“The chances of this happening again are not zero for sure,” said Gen. John Murray, Futures Command’s commanding general.
“It’s demographics, it’s urbanization, it’s economies, it’s pandemics,” he said during a teleconference with reporters hosted by George Washington University’s Project for Media and National Security.
The Army is examining what alternative futures may look like and how they will affect the service, he said. It is particularly concerned about pandemics.
Nestled under Army Futures Command is Army Medical Research and Development Command. Murray noted that the medical command has many smart doctors and researchers who have done key work on viruses such as Ebola, SARS and Zika.
“They’re absolutely a key part of the research that’s going on right now” with COVID-19, he said.
These researchers have noted that over the past decade and a half there has been a substantial increase in the number of new coronaviruses emerging in the world, Murray said. Therefore, as the Army, military and country begin to look into the future, pandemics have to be accounted for and considered, he added.
Meanwhile, Army weapon programs across the board are on track despite the impact of the novel coronavirus, said Bruce Jette, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology.
“Industry has made a significant adjustment in order to try and make sure that they continue producing on time and on schedule,” he said.
While they haven’t hit those targets 100 percent of the time, the Army only has one program where it knows it will have to make a significant change, Jette said. That involves the Intelligence Electronic Warfare Tactical Proficiency Trainer, which falls under the Army’s program executive office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation, according to an Army spokesperson.
“It’s one of our smaller programs and … is tied to a small company,” he said. The Army has found that the greatest sensitivities so far during the pandemic tend to be in the programs that have connectivity to smaller companies, Jette said. “If one person gets sick in the company, you often end up with the entire company being in quarantine for 14 days,” he said.
However, having only one major program slip is a “pretty good success and tells you a little bit about how hard industry is working to try and stay on track,” he said.
For the Army’s larger efforts, which include acquisition category one and acquisition category two programs, the Army remains on track for first unit equipped for all those, he said.
“That doesn’t mean that some of the programs aren’t having adjustments to delivery schedules or adjustments to milestones,” he said. “We’re making adjustments as necessary and then working with the companies to try and catch up.
Industry has so far been extremely cooperative with the Army in keeping leadership up to date on any potential COVID-related issues, Jette noted.
“Contractually, they don’t have to tell us a lot about their subs. In fact, in some cases they don’t have to tell us anything about their subs or their subs of subs,” he said. “But I have a 60-page report that gets updated on a daily basis of the status of the subs to the various major programs.”
That can only happen because of the cooperation of industry, he said.”
“The campaigns targeted both Americans and international users, with some websites impersonating the World Health Organization, the Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (the tax collection agency in the U.K.) and the French government.
[Example] A website template for coronavirus financial help that promises to sign users up for their stimulus checks “with 1 click” and contains a drop-down menu to enter credentials for their chosen bank.“
“Many of the emails used the COVID-19 outbreak to entice users to hand over their banking credentials in order to receive their stimulus checks.
One email sent to FCW by researchers and not included in their published blog purports to be from the Federal Reserve, touting that its “Protection Program” was fully operational and available to provide payments to economically distressed Americans. It lists a phone number with a Washington D.C. area code for media inquiries and specifies that requests for payments “must be received no later than 45 DAYS AFTER DATE OF PUBLICATION IN THE FEDERAL REGISTER.” In reality the email, sent to approximately 100,000 people, provides users with a link to a spoofed site where they can enter their banking information.
Bizarrely, the [drop down menu] site contains mimicked logos for the White House, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (though not the IRS, the agency charged with dispersing the checks) all on the same page.
A common theme for almost all the campaigns was an effort to leverage interest in the COVID-19 pandemic, but DeGrippo said the actors otherwise adopted a general “spray and pray” strategy for victims, with little apparent focus on specific individuals or industries.
“They loaded up the spam cannons, shot them out there and hoped for the best,” said DeGrippo. “It’s a tactic that also works. I don’t think not being super targeted is any indication that it’s not effective or that the threat actor is not equipped. Getting 100,000 messages out [over four days] is not an easy feat.”
Even as threat intelligence companies and federal agencies have tracked an explosion of coronavirus-themed scams online in recent months, DeGrippo said that observed credential phish activity has not increased significantly during the pandemic, indicating that it is existing actors shifting their tactics rather than an increase in the overall threat ecosystem.
