There’s good news and bad news for agencies looking to ramp up telework in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, according to federal contracting experts.
The good news is federal acquisition contracts are set up for quick acquisition of essential telework equipment, such as laptops or tablets, said acquisition experts FCW spoke with. The bad news could be that online scammers are watching the expanding tele-workforce with great interest.“
“The emphasis on agency telework is growing, and although most agency employees are already assigned computers, there may be some hardware gaps to fill as workforces move to remote locations.
Federal governmentwide acquisition contracts, such as NASA’s Services for Enterprise-Wide Procurement, the General Services Administration’s ordering schedule and the National Institutes of Health Information Technology Acquisition and Assessment Center (NITAAC) are set up to help quickly fill laptops, tablets and other IT commodity orders, they said.
“In general, SEWP is an agile acquisition vehicle that allows for quick turn-around times for quotes and provides points of contacts for all contract holders to facilitate quick communications,” Joanne Woytek, SEWP manager told FCW. The GWAC, she said, has not seen any specific increase related to teleworking support, so far.
“For laptops, tablets, printers, agencies have purchase cards,” Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president and counsel for the Professional Services Council, told FCW. “Orders placed on SEWP and federal schedules can get responses within 24 hours,” he said, adding that speedier responses could pump up costs.
SEWP posted a warning on its webpage at the beginning of March saying delays in some order could result from stresses on the supply chain.
In an email to FCW on March 11, Woytek again noted that delivery of technology “is limited by the capacity of industry.” She said order delivery “is going to be on a case by case basis and greatly dependent on the complexity, configuration and size of an order.”
However, the demand for laptop and tablet computers from federal agencies during the next few weeks, probably won’t be too steep, said Roger Waldron, president of the Coalition for Government Procurement.
Agencies, however, should be working diligently to “level set” their computer and network needs for the coming weeks, as well as keep informed on their existing IT contracts and how to leverage GWACs, such as SEWP, to back fill last-minute IT and IT commodity needs.
Even though agencies will probably have the resources to get any necessary computers for new telecommuters, another acquisition expert said they face a sneaky obstacle — telework-savvy cyber adversaries.
Bad actors are on the lookout for new teleworkers, as those workers open up a vulnerability to protected networks, said Evan Wolff, a partner at Crowell & Moring, who co-chairs the firm’s Privacy & Cybersecurity Group and is a member its Government Contracts Group.
Targeted phishing emails and other cyber crime techniques could be a challenge for federal IT managers with increasing numbers of telecommuters, Wolff told FCW in an interview.
Federal IT managers, he said, may not have appropriately secure infrastructure in place to lock down all communications. Additionally, simple things, such as shared living space with non-government employee roommates, could also present issues, if the federal teleworker has a sensitive post, he said.
“We’re already seeing a focus on customized phishing” aimed at non-government telecommuters as the coronavirus spreads, said Wolff. That wave of targeted remote worker phishing email is probably coming to new federal telecommuters too.
“Bad actors understand a target’s leadership and the types of appropriate email” that could temp them into taking the bait, he said.”
“The Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) wants to nail down language on exactly when federal procurements begin and end to help eliminate delays.
OFPP proposed a rule change and is seeking comments on redefining the term “Procurement Administrative Lead Time” (PALT) and on a plan for measuring and publicly reporting governmentwide data on PALT for contracts and orders above the simplified acquisition threshold.“
“The agency wants to adopt the definition from section 878 of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act. That language defines PALT as “the time between the date on which an initial solicitation for a contract or order is issued by a federal department or agency and the date of the award of the contract or order.”
Establishing a common PALT definition, said OFPP, as well as a plan to measure and report it can help the government pin down delays in the procurement process. Equipped with a common definition, it said, agencies can then use common data to make improvements.
Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president and counsel of the Professional Services Council, said he was “pleased” with OFPP’s proposed use of the NDAA definition.
“Time is money” for both federal agencies and contractors involved in an acquisition, he told FCW, adding that a revised PALT definition would help measure both.
Others want to tweak it a bit.
“I propose that PALT be defined as the cycle time between the solicitation response and the date award,” said Dave Zvenyach, former executive director of GSA’s 18F and former deputy commissioner for the agency’s Technology Transformation Service.
“PALT is the sort of topic that drives procurement nerds to drink,” said Zvenyach in a blog post on the issue. Defining it has been traditionally hard to do, since pinning down the “initial moment of requirement identification is notoriously difficult.”
Comments on the PALT language are due in 30 days.”
