DARPA’s First Bug Bounty: Find Vulnerabilities In Hardware-Based Security

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DARPA’s first bug bounty program, called the Finding Exploits to Thwart Tampering (FETT) program, will be held in partnership with the Department of Defense’s Defense Digital Service and Synack, a crowdsourcing security company.

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“The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is inviting security researchers to find vulnerabilities in its System Security Integration Through Hardware and Firmware systems.

Launched in 2017, SSITH aims to secure electronic systems with hardware security architectures and tools that protect against common classes of hardware vulnerabilities regularly exploited through software.

Participants will try to penetrate the SSITH hardware security schemes developed by researchers at SRI International, the University of Cambridge, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Michigan and Lockheed Martin. Their approaches generally involve providing the hardware with more information about what the attacking software is trying to do so it can become an active participant in its own defense, DARPA officials said. The SSITH development teams are working with Galois, a computer science research and development company, to move the hardware instances systems to the cloud for the evaluations.

The emulated systems will be running in an Amazon Web Services EC2 F1 cloud. Each emulated system is based on field-programmable gate array semiconductors and includes a RISC-V processor core that has been modified to include the SSITH hardware security.

According to DARPA, each emulated system’s software stack will contain SSITH hardware security protections as well as common vulnerabilities, such as buffer errors, information leakage, resource management and numeric errors. Security researchers will be tasked to devise exploit mechanisms that bypass the hardware security protections.

The FETT challenge is expected to run from July to September 2020.

“There is a lot of complexity associated with hardware architectures, which is why we wanted to provide ample time for interested researchers to understand, explore, and evaluate the SSITH protections,” said Keith Rebello, the DARPA program manager leading SSITH and FETT. 

Before security researchers and ethical hackers can join the FETT program as a Synack red team members, they must first qualify through a capture-the-flag challenge. After they are approved, participants will see a number of applications using SSITH defenses, including a medical records database system, a password authentication system for PCs and a web-based voter registration system that aims to “protect the underlying voter information from manipulation or disclosure, even in the presence of vulnerabilities in the system’s software,” Rebello said.  

More information on FETT can be found here.”

https://gcn.com/articles/2020/06/15/darpa-ssith-bug-bounty.aspx?oly_enc_id=

3 Government Contract Marketing Tactics To Employ As The Fiscal Year Ends

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Image: KDJcommunications.com

WASHINGTON TECHNOLOGYBy Mark Amtower

Each of these tactics works regardless of the Covid 19 crisis, but they are more important now that we do not currently have the face-to-face option of our normal end-of-fiscal year.

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“The Covid 19 crisis has forced Feds and contractors alike to a new level of “digital transformation,” a forced migration to tools we were aware of but not necessarily using often or well: online meetings, telework, and leveraging social networks like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook more fully and more frequently.

With the physical re-opening of federal sites still in question, the need to adapt has never been greater. I have heard from different sources that federal offices will not return to any semblance of normal in this fiscal year, and possible not until calendar 2021.

In the meantime, here are a few ideas to win more business at the end of fiscal 2020 on Sept. 30.

First, relevant content, well written or produced, then properly deployed after production. Content can take many forms, from articles and blog posts, to videos and podcasts, from webinars to white papers, and much more. Studies from Market Connections, Inc, Hinge Marketing and others have not only demonstrated the value of content in the procurement process, but have shown it to be a critical factor when you are targeting specific contracts, going after business with a specific agency, or developing and showcasing an area of expertise.

Producing the content is step one, putting it where your target audience will find it is step two.

All content should be resident on your web site under a “Resources” button. After that, share it via social sharing and email. If you post it on LinkedIn, it automatically goes to your 1st degree connections via their “Home” page. If someone else shares it, it goes into their 1st degree network the same way.

Your content should be educational in nature and avoid any overt sales message. Just include contact info at the end and encourage readers and viewers to share.

Second, virtual events. By this time we should all be ZOOM-masters, right? I had been on ZOOM before Covid 19 sequestered us, but now I feel like I cannot live without it. ZOOM is massively more personal than a call.