“Comparatively over the past several years, volumes of credential phish specifically haven’t moved [over the past few months] in ways where we thought ‘Oh my gosh there’s this huge volume increase,'” she said. “What we are seeing is that a threat actor might normally send a credential phish for banking details [and] the shift now is they’re going to wrap that attempt…in a premise around COVID-19.”
Federal agencies like the IRS, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and the FBI have all warned of a shift in recent months by cyber criminals to profit off increased attention surrounding the pandemic. In particular, experts have worried that the rush by the IRS to process and disperse hundreds of billions of dollars in stimulus relief to Americans has left the program vulnerable to fraud.
Adding to the confusion, the IRS website where Americans can check on the status of their stimulus payments received criticism for its functionality during the initial weeks after passage of the CARES Act, with some users reporting online and on social media that the site did not recognize their taxpayer information and that small differences — like not writing their full name in all capital letters — can trip up the system and return an error message.
The IRS updated its “Get My Payment” tool in late April to fix the error, but the inability to access their information on the official IRS website could have left users more susceptible to exploring quicker solutions offered by scammers. The agency “Frequently Asked Questions” page warns users to be on the lookout for emails and links asking for banking information related to their checks and on May 18 announced it had added another 3,500 phone operators to field questions from taxpayers about their stimulus payments.”
“It’s crucial that any such network be independent of governments and left in the hands of public health officials. The data it gathers should not be filtered through bad actors such as the Chinese Communist Party, or elected officials who may have a political agenda.
One day — hopefully soon — big international meetings will return and the next Biosurveillance Conference will be held in a bigger venue with a lot more participants.”
“It was Aug. 28, 2012 in a Washington, D.C., hotel near Union Station where the National Defense Industrial Association held its first and only Biosurveillance Conference.
It was lightly attended — if memory serves. I’ll be charitable and say there were 75 attendees in the smallish room.
At least one of them — myself — was in the wrong place. Biosurveillance? I thought it would be about sensors. I was expecting to hear about typical defense and homeland security technologies designed to detect bioweapons — something akin to the Department of Homeland Security’s BioWatch program, or what the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense wanted. The agenda included Defense Threat Reduction Agency personnel.
No, actually, the attendees were mostly in the public health field, and they were talking about a worldwide database where doctors, public health officials, veterinarians and the like could report what they were seeing as far as new infectious diseases.
They likened the concept to weather reports. The world has a network of sensors that tells meteorologists what’s happening in the atmosphere. With the data, they can warn people if a storm is coming and citizens can prepare. The public health officials wanted to do the same for infectious diseases: manmade or natural. And the far-term goal would be to do predictive analysis — just like weather forecasts.
Here is an example: let’s say a doctor in China — let’s just say Wuhan, China — noticed an unusual number of cases of patients with a new respiratory disease marked by an unusually high fatality rate. He would then input that information into a database accessible to public health officials throughout the world. Then, let’s just say, doctors in South Korea or Italy, noticed the same thing. Analysts could connect the dots and sound the alarm. Hospitals could stock up on items such as, let’s say, face masks and respirators.
What I learned at that one-day conference ended up being part of a story that ran in the November 2012 issue. NDIA members with their expertise in information technology could have a lot to offer building such a network, I reasoned, so it was worth reporting.
Let’s pull some quotes out of that 2012 story.
Harshini Mukundan, a scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, said diseases emerge from people, plants and animals.
“They are all interconnected, and having separate agencies monitoring each one defeats the cause.”
Laurie Garrett, an analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations, said the technical part of setting up a biosurveillance network could be completed in five to 10 years. Policies and procedures were the roadblocks. “I don’t believe we have the capacity or the will to implement” it, she said. U.S. political gridlock would prevent the idea from moving forward, she predicted.
Jason Pargas, special assistant to the DTRA director, sounded an optimistic tone. It could all come to fruition in five to 10 years. Prediction models, applied math and advanced computing would make it so.
The reporting that emerged from this conference ended up in the article, “Top Five Threats to National Security in the Coming Decade.” We ranked “Bio-Threats” as No. 1. Yikes. I don’t even want to mention what the other four were for fear of a jinx.