“The Pentagon is launching a new initiative that will shape its long-term plans for integrating 5G networks into U.S. military operations. The emerging technology is viewed as a potential gamechanger as the United States squares off against China in great power competition.
The term 5G refers to the oncoming fifth generation of wireless networks and technologies that will yield a major improvement in data speed, volume and latency over today’s fourth generation networks, known as 4G. 5G networks are expected to be up to 20 times as fast, according to a Defense Innovation Board study published earlier this year titled, “The 5G Ecosystem: Risks & Opportunities for DoD.”
“The shift from 4G to 5G will drastically impact the future of global communication networks and fundamentally change the environment in which DoD operates,” the report said. “5G has the ability to enhance DoD decision-making and strategic capabilities from the enterprise network to the tactical edge of the battlefield.
“5G will increase DoD’s ability to link multiple systems into a broader network while sharing information in real-time [and] improving communication across services, geographies and domains while developing a common picture of the battlefield to improve situational awareness,” it added.
The improved connectivity may enable a slew of new technologies, such as hypersonic weapons, resilient satellite constellations and mesh networks, it noted.
5G is a top priority for the office of the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, and the Pentagon is kicking off a new effort to experiment with the technology for various mission sets.
The Defense Department has selected four bases as the first U.S. military installations to host testing and experimentation for 5G technology: Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington; Hill Air Force Base, Utah; Naval Base San Diego, California; and Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, Georgia.
The first round of opportunities will focus on three areas: integrating augmented reality and virtual reality into mission planning and training in both virtual and live environments on training ranges; developing “smart” warehouses to leverage 5G’s ability to enhance logistics operations and maximize throughput; and establishing a dynamic spectrum sharing testbed to demonstrate the capability to use 5G in congested environments with high-power, mid-band radars.
5G could enable the next-generation training paradigm that the services are pursuing, which includes linking virtual and augmented reality systems on a global scale, officials say.
“It’s going to give you better bandwidth, lower latency — so a better, more realistic experience,” Lisa Porter, deputy undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, said in an interview. Porter is overseeing the Pentagon’s 5G efforts.
“For mission training and planning and all of those activities … it has to be as realistic as possible or it’s just not going to be very useful,” she added.
5G could also help drive down the costs of linking systems around the world, enabling them to be more widely deployed, she noted.
“Everybody should be able to have access to this capability … and you’d like them to be able to talk to each other” and experience collective immersion during training events, Porter said. “To do that, of course you have to have the cost low enough that we can afford that.”
Augmented reality, or AR, could have many military uses, said Joe Evans, the Pentagon’s technical director for 5G. The technology transposes data or other digitally created images on top of a real-world field of view.
“We already see that sort of thing at the high end in things like the F-35 helmets,” he said. “This is an opportunity … with the technology getting cheaper to start to be able to push that out to the broader force.”
AR combined with high-speed 5G networks also offers new possibilities for sustainment and maintenance, said a senior defense official who spoke to National Defense on condition of anonymity.
“The ability to assist our technicians in the field and understanding what they’re doing and the complex issues that they’re often involved in in fixing advanced fighter aircraft or cargo aircraft … is a major industrial inflection point,” the official said.
“Now all of a sudden because of the latency [reduction] … we both can test and verify the repair as it’s occurring,” he added. That could help keep cutting edge systems such as the joint strike fighter in the air rather than sitting in a maintenance depot.
The Defense Department envisions 5G streamlining the military’s massive logistics enterprise and improving inventory management if it is employed in “smart” warehouses filled with a variety of sensors that are used for monitoring parts and equipment.
“You want to be able to … have high confidence that you know what is there, where it is going, whether it’s come in or not. You want to make sure it hasn’t been tampered with.
All of these things are further enabled when you have high confidence in the connectivity and your ability to manage it,” Porter said.
Evans said increasing materiel throughput and the speed at which it moves is critical for supplying warfighters with the products they need.
“One of the problems with 4G and even WiFi types of technologies is they really weren’t designed to be having tens of thousands of individual wireless devices talking to the cell site or the access point,” he said. “What 5G is doing is essentially increasing that scale. And so from a single access point, you can now track greater volume of individual items in the warehouse [and do] the finer grain tracking.”
As 5G technology is rolled out, the Pentagon wants to pursue what it calls dynamic spectrum sharing between the military and industry, especially as it relates to the mid-band part of the electromagnetic spectrum that the Defense Department uses for radars and other systems.
Portions of the mid-band are a “sweet spot” for 5G because the frequency enables more bandwidth and greater range, Porter explained.
