This is something unusual for all these bases to be handling, and they are doing the best they can.”

In the early days of the quarantine, soldiers at Fort Bliss posted photos on social media showing foam food trays dotted with small piles of peas and rice. On Thursday, in an email statement, Fort Bliss described changes that have been made.

“The dining facility we initially used could not keep pace with demand,” said the statement. “The portions were inadequate, and led to our number one complaint. Fort Bliss leaders saw photos and immediately took action.”

One soldier, in an email to the AP, said when soldiers got off the plane from Afghanistan, they were loaded onto buses and did not get water or permission to use the bathroom for hours.

“We can’t walk down the hall, go outside, or exercise. We finally received drinking water at 0900 this morning,” said the soldier, describing Day Two. “The Army was not prepared, nor equipped to deal with this quarantine instruction and it has been implemented very poorly. ”

The AP is not identifying soldiers who described the conditions, in order to protect their identity so they could speak freely and not worry about potential reprisals.

Fort Bliss said that the food service plan has already increased to give troops three hot meals a day and that soldiers are now getting donated snacks and are allowed to order food and have it delivered to a central location. The troops are also allowed to go outside more and will get more access to gym equipment.

Another soldier at Bliss, who had been deployed to Kuwait, said in a message that the food has gotten better and troops are now allowed to go outside more. But as they begin Day Six there, packages have been held up and there has been no access to laundry facilities.

At Fort Bragg, some of the first soldiers to return on Saturday were sent to rooms in barracks that had been quickly emptied. Soldiers previously living in those rooms were moved to make room.

According to officials, soldiers are being separated into groups that returned from overseas together for the two-week quarantine. But realizing the need for more space, the 82nd Airborne decided on Saturday to build a new facility, and on Monday morning the first tent stakes were being pounded into the ground.

Because the area has been used for training in the past, workers were able to quickly bring in and hook up shower and toilet trailers and set up food tents and other facilities. By Thursday, several hundred troops had already moved in.

The 82nd Airborne’s 3rd Brigade has been deployed to Afghanistan, and is steadily returning home. Members of the 1st Brigade had gone to Kuwait and Iraq to help bolster security due to threats from Iranian-backed militias. Some members of that group have also come home.

According to Army Lt. Col. Mike Burns, a spokesman for the 82nd Airborne, FOB Patriot will be able to hold as many as 600 soldiers, but numbers have been changing as adjustments are made. He said Maj. Gen. James Mingus wanted to ensure that the returning troops knew “we were proud of what they accomplished and were doing everything we can to take care of them and stop the spread of the virus.”

Of the 1,700 82nd Airborne troops that have returned so far to Bragg, a bit less than half are housed in barracks and at FOB Patriot, and the rest are in quarantine in their homes. As of Friday about 200 were at FOB Patriot.

Anyone who exhibits symptoms of the virus will go into isolation and medical treatment.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three weeks to six weeks to recover.”

https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-military/2020/03/20/military-works-to-improve-conditions-for-quarantined-troops/

Many Contractors Awaiting Pandemic Guidance From Government Agencies

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FCW

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contractor telework

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

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

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

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

Excusable delays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Understanding The Challenge Of Short Attention Spans

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Image – “Linked In” – Bristin Appukuttan

WASHINGTON TECHNOLOGY” – By Mark Amtower

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mark Amtower
Mark Amtower

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

Tips On Finding That Perfect Mentor

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Image: Micro Mentor https://www.micromentor.org/

MICROMENTOR

Congratulations! You’ve taken the leap and registered on the MicroMentor platform. Now you’re ready to find the perfect mentor to help your business grow and meet its goals. Now what? How can you make the most out of your MicroMentor experience? 