Many events, even larger ones, have gone virtual with varying degrees of success. For those that didn’t quite make it, the problem may have been the tech backbone or the partner you chose to produce the event.

Vetting your virtual event provider and testing capacity is key, so start by asking your peers who they are using. If you attend an event that works, or that does not work so well, find out which platform was used.

If you are hosting an event for govies, make certain it is on a platform approved by their agency. If it is FedRAMP compliant, you should be OK. If not, rethink your platform.

Virtual events are here to stay.

Third, social selling. Social selling has been growing in importance over the last few years, but has now become critical. LinkedIn is the primary venue for this and the traffic on LinkedIn since the “stay at home” order has risen significantly.

Social selling is not traditional selling. It is the art and science of getting on the radar of a defined audience and staying on the radar in a non-intrusive way by leveraging social networks. It is not designed to replace traditional sales or business development, but to supplement and support them.

Sharing the content you develop is a social selling technique. Finding, liking and commenting on content shared by your prospects, is another technique. “Following” your prospects before reaching out is yet another. There are several easy-to-do social selling tactics.

Reaching out to connect with your prospect audience can be a social selling technique as long as you don’t send the LinkedIn connection “form letter.” Find a way to put the connection request in context of what the prospect does and what you bring to the table, but not a sales context.

Best of fortunes for your federal “busy season”!”

https://washingtontechnology.com/articles/2020/06/17/insights-amtower-covid-fiscal-end-selling.aspx

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

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.

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.­”

Cyber Speed Vs. Cyber Security In The Age Of Pandemic

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Image: Shaun Gordon “Future Stack

“GCN” BY TONY HUBBARD, DAVE BUCKLEY, KATHY CRUZ

The need for speed may always conflict with concerns about preventing fraud and bolstering security. But one thing is sure: Future systems must be built for resilience, because the next technology upheaval could be right around the corner.

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“The sudden imperative to move state employees to remote work followed by the unprecedented flow of billions into states coffers to pay unemployment benefits has created big headaches for government agencies.

Sophisticated fraudsters have been waiting patiently for just this moment — the convergence of a flood of government funding and new, lax controls to allow money to get to applicants quickly. Armed with personally identifiable information obtained through data breaches and sold on the dark web, these fraudsters have applied for state unemployment compensation under false pretenses, diverting millions of taxpayer dollars and causing havoc for program officials and legitimate applicants. In addition, in states where mobile applications were quickly developed so applicants could apply conveniently via their smart phones, normal controls and processes were not implemented and, in some cases, security was compromised.

“The move to remote work also led to some malicious activity as government agencies were forced to rapidly deploy remote-access solutions that were not designed to accommodate a surge of growth. Again, to get the workforce to be productive quickly, some security processes and controls were relaxed or waived.

Obviously, the pandemic forced government to balance the need for quick action against ensuring that security processes were followed and controls put into place. In the battle between speed and security, however, speed often won.  Fraudsters, always watching for vulnerability and opportunity, pounced. And they are still pouncing.

In retrospect, better cybersecurity controls could have been baked into payment processes from the beginning. This upfront activity could have largely prevented the incident and response efforts that inevitably occur when security becomes an afterthought. However, hindsight is not helpful now, so what can be done going forward to bolster security and prevent fraud?

Government agencies should examine every key decision since work-from-home orders began. They should conduct risk assessments, understand the threats, vulnerabilities and consequences – and reimagine security tools and processes that should have been built in.  Rather than thinking it’s too late and giving up, agencies should re-evaluate remote access and newly implemented collaboration tools, especially those involving third parties. For unemployment claims, agencies should re-examine modified applications and mobile apps to assure security. They must also look into privileged access, which may have changed, and continue to apply risk management concepts.

Above all, agencies must continue to focus on the fundamentals and make them integral to their culture. These include access management (especially for privileged users), training and awareness, consistent software patching, regular antivirus updates and well-tested business continuity and resilience processes.

While these measures can certainly help in the short term, the real solution is longer term.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the need to be resilient — and that is especially true for government technology systems.