I would like to say that National Defense consistently reported on this issue and that we kept up a constant drumbeat for the need of a worldwide biosurveillance network, but that is not the case. Public health really isn’t in our wheelhouse.
However, two years later in 2015, we did an update online, which was reported from an Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association homeland security conference.
No progress had been made on a biosurveillance network, Jeff Runge, former chief medical officer at DHS, said at the conference. That year saw a deadly strain of the flu that killed many children and an Ebola outbreak.
“The rate and scope and spread of the illnesses were not detected before severe consequences occurred,” he said. “These are cautionary tales underscoring the need for better biological intelligence.”
Navy Cmdr. Janka Jones, then the director of medical programs in the office of the assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical and biological defense, said, “We’ve got a lot of capability. We don’t have a lot of money to build new capability.”
Transparency, openness and data sharing would be key, she said. Jones helped the Obama administration in 2012 put together the first-ever national strategy on biosurveillance. It was released in July, shortly before the NDIA Biosurveillance Conference. It included a technology roadmap on how to build the information-sharing network.
“Biosurveillance — including early detection — is one of our first lines of defense against these threats,” President Barack Obama wrote in the introduction to the strategy.
National Defense took its eye off the ball when it comes to biosurveillance — but so did a lot of people, apparently. That won’t be the case in the future.
Granted, there are policy, procedure and diplomatic hurdles to overcome, but how much funding would it have cost to set up an initial biosurveillance network — $100 million, $200 million? Seems like a paltry investment when more than $1 trillion is being spent on an economic bailout, lives have been lost and entire industries brought to their knees.”
“As coronavirus has disrupted society over the last few weeks, some of the distancing measures that once seemed drastic have become acceptable — in a few cases even preferable to the way things worked before.
Nowhere has this been truer than the workplace, where companies and employees have found remote operations far more feasible than expected.”
“University of Chicago researchers recently analyzed government employment and income data by industry and concluded that 34 percent of U.S. jobs can “plausibly be performed at home.” Journalist Liz Farmer predicts that “the long-expressed resistance of companies and individual bosses to WFH arrangements will decline markedly after they see how well the arrangement has worked.”
But COVID has also taught us that leading an entire organization through the transition to distance work in a matter of days or weeks can be wrenching, akin to passing through the five stages of grief. In an article about how corporations are adjusting to COVID-mandated remote working arrangements, Australian start-up accelerator Steve Glaveski sees a broad spectrum of adaptation beyond pre-COVID practices:
No deliberate action. This is where most companies were at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, with little to no capacity for widespread remote work.
Recreating the office online. This is where most traditional organizations have landed. More effective companies offer access to e-tools, but without any redesign of how work gets done.
Adapting to the medium. These companies are investing in better equipment (for example, they may provide employees a cash grant to improve their lighting for video calls). Their work favors text-based communication, with fewer meetings that have clear agendas and include only ‘must have’ participants.
Asynchronous communication. These companies are structured more in line with how work gets done than where or when. They are typically global and recognize that presence does not equate to productivity.
These companies field purely distributed teams that work better than in-person teams. There are a handful of companies like this, and most are in the tech industry.
Glaveski acknowledges that moving across this spectrum won’t work for all industries, and he notes three common challenges to effective distance work that need to be addressed: team building and bonding, the value of informal office communication, and endpoint security.
How IBM Made the Transition
Fletcher Previn — IBM’s chief information officer — recently offered a candid description of how he and his colleagues grappled with these challenges and others as they pivoted the organization’s global workforce of 350,000 people to working from home over a four-week period this spring. Pre-COVID, Previn said, about 30 percent of IBM’s global workforce predominantly worked from “other than a traditional office” (i.e., from a client site or home). This figure shifted to about 95 percent within a matter of days.
He explained that there were two key components to this transition – technological and cultural.
Previn says that the company benefited from having a longer-term internal IT strategy to enable workers to self-service. This began with mailing employees their mobile devices instead of delivering them in person, and creating an internal app store to distribute software. Those measures meant that all employee hardware and software could be delivered outside the office, making it easier to transition quickly to remote work.
