“That’s the message Michael Brown, director of the Defense Innovation Unit, the Defense Department’s innovation arm, shared at a Brookings Institution virtual event May 8 on China’s technological impact worldwide.
“You’re never going to win in a technology race with defense,” Brown said. Instead, the U.S. needs to focus on being more productive and “invest in itself” with more basic research.
“What do we do to reform our business thinking and our capital markets to move away from short-term thinking to be more long-term oriented,” Brown said. Ways to focus U.S. companies on building and maintaining a competitive edge include stricter export controls and more scrutiny of foreign investments in U.S. companies, particularly technology startups.
Brown, formerly CEO of Symantec, said the corporate focus on quarterly earnings and stock prices is counterproductive to competing with China.
“They all feed into this short-term thinking in our business community,” said Brown, “we have to reform this or we’re not going to be successful in competing with China.”
Incentives could include tax advantages for focusing on long-term growth and research and development, Brown said. And on the punitive side, there is the possibility of establishing penalties for U.S. companies that off-shore manufacturing or spinning off hardware businesses whose domestic presence can support U.S. jobs and military production.
“The irony is that U.S. companies focus on profits often driven by market dominance ends up aiding China’s cause,” Tom Wheeler, former Federal Communications Commission chairman, said during the event. “The market control, market dominance that we’ve seen from the principal big tech companies thwarts competition driven innovation.”
“It is doubtful that we will be able to out implement China,” said Wheeler, referencing that country’s tightly controlled, one-party system of government. “But we can out-innovate China if we have policies that will encourage this competition driven innovation.”
The big question for DIU is whether it can take advantage of U.S. tech talent, startups and research dollars to maintain a long term advantage over China, which is able to dictate its priorities to industry.
“The Defense Innovation Unit spends all day every day trying to encourage innovative companies to work with the Defense Department,” Brown said. “And General Secretary Xi [Jinping] accomplishes this by fiat. So we have to recognize that there are some advantages to their system.”
Brown said he maintained some doubts about the ultimate success of the “civil-military fusion” practiced in China.
“I don’t know how well that’s going to work for them, but that certainly keeps me up at night,” he said.”
“The intent of OTAs is to leverage commercial technologies for military purposes, improve the nation’s industrial base and allow for more cost effective and affordable solutions without extreme bureaucracy.
Opportunities are available to traditional defense industry partners and nontraditional defense contractors, such as academia, non-profits and other small businesses.“
“Imagine this. The Defense Department had an urgent need for armored vehicles to protect warfighters from new threats during a time of war. By applying a unique and tailored acquisition approach with specific attention to time and similar solutions already available in the commercial marketplace, it successfully started fielding new vehicles only 18 months after identifying the warfighter need.
The program referenced here was the mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle program, which began in 2006. Was the program a success? Absolutely. Was it a risk-free or perfect solution? No. Although the MRAP program was timely in helping mitigate the threat and associated warfighter casualties, there were challenges related to operating field conditions, training, sustainment, transportation and costs. The program, however, ultimately enabled the creation of other military vehicles that are still widely used today and supports how tailored acquisition approaches can produce successful outcomes.
A popular and continuously growing phenomenon within the department is the other transaction authority, or OTA. It permits Defense Department entities to award OTA agreements for research, prototyping and production efforts critical to national security. They are not an acquisition approach or strategy; however, they are flexible options that can support an acquisition approach or strategy.
Given leadership’s priorities for the increased application of adaptive acquisition methods, it is highly likely OTAs will be a key ingredient for success.
OTAs are binding agreements between Defense Department organizations and industry partners that are different than Federal Acquisition Regulation contracts, grants and cooperative agreements. While they are an innovative and flexible option that are not subject to all acquisition laws and regulations, they require vigorous program management.
Here are some points to remember:
OTAs are not new to the department. Although it received limited authority in 1989, the authority has significantly expanded since 2015. As a result, more agencies and industry partners are working together on the agreements. OTAs vastly differ from contracts because negotiations are not limited by FAR-based restrictions and allow for more robust terms between parties. This includes, but is not limited to, intellectual property rights, title to property, payment terms, project schedule or duration, cost or price analysis, financial and project status reporting, disputes, remedies and termination.
Congress specifically provided the authority to foster business flexibility for certain circumstances. Unfortunately, there is not a universal process or checklist for all parties to follow when planning or executing the agreements. This is intentional because universal processes across the department could hinder innovation and expanded industry participation.
Since OTAs will differ between agencies, these entities should individually create and maintain some form of standard business processes to support how to execute them from initial planning through completion. Examples of standard business processes include organizational policies, instructions, directives, guidebooks and standard operating procedures. These resources are foundational for success as they can provide tremendous assistance and value to not only the parties seeking to do business with the defense organization, but also the personnel leading or supporting the process.
There can also be immense benefits for industry partners who have not previously done business with the department. It currently has an “OT Guide” published in November 2018 available to the public; however, it is very broad and not unique to individual DoD organizations. Creating and maintaining standard processes can enable consistent and efficient operations, prevent miscommunication, minimize noncompliance with laws and assist organizations during evaluations or audits.