Broadly speaking, what has occurred over the past three months should cause government organizations to think about the next crisis and build systems that can adapt to whatever happens — whether it is a sudden need for remote work solutions, a major program change to respond to an economic collapse or the constant need to stay one step ahead of hackers and fraudsters.  In short, agencies must evolve with the environment.

When agencies anticipate disruption, technology transformation projects can be planned with resilience and adaptability in mind. Cloud-based operations must be considered for critical applications because the cloud can provide the agility, efficiency and the elasticity needed during both normal business operations and unpredictable times.”

https://gcn.com/articles/2020/06/18/speed-vs-security.aspx

World Trouble Spots- An Objective View of the Gap Between Those Who Have Made It and Those Left Behind

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Editor’s Note:  Although published 5 years ago, this topic seems ever more pertinent today with pandemic and social unrest issues at the fore.  It is republished here for your  renewed consideration

Ken Larson 

“STRATFOR – GLOBAL AFFAIRS”

“MIND THE GAP” by Professor Jay Ogilvy

“The growing divide between those who have made it and those who are being left behind is happening globally, in each of the great civilizations, not just Islam.

The issue of the comparative advantages or disadvantages of different cultures is complicated and getting more so because with modernity and globalization, our lives are getting more complicated. We are all in each other’s faces today in a way that was simply not the case in earlier centuries.

Whether through travel or telecommunications or increasingly ubiquitous and inexpensive media, each and every one of us is more aware of the cultural other than in times past.”

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“The Charlie Hebdo attack and its aftermath in the streets and in the press tempt one to dust off Samuel Huntington‘s 1996 book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Despite the criticisms he provoked with that book and his earlier 1993 article in Foreign Affairs, recent events would seem to be proving him prescient.

Or was he?

While I am not about to deny the importance of religion and culture as drivers of geopolitical dynamics, I will argue that, more important than the clashes among the great civilizations, there is a clash within each of the great civilizations. This is the clash between those who have “made it” (in a sense yet to be defined) and those who have been “left behind” — a phrase that is rich with ironic resonance.

Before I make my argument, I warn that the point I’m trying to make is fairly subtle. So, in the interest of clarity, let me lay out what I’m not saying before I make that point. I am not saying that Islam as a whole is somehow retrograde. I am not agreeing with author Sam Harris’ October 2014 remark on “Real Time with Bill Maher” that “Islam is the mother lode of bad ideas.”

Nor am I saying that all religions are somehow equal, or that culture is unimportant. The essays in the book Culture Matters, which Huntington helped edit, argue that different cultures have different comparative advantages when it comes to economic competitiveness.

These essays build on the foundation laid down by Max Weber’s 1905 work, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. It is only the “sulfuric odor of race,” as Harvard historian David Landes writes on the first page of the first essay in Culture Matters, that has kept scholars from exploring the under-researched linkages between culture and economic performance.

Making It in the Modern World

In the modern world, the development of the individual human, which is tied in part to culture, has become more and more important. If you think of a single human life as a kind of footrace — as if the developmental path from infancy to maturity were spanning a certain distance — then progress over the last several millennia has moved out the goal posts of maturity. It simply takes longer to learn the skills it takes to “make it” as an adult.

Surely there were skills our Stone Age ancestors had to acquire that we moderns lack, but they did not have to file income taxes or shop for insurance. Postmodern thinkers have critiqued the idea of progress and perhaps we do need a concept that is forgivingly pluralistic. Still, there have been indisputable improvements in many basic measures of human progress. This is borne out by improved demographic statistics such as birth weight, height and longevity, as well as declining poverty and illiteracy. To put it very simply, we humans have come a long way.

But these historic achievements have come at a price. It is not simple for individuals to master this elaborate structure we call modern civilization with its buildings and institutions and culture and history and science and law.

A child can’t do it. Babies born into this world are biologically very similar to babies born 10,000 years ago; biological evolution is simply too slow and cannot equip us to manage this structure. And childhood has gotten ever longer. “Neoteny” is the technical term for the prolongation of the period during which an offspring remains dependent on its parent.