IBM had also adopted a standardized set of tech tools to enable collaborative work across the globe through remote meetings, file sharing, remote access and cybersecurity (the company is shifting from a VPN-based to a zero-trust model). Over the past year, Previn created a common “tool box” that employees can access based on their job function (e.g., consultant, scientist, analyst):
In terms of security, Previn says that his team detects a lot more cyberattacks and fraud attempts on home-based workers. In response, they’ve increasing training to identify phishing and tightened endpoint controls on inbound emails and other traffic. In addition, they are using AI to look for unusual behavior based on a user identity, location and the device being used.
While the tech tools are a necessary prerequisite for working from home, Previn noted that there are also cultural issues. For example, traditional ways of balancing work and personal life need to be redefined as employees work in new settings with new routines. He advocated a model of small three-person teams interacting with each other and with other teams not only through scheduled meetings but spontaneous communications that help maintain human bonds and trust. Previn said he schedules virtual happy hours with his team to bring people together informally rather than just for agenda-driven meetings.
To help ease the cultural transition to distributed teams, IBM HR developed a series of training guides and online modules on how to lead remotely, and tips for remote workers and their managers.
Long-Term Benefits of the Transition
One factor that enabled IBM and many other companies to respond quickly to COVID was the longtime use of distance work tools to improve cross-organizational collaboration, even when the parties at both ends of the line sat in offices. A 2013 survey by McKinsey Consulting found multiple expected benefits to these measures, such as reduced travel costs and increased employee satisfaction.
But the survey also discovered that there was faster access to internal experts and corporate knowledge when using collaborative tools. This implies that in both the private sector and government contexts, it’s less important where you do knowledge-based work than it is how you do it – using collaborative tools in a team-based work environment.
In the last two months, the corporate world has gradually come to realize that it cannot wait to adapt these tools fully to an at-home workforce. Companies have shifted from a strategy of “do what is most urgent and feasible now and postpone everything else until we return to the office” to “we have to make everything work remotely because who knows how long this will last and we can’t push things off any longer.”
For most companies, that means mastering levels three and four of Glaveski’s remote work hierarchy by embracing text-based communication, fewer meetings and asynchronous schedules.
And a few small tech companies have even reached the “nirvana” state that Glaveski describes. For example, Pipedrive, a new software company with staff in both the United States and Europe, responded to COVID by becoming a completely virtual company inside of 24 hours, according to futurist Heather McGowen. And one tech company, Automattic (the company behind WordPress, which powers 35 percent of all websites on the internet), beat COVID to the punch. It is 15 years old and has nearly 1,200 staff scattered across 75 countries – and no offices!
It is easy to think of the current disruption in workplace operations as a temporary shift that will reverse itself after the COVID threat recedes. But as McGowan suggests in Forbes, this pandemic “might be the great catalyst for business transformation,” producing changes in months that might have otherwise taken years to transpire.
“We’re seeing changes that affect work, learning, and daily life,” she writes, “changes that will become a new normal and that take place against a backdrop of several fundamental shifts.”
For example, a slow evolution in corporate culture even before COVID was giving employees greater autonomy and an increased role in meeting business goals. Companies are beginning to recognize culture, creativity and innovation as ingredients of success, and managers increasingly trust their people to “do the right thing.” Corporations have started to consider employee welfare as a central goal in addition to profit. These trends too are bound to accelerate as social distancing continues, and will persist long after it ends.
Future columns will explore these distance work approaches further and how they can be adapted to a government context.”
“THE OBSERVER” – NEUROSCIENCE By Neuroscientist Tali Sharot
“Human beings are inherently optimistic; therefor we believe the answer is out there and we will find it. We have all evolved as humans with an innate optimism. That optimism exists to a greater or lesser degree in us all.
The human mind has a terrific tendency to forget bad news and remember exactly the specific details of good news. That is so often the case with historical fact.“
“While the past few years have seen important advances in the neuroscience of optimism, one enduring puzzle remained. How is it that people maintain this rosy bias even when information challenging our upbeat forecasts is so readily available? Only recently have we been able to decipher this mystery, by scanning the brains of people as they process both positive and negative information about the future. The findings are striking: when people learn, their neurons faithfully encode desirable information that can enhance optimism but fail at incorporating unexpectedly undesirable information. When we hear a success story like Mark Zuckerberg’s, our brains take note of the possibility that we too may become immensely rich one day. But hearing that the odds of divorce are almost 1 in 2 tends not to make us think that our own marriages may be destined to fail.
