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A Case Study on the Power of Partnership: How Federal Agencies Can Find Qualified Small Businesses, Faster

When the Government Technology and Services Coalition (GTSC) was formed a little over 5 years ago, one of our primary missions was to improve and assist our federal partners in performing their market research. We immediately formed a “Market Research” workgroup, chaired by Brian Nault, President of BlueWater Federal to identify how the government could find the best providers, and reach the largest number of competitors, possible to meet the demands of their mission at the best price and highest quality.

We met with procurement officials and contracting officers to discuss some of the challenges of “being noticed,” by federal agencies, particularly for small businesses. We conveyed the shortcomings of the “Requests for Information” from a small business’s perspective, described how the lack of response from some agencies to the information provided in an RFI hindered a robust response from industry, and explained how the value of responding often was not high enough given the need for companies to spend time staying afloat chasing real opportunities. All of these shortcomings held true for any size business.

We are still working on improving the RFI process but recently we were able to provide some tangible assistance to a partner in the government – and were successful in showing that with the proper partnership, the government can get better, and faster access to qualified providers.

It began with a call from GTSC member and GTSC Small Business Member of the Year 2016 Kathy Pherson, CEO of Pherson Associates, a Woman-Owned Small Businesses (WOSB), who was concerned that a partner agency found no Woman-Owned Small Businesses in a certain NAICs code. The member connected us with the agency and to their credit, they were very interested in hearing from us! GTSC put out a call for firms qualifying for the requirements. In less than 48 business hours we had amassed over 25 qualified WOSBs and submitted them to the agency.

With that, they altered their initial track structure for the intended procurement to reflect this market research.

Why am I writing about this? This is obviously an “ideal” scenario!

I wanted to provide a real life example of how our government partners can leverage their industry partners to find their most qualified providers and best solutions competitively. We encourage all of our government partners to consider:

  1. Go to where the small businesses live.  There are very few organizations that really represent small businesses in the federal market. Why? Simply because they do not have tremendous marketing dollars. Small companies look for the most resources for the least outlay of the capital they use to grow. Federal agencies should forge close ties with non-profits that work with, and actively represent small businesses.
  2. Develop and Leverage relationships.Every market is a series of relationships – healthy markets are composed of those you trust and those you do not. That is why “industry relations” are so important to a vibrant federal market. Good relationships with industry allow an agency to reach and get assistance to find the small businesses they need. It also saves a tremendous amount of time and leg-work to try and find new communities around every procurement.
  1. Be strategic.  Different organizations are good at different things. The best federal industry liaisons, procurement officers, and leadership understand their market’s industry partners, who represents what, the organization’s mission, and the efficacy of the organization. Developing these relationships with industry allows them to understand how to best leverage existing resources and find active, engaged businesses.
  1. Talk to your industry partners.  We may finally be coming out of a period where many in the federal government were reluctant to talk to industry. The message we’ve been hearing more than ever – from nearly every component within the Department of Homeland Security – is that acquisition and procurement leaders are encouraging their staff to get out more and talk to, and learn from, industry. As a matter of fact, under the leadership of DHS CPO Soraya Correa the Department has undertaken “Reverse Industry Days” – devised by industry – to provide their contracting staff an opportunity to learn about industry and how it operates. GTSC’s Acquisition & Procurement Workgroup lead, Carolyn Muir from SE Solutions and a former contracting officer with the Navy has been instrumental in crafting and adding tremendous value to the topics and lessons provided in these “Master Classes” on government contracting.

We continue to applaud these changes to our procurement and acquisition process and look forward to continue leading both industry and government as we navigate a market environment moving faster than conventional procurement can handle.

 

Kristina Tanasichuk is CEO & Founder of the Government Technology & Services Coalition, a non-profit, non-partisan organization of small and imd-sized companies working in homeland and national security.  She is also the president of InfraGardNCR, a public private partnership between the private sector and the FBI to share information to protect our nation’s critical infrastructure, and the president and founder of Women in Homeland Security.

Achieving Mission While Managing Telework

Full or part-time telework is now part of the business landscape throughout the Federal and private sectors. When an organization makes any significant change, such as installing a new system, upgrading a process or introducing a new service, expected user acceptance and usage rates may be elusive due to this culture shift. Teleworkers may miss many of the office-based communications, briefings from management, and peer-to-peer conversations.

While the foundations of change management are solid, special approaches are needed to reach both traditional and teleworking employees to move them through the change process. Tailor your change management strategy starting with these ideas:

Reach Teleworkers at Home. Gain awareness and buy-in by a consistent and steady stream of communications on the intranet and email. Regular online surveys both measure interest and communicate messages. Consider setting up a specific intranet site for the change project to answer questions and receive feedback.

Visible Sponsors make a Bigger Impact. Strong sponsorship lends any change the critical credibility for success. If employees are regularly teleworking, an increased level of sponsor communications is needed to ensure the culture reaches them at home, not just in the office. A steady stream of events, webinars and articles from the Sponsor with benefits of the change, status updates and addressing concerns are the tipping point to overcome resistance with a far-flung team.

Target Managers. Teleworkers may not partake in many organization events, but they regularly interact with their managers. In some organizations, the manager/first-line supervisor is the teleworking employee’s only regular touchpoint to the company culture. Focus your change resources on managers, including providing tools for their teams.

Mix training with online communications and in-person sessions. Training is a consistent line item in any change budget. Most sponsors believe in training even if they are on the fence with change management as a whole. For teleworking employees, create a campaign of training, mixing tips, teasers, shortcuts, and benefits with in-person classroom training. When employees come in for training, ensure they leave with effective cheat sheets, reminders and other physical reminders to reinforce training and improve retention.