Since there is not a one-size-fits-all option to execute OTAs, defense authorities and industry partners should be aware of the various options available. Specific to prototype OTs, the most widely used type of OT, there are primarily four options for execution. Figure 1 provides helpful information associated with each option.
Agencies should carefully evaluate all options prior to option selection, depending on the specific need or the entity’s experience with OTAs. Evaluation can be done by market research and other means to effectively support the strategy and objectives. For example, if an organization is seeking a prototype that could be created by start-up companies or existing commercial firms, it may be in the best interest to award an OTA on its own, through the Defense Innovation Unit, or to a consortium.
Alternatively, if an agency is seeking a prototype similar to one another government agency is concurrently seeking through its own prototype OTA, it may be in the best interest — and the most economical option — for it to leverage the other government agency’s agreement. The Government Accountability Office reported in 2019 that the majority of funding for prototype OTAs between fiscal year 2016 and fiscal year 2018 was awarded to consortiums.
Further, the GAO reported that the department — in response to congressional direction — is improving its reports on OTA usage to provide more data and transparency. Given the options available for executing OTAs, it is critical that both defense organizations and interested industry partners are cognizant of the options and their individual characteristics.
Another factor for success is sound planning and identification of technical performance parameters.
Failing to plan is planning to fail. Since parties can negotiate and tailor many OTA elements, it is critical for all parties involved to complete sound planning efforts prior to execution. Also, because they promote “outside the box” business practices, risk management is not a choice, but the backbone of the effort from cradle to grave. Agencies should start planning with a clear needs statement or defined problem supporting a capability gap.
Next, the entity must perform adequate market research and requirements analysis to determine if solutions already exist or whether the capability is possible among industry partners. Adequate market research efforts must consider existing commercial products and practices, technological stability and current similar Defense Department or federal government efforts.
Entities must ensure OTAs will comply with codes, depending on the effort’s characteristics. The agency must collectively and clearly articulate what success looks like and how success or performance will be measured. Is the end game a report as a result of extensive research? Or is the end game follow-on production if the prototype OTA successfully meets the capability gap?
The government shall give full consideration to key areas related to cost, schedule and performance throughout the project’s life since OTAs do not eliminate the need for effective program management. Thus, consideration shall be given to vital technical characteristics or performance parameters, such as cybersecurity, intellectual property, technology transfer, testing, integration, interoperability and life cycle sustainment/supportability. Parties involved should continually ascertain when to continue or terminate the effort based on cost-benefit analysis.
Planning efforts should also encompass the means by which the government will publicize and solicit OTAs. Publicizing activities should target relevant and capable industry partners identified from market research. Solicitation activities must be creative, through fair and reasonable methods, to foster maximum competition. Methods include white papers, commercial solutions openings, requests for proposals, panel pitches, industry days, LinkedIn and Twitter.
OTAs require critical thinking and can be incredibly complex. Besides the many aspects of cost, schedule and performance to be considered and evaluated, they have minimum predefined requirements and are accompanied with unique negotiations requiring advanced levels of business acumen from various perspectives. OTAs are a team sport and should have diverse participation by technical and non-technical personnel.
Standardized OTA training or credential programs are not widely available to Defense Department or industry personnel. Personnel should seek to complete some form of OTA training. Nontraditional contractors should also complete training on the electronic invoicing system that will be used to submit invoices for work performed on OTAs. Invoicing the department can be cumbersome, especially for smaller firms with operations largely dependent on timely cash flows.
OTAs also require sufficient documentation since they have more flexibility and fewer internal controls when compared to other business options. Documentation is also vital to support OTA-related actions were fair, reasonable, transparent and legal. The need for sufficient documentation applies to both government and industry partners.
Appropriate documentation assists organizations in establishing beneficial continuous feedback loop mechanisms to replicate best practices and learn from shortcomings. Documentation also allows independent or unbiased individuals to follow OTA-related business decisions and funding. Documentation is even more meaningful as defense organizations spend greater amounts of taxpayer funds on OTAs and Congress seeks additional details on their usage.
Also, the law requires that all prototype OTs above $5 million include a clause that provides the GAO full access to records. As a result, all parties involved need to make documentation efforts a priority throughout the life of every OTA. Lack of existent or appropriate documentation could cause all the parties to receive undesired scrutiny from
Congress and defense leadership. Congress could also reduce or eliminate the authority if parties do not create or maintain sufficient OTA documentation.
The ability for the nation to maintain a sustainable competitive advantage and efficiently leverage adaptive acquisition methods depends on OTAs. It is all but certain they will continue to grow in popularity.
Although they are a bright and shiny object drawing significant attention from expanded usage, the department, its agencies and industry partners must carefully plan and execute OTAs from cradle to grave.
While they are flexible alternatives, they are accompanied by risks, not appropriate for every situation, and do not have a universal pathway for guaranteed success. OTAs must be treated as a privilege rather than an authority that will remain indefinitely.
Appropriate use in accordance with Congress’ intent could produce tremendous value for the Defense Department and industry partners. Alternatively, inappropriate use could result in inefficient use of taxpayer resources and Congress limiting or eliminating the modernized authority.”