“The Department of Defense and other federal agencies and then industry, particularly the carriers … are all clamoring for access to a very limited amount of what you might call real estate” on the spectrum, she said.
Today, the military is assigned a certain number of frequencies to operate in the United States. Companies are granted licenses by the Federal Communications Commission and parts of the electromagnetic spectrum are auctioned off for their use. But at any given time, much of the spectrum is not being used, she noted.
“There’s actually a lot of opportunity here,” Porter said. “When I’m not using my spectrum, can someone else use it? Can we develop some sharing rules that allow [the military and the private sector] to use each other’s spectrum … in an efficient way?”
Opening up the spectrum would create greater capacity for users. But the challenge is to do it in a way that military and commercial systems don’t interfere with each other, she said. “It requires some kind of agreements about how we’re going to operate.”
Artificial intelligence will be a critical component of dynamic spectrum sharing, she noted.
“Artificial intelligence allows you to speed this up because if you rely on a person trying to figure this out, it’s too slow,” she said.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency recently held a Spectrum Collaboration Challenge with industry that involved AI. The results will help shape the Pentagon’s 5G initiatives.
“The DARPA Spectrum Collaboration Challenge provided some of the technology underpinnings to make those decisions on how you share those spectrum bands,” Evans said.
“What we want to do is take some of those capabilities and then apply it to this mid-band types of spectrum.”
Defense officials will be going out to test ranges at Hill Air Force Base to explore how a 5G system could operate effectively in coexistence or in coordination with mid-band radars.
Dynamic spectrum sharing could give the military a leg up over its competitors such as China, which is rolling out its own 5G networks, Porter said.
“If the United States figures this out especially with our allies and partners, this puts us in a very strong competitive posture globally,” she said. “We’re going to be able to do things with far more capacity and far more efficiency.”
Dynamic spectrum sharing won’t just have implications for military operations. It will also affect acquisitions, the senior defense official noted.
“By understanding and getting down to the science required, the policies required, it helps then inform and postures us for the next generation of systems that we’re researching and then acquiring,” the official said.
As it builds out its 5G capabilities, the Pentagon wants to leverage the hundreds of billions of dollars that the commercial sector is investing in the technology to enable ubiquitous connectivity, lower latency, higher bandwidth and edge computing. However, that creates security concerns, Porter noted.
“When you start connecting everything to everything else, wow, that’s a lot of complexity,” she said. “We don’t know every vulnerability that’s going to emerge, but we’ve got to try to understand that and then develop an architecture, if you will, that allows us to mitigate and to do risk management smartly.”
The Pentagon, the defense industrial base and the commercial companies building the nation’s 5G networks need to work together to develop protocols for protecting networks, she said.
Meanwhile, the Defense Department plans to use other transaction authority agreements for its upcoming 5G initiatives. The RPPs will go through the National Spectrum Consortium. Companies that aren’t a member of the consortium can still participate as a subcontractor for members that win a contract award, Porter noted.
The number and timing of contract awards will depend on congressional funding and the quality of the proposal submissions, she said.
The Defense Department plans to add new 5G opportunities roughly every quarter. As of press time, the focus areas for the next round had yet to be determined.
Porter declined to say how much money the department plans to invest in these initiatives.
“I don’t like folks to try to game to a number,” she said. “I want them to give us their best ideas and a realistic execution plan against that idea … and we will work to make sure that the best of those get funded.”
While the Pentagon has ambitious plans for 5G, it plans to take a “crawl, walk, run” approach to rolling out the technology, Porter said.
“We’re going to start here in the U.S because that makes the most sense,” she said. “We’re going to start with four [bases], … learn and then expand.”
“Every successful relationship in our lives – whether business or personal – requires a combination of honesty, trust, mutual respect and cooperation. The same principles that govern our personal relationships should be used to foster successful subcontractor relationships.
Whether you’re new to prime work and looking for guidance, or a long timer who needs to refresh your commitment to your subcontractors
Be Honest with Yourself
Step one in a healthy relationship is understanding yourself. By evaluating your own organization honestly, you’ll have a better understanding of where you have weaknesses that negatively impact your performance and client satisfaction. It may be tempting to try to take on more aspects of a project than you’re qualified to in order to maximize revenues, but this short-term win can have massive negative repercussions. Know what you’re good at, focus on those areas, and team effectively to build out the areas where you need to be stronger. The results will far exceed trying to accomplish things on your own.