Why would our brains be wired in this way? It is tempting to speculate that optimism was selected by evolution precisely because, on balance, positive expectations enhance the odds of survival. Research findings that optimists live longer and are healthier, plus the fact that most humans display optimistic biases — and emerging data that optimism is linked to specific genes — all strongly support this hypothesis. Yet optimism is also irrational and can lead to unwanted outcomes. The question then is, How can we remain hopeful — benefiting from the fruits of optimism — while at the same time guarding ourselves from its pitfalls?
I believe knowledge is key. We are not born with an innate understanding of our biases. The brain’s illusions have to be identified by careful scientific observation and controlled experiments and then communicated to the rest of us. Once we are made aware of our optimistic illusions, we can act to protect ourselves. The good news is that awareness rarely shatters the illusion. The glass remains half full. It is possible, then, to strike a balance, to believe we will stay healthy, but get medical insurance anyway; to be certain the sun will shine, but grab an umbrella on our way out — just in case.”
“DEFENSE NEWS” By: Venture capital community leaders
“How can the Pentagon best preserve its innovation base and develop the most competitive and advanced technologies? The answer is simple: Buy commercial. New and emerging defense startups — and our men and women in uniform — don’t need symbolic gestures.
What they need is concerted action to bring the latest and most advanced technologies — many of which are routinely used in industry — to dangerously antiquated defense weapons systems and internal IT infrastructure. This was true before COVID-19, it is true now and it will be true when the next crisis strikes.“
“The COVID-19 health crisis is quickly leading to an economic meltdown, throwing millions of Americans out of work and forcing strategic reevaluations across industries. The defense industry is no exception. We are praying for a swift end to the crisis, but its effects will linger, shaping the Pentagon’s priorities, organizational structure, military operations, logistics, supply chains and interactions with the defense-industrial base for years to come.
In the past few weeks, we have had numerous conversations with government officials about our venture and growth equity investments in the defense sector. These discussions have centered on the eligibility rules of the CARES Act’s Paycheck Protection Program and the risk of foreign capital seeking entry into defense technology startups desperate for investment in these trying times.
All too often the government has responded to crises by circling wagons around incumbent firms — the large prime contractors, whose political connections afford them bailouts in the name of “ensuring ongoing competition.” This process is already underway. After announcing its hope for a $60 billion relief package for the aerospace manufacturing industry, Boeing successfully lobbied for $17 billion worth of loans for firms “critical to maintaining national security.”
The CARES Act also announced provisions to streamline the Defense Department’s contracting process, which sounds promising, except for the fact that these provisions apply only to contracts worth over $100 million. This discriminates against smaller, more nimble innovators and providers of cutting-edge technology.
This isn’t how things have always been. After complaints about large horse dealers monopolizing military contracts during the Civil War, the government allowed quartermasters to purchase horses and mules from any dealer on the open market. In World War II, Congress created the Smaller War Plants Corporation, which awarded tens of thousands of contracts to small, competitive firms. Today, through innovative use of Small Business Innovation Research money, other transactional authorities, rapid work programs and the like, the Pentagon is certainly signaling interest in emerging technologies.
But let us be clear: We are not advocating continuing to invest larger dollar amounts into never-ending, short-term pilots and prototypes. The key to sustaining the innovation base through this crisis and any future crises is transitioning the best of these companies and products into real production contracts serving the day-to-day needs of the mission. Host tough, but fair competitions for new innovations, and then rapidly scale the winners.
America’s technological supremacy has afforded our country nearly a century of military hegemony, but it is not a law of nature. Sovereign states and peer competitors like Russia and China will quickly outpace us if we take our prowess for granted. We need new entrants into the defense industry more than ever, but without government support through crises like this one, the talent and capital simply won’t be there.
As the Department of Defense readily acknowledges, its mission is fundamentally changing. Breakthroughs in technological fields like artificial intelligence, autonomous systems, robotics, resilient networks and cyberwarfare mean that future conflicts will look nothing like those we have seen before. The DoD of tomorrow needs a fresh wave of technical expertise to understand and respond to these new kinds of threats.
That is not to say that legacy defense contractors are not needed; their expertise in large air and sea vehicles is currently unparalleled. But the expertise to build these new technologies resides in pockets of talent that the big and bureaucratic incumbents, who made their names with 20th century technology, lost access to decades ago.