“The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Big Data Project won the Best in Class award for federal civilian efforts. NOAA’s project, which this year completed its experimental phase and is moving into production in 2020, has made massive data sets publicly available at minimal cost to the agency by partnering with multiple cloud service providers.
Among state and local efforts, Virginia’s Framework for Addiction Analysis and Community Transformation was named Best in Class. A project of the state’s Department of Criminal Justice Services, FAACT protects individual privacy while giving state and local officials the ability spot and respond to dangerous trends in opioid abuse in near-real time.
And finally, SAIC won Best in Class among the Industry Innovators for its Battlefield of Internet Things solution. The program incorporates sensors, mobile broadband and networking, cloud computing and other technologies to allow Defense Department organizations to collect and process massive amounts of sensor data, turning it into actionable intelligence.
On the industry side, Chris Sexsmith, Cloud Practice Lead for Emerging Technologies at Red Hat, says it’s reached the point where companies are becoming more concerned with a second layer: It’s not only about leveraging AI itself, but also how to effectively manage the data.
“What are some of the ethical concerns around using that data?” Sexsmith asked. “Essentially, how does an average company or enterprise stay competitive in this industry while staying in line with always-evolving rules? And ultimately, how do we avoid some of the pitfalls of artificial intelligence in that process?”
But one of the biggest concerns right now is the “black box.” Essentially, once an AI has analyzed data and provided an output, it’s very difficult to see how that answer was reached. But Sexsmith said agencies and organizations can take steps to avoid the black box with Red Hat’s Open Data Hub project.
“Open Data Hub is designed to foster an open ecosystem for AI/ML – a place for users, agencies, and other open source software vendors to build and develop together. As always at Red Hat, our goal is to be very accessible for users and developers to collectively build and share this next generation of toolsets,” Sexsmith said. “The ethical benefits in this model are huge – the code is open to inspection, freely available and easy to examine. We effectively sidestep the majority of black box scenarios that you may get with other proprietary solutions. It’s very easy to inspect what’s happening – the algorithms and code that are used on your datasets to tune your models, for instance – because they are 100% open source and available for analysis.”
Open Data Hub is a machine-learning-as-a-service toolbox, built on top of Red Hat’s OpenShift, a platform for managing Linux containers. But it’s designed to be portable, to run in hybrid environments, across on-premise and public clouds.
“We aim to give the data scientists, engineers and practitioners a head start with the infrastructure components and provide an easy path to running data analytics and machine learning in this distributed environment,” Sexsmith said. “Open Data Hub isn’t one solution, but an ecosystem of solutions built on Openshift, our industry-leading solution centered around Kubernetes, which handles distributed scheduling of containers across on-prem and cloud environments. ODH provides a pluggable framework to incorporate existing software and tools, thereby enabling your data scientists, engineers and operations teams to execute on a safe and secure platform that is completely under your control.”
Red Hat is currently partnered with companies like NVIDIA, Seldon.io, and PerceptiLabs on the Open Data Hub project. It’s also working on the Mass Open Cloud, a collaboration of academia, industry and the state of Massachusetts.
But Sexsmith sees a lot of possibilities in this space for federal agencies to advance their AI capabilities. Geospatial reconnaissance, law enforcement, space exploration and national labs are just a few of the federal missions that could benefit from AI’s ability to process massive amounts of data in an open, ethical way.
“Federal agencies obviously have a lot of restrictions on how data can be utilized and where that data can reside,” Sexsmith said. “So in this world of hybrid cloud, there is a need to be cautious and innovative at the same time. It is easy to inadvertently build bias into AI models and possibly make a bad situation worse. Full control of data and regular reviews of both code and data, including objective reviews of ML output, should be a top priority. At minimum, a human should always be in the loop. And while the simplicity of a proprietary service is often appealing, there is danger in not fully understanding how machine-learning results are reached. Code and data are more intertwined than ever, and the rules around data and privacy are always evolving. Maintaining control of your data in a secure open source environment is a smart move, and a primary goal of Open Data Hub.”
“The Veterans Health Administration’s second annual Innovation Experience later this month will include interactive exhibits for the first time, as part of the agency’s overall plan to put emerging technologies in the hands of its medical centers, other agencies and the public.“
“The iEx, as the event is known, is one of several ways the agency tries to promote the innovations that spring from its 172 medical centers. VHA is responsible for a number of medical-technology advancements, including the nicotine patch, barcoded medication administration and implantable cardiac defibrillators.
The agency launched the Innovators Network in 2015 to connect the medical centers and scale successful projects and human-centered design, Ryan Vega, executive director of the VHA Innovation Ecosystem, told FedScoop. The annual exhibition is designed to bring more energy to that process.
“Evidence-based solutions or practices sometimes take a decade,” Vega said. “That’s just far too long.”
The event technically started four years ago as Demo Day, where organizations across the country pitched their products and services — but it was a logistical nightmare, Vega said. VHA reorganized it as iEx last year and hosted it at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. This year’s version returns there Oct. 22-23.
All of the interactive exhibits are tied to nascent VHA technologies and projects from either the Innovators Network or the Diffusion of Excellence, a program that disseminates employees’ clinical and administrative best practices throughout the system. The exhibitions will include displays on 3D printing as well as virtual and augmented reality.