Surround Yourself with Those You Trust
Trust between a prime and subcontractor is sacred. You both have roles to play in delivering client solutions, and the customer should feel they’re working with one combined team. There cannot be infighting or jockeying for position within your team. Find companies with which you work well, foster relationships with them, trust them to do their jobs and play fairly. Over time, it will become clear which companies you can rely on to represent themselves and you well, and once you find those organizations, hold onto them for dear life.
Don’t Always Put Yourself First
We’ve all worked with prime contractors who default to taking as much of a project for themselves as possible. Subcontractors like to work with other organizations willing to collaborate and share. A selfish prime contractor will struggle to find subcontractors willing to work with them over time. They also will find themselves in peril if there’s a change to a contract designation for the recompete. For example, if a new RFP comes out for your incumbent work and you don’t qualify to prime because of a change to the way the contract is structured, your existing subcontractors have little incentive to bring you in on their teams as they pursue the work. If you play fairly and give others opportunities to succeed, they’re much more likely to return the favor.
Successfully managing a subcontractor involves constant two-way communications. It’s your job to clearly communicate your expectations, timelines and employee responsibilities. And as the prime, you’re also responsible for serving as the intermediary between the client and your sub.
You also need to listen to your subs. Subs are at the frontline of client delivery doing critical work that impacts your overall project success. Schedule regular meetings so the prime/sub team is aligned and provide multiple mechanisms for them to provide feedback. Your sub is more likely to communicate problems with you early if they trust you to work with them to address the problem instead of engaging in finger pointing.
Demonstrate Their Value
Organizations perform best when they feel their contributions are seen and appreciated. Make sure you’re sharing your subcontractor’s successes with your joint client, and regularly communicate any positive feedback to the subcontractor directly. Your willingness to share credit for good work will go a long way in deepening the trust and mutual respect with your partners, which will benefit you in countless ways over time.
Be Financially Responsible
One of the great aspects of working in government contracting is that government pays its bills on time. Your subcontractors know this, and as a result, they expect to have their invoices paid within contractually agreed upon timelines. Do not delay payment to your subs unless there is absolutely no way around it, particularly for the smaller subcontractors that don’t have as much of a cash reserve to withstand the delays.
Legally Protect Yourself
Like every relationship with financial entanglements, you have to protect yourself (and your client). Partnerships typically form when everything is working smoothly and everyone is happy. But if things change, you need legal safeguards in place that protect your organization. Prime contractors (as well as their subs) should always have their agreements reviewed and updated by qualified legal counsel. At the end of the contracting process, your subcontractor should have a strong understanding of what they need to do to stay in compliance with the agreement, and likewise, what the remedies will be if they violate the agreement or fall short on client requirements.
You Know What To Do. Now Do It!
No relationship is perfect, but most can be improved through adhering to these outlined principles. Practicing these behaviors will lead to a range of likely outcomes, including business growth, improved client satisfaction, and a much larger network of companies willing to do business with your organization.”
“Overall the federal government allocates 80 percent of its IT spending just to maintain legacy systems.
Every day, precious money and resources — roughly 80 cents of every dollar — goes toward supporting yesterday’s technologies when it could be put to much better use implementing cutting-edge innovations”
“That unfortunate reality makes every remaining dollar all the more precious. It’s money that agencies can’t afford to waste. Yet spending on “shelfware” — the software in an agency that no one uses — amounts to $18 billion in the government sector alone.
Thankfully, there are strategies that agencies can use to maximize investments in new technology (and limit waste), ensuring they stretch budgets as far as possible. But it can require a new way of thinking; after all, acquisition strategies previously designed to buy paper and toners are no longer applicable for purchasing licenses in an elastic computing ecosystem. Rather than shaping your acquisition strategy to align with vendor Terms and Conditions, consider the following recommendations to get the most out of your IT investment.
The first step is ditching static one-size-fits-all models that ignore mission-driven realities or agency-specific needs. These flat-rate offerings force agencies to compromise, buying into unnecessary plans and paying for services they don’t want. Agencies must instead insist on a targeted, dynamic pricing plan designed to measurably drive agency goals — thus allowing pricing to become a forcing factor in adoption and an enemy to shelfware.
Similarly, agencies should avoid adopting legacy subscription models that require customers to pay in advance, such that risks to consumption and adoption remain on your books. The old-fashioned practice of sizing license purchases against potential expansion does nothing to account for contraction. Agencies today should consider making the most of their investment with custom billing models that offer the potential to decrease software costs over time, and ultimately increase the return on their investment. Some vendors even offer usage or performance-based pricing, meaning that agencies will only pay for the licenses or features they use (further combating shelfware).