In some species, such as fish or spiders, newborns can fend for themselves immediately. In other species — ducks, deer, dogs and cats — the young remain dependent on their mothers for a period of weeks. In humans, the period of dependency extends for years. And as the generations and centuries pass, especially recently, that period of dependency keeps getting longer.

As French historian Philippe Aries informed us in Centuries of Childhood, “in medieval society, the idea of childhood did not exist.” Prior to modernity, young people were adults in miniature, trying to fit in wherever they could. But then childhood got invented. Child labor laws kept children out of the factories and truancy laws kept them in public schools.

For a recent example of the statutory extension of childhood known as neoteny, consider U.S. President Barack Obama’s announcement that he intends to make community college available for free to any high school graduate, thus extending studenthood by two years.

The care and feeding and training of your average human cub have become far greater than the single season that bear cubs require. And it seems to be getting ever longer as more 20-somethings and even 30-somethings find it cheaper to live with mom and dad, whether or not they are enrolled in school or college.

The curriculum required to flourish as an adult seems to be getting ever longer, the goal posts of meaningful maturity ever further away from the “starting line,” which has not moved. Our biology has not changed at anywhere near the rate of our history. And this growing gap between infancy and modern maturity is true for every civilization, not just Islamic civilization.

The picture gets complicated, though, because the vexed history of the relationships among the world’s great civilizations leaves little doubt about different levels of development along any number of different scales of achievement. Christian democracies have outperformed the economies and cultures of the rest of the world. Is this an accident? Or is there something in the cultural software of the West that renders it better able to serve the needs of its people than does the cultural software called Islam?

Those Left Behind

Clearly there is a feeling among many in the Islamic world that they, as a civilization, have been “left behind” by history. Consider this passage from Snow, the novel by Nobel Prize-winning Turkish author Orhan Pamuk:

“We’re poor and insignificant,” said Fazul, with a strange fury in his voice. “Our wretched lives have no place in human history. One day all of us living now in Kars will be dead and gone. No one will remember us; no one will care what happened to us. We’ll spend the rest of our days arguing about what sort of scarf women should wrap around their heads, and no one will care in the slightest because we’re eaten up by our own petty, idiotic quarrels. When I see so many people around me leading such stupid lives and then vanishing without a trace, an anger runs through me…”

Earlier I mentioned the ironic resonance of this phrase, “left behind.” I think of two other recent uses: first, the education reform legislation in the United States known as the No Child Left Behind Act; the second, the best-selling series of 13 novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins in which true believers are taken up by the Rapture while the sinners are “left behind.” In both of these uses, it is clearly a bad thing to be left behind.

Culture is something we can change in response to circumstances rather than waiting, as other animals must, for our genes to evolve under the pressures of natural selection. As a result, though we are still basically the same animals that we were when we invented agriculture at the end of the ice age, our societies have evolved faster and faster and will continue to do so at an ever-increasing rate in the 21st century.

And because the fundamental dynamics of this divide are rooted in the mismatch between the pace of change of biological evolution on the one hand (very slow) and historical or technological change on the other (ever faster), it is hard to see how this gap can be closed. We don’t want to stop progress, and yet the more progress we make, the further out the goal posts of modern maturity recede and the more significant culture becomes.

There is a link between the “left behind” phenomenon and the rise of the ultra-right in Europe. As the number of unemployed, disaffected, hopeless youth grows, so also does the appeal of extremist rhetoric — to both sides. On the Muslim side, more talk from the Islamic State about slaying the infidels. On the ultra-right, more talk about Islamic extremists. Like a crowded restaurant, the louder the voices get, the louder the voices get.

I use this expression, those who have “made it,” because the gap in question is not simply between the rich and the poor. Accomplished intellectuals such as Pamuk feel it as well. The writer Pankaj Mishra, born in Uttar Pradesh, India, in 1969, is another rising star from the East who writes about the dilemma of Asian intellectuals, the Hobson’s choice they face between recoiling into the embrace of their ancient cultures or adopting Western ways precisely to gain the strength to resist the West.