VHA medical center personnel will be able to see what other technologies are out there and how they might apply to their own use cases. Industry attendees will be encouraged to consider how they can further such projects and services.
Lesser-known areas of study like proteomics — analysis of proteins in the body that might indicate risk of cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, or diabetes — also will be represented. A pad will be demoed that patients can step on and have biometric sensors detect skin breakdown or ulcers associated with various ailments, Vega said.
The biggest announcements will also be live-streamed on VHA’s YouTube channel.
“We can do the necessary [research and development] to get these technologies to the point where we can operationalize them,” Vega said.
Vega said this year’s 3D printing booth shows how far medical modeling has come. VHA’s work with the technology actually began with incremental funding from the Innovators Networks’ Spark-Seed-Spread program for off-the-wall ideas.
The Puget Sound Health Care System first experimented with 3D printing. Beth Ripley, a radiologist there, now chairs VHA’s 3D Printing Advisory Committee.
A CT scan or MRI creates layers of anatomy to form an image, which can be 3D printed layer by layer into a medical model for surgeons to examine and show to patients. What’s more, layered printing increases the tensile strength of objects — making the process great for developing more affordable, synthetic prosthetics tailored to patients’ anatomies.
Now 25 VHA medical centers use 3D printing, though the excitement lies with bioprinting of tissue and even bone grafts converted from fat cells, Vega said. He believes the printing of fully functional organs will happen within his lifetime.
But VHA doesn’t just want to roll 3D printing out in every medical center because that’s inefficient, Vega said. Instead the agency will only scale the technology where facilities have the right infrastructure, equipment and training.
Medical centers can decide for themselves whether they’re ready after being exposed to 3D printing at iEx. One VHA center can always ship a medical model or prosthetic to another, ensuring technologies reside only in places where quality can be assured, Vega said.”
“Federal agencies will engage a new class of Presidential Innovation Fellows (PIFs) with technical and entrepreneurial expertise to help transform organizational practices within the American government.
The 20 Fellows come with experience in artificial intelligence, data science, product management, customer experience and design and hail from Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, Washington state, Massachusetts, New York, Virginia, California, and Washington D.C.”
Meet them here and learn about the projects they’ll be working on:
Irtaza Barlas is joining from Johns Creek, Georgia, and will be detailed at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farmers.gov. He’ll be leading the Farmers.gov portal effort and function as a bridge between the technical and business stakeholders. Irtaza brings more than 25 years of diverse technology and product development experience to the program. With a passion for innovation, Irtaza has developed strong technology teams in small to medium-sized businesses, co-founded several startups and also served as CTO in three others. He has architected systems for several diverse sectors including agriculture, real estate, textile and fabrics, utilities, and healthcare.
Devin Brande is joining from Washington, D.C., and will be one of two fellows detailed at the U.S. Navy Digital Warfare Office (DWO). Leading product development and strategy for DWO, he will help translate the operational outcomes the Navy envisions for digital warfare into technical plans, architectures, experiments, and guidance so that the Navy can develop and acquire the right capabilities it needs to enable digital transformation in warfare missions. Devin is a seasoned leader in national security technology innovation with deep experience working with diverse teams to develop and transition new technologies into the national security enterprise. Most recently he was Director, Product Management and Advanced Programs at Orbital Insight.
Minh H. Chau is joining from Los Angeles, California, and will be detailed at the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). He’ll be helping MCC ensure that their partner countries have the data, technology and innovations skills needed to maximize the impact from U.S. investments and to leverage the digital data revolution to drive their own development priorities. Most recently, Minh was the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Radii Robotics, a venture-backed company in the field of artificial intelligence-driven industrial aerial robotics. During the past two years, Minh led the team from ideation to product development and venture capital funding.
George Chewning is joining from San Francisco, California, and will be detailed at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Research AI Center. He’ll be helping the VA use data to further the impact on veterans’ health and make new discoveries with VA Research’s wealth of research information. George is a West Point graduate and former Army Infantry Officer. Most recently, he worked for Facebook where he led implementation of machine learning solutions to optimize availability of global data infrastructure. While at Facebook, he initiated the development of the Military Skills Translator, a tool to help veterans identify prospective career paths based on their military experience and realize their potential in the technology industry.
Dennis Chornenky is joining from Minneapolis, Minnesota, and will be detailed at the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). He’ll be helping DOT develop technology so citizens can travel safer and more efficiently. Dennis is an experienced professional with twenty years of entrepreneurial leadership in technology strategy, artificial intelligence, and healthcare systems. Throughout his business career, Dennis has managed senior leadership teams, M&A deal teams, and product development and sales teams. His experience includes investment banking at Lazard, building an alternative investments and trading business at Morgan Stanley, and founding an AI-driven telemedicine startup in Silicon Valley and a drone startup at MIT.
Christopher Corpuel is joining from Bethesda, Maryland, and will be detailed at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Veteran’s Experience Office (VA VEO). He’ll be helping move the VA VEO towards a veteran-focused infrastructure and experience. Christopher is an innovation and growth leader who combines strategy, CX design, product and brand management skills with an ability to align global resources and capabilities to bring compelling concepts to fruition. Christopher was most recently Global Head of Product at CBRE where he oversaw the development and launch of Hana, their global flexible space offering, delivering engaging and productive work environments for owners and occupiers at scale.