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  1. Create a strong profile: When creating your profile, be sure to give a simple explanation of your business. Be sure to include your business vision, mission, needs, and the problem you’re trying to solve. It’s also not a bad idea to upload a professional photo to invoke confidence for potential mentors. Entrepreneurs that follow these steps are 10 times more likely to find a mentor, so make sure you create the most compelling profile that you can.
  2. Be patient: Finding the perfect mentor may require patience. If you don’t receive a response from a potential mentor right away, don’t be discouraged. They are graciously donating their time and may be unable to get back to you due to busy schedules. It’s also advisable that you reach out to various mentors to improve your chances of finding the perfect mentor. Keep trying! It’ll be worth the wait.
  3. Don’t rush: Once you’ve identified a mentor, don’t rush through the “getting to know you” phase. Ask him or her questions about their experience and how they got to where they are today. Tell them more about yourself and why you decided to start your business or come up with your business idea. Building a solid foundation will help your mentor to better understand how to help you, and you’ll be more comfortable when you put into the action the next piece of advice to…
  4. Have a clear vision of what you want to gain from your mentor/mentee relationship: When you begin your search for a mentor, there’s a few questions you should consider. Think about what dynamic you hope to have with your mentor. How will both of you feel more comfortable communicating? And how often? How can they help you accomplish your business goals and the benchmarks you have set? How can they help you track your progress and reach your personal deadline? Your mentorship will be more productive and fruitful if you and your mentor can come to agreement on a game plan.
  5. Have an open mind and follow through: Our mentors are here to help you think outside of the box to solve your business problems. Keep an open mind when receiving their feedback, as they could encourage you to think outside of the box and offer you advice you need to better your business and help differentiate yourself from your competitors. Mentor Eleftheria Egel’s experience on MicroMentor has shown her the importance of being “open-minded, respectful and patient”. “There is no right and wrong. It is simply a different way of doing things. It may take a little more time to coordinate. However, if mentor and mentee are aligned in their vision and goals, the whole relationship and experience will run smoothly and successfully”, she explains.

MicroMentor understands that owning your own business, while rewarding, can be challenging. We also believe that mentoring is a powerful resource for entrepreneurs to receive the guidance they need so that they’re not navigating their journey alone. To learn more about how MicroMentor has already helped our community of entrepreneurs, have a look at our 2019 Impact Report.”

https://www.micromentor.org/blog/making-the-most/

Faster Qualification/Expanded Access – Disaster Assistance Loans For Small Businesses

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Once an economic injury declaration has been made in a state or territory, the new rules allow the affected small businesses within the state or territory to apply for a disaster assistance loan.

SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans offer up to $2 million in assistance for each affected small business.

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“NEWS RELEASE

PRESS OFFICE Release Date: March 17, 2020                      

Contact: Jennifer.Kelly@sba.gov, (202) 205-7036

Release Number: 20-26                    

Follow us on TwitterFacebookBlogs & Instagram

WASHINGTON – Today, as part of the Trump Administration’s aggressive, whole-of-government efforts to combat the Coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19) and minimize economic disruption to the nation’s 30 million small businesses, U.S. Small Business Administration Administrator Jovita Carranza issued revised criteria for states or territories seeking an economic injury declaration related to Coronavirus (COVID-19). The relaxed criteria will have two immediate impacts:

  • Faster, Easier Qualification Process for States Seeking SBA Disaster Assistance. Historically, the SBA has required that any state or territory impacted by disaster provide documentation certifying that at least five small businesses have suffered substantial economic injury as a result of a disaster, with at least one business located in each declared county/parish. Under the just-released, revised criteria, states or territories are only required to certify that at least five small businesses within the state/territory have suffered substantial economic injury, regardless of where those businesses are located.
  • Expanded, Statewide Access to SBA Disaster Assistance Loans for Small Businesses. SBA disaster assistance loans are typically only available to small businesses within counties identified as disaster areas by a Governor. Under the revised criteria issued today, disaster assistance loans will be available statewide following an economic injury declaration. This will apply to current and future disaster assistance declarations related to Coronavirus.

“We’re very encouraged that banks and financial institutions are responding to the President’s efforts to mobilize an unprecedented public-private response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. As a result, most small businesses that need credit during these uncertain times will be able to obtain it. However, our goal is to ensure that credit is available to any and all small businesses that need credit but are unable to access it on reasonable terms through traditional lending channels,” said Administrator Carranza. “To that end, the SBA is relaxing the criteria through which states or territories may formally request an economic injury declaration, effective immediately. Furthermore, once an economic injury declaration has been made in a state or territory, the new rules allow the affected small businesses within the state or territory to apply for a disaster assistance loan.” SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans offer up to $2 million in assistance for each affected small business. These loans can provide vital economic support to small businesses to help overcome the temporary loss of revenue they are experiencing.