This is their paradox: Either accept the Trojan horse of Western culture to master its “secrets” — technology, organization, bureaucracy and the power that accrues to a nation-state — or accept the role of underpaid extras in a movie, a very partial “universal” history, that stars the West. ”

About the Author:

“Jay Ogilvy joined Stratfor’s editorial board in January 2015. In 1979, he left a post as a professor of philosophy at Yale to join SRI, the former Stanford Research Institute, as director of research. Dr. Ogilvy co-founded the Global Business Network of scenario planners in 1987. He is the former dean and chief academic officer of San Francisco’s Presidio Graduate School. Dr. Ogilvy has published nine books, including Many Dimensional Man, Creating Better Futures and Living Without a Goal.”

New Redesigned Social Security Retirement Benefits Portal

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Image: Social Security Administration

“FCW”

The newly redesigned retirement benefits portal, will make it easier for millions to file for retirement benefits, the agency said in a statement.

The new portal also cuts down on pages and dense wording in favor of more concise information.

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The agency also optimized the portal for mobile devices, as well as set up subscription lists for retirement information and benefits updates.”

SSA.Gov

“Social Security is part of the retirement plan for almost every American worker. It provides replacement income for qualified retirees and their families. This section of our website helps you better understand the program, the application process, and the online tools and resources available to you.”

Air Force Executes Program To Reshape Defense Industrial Base

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Goal is to pivot away from the defense prime model (while still working with those companies) and create a new industrial base that more easily allows tech companies to simultaneously work with the Defense Department and the commercial sector.

The Air Force’s Ventures team, launched earlier this year with a tentative $1 billion in contract awards for 550 small businesses, oversees all of the branch’s small business initiatives, hopes to codify the process this year.

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“The Air Force’s increasing interest in startups isn’t just to get a taste of innovation but completely change the defense industrial base.

“We’re not going to win against China long term if they’re got a nationalized industrial base. They have access to that entire talent pool, they’ve got access to every company within their borders. And we are only working with a small subset,” Will Roper, the Air Force’s acquisition chief said of defense prime companies during a virtual Air Force Association Mitchell Institute event June 9.

“That subset continues to collapse every year under the pressure of programs that are too few and far between to sustain diversity and continual competition. So we have to have a new model that encourages companies to come in and work with [the] military but not necessarily put them on a path to become a defense prime.”

The Air Force began hosting pitch events in 2019, to stimulate its work with small businesses and speed contract awards for capabilities that could readily transition to the warfighter, and attract venture capital investment. Roper announced the creation of the AFVentures team in March as a joint effort with the service’s acquisition team, AFWERX, and the small business innovation research and small business technology transfer program.

In the last year, Roper said the Air and Space Force has added 1,000 new companies to its industrial base over the past 18 months. Those companies are still focused on research and development but the acquisition chief wants to make working with the Air Force simple and keep up that pace, adding another 1,000 companies each year with smaller investments in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Roper also said he hopes to fund “medium bets” of about $1.5 million in contract awards for about 350 startups each year.”

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.

Networked Customer Experience (CX) Is Converging Public And Private Sectors

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Image: “WSP

FCW

The government’s mobilization in the recent weeks to design a network of citizen-focused programs has been profound to watch—and in many ways represents the future of experience. 

At the end of the day, a networked customer experience is not just the result of a technical solution; rather, it’s a deeper philosophical shift in a move from top-down transactional experiences to more integrated, co-equal relationships between government and citizens.

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“In a matter of weeks, and in some cases days or hours, many businesses have pivoted because of the pandemic to meet the needs of their customers and offer a completely different customer experience (CX). Similarly, hospitals and medical practices have started to pivot their business model to focus on telemedicine, and many small businesses that were never in the delivery space have shifted quickly so they can continue to bring goods and services to customers—and remain profitable during a challenging time.