Ariele Faber is joining from New York, New York, and will be detailed at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). She’ll be helping CMS modernize their technology so that they can share data across the healthcare ecosystem to support data-driven decision-making and innovative research. Ariele has worked across startups, small businesses, non-profits, and corporations specializing in healthcare and life sciences. Prior to government, Ariele worked in design strategy at Johnson & Johnson, leading care-centered design initiatives across the enterprise.
Angelo Frigo is joining from Chicago, Illinois, and will be detailed at the U.S. General Services Administration’s Office of Product and Programs (GSA OPP). He’ll be helping develop a government-wide, lightweight, low-cost, streamlined mechanism for collecting customer feedback and improve the customer experience (CX) with federal services. Prior to being named a Presidential Innovation Fellow, Angelo consulted to Feeding America on the digital transformation of food rescue and charitable food distribution. He also helped establish the Corporate Digital UX function at McDonald’s.
Joshua Farrar is joining from Arlington, Virginia, and will be detailed at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Resolution Management (VA ORM). He’ll be helping the VA to better support employees who submit cases of discrimination and creating a healthy working environment for all VA employees. Joshua is a consultant who has worked for non-profits, education and textbook companies, and VR startups, social networks, social media projects, media outlets, political parties and campaigns, and https://search.gov. He has shipped statistical aggregates, data warehouses, search engines, data processing pipelines, natural language processing systems, reporting tools, user interfaces, and APIs.
C.C. Gong is joining from San Francisco, California, and will be detailed at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of the Chief Technology Officer (VA CTO). She’ll be helping the VA CTO adopt modern digital service delivery best practices, become more data-driven, improve processes and improve the experience that veterans have when interacting with the VA online. C.C. is a product leader who has built cross-functional, global teams to bring innovation to a wide variety of technology products, from the augmented reality HoloLens device to consumer apps like Facebook Messenger, used by 1.6 billion people worldwide.
Michelle Holko is joining from Cabin John, Maryland, andwill be detailed at National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) All Of Us Research Program. She’ll be working with NIH to better engage research participants and researchers for All of Us. Dr. Holko is a biomedical scientist driving innovation in health data analytics and bioinformatics. Her professional experience encompasses a variety of projects at the intersection of biology, national security, emerging technology, and analytics. She has recently served as a Senior Lead Scientist for the Biological Technologies Office at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
Ken Kato is joining from Everett, Massachusetts, and will be detailed at the U.S. Navy Digital Warfare Office (DWO). He’ll be leading product development and strategy for DWO, responsible for translating the operational outcomes the Navy envisions for digital warfare into technical plans, architectures, experiments, and guidance so that the Navy can develop and acquire the right capabilities it needs to enable digital transformation in warfare missions. Ken Kato is an entrepreneur, platform/cloud architect, change agent, and innovator. Most recently he was a founding member of Kessel Run at the U.S. Air Force.
Melissa Keene is joining from Arlington, Virginia, and will be detailed at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farmers.gov. She’ll be leading the Farmers.gov portal effort and function as a bridge between the IT and business stakeholders. Melissa is a seasoned UX leader with experience implementing company-wide Agile, design thinking, lean UX, and product discovery transformations. She has secondary experience managing product management teams. Her in-depth technology background enables the experience to get built, not just designed. Melissa has industry expertise in government, finance, and media and is a data visualization subject matter expert.
Johnny Martin is joining from San Jose, California, and will be detailed at Login.gov. He’ll be helping Login.gov simplify secure access to online federal services for the public, and reduce costs for agencies and taxpayers. Johnny is a software development entrepreneur and has held strategic roles in software startups innovating, leading, mentoring, and doing. He has been a software architect at PayPal and Adobe, a professor of computer science, and a founder of several startup companies including Object Guild and Xmlify, both bootstrap companies that employed over two dozen employees.
Wanmei Ou is joining from Arlington, Massachusetts, and will be detailed at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of the Chief Technology Officer (VA CTO). She’ll be helping the VA CTO adopt modern digital service delivery best practices, become more data-driven, improve processes and improve the experience that veterans have when interacting with the VA online. Since graduating from Massachusetts Institution of Technology with a PhD in Computer Science, Wanmei has led multiple enterprise digital initiatives transforming the use of data to enable precision medicine, adjudicate value-based reimbursement and accelerate biomedical research. Most recently she was a Director of Outcomes Research and Data Science at Merck & Co., Inc.
Likhitha Patha is joining from Seattle, Washington, and will be detailed at Login.gov. She’ll be helping Login.gov simplify secure access to online federal services for the public, and reduce costs for agencies and taxpayers. Prior to government, Likhitha worked at Amazon and Microsoft. At Amazon, Likhitha focused on advancing the state-of-the-art of Alexa’s Natural Language Understanding stack by working at the intersection of research, engineering and customers to deliver delightful voice assistant experiences. At Microsoft, Likhitha worked on enhancing endpoint management experiences for enterprise and education (Ed-Tech) customers where she was a founding member of the product team that launched Microsoft Intune for Education.