Process for Accessing SBA’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Disaster Relief Lending

  • The U.S. Small Business Administration is offering designated states and territories low-interest federal disaster loans for working capital to small businesses suffering substantial economic injury as a result of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). Upon a request received from a state’s or territory’s Governor, SBA will issue under its own authority, as provided by the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act that was recently signed by the President, an Economic Injury Disaster Loan declaration.
  • Any such Economic Injury Disaster Loan assistance declaration issued by the SBA makes loans available statewide to small businesses and private, non-profit organizations to help alleviate economic injury caused by the Coronavirus (COVID-19).
  • SBA’s Office of Disaster Assistance will coordinate with the state’s or territory’s Governor to submit the request for Economic Injury Disaster Loan assistance.
  • Once a declaration is made, the information on the application process for Economic Injury Disaster Loan assistance will be made available to affected small businesses within the state.
  • These loans may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that can’t be paid because of the disaster’s impact. The interest rate is 3.75% for small businesses. The interest rate for non-profits is 2.75%.
  • SBA offers loans with long-term repayments in order to keep payments affordable, up to a maximum of 30 years. Terms are determined on a case-by-case basis, based upon each borrower’s ability to repay.
  • SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans are just one piece of the expanded focus of the federal government’s coordinated response, and the SBA is strongly committed to providing the most effective and customer-focused response possible.

For additional information, please visit the SBA disaster assistance website at SBA.gov/Disaster.”

Secure Teleworking Guidance From National Institute Of Standards And Technology (NIST)

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“FCW”

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has issued  advice for organizations that must communicate remotely, warning that the lackadaisical security policies of the past will no longer cut it as hackers and spies seek to take advantage of the increased attack surface created by the surge in nationwide remote work.

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“Workers across the country are being sent home and told to telework as the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread. As virtual meetings and other online interactions become a reality for many federal agencies and businesses, so too do the related cybersecurity threats.

“Unfortunately, if virtual meetings are not set up correctly, former coworkers, disgruntled employees, or hackers might be able to eavesdrop,” wrote Jeff Greene, director of NIST’s National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence. “Using some basic precautions can help ensure that your meetings are an opportunity to collaborate and work effectively — and not the genesis of a data breach or other embarrassing and costly security or privacy incident.”

Greene laid out a number of suggestions for keeping virtual work discussions private and safe, most of which are simple and likely to already be specified (if not always heeded) in an organization’s existing policies.

Limiting reuse of access codes for phone meetings along with one-time PINs and multifactor authentication can help ensure that only authorized users are on more sensitive calls. For virtual or web meetings, waiting rooms and dashboards can help monitor attendees and keep track of unnamed or generic visitors. They can also help an organization keep track of who is (and isn’t) supposed to be connected.

Not every work meeting will require the use of every step. Greene encouraged organizations to use different protocols for low-, medium- and high-risk calls, and NIST developed an easy-to-use graphic to help workers determine when to use what option. More sensitive work may require tactics like distributing PINs at the last minute, identifying all attendees and then locking the meeting and ensuring that all attendees are connecting from approved devices.

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has also warned that widespread telework could open up new opportunities for digital compromise. The agency put out its own security guidance last week for organizations relying on enterprisewide virtual private networks, including testing VPNs for mass usage; ensuring VPNs, network infrastructure devices and end-user devices are patched and up to date; ramping up log reviews, attack detection and incident response and recovery activities; and implementing multifactor authentication wherever possible.”

https://fcw.com/articles/2020/03/17/nist-advice-virtual-online-meetings.aspx?oly_enc_id=

Spinning Up Telework Presents Procurement Challenges

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Image: Eztalks.com

FCW

There’s good news and bad news for agencies looking to ramp up telework in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, according to federal contracting experts.

The good news is federal acquisition contracts are set up for quick acquisition of essential telework equipment, such as laptops or tablets, said acquisition experts FCW spoke with. The bad news could be that online scammers are watching the expanding tele-workforce with great interest.

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“The emphasis on agency telework is growing, and although most agency employees are already assigned computers, there may be some hardware gaps to fill as workforces move to remote locations.

Federal governmentwide acquisition contracts, such as NASA’s Services for Enterprise-Wide Procurement, the General Services Administration’s ordering schedule and the National Institutes of Health Information Technology Acquisition and Assessment Center (NITAAC) are set up to help quickly fill laptops, tablets and other IT commodity orders, they said.

“In general, SEWP is an agile acquisition vehicle that allows for quick turn-around times for quotes and provides points of contacts for all contract holders to facilitate quick communications,” Joanne Woytek, SEWP manager told FCW. The GWAC, she said, has not seen any specific increase related to teleworking support, so far.

“For laptops, tablets, printers, agencies have purchase cards,” Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president and counsel for the Professional Services Council, told FCW. “Orders placed on SEWP and federal schedules can get responses within 24 hours,” he said, adding that speedier responses could pump up costs.