While each agency has its own goals, they still need to comply with regulations. Whether it’s FISMA, FedRAMP, FITARA, MGT or the Megabyte Act, the unfortunate reality is that most agencies spend valuable time and resources complying with these complex and labor-intensive requirements. A better approach is to look for ways to kill two birds with one stone, saving money while maintaining compliance by shifting portions of the compliance burden to vendor-partners.
And agencies would be wise to view these vendors as strategic partners, not just as software providers. The vendors can provide in-depth knowledge and insights on government regulatory requirements to help ensure you’re maintaining compliance. Ideally, they can offer insights from similar government deployments that might inform yours. And by all means make sure to fully utilize the ongoing support these vendors offer to get the most out of the systems, not just troubleshoot.
In addition, here are a few more tips to keep in mind:
Don’t buy things you “might” use. Identify your specific needs — and buy exactly that. Should your needs change down the line, vendors will gladly sell you additional solutions.
Implement what you buy. Otherwise, you’ll be back at square one paying for tools you don’t even use.
Take advantage of all the technological capabilities on offer. If you can’t, perhaps you’re again paying for systems that are too much for your current needs.
Conversely, manage your budget by only paying for what you use (pay-go). Add-ons, additional licenses and new capabilities will always be available should you need them.
Don’t let a dated legacy approach to software procurement leave you behind. Not only will this hold your agency back from pursuing innovative technology projects, it will also burn a big hole in your budget. The guidelines outlined above are a better fit for today’s landscape and can put you on the right track to a legacy-free future.”
“Accelerate fielding of new capability without falling into the new “valley of death” is to pursue a hybrid middle tier acquisition/agile acquisition strategy.
It starts with a middle tier acquisition of prototype(s) and allows for time and resources, beginning no later than year three, for full supportability analysis and development; while also completing long-pole documentation in accordance with the Acquisition Agility Act (AAA).“
“The commonly understood “valley of death” is between technology development and transition to a program of record with subsequent fielding of real capability to the warfighter. Said another way, a technology is developed and sits on a shelf without any benefit to the warfighter and the transition into a program of record.
The new valley of death is created when a middle tier acquisition prototyping effort reaches the legal five-year deadline and is not fully supportable or fielded in enough quantities to have warfighting significance. One can also argue that the increasing trends toward prototyping through other transaction authority (OTA) (as part of a middle-tier acquisition or not) can fall into this new valley. Congress is also concerned that this acquisition reform may falter.
The Government Accountability Office released a June 2019 report titled Leadership Attention Needed to Effectively Implement Changes to Acquisition Oversight. In the report GAO finds “As a result, DoD is not well positioned to ensure that approved middle-tier acquisition programs represent sound investments and are likely to meet the objective of delivering prototypes or capability to the warfighter within 5 years.” GAO is reinforcing our concern about the new valley of death. However, they don’t provide a solution and we do.
We propose a promising approach to accelerate fielding of new capability without falling into the new “valley of death” is to pursue a hybrid middle tier acquisition/agile acquisition strategy. It starts with a middle tier acquisition of prototype(s) and allows for time and resources, beginning no later than year three, for full supportability analysis and development; while also completing long-pole documentation (e.g. capability documentation and analysis of alternatives) in accordance with the Acquisition Agility Act (AAA). This will enable a successful milestone B decision to go quickly into the Engineering and Manufacturing Development phase into the Production phase (milestone C) (i.e., milestone B/C, or—worse case—a milestone B followed by a quick C.)
Middle tier acquisition, which was passed into law in Section 804 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal 2016, addresses rapid prototyping and rapid fielding. Because rapid prototyping, by law, avoids the burden of the formal Department of Defense (DoD) regulations, it is a particularly attractive method to begin a program today. But the more rigorous and detailed DoD Instruction (DoDI) 5000.02 and Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System (JCIDS) processes, which define acquisition requirements and evaluation criteria for future defense programs, may still lie ahead for prototypes destined for a more permanent operational capability. Insight by Carahsoft: Cyber leaders address cloud security in this free webinar.
DoDI 5000.02 and JCIDS process execution timelines are measured in years and require lengthy documentation and vetting through the Office of the Secretary of Defense, (OSD), Joint Staff, Service, Combatant Command and Agency staffs. Here, program sponsors must meet certain information requirements. Sponsors must develop and document capability requirements, acquisition strategies, and systems engineering plans. For example, the current DoDI 5000.02 identifies over 50 such requirements
Figure 1 shows a comparison of both approaches.