The DoD has publicly exalted the importance of innovative defense startups for years. That is partly why we are so excited to invest capital into the defense sector at this moment in history. Silicon Valley has a chance to live up to its oft-ridiculed but sincere ambition to make the world a better place by investing in American national security.
However, we as venture capitalists and growth equity investors also have a duty to our limited partners who have entrusted us to invest and grow their capital. If we see the same old story of the government claiming to support small businesses but prioritizing its old incumbents, those investment dollars will disappear.
Times of rapid and unprecedented change, as COVID-19 has precipitated, also provide opportunities. The DoD and Congress can reshape budget priorities to put their money where their mouths have been and support innovative defense technologies. Each dollar awarded to a successful venture capital and growth equity-backed defense startup through a competitively awarded contract attracts several more dollars in private investment, providing the DoD significantly more leverage that if that same dollar was spent on a subsidy or loan to a large legacy contractor. This leverage of private capital means that every contract a startup receives accelerates by up to 10 times their ability to build technology and hire talent to support the DoD’s mission.
The bottom line is this: There’s no reason to let a health crisis today become a national security crisis tomorrow. The DoD has an opportunity to not only sustain but grow its innovation base, and give contracts, not lip service, to innovators. We, the undersigned, hope they do.”
The contributors to this commentary are: Steve Blank of Stanford University; Katherine Boyle of General Catalyst; James Cham of Bloomberg Beta; Ross Fubini of XYZ Capital; Antonio Gracias of Valor Equity Partners, who sits on the boards of Tesla and SpaceX; Joe Lonsdale of 8VC, who also co-founded Palantir; Raj Shah of Shield Capital, who is a former director of the U.S. Defense Innovation Unit; Trae Stephens of, Founders Fund; JD Vance of Narya Capital; Albert Wenger of Union Square Ventures; Josh Wolfe of Lux Capital; Hamlet Yousef of IronGate Capital; and Dan Gwak of Point72.
“From supply chain, to acquisition, to automation, the federal response to COVID-19 is changing what IT means to agencies, according to several top federal IT managers.
As the pandemic grew, the Small Business Administration ramped up its telework efforts and surged its personnel and IT to support disaster and small business loan portals, the agency was told there were potential shortages desktop and laptop computers and lagging supplies of peripheral devices such as mice and monitors, according to agency CIO Maria Roat. That shortage, however, didn’t slow the efforts down, as the General Services Administration and NASA’s SEWP contract had enough to support SBA’s efforts, she said, but it showed a potential problem.
With other agencies, including Health and Human Services and the Veterans Administration looking for similar IT gear, “the supply chain on the hardware side was stressed,” said Roat during an April 30 ACT IAC teleconference.
Cross-agency teamwork, she said, is a critical piece of such a huge response. SBA’s dozens of field offices, for instance, can now rely on IT support from GSA and Agriculture Department IT field personnel because of collaboration through the Federal CIO Council, according to Roat. “I haven’t used that yet,” she said, but it’s helpful to know the help is there.
In setting up its telework and loan platform efforts, Roat said SBA has leveraged software defined networking, collaborative technologies, such as Skype, and Microsoft Teams.
In support of the loan platforms, said Roat, SBA has turned up its Gigabit bandwidth on Ethernet backbone circuits to handle the traffic on the portals. The agency, she said, plans to add more capabilities, as well hone existing capabilities in the coming weeks.
“We’re now getting ready for release five” of those portal efforts, she said. The agency will add additional features, such as chat boxes, a way to view active cases and additional workflow refinements, as well as additional personnel, she said.
The COVID-19 response, said Harrison Smith, deputy chief procurement officer, at the IRS, has shown the federal government needs faster, more responsive methods to get what it needs in times of crisis. The pandemic response has shown the traditional 12 to 36 month acquisition planning cycle “is not how we need to do things,” he said.
COVID-19 “has underscored the need for us to move ahead in a more agile manner” but also balance that quicker capability with responsible spending, he said.
That could mean making a way for agencies to shift to more creative ways of getting things on the fly, possibly forgoing interagency agreements for say, shared services, for instance, according to Smith.