Marnie FienbergMarnie Fienberg is Vice President at ASM Concepts. Marnie is an experienced Change Manager and Strategic Communicator who has worked on projects throughout the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and has led many projects specifically communicating to teleworkers. She is now Vice President of ASM Concepts, a management consulting company specializing in change management, strategic communications and unique approaches to feedback and metrics. Learn more about ASM Concepts at www.asm-concepts.com

Sorting out the ODNI’s World Threat Assessment

DNI James Clapper has delivered the Intelligence Community’s annual Worldwide Threat Assessment to Congress. In downbeat opening remarks, he reeled off a depressing set of numbers:  60 million people around the world are reckoned to have been displaced; central government authority has collapsed in seven countries; violent extremists are operationally active in 40 countries; and 59 countries face a significant risk of instability. Clapper called instability the “new normal.”

The threat assessment itself was as usual divided into GLOBAL and REGIONAL sections. Both displayed a high proportion of bad news to good.

IC’s View Of Global Threats

Cyber

Not surprisingly, CYBER took pole position on the list of GLOBAL threats, with new concerns relating to the Internet of Things and the deployment of Artificial Intelligence technologies. While the list of bad actors still includes Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, and terrorists generally, new vulnerabilities are anticipated from augmented reality and virtual reality systems. Referencing the Juniper Networks hack, Clapper noted that, in the cyber realm, the trend away from crude denial-of-service to sophisticated attacks designed to undermine data integrity has continued.

Terrorism

The global threat from TERRORISM has undergone a significant change over the last 12 months. According to the Assessment, Al-Qaeda has been “severely degraded.” ISIL’s emergence as the pre-eminent threat has increased concerns about both “terrorist travel” and home-grown violent extremists (HVEs) in the U.S, with other terror groups including Boko Haram and al-Shabaab discussed primarily in terms of their relation to ISIL. Finally, the Assessment notes that the difficulties experienced by host nations in relation to massive population displacements may make refugees targets for terrorist recruiters.

Weapons of Mass Destruction

The IC’s perception of the threat presented by WMD has been little modified since the 2015 Assessment, with continuing concerns about North Korea, China and Russia. The picture in Iran is more complex. While the diplomatic initiatives culminating in the State Department’s Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) have provided the international community with improved oversight of the country’s nuclear program, it is still concerned with enhancing its security, prestige, and regional influence. Widespread reports about ISIL’s use of mustard gas have resulted in Iraq joining Syria as a potential site for chemical weapon deployments.

Lastly, the increasing availability of genetic technology has led to GENOME EDITING appearing on the WMD list.

Outer Space

IC’s assessment of threats in SPACE shows a substantial increase in the number of potential actors, with some 80 nations now participating. Russia and China have developed new COUNTERSPACE capabilities. Russia, which has touted its use of satellite capabilities in support of its Syrian campaign, likely considers countering the U.S. space advantage to be a critical component of warfighting.

Counterintelligence

The COUNTERINTELLIGENCE threat environment remains complex, with Russia and China still heading up a long list of potential state and non-state actors who would seek to penetrate and influence U.S. national decision making. Increasingly sophisticated IT is now the primary vehicle for their actions.

Organized Crime

IC’s assessment of the threat from ORGANIZED CRIME has shifted to place additional emphasis on drug trafficking, but human and wildlife trafficking, and the role of crime in promoting corruption are still referenced.

Human Security

In HUMAN SECURITY, atrocities, global displacement, and climate change have joined extreme weather and infectious disease as significant threats. The growing global consensus on climate change is viewed as cause for optimism, but the health threat presented by the Zika virus is taken as indicative of the potential risks of entirely new diseases arising from human encroachment into animal habitats.

IC’s View Of Regional Threats

IC takes the view that, while great power competition is increasing, the geopolitical environment continues to offer opportunities for the U.S. to co-operate with other nations. However, an international environment defined by such a mix of competition and cooperation will likely undermine existing international institutions.

In the MIDDLE EAST, SYRIA continues to dominate the agenda because of the four million refugees displaced by conflict into Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq. IC assesses that the country’s government will be able to make gains against ISIL, but won’t be able to fundamentally alter its battlespace. Conditions in IRAQ are considered to be improving as ISIL rule falters and sectarian strife is reduced. However, the Iraqi Sunni population’s fearfulness of the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad may hinder efforts at uniting against ISIL.

IRAN presents an enduring threat despite its adoption of the JCPOA and release of 10 U.S. sailors because of its support for regional terrorism and for the Assad regime. In LIBYA, the conflict between two governments in Tripoli and Tobruk has hardened divisions within the country, and damaged the economy, leaving a power vacuum that has been exploited by terror groups. YEMEN’s conflict also remains stalemated, but all sides — plus international backers like IRAN — have expressed willingness to participate in peace talks. LEBANON continues to struggle with spillover from SYRIA. EGYPT faces persistent threats from domestic terrorists directed primarily against state security forces. TUNISIA also faces an ongoing terror threat and high unemployment, but its year-old democratic government gives some hope for the future.

TURKEY, still key to U.S. objectives in the region, is dealing with renewed concerns about the actions of its Kurdish minority, now being courted by Russia in relation to its Syria campaign. It is also dealing with a substantial refugee problem arising from the conflict in SYRIA.

In EURASIA, Russia continues to reassert its status as a great power, using its expanded role and continuing military success in Syria for leverage. Putin’s standing remains at a record high two years after the land grab he orchestrated in Ukraine, despite its negative impact on Russia’s steadily contracting economy. UKRAINE, MOLDOVA and BELARUS are seeking equilibrium with