SEWP posted a warning on its webpage at the beginning of March saying delays in some order could result from stresses on the supply chain.

In an email to FCW on March 11, Woytek again noted that delivery of technology “is limited by the capacity of industry.” She said order delivery “is going to be on a case by case basis and greatly dependent on the complexity, configuration and size of an order.”

However, the demand for laptop and tablet computers from federal agencies during the next few weeks, probably won’t be too steep, said Roger Waldron, president of the Coalition for Government Procurement.

Agencies, however, should be working diligently to “level set” their computer and network needs for the coming weeks, as well as keep informed on their existing IT contracts and how to leverage GWACs, such as SEWP, to back fill last-minute IT and IT commodity needs.

Even though agencies will probably have the resources to get any necessary computers for new telecommuters, another acquisition expert said they face a sneaky obstacle — telework-savvy cyber adversaries.

Bad actors are on the lookout for new teleworkers, as those workers open up a vulnerability to protected networks, said Evan Wolff, a partner at Crowell & Moring, who co-chairs the firm’s Privacy & Cybersecurity Group and is a member its Government Contracts Group.

Targeted phishing emails and other cyber crime techniques could be a challenge for federal IT managers with increasing numbers of telecommuters, Wolff told FCW in an interview.

Federal IT managers, he said, may not have appropriately secure infrastructure in place to lock down all communications. Additionally, simple things, such as shared living space with non-government employee roommates, could also present issues, if the federal teleworker has a sensitive post, he said.

“We’re already seeing a focus on customized phishing” aimed at non-government telecommuters as the coronavirus spreads, said Wolff. That wave of targeted remote worker phishing email is probably coming to new federal telecommuters too.

“Bad actors understand a target’s leadership and the types of appropriate email” that could temp them into taking the bait, he said.”


Government Must Make Sure Contracts Cover Remote Work And Classified Access Logistics

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DEFENSE ONE

‘It is really important to adjust and amend contracts so that contractors can continue to work with the government counterparts.’ If that’s teleworking, that’s teleworking, if it’s moving to a different location, it’s moving to a different location.”

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As millions of Americans prepare to work from home in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Defense Department managers and the companies that support them are waiting for guidance on just how they should be clearing their offices.

Set aside the workers who build planes, ships, tanks and other weapons on special assembly lines around the country. Plenty more are holders of security clearances who can’t do their jobs without special computers and facilities that protect classified information. Among them: analysts, war planners, and engineers designing next-generation weapons.

But the situation is murky even for the hundreds of thousands of government contractors who don’t need access to secret information. As the Pentagon begins sending nonessential employees home, it’s unclear what’s going to happen to them.

“There’s almost no guidance going out about contractors,” said David Berteau, a former Pentagon official who is now CEO of the Professional Services Council, an organization that advocates for government contractors. “Part of that problem is, contractors are managed on a contract by contract basis.”

And in many cases, these employees’ contracts don’t even mention remote work.

“You don’t want to change contracts from the top down,” Berteau said. “But you can send out guidance to contracting officers that says, ‘It is really important for you to adjust and amend contracts so that contractors can continue to work with the government counterparts.’ If that’s teleworking, that’s teleworking, if it’s moving to a different location, it’s moving to a different location.”

For years, the U.S. government has done drills and exercises to prepare for scenarios where workers cannot access secure facilities, said Berteau, who served as assistant defense secretary for logistics and materiel readiness during the Obama administration.

But: “We have not taken those lessons from the simulations seriously enough that we’ve done the preparation necessary to execute it,” he said. “So now we’re having to do it in real time. It’s important that we get it done. It’s important that we keep the government working. It’s important that contractors are part of that keep the government working goal. And it’s important that they have guidance [and] it’s integrated across the government in order to make that happen.”

As for the government workers and contractors who must access classified information, there’s no alternate, for now at least, to having a secure government facility.

“You can’t go home on your laptop and plug it in and get classified data,” Berteau said. “It’s my personal belief…that we could do a lot more than we are doing.”

But, he noted, it would likely cost a lot to buy the equipment needed to make that happen.

“We have got to be taking notes as we go about what we need to do better … so we’re more ready the next time it comes,” Berteau said. That would be a federal government, executive branch, responsibility, but it would also be a congressional responsibility to make sure it happens and that the resources are available to do it.”

https://www.defenseone.com/business/2020/03/when-your-work-classified-work-home-doesnt-work/163782/