GSA, said Beth Killoran, the agency’s deputy CIO, is learning to leverage drones, data analytics and virtual capabilities to handle more of its federal building management duties. The agency is using geotagged images to track contractors’ construction or repair work on its buildings, to save local and federal building inspectors from having to make a trip to sites, she said. The agency is tasking drone aircraft to do exterior building inspections, as well. GSA has also tapped public data of COVID-19 hotspots at federally-owned medical facilities, to inform where its cleaning crews can safely do their work.
Modernized IT, said Roat, Killoran and Smith, is key to responding to such a huge crisis. The workforces at GSA, SBA and IRS, they said, have adapted quickly to telework because they had begun to move toward telework before the crisis.
House lawmakers previously proposed a $3 billion bump for the Technology Modernization Fund in a COVID-19 bill that ultimately went nowhere, but future additions are possible. Roat, who is on the TMF board that approves projects for funding said it’s unclear if any new funding will be approved.
SBA, she said, spent 50 intense days planning and executing a plan to implement IT to support public-facing portals and services for COVID-19 response.
“From where I sit, I’d bet other agencies are doing the same” reflection on how to move ahead from here, she said. “How would we use that $3 billion to look at the bigger picture?” Should it concentrate on shared services, she wondered. “Everyone is at home right now. Everyone is digital. We need to ramp up out digital citizen interaction.”
“This refers to gathering information about those with whom newly infected people have been in touch, in order to notify them that they might have been infected. The most-interesting example of this is a recently developed Singapore app called TraceTogether.
It is impossible to mention systems such as these without some raising concerns about privacy. These efforts are still in the earliest stages — but we should be tracking how combating coronavirus has entered the digital age.“
“Recently there has been attention to the importance of what is called “contact tracing” for fighting the coronavirus.
This has come up in the discussions of “reopening the country” after recent lockdowns, with the argument that slowing disease spread depends heavily on being able to do this, though it did not appear in the president’s re-opening plan.
But contact tracing has historically been a resource-intensive and very imperfect process. Officials have had to go to newly infected people and interview them about whom they have been in contact with over the previous two weeks. Memories of course are often imperfect. People may not even know everyone with whom they interacted. And the interviewing itself takes significant time and manpower.
In just-published guidance of contact tracing, the Centers for Disease Control has stated that “contact tracing in the U.S. will require that states, tribes, localities and territorial establish large cadres of contact tracers.” Reaching people to interview about contacts can be slow, and contacting those contacts delays things further. Meanwhile, there is a limited window between infection and illness to catch contacts with problems, so speed is important.
However, since the Ebola outbreak in 2014, mobile telephone technology and especially smartphone penetration have dramatically improved. We are now seeing, mostly in Asia, the use of tech to provide quicker, more accurate, and more economical contact tracing in response to the coronavirus pandemic. I blogged a number of years ago on the theme of areas where Asia was overtaking the U.S. in tech apps, which I illustrated with the widespread use in China of mobile payment apps using smartphones and QR codes. We are now seeing Asian superiority with digital coronavirus apps in Asia as well.
This was the theme of a recent piece in the Daily Alert, a publication of the Harvard Business Review that publishes short management-related articles, called How digital contact tracing slowed covid-19 in East Asia, by MIT Sloan School professor Yasheng Huang and grad students Meicen Sun and Yuze Sui.
I think the most-interesting example of this is a recently developed Singapore app called TraceTogether. For those choosing the use the app, Bluetooth tracks smartphones that have also installed the app. The app then tracks when a user is in close proximity with these other persons, including timestamps. If an individual using the app becomes positive to Covid-19 they can choose to allow the Singapore Ministry of Health to access the tracking data — which can then be used to identify and then contact any recent close contacts based on the proximity and duration of an encounter. This is tech-enabled quick and accurate contact tracing. Apple and Google recently announced ago that they are developing a similar Bluetooth-based app, but rolling it out is apparently still a few months away.
Other Asian countries have used tech in other ways to help fight the virus. Taiwan has created a “digital fence,” whereby anyone required to undergo home quarantine has their location monitored via cellular signals from their phones. Venturing too far from home triggers an alert system, and calls and messages are sent to ascertain the person’s whereabouts. South Korea has an app called Corona100, which alerts users of the presence of any diagnosed Covid-19 patient within a 100-meter radius, along with the patient’s diagnosis date, nationality, age, gender, and prior locations. (A map version of the app called Corona Map similarly plots locations of diagnosed patients to help those who want to avoid these areas.)