Gina Valo is joining from Washington, D.C., and will be detailed at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). She’ll be helping the FDA keep up with the accelerating pace of medical product development and regulation. Gina Valo is an experienced leader in customer operations and software delivery with expertise in scaling people, processes, and technology within high-growth organizations. She has held cross-functional and executive leadership roles across a variety of industries, including digital advertising, payments, energy, and cyber security. Previous companies include Google, Square, Opower (acquired by Oracle), as well as several startups at various stages of growth, with a primary focus on business-to-business SaaS platforms.
Nina Walia is joining from Oakland, California, and will be detailed at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). She’ll be helping the FDA keep up with the accelerating pace of medical product development and regulation. Her over 15 years experience includes overseeing innovative, award-winning designs intended to motivate, inspire, educate, and improve people’s lives for Nike (Nike+ FuelBand), Google, GE, PBS, and former First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Active Schools initiative. Most recently, Nina was weaving technological experiences into interactive textiles and surfaces as Design Lead for Jacquard, a collaboration between Google and Levi’s, which was inducted into the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum’s permanent collection.
Scott Weiss is joining from Brooklyn, New York, and will be detailed at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office Veterans Experience Office (VA VEO). He’ll be helping move the VA VEO towards a veteran-focused infrastructure and experience. He most recently co-led a social innovation and design consulting agency based in New York called Community by Design, that delivered human-centric concepts at the intersection of design thinking, civic innovation practices, and community organizing. Prior to that, Scott worked at the award-winning design agency IDEO as an organizational and experience designer.
Kaeli Yuen is joining from Washington, D.C., and will be detailed at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of the Chief Technology Officer (VA CTO). She’ll be helping the VA CTO adopt modern digital service delivery best practices, become more data-driven, improve processes and improve the experience that veterans have when interacting with the VA online. Kaeli is an MD and clinical informaticist experienced in research, product management, and health information technologies. She enjoys building products, processes, and teams from the ground up, and has recently done so at The Human Diagnosis Project, Akido Labs, and the D-Health Lab at the University of Southern California.
Since 2012, the Presidential Innovation Fellows program has hired 159 mid-career entrepreneurs, data scientists, AI/ML experts, design strategists, product leaders and technologists from the private sector to team up with agency partners to tackle hard problems and deliver value for the American people.”
“Today, our technical leadership is being challenged by near-peer adversaries, particularly in areas related to national security – such as cyber, artificial intelligence, hypersonics and space capabilities.
This challenge, similar to the race to reach the Moon, creates a clear opportunity for America: to establish a vision and rededicate itself to invest in the innovation and talent necessary to deliver new technologies that will extend our leadership for decades to come. “
“The 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing celebrated our nation’s technical prowess and rekindled the spirit of pride Americans share when we achieve great things.
The United States’ well-deserved reputation as a global technology leader stems in part from government and industry’s strong investment in innovation and talent. This is most evident in the aerospace and defense industry, where government agencies and A&D partner companies develop world-leading aviation, space and defense technologies. Many of these evolve into popular commercial applications that we use every day, such as GPS.
The first step is establishing a stable funding platform that allows government agencies and partner companies to plan for and invest in the technology and highly-trained people that make breakthrough innovations possible. Innovation, whether for commercial or government markets, doesn’t occur overnight. It requires sustained, multi-year investments.
The Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), and leaders from its more than 330-member companies, are encouraged by the recent bipartisan congressional deal raising the BCA caps over the next two years. It sends a strong signal to industry and represents a significant move in the right direction.
Completing the appropriations process will go a long way to spur government and industry partners to invest in the innovation that will help secure our country.
Another important step is streamlining the current cumbersome acquisition process, which is based on complex rules that challenge government and industry partners alike.
DoD acquisition leaders are looking into ways to overhaul the rules and simplify the process. They advocate for changing their culture to one that takes smart risks and champions rapid prototyping and agile acquisition.
Engineers recently used the iterative DevOps software approach to develop a new mid-size robot designed to remotely dispose of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) – safeguarding warfighters on the battlefield. Leveraging DevOps helped reduce software build times by half, enabling developers to quickly add advanced features and field the final system faster than traditional software approaches.
In addition, government and industry need to step up investments in the talent that will drive this innovation. Every day, thousands of high-paying technical positions remain unfilled due to a lack of available talent.
Government, industry and academia are working to close this workforce gap – dedicating funding and initiating a variety of programs, such as apprenticeships that provide more affordable pathways to good paying jobs and workforce partnerships to develop a steady talent pipeline that meets the changing needs of growing industries.
But we need to do much more to close the gap, particularly among women and minorities who are significantly underrepresented in STEM professions. Research shows women make up only 16 percent of the engineering workforce and African Americans and Hispanics occupy 5 and 6 percent of STEM professions respectively.
Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act would help by expanding access to Pell grants, streamlining regulations, creating incentives for employer-academia partnerships and producing more opportunities for students to learn different skills.
The challenge before us is significant, but not insurmountable. Throughout history, our nation has proven our ability to accomplish great things once we first establish a clear vision and strong commitment to succeed. Now is the time to rededicate ourselves to invest in the innovation and talent that will return us to the Moon and beyond, maintain our national security and sustain our technology leadership for generations to come.”