The AAA in Sections 805-809 of the FY 2017 NDAA directed numerous changes to these existing requirements and acquisition statutes. These changes are important for new starts or upgrades to existing programs of record (POR), including upgrades driven by middle tier prototyping efforts. Here are the high-level tenets of the AAA legislation:
Joint Staff designates areas where capabilities related to major defense acquisition programs (MDAPs) should evolve to meet changing threats, enhance interoperability and more rapidly employ new technologies;
MDAPs use a modular open system approach (MOSA), where practical, to enable that evolution, including cost savings, competition, and technology refresh
Military services establish prototyping investments targeted, in large part, to maturing technologies suited to meet MDAP evolution needs;
Technical data rights tailored for government purposes to be suitable for a modular, open systems approach.
The Secretary of Defense shall provide oversight and establish cost, schedule, performance, and objective quantity goals for MDAPs;
Independent risk assessments will confirm that technical and manufacturing risks are acceptably low;
New milestone reports will to be provided by milestone decision authorities (MDAs) to Congress for greater transparency;
While most of the changes are encouraging, DoD still could use more relief from Congress in the following areas:
Nunn-McCurdy relief associated with changing programs of record to incorporate new component upgrades without being penalized. The Nunn McCurdy Act (10 U.S.C. §2433) requires the DOD to report to Congress whenever an MDAP experiences cost overruns that exceed certain thresholds. A program whose cost growth exceeds the statutory thresholds is said to have a Nunn McCurdy breach. Programs in breach may be terminated if the program is not certified by the Secretary of Defense and restructured. AAA driven changes may cause Nunn-McCurdy breaches and are not necessarily the result of poor management. Although AAA-driven upgrades are encouraged by Congress, Nunn-McCurdy may potentially stifle innovation. We recommend that Nunn-McCurdy breaches do not apply to programs designated as Modular Open Systems Approach-based evolutionary programs that will integrate, test and field component upgrades to meet the evolving threat as intended by the Acquisition Agility Act.
Congressional reprogramming authority increase to at least 20% of a POR budget to allow the new upgrade to get a jump start on staying ahead of the emerging threat. (This would notionally be the first year of a 5-year integration and test phase)
A sufficiently funded pool to allow for prototyping, integration, and testing of the new component in the context of an existing POR.
The services have implemented middle tier acquisition and AAA in their tailored documentation to some degree, recognizing that both will be key parts of many acquisitions going forward. The Joint Staff should be commended for completing their revised documentation in accordance with AAA in August 2018.) Middle tier acquisition and DoDI 5000.02 updates are still pending.
Our warfighters need capabilities in the field now. The DoD doesn’t need a new regulation to start following the law now, especially laws that strive to make DoD acquisition easier. We encourage the defense acquisition community to better understand AAA and leverage it alongside middle-tier acquisition to ensure effective capabilities are fielded to the warfighter as efficiently as possible.”
“Many leaders are stuck in an outdated mindset that you must recruit external talent to serve in major program management roles. Why?
Find the hidden gems in your organization already applied to your crucial programs and projects and invest in their professional development. Help them learn how to think, act, and communicate differently in their role, and how to add their purpose to their management goal. “
“If you can’t find and keep good project and program management professionals, then it’s time to think differently.
According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), there’s an alternative to griping about the cost of sourcing high tech personnel to meet contract requirements in a tight labor market. Just look within your own organization where there’s a ready pool of talent to tap into that wouldn’t cost you a dime to recruit.
The prospect of having to compete for high tech talent has many leaders seriously concerned. Whether serving in government contracting or commercial industries, no technology organization is immune from this tech-talent grab.
The professional program and project management arena is definitely not immune to this challenge, and may actually be at the forefront.
The prevailing belief is that you must fill that PM role with someone who has already built significant trust, possibly someone previously organically associated with the client. The rationalization is that internal PM assets may lack the skills to build a relationship with the client starting from square one.
The other approach is to look internally for dedicated operations-focused program and project managers who accomplish things the right way, understand your corporate culture and implementation constraints. Internal candidates should know how to execute the management process well for the client, but you can’t stop with this goal. There’s a drawback to this approach in building long-lasting trust. It involves a lack of communication skills and knowing how to be purpose oriented.
Trust is best created when the client truly believes that the PM is purpose driven, with the purpose being to ensure the client is successful. This is a new paradigm for PMs and requires learning new ways to think about project success. Trust evolves through effective client communication and learning what success looks like from the client’s perspective.