It is impossible to mention systems such as these without some raising concerns about privacy. The Singapore SmartTracker will save data for only 21 days, and the names of the ill and their contacts will not be shared with others. Wired ran an article on privacy risks of the Google/Apple system and concluded purported risks were quite small.
A bigger question is whether the government should be allowed under any circumstances to require people to sign onto a new contact-tracing app. Observers worry that without very widespread adoption, the benefits of such apps will dramatically decline. One can make an argument, which underlines the general case for disease quarantines, that if people do not quarantine themselves and then become sick, the costs fall not just on themselves but on others they might infect. However, even Singapore, a country without the robust culture of privacy we have in the U.S., has not been willing to require people to install SmartTracker, and only about 20% have done so.
In other words, these efforts are still in the earliest stages — but we should be tracking how combating coronavirus has entered the digital age.”
“First, and always foremost, make sure your profile is up-to-date and fully represents what you do and who you do it for. An out-of-date or incomplete profile will probably cost you business instead of helping you win business. LinkedIn is the top venue for vetting professionals in our market, so present yourself well.
Second, find things to share. As you’re reading the GovCon trade media, listening to podcasts or reading blogs, find things that are worthy of sharing, things that your connections will find interesting and useful. I share events, podcasts (like Nick Wakeman’s Project 38 or Amtower Off Center), contract updates and more. And of course I will be sharing this article when it runs.
Third, reach out to key accounts. Touch bases with all of your connections and look for new connections to make in those accounts. When I am reaching out to new people in a company I am working with, or want to work with, one thing I always do is see who our “shared connections” are. If you share twenty+ connections with someone; that may be worth noting when you reach out. I have people with whom I share over 1,000 connections. Steve Cooper (yes, that Steve Cooper) and I share 1,328 connections.
Fourth, there are a lot of soft touches that you can make through scanning your Notifications page. There are always people who have changed companies, moved up in their current company, have birthdays, and more. For each of these I look at their profile before I send anything. I look to see who else I know at the company and glean anything I can to help me formulate a more personal message rather than simply send “Happy birthday” or “Congrats on the new job.” The more personal it is, the more memorable you become.
For example, a friend of mine just got a new position with a government contractor and I happen to know five other people at that company. So in my congratulatory message I referenced knowing these people and offering to do an introduction. In normal times this might not be necessary, but during the stay at home situation, she may not meet these people for a while. I’ve worked with this woman before and I know she’s extremely competent in what she does so in my introductions to the other people I know I have a high degree of confidence in saying “you just added a great person to your team.”
Fifth, scroll through your homepage to see what other people in your network are doing. This is like a Twitter feed and the more active your network is the more information will be there in real time. So scroll through and look for things that you can comment on, or congratulate people for, or otherwise acknowledge in some meaningful way.
LinkedIn offers you a 24/7/365 way of staying in touch with your 1st degree network. In our current stay-at-home environment this is extremely important.
These are some tip of the iceberg social selling techniques that I have been using and coaching my clients on for several years. They are especially effective at helping you stay top of mind in difficult times.”
“The Navy has been awarding contracts faster since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, but one of the biggest gains have been systems that can assess supply chain weaknesses, according to James Geurts, the Navy’s acquisition chief.
Geurts said doing that allows the Navy to “see what suppliers are at risk. When we understand that, we can start managing those potential delays into our supply system.” That information is then used to inform continuing operations, move supplies if needed and understand when suppliers are back online.
Geurts also said the Navy has geographically networked all of its 3D printers, which provides insight into where the need is on the local levels, “ensuring that we’re not competing or conflicting with each other.” Many organizations are using 3D printers to fabricate parts for medical devices and other needed materials that are not readily available through existing supply chains.
With contracts going out faster than anticipated, Geurts also said the Navy has been examining its business practices, learning how to better collaborate, reduce backlogs and not duplicate functions. All of that will hopefully aid in a faster recovery from the coronavirus, he said.
“Ships still have to come out on time, we’ve got to do the maintenance and continue to supply lethal capabilities to our sailors and Marines, and we can’t afford to lag the recovery.”