“The Air Force experienced some success with that earlier this year at its first Pitch Day, where it awarded 242 contracts in two weeks. Will Roper, assistant secretary of acquisition for the Air Force, told the Federal Drive with Tom Temin that needs to become the new normal.
“Government credit cards are used to buy things that are considered pretty ordinary … buying cutting edge ideas needs to be ordinary for us today,” Roper said. “So we did our homework on the companies, we made sure that they’re U.S.-based, we made sure that we thought they were viable, that they had a good idea so that when we invited them to come pitch to us, they had already cleared our good-enough-to-get-through-the-gate criteria. But once they got in to pitching to us live, we were really scrutinizing their ideas. So the company had already passed muster. Now we want to understand about the idea.”
And to take that one step further, Roper said when you buy the idea, you’re also buying the team that supports it. Companies need to showcase their teams at a pitch day just as much as their ideas.
Another unique aspect of working with these small companies and startups is that they expect to own their intellectual property, rather than having the government own it. But that’s an aspect that can work to the Air Force’s advantage.
“Very different than if you’re a defense company that gets a hold of a unique, boutique-type capability where there’s not competition, and you expect to hold on to it for decades. In the commercial space, we expect there to be very energetic, in some cases, violent competition to try to be market-leading.
In this new acquisition paradigm, Roper said the Air Force needs to manage two things. First, there has to be a restriction process to keep certain technologies from globalizing. And second, the Air Force has to become a faster, if not the fastest, adopter of technologies open to everyone else, like with artificial intelligence.”
“It’s also important to remember that most startups and small tech companies don’t want to be defense prime contractors. But that doesn’t mean the Air Force can’t be a great first partner, Roper said. After all, the Air Force doesn’t want part ownership, equity, or IP.”
“So this is just the first step on really changing how we the Air Force work in a global ecosystem of commercial technology, and ensure that if you can buy something personally and have it on your phone today, that it’s available for our war fighters that fast,” Roper said
“Let’s take, for instance, self-flying cars. So I want to see the Jetsons happen on my watch. Those cars are awesome,” Roper said. “Where have they been? Think about the challenge of operationalizing something like that domestically, getting through all the FAA certifications, the safety certifications, versus coming into the Air Force sphere, where we can pay a higher price point than our commercial counterparts. And we can operate at a different risk profile. Now, why haven’t we put ourselves out as a bridging mechanism from someone that has commercial ambitions and wants to get there and they can walk our defense bridge as one of the paths to achieve it. So that’s an area that I’m working with our research lab right now to look for commercial partnerships, where our money’s important, but our marketplace equally is.”
“The House Armed Services Committee’s top Republican doesn’t like the speed in which the Defense Department is implementing acquisition reforms and possible cuts to some defense agencies, and he’s ready to do something about it.
Committee Ranking Member Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) told reporters Tuesday he’s prepared to use legislative “sticks and carrots” to spur DoD on to abide by the law faster.
“There are some basic constitutional principles here,” Thornberry said. “If the law says you should do it; you should do it. We have tools, fencing money, and a whole variety of things that we can look at doing if a department is not implementing the law.”
Fencing money is when Congress doesn’t allow an agency to access a certain amount of funds unless the agency reaches certain benchmarks set out by Congress. Lawmakers fenced the Defense Innovation Unit’s money a couple years ago until it delivered a clear roadmap and strategy to them.
Over the past few years, Congress gave DoD a slew of acquisition tools to use to attract nontraditional companies, bring in small businesses and fire up innovation. Thornberry says DoD is taking too long to implement those laws and it’s causing national security issues.
“Part of the consequence of that is that it is still far harder and more difficult to do business with the Department of Defense than it should be and a fair number of innovative companies are saying it’s just not worth it,” Thornberry said. “Even if all of that were being implemented perfectly, there are still challenges for some small company that has technology X and says ‘I can go to the commercial market this fast and make this amount of return or I can go through DoD’s laborious process.’”
To DoD’s credit, it has a lot of provisions to implement and it takes time to change the culture of acquisition professionals so they will use the new tools.
The 2017 defense authorization act had more than 100 acquisition provisions for DoD, including expanded use of other transaction authorities and mid-tier acquisition.
Last March, the military secretaries told Congress to hold off on some reforms so they could focus on the ones they were already in charge of putting into place.
“There’s some fascinating and interesting tools that we’re using and we are going to use and look forward to using, so thank you for those,” Navy Secretary Richard Spencer said. “I would ask for a stabilization period so that we can digest what we have and have the ability to come back to you if we need more, but right now the knife drawer looks full.”
DoD is also wrestling with recommendations from the Section 809 Panel, which gave the department a whole swath of ways to reduce duplicity and waste in acquisition.
Thornberry is also frustrated with DoD over a provision to cut back on defense agencies not aligned with military services, like the Defense Information Systems Agency.
The DoD Chief Management Officer was supposed to submit a report on cutting the fourth estate by 25 percent under the 2019 defense authorization act. Thornberry says the report is still not submitted.
“The plan was supposed to be to us by Feb. 15,” Thornberry said. “Then they said ‘Oh, we are going to be late. It’s going to be, I don’t know, March 15. Well, we still haven’t gotten it. I’m having a meeting this week on this topic.”