After you’ve identified internal talent, without a professional development strategy and training PMs may not be prepared to do anything else but focus on meeting deadlines and staying on budget … but not much more. PM training courses concentrate on requirements, scope, schedules and budgets. Some may even stress communicating with clients/stakeholders to build relationships. In actuality, only to any limited extent do these courses explain the “why” and “how” to effectively engage clients to accomplish this.
How do you deal with this challenge?
Help them learn how to think, act, and communicate differently in their role, and how to add their purpose to their management goal.
Don’t overlook that program and project managers are a crucial part of your revenue generation team. Without effective client/stakeholder engagement, your programs, project deliverables, budgets and revenue growth will be undermined … along with competitors winning away your critical re-competes.”
Bill Scheessele is the CEO of MBDi, a global business development services firm providing expertise in business development best practices in the national security, defense, scientific, energy and engineering industries. The firm offers BD consulting, strategy, planning and personnel services in addition to education workshops to help BD professionals identify hidden strengths, barriers to progress and opportunities for improvement. Learn more about MBDi, their revenue growth resources and their workshops at http://www.mbdi.com.
“The U.S. government in fiscal 2018 spent more than $1 trillion. On average, anywhere from 30-to-40% of this goes toward purchasing something.
There is no question that various public procurement entities are evaluating the technology they use to streamline processes, get visibility into their data, collaborate with their suppliers, manage categories and contracts and much more.”
“……… there is a tremendous opportunity for improved spend management, more efficient processes and overall better visibility into supplier relationships in order to maximize return on every taxpayer dollar.
It’s difficult not to think about paper filled offices and uninterested employees. According to a Governing Institute survey, the tech-fueled procurement revolution has been slow to catch on in most governments. Only 35% of respondents, for example, said they have up-to-date spending information and market metrics in their databases even though nearly two-thirds cited such areas as critical to success.
That said, 2019 is most certainly going to see lots of change in the world of public procurement. In fact, it would be interesting to see the results from the Governing Institute survey which is coming up again in 2019. It is my opinion that public procurement across federal, state and local spheres is coming out of the shadows and shaking the stereotype, making 2019 pivotal.
Public sector procurement getting smarter
There is no question that various public procurement entities are evaluating the technology they use to streamline processes, get visibility into their data, collaborate with their suppliers, manage categories and contracts and much more. Procurement leaders in government are more aware and informed now than ever before and as such, they want the best as opposed to “what’s worked before.” Increasingly they are learning from the digital procurement transformation in the private sector and paying more attention to technology trends. There is more research on public sector procurement now with efforts such as Governing Institutes State Procurement Survey and Public Spend Forum. Government is getting smarter and looking for cloud-based platforms that can cover all their source-to-pay needs as well as be configured to meet the needs of individual agencies. They understand that solutions need to be modern and user-friendly for all users including end-users, procurement and suppliers in order to have an impact.
A model that is talked about often in the private sector will become more commonplace in public sector. Customer centricity requires that procurement thinks of itself as a service provider, which means providing expertise and insight, understanding the goals, objectives and requirements of stakeholders, managing projects and change, etc.
On the flip side, this model is also about positioning the organization as “the customer of choice” for suppliers. The idea is to make it easier for suppliers of all sizes to work with the government but also in order to capture the latest innovation.
Rethinking quality and performance
Quality control and performance monitoring are going to become more important for public entities as they draw evermore scrutiny but also in the effort to deliver better services to citizens. Effective quality control requires a streamlined supply chain and better visibility into supplier performance.
Getting a handle on supplier performance and risk will require broad collaboration across agencies or across different entities of a state and must be part of the broader transformation strategy in order to truly be effective. The bottom line is that public sector procurement leaders must have in mind a strategy to monitor and improve supplier performance across multiple metrics.
Is there one place where suppliers register? Do you maintain supplier key performance indicators? Do you have the ability to survey suppliers or users? Can you keep track of contractual commitments? These are some of the questions that need to be addressed.
Data will make the difference
As with all things technology related, data is key. This is even truer as we enter the era of digital technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain and internet of things. Without having a handle on good, clean data, transformation and digitization efforts can be quickly stymied.
Having a strategy to improve the quality of supplier master data, for example, is a key one for procurement and will be important in order to reap more benefits from any procurement transformation. Good data is also the only way to develop strong strategic plans and initiatives that will help better manage spend and suppliers.
Fostering more digital talent
Following the previous point, getting a good handle on data is difficult without the right talent. As with all industries, public sector procurement organizations must equip themselves with the right talent around data, analytics and all things digital. I think we will see this happening more in 2019.