But the private sector is not the only space innovating and taking a customer-centered approach to the public health crisis. Government agencies have also had to shift in significant ways to operate in this unique environment and interact with citizens differently. Here are just a few examples of what federal organizations have done in a very short period of time to continue meeting their mission to serve citizens:

  • On April 15, the IRS launched the Get My Payment web tool so the millions of Americans who will receive stimulus checks can track the status of their payment. Shortly after deploying this tool the IRS began monitoring usage trends and customer feedback to drive the creation of coronavirus stimulus-specific FAQ content and iterative agile application improvements. The IRS has been, and will continue, deploying updates several times each week since launch.
  • In order to stay accountable to the public and report on the nearly $3 trillion stimulus funds, the Treasury Department is updating the Data Act systems to update its tools to account for increased submission requirements by agencies spending CARES Act money. The department is making that information available to the public on USAspending.gov and the Data Lab in new visualizations and data downloads.
  • In order to re-open recreation areas safely and in accordance with safe distancing guidelines, federal land management agencies are using Recreation.gov as one of their tools to provide advanced reservations, manage visitation volume, distribute information, and offer online payment solutions to visitors.
  • And the General Services Administration’s Technology Transformation Services pivoted up to 20 percent of its talent pool, at times, to fast-paced response efforts—including the development of authentication technology for the Paycheck Protection Program run out of the Small Business Administration and which is keeping so many businesses afloat.

Moving Toward Networked Customer Experiences

In both the private and public sectors, customers are expecting interactions that are seamless, with access to a collection of features simultaneously. We refer to this as a “networked” experience model, where customers create value with multiple providers, and the experience depends on the value those providers deliver collectively. There are still experience challenges that are unique to government given its organizational and mission complexity.

There will be a time soon when those responsible for delivering federal services like social security, veterans’ benefits, and medical programs will be able to rethink the entire customer interaction. At the end of the day, a networked customer experience is not just the result of a technical solution; rather, it’s a deeper philosophical shift in a move from top-down transactional experiences to more integrated, co-equal relationships between government and citizens.

It’s clear that a networked services model has in many ways operationalized during this public health crisis, in which customer experience has taken on heightened significance. Federal organizations can’t afford major missteps, and agency leaders should take advantage of support resources for help navigating this complex new normal. Over the past few years several organizations and programs have been established, including the United States Digital ServiceOPM LabsGSA’s 18F and their IT Modernization Center of Excellence for Customer Experience, to help agencies evolve with a rapidly changing experience landscape. Lighthouse agencies (such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture) and Lead Agency Partners (such as the Department of Veterans Affairs) for customer experience have had fully operational CX practices in place since before the crisis, and their models can serve as a blueprint for others along their experience journeys.”

https://fcw.com/articles/2020/06/12/milian-covid-federal-cx.aspx?oly_enc_id=

GSA STARS III Final Solicitation Coming This Fall

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The General Services Administration will issue the final solicitation for the next iteration of its popular Streamlined Technology Acquisition Resource for Services (8(a) STARS) multiple award contract by the end of September.

Participation is open to small companies with the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) designation — those that are majority owned by U.S. citizens that meets criteria for being economically and socially disadvantaged.

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“In a June 10 blog post, Laura Stanton, acting assistant commissioner of GSA’s Federal Acquisition Services’ Office of Information Technology Category, said the agency will issue the final solicitation for the contract by end of the federal government’s fiscal year on Sept. 30.

The initial Stars III request for information went out last August.

In early April, the 8(a) STARS II governmentwide contract hit its $15 billion ordering obligation limit. GSA said in mid-May that task orders on the vehicle are still permissible for agencies whose contracting officers have obtained a control number from the agency to use the contract vehicle, but new control numbers are no longer being issued.

The STARS II contract was originally planned to run until Aug. 30, 2021. GSA issued the draft 8(a) STARS III solicitation last August.

The agency has raised 8(a) STARS II ceiling “more than once” to accommodate demand,” said Stanton in her post, who added that the agency is working on ways to continue to use the contract.

The repeated increase in the ceiling value, she said, shows its continuing popularity for agencies looking to connect with innovative small business tech providers.”

https://fcw.com/articles/2020/06/11/rockwell-gsa-stars-iii-small-biz.aspx?oly_enc_id=