One reason DoD may not have provided the report is it hasn’t had a CMO since last November. Lisa Hershman is currently serving in the acting capacity.
It’s not just Congress that’s noticing DoD dragging its feet, and there are other areas DoD is slow to implement the law.
“The process for updating and refining the acquisition regulation to keep pace with Congress has slowed to a glacial pace,” Scott Freling, a partner at Covington & Burling LLP told Federal News Network. “That causes quite a bit of consternation for contractors we work with where there’s changes that Congress has made to the procurement rules that aren’t yet reflected in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) or in the Defense FAR supplement. That uncertainty has been a source of concern by many clients where they are left in a state of wondering where they can avail themselves of the new rules or whether they have to wait until the FAR Council acts.”
It becomes even more of a concern when regulations are put on companies and they aren’t sure whether they need to comply now or after the rule is put into effect.
As an example, the Professional Services Council sent a letter in November to the assistant defense secretary for acquisition asking DoD to issue overdue regulations on the appropriate use of lowest-price technically acceptable criteria for DoD services contracts. The rules would implement a legislative provision Congress enacted three years ago, in the 2016 NDAA.
The Government Accountability Office also scolded DoD for its snail pace.
The House Armed Services Committee took note of the issue in its 2019 defense authorization committee report too.
These types of delays often do not allow “the acquisition and contracting communities within and outside the government” to “take full advantage of recent reforms and improvements to acquisition and contracting procedures,” the report stated.
There are several provisions from the 2016 NDAA that are still in the promulgation phase or have yet to break into the culture of DoD employees.
“It’s definitely taken a few years for the department to get its arms around these authorities,” Bill Greenwalt, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council told Federal News Network. “I’m optimistic now, seeing they are starting to use these authorities. There were so many that were put in place in 2015 and 2016 that we don’t even have regulations for it yet. We are going to have to see how the department gets its arms around that and starts executing.”
“The Maryland Defense and Aerospace Consortium held its first meeting last Tuesday, and Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.) hopes it will instill greater partnership between companies, DoD, universities and even kindergarten classes.
“Much of the innovation takes place in small- and medium-sized firms, and when those firms can partner with larger companies then we are going to get to the warfighter the equipment, the systems, the information and the technology they need at a much quicker pace,” Brown told Federal News Network. “We’ve done a lot on Capitol Hill to try to streamline acquisition, and now it’s really about promoting partnerships so industry can partner and work with DoD to deliver a quality product to the warfighter.”
That means more than just getting companies and DoD together on products. It means keeping the workforce pipeline full of smart, technically-minded people, cultivating small businesses so they can work with the government and thrive and putting industry and colleges together to share ideas.
Brown’s consortium aims to do all of that, especially within Maryland. The consortium’s inaugural meeting hosted representatives from DoD, Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, the Association of Career and Technical Education, the Aerospace Industries Association, the University of Maryland and more. The meeting was also attended by Army Undersecretary Ryan McCarthy.
“The purpose of the consortium is threefold,” Brown said. “One is to create networking opportunities between firms and to strengthen the partnership between the aerospace and defense industry and academia. University of Maryland, College Park is our flagship program; it’s got a strong engineering program. There are a number of fellowships and internships between industry and the university and we’d like to strength those and expand those.”
The second tenet of the consortium is to build best practices. Brown plans to start seminars so large companies can teach smaller firms how to protect themselves from cyber attacks, how to keep supply chains clear to do business with the government and how to hire the best people.
The first seminar will cover data security.
“The larger companies are well resourced to address that challenge with a little more ease. They have some resiliency built into their systems. With small firms it’s a lot more challenging because of their limited resources,” Brown said. “We are also planning this year to have a seminar on specific action items that industry participants can take to partner with schools. Maybe you have an employee that is willing to coach a robotics club or maybe we will pull together a consortium of small, medium or large firms to create a teachers academy to support teachers that are delivering STEM education in our schools.”
The third area Brown hopes to address is connecting industry with K-12 schools.
“There are many middle schools in my district and on a career day in school there isn’t a single STEM professional who shows up,” Brown said.
The need for partnership
DoD started putting a larger emphasis on collaboration and partnerships with industry under former Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s leadership.
After realizing DoD had been focusing on the Middle East while near-peer competitors were starting to reemerge, Carter created hubs like the Defense Innovation Unit to bring in new ideas to keep the U.S. military’s technological edge.
At the same time, Congress changed some of the acquisition regulations that were keeping nontraditional companies from doing business with DoD. The hope was to harness their brain power and use it.
While the rules are changing, small- and medium-sized companies and companies that don’t traditionally work with DoD are still on the outside looking in when it comes to contracting with the government.
DoD is pushing for outreach mechanisms like Brown’s to build more relationships with nontraditional defense companies that are innovating quickly.
Another worry involves the limited talent pool from which DoD and defense companies have to draw from, something Brown called a national security issue.
“Whether you’re talking about cyber defense or the eligibility to join the armed forces, we all know that more work needs to be done to deliver the education, the experience, the training to this potential workforce whether they are going into the military or industry,” Brown said.”