Overall, 2019 looks to be an exciting year for transformation and digitization of public sector procurement. Although, transformation is journey, for public sector it is one that has been long overdue for an overhaul.”
“The organization and function of the Defense Department is so antiquated that it may well prove unable to deliver the changes that the nation needs.
So, even as it focuses on potentially existential threats to the nation, somebody must address the conversion of the “horse and buggy,” which is the present-day Pentagon, to make it perform like a modern turbocharged vehicle.
The challenges are many, but if there is focus on simplicity the department could be improved while dramatically reducing the problems faced by small contractors. The payoff for even modest improvement could be felt most by the smaller contractors, as they are most at risk under the current system. The focus should be to enlarge and modernize commercial interaction done by the department to make it less adversarial, more collaborative, transparent, accountable and sensitive to business cash flow needs.
There is a remarkable asymmetry between the government and industry with respect to fundamental contractual and administrative execution.
The first problem is one of predictable communication and consistent government performance. As an example, when processing a government contract for a simple procurement action inexplicably takes nine months versus the three months promised, the impact at the company level is complex and potentially devastating. This problem is exacerbated when the contracting entity does not provide any communication regarding revised performance timelines. Delays such as these put small businesses in a no-win position. Many businesses live in a world without adequate cash flow and little to no backlog. So, in this situation, waiting until contract award means that long-long lead production items from the manufacturing base will not be on hand when work should start. Production lines that go dormant do not come back to life easily or quickly. Workers trained and available today can’t be stored on dry ice for the six month delay; they are either laid off or employed elsewhere.
So, for many small firms in this situation, there is no choice but to take risk and begin committing precious resources on an un-awarded contract. This in turn intensifies the dependency of the small contractor on the government who now truly controls their fate.
The government must establish and live with reasonable performance standards and timelines. When it fails to do so, it should pay compensation promptly, just as the contractor is now required to pay “consideration” when he/she fails to meet government performance standards.
When both sides have leverage on the other it will drive improved communication and partnership. Presently the burden is entirely one-sided and gives the department unfair power.
In the current calculus people don’t count — either inside or outside of government. The Defense Department should institute modern relationship metrics to measure how individual teams align to their respective missions.
Major consulting firms with international portfolios such as Gallup and Korn-Ferry assist Fortune 500 firms in executing individual employee surveys measuring internal engagement, leadership and performance annually. The first year results of such a survey done on the department’s corporate structure — to distinguish it from the operational force — would probably stun its leaders. They would be given the opportunity to confront the reality that organizational alignment, leadership, teamwork, sharing and collaboration are all capable of major improvement when compared with global norms for like-sized entities. Gathering these results on an annual basis will afford defense leaders the opportunity to evaluate leadership development programs, workforce business processes, software and a host of other factors directly relevant to improving performance. Probably as important as anything, leaders who cannot accept candid feedback on issues will be forced to confront the reality that they must either embrace the input or leave.
In a parallel initiative, there needs to be lateral entry from business to government service at the mid-tier levels. This would bring an infusion of additional talent to a limited entry profession and augment the experience and knowledge base in the bureaucracy.
In addition to internal feedback, there must be measurement of relationships with contractors. The contracting process has to be made more collaborative and timely. A lot can be learned by comparing the business experience of two recent contracting processes. One was a standard government request for proposals to make a $80,000 piece of utility equipment for delivery over a 10-year period. The other was a commercial RFP for a similarly priced comparable item for multiple-year performance. Both were competitive contract awards with multiple competitors. The differences between the two processes could not have been more obvious. The defense-related RFP was 70 pages; the commercial RFP was 27 pages. The commercial RFP was readable and straightforward; the other was complex and contained endless references to additional government standards. The commercial RFP encouraged innovation by outlining desired characteristics and inviting new approaches, the other set specific standards for performance.
The commercial process encouraged continuous dialogue and explanation of performance priorities while the DoD process was terse and regulated by legalistic formality. The dialogue with the commercial partner enabled the prospective partner to educate its customer on new and evolving technology and materials. The government’s enforced silence did nothing to generate shared understanding. But most importantly, the commercial process timeline from initiating contracting action through prototype production was 10 months whereas the government’s was two years.
In a world where collaboration and speed are essential to success, the antiquated government process is increasingly costly and inefficient.
The process of transforming major enterprises and complex relationships requires courage and persistence. The difficulty of implementing change in an organization as large as the Defense Department should not be the argument for failing to start. It is already one or two decades behind leading-edge commercial businesses and is falling further behind.
Nothing recommended above is new, revolutionary or suspect — it’s just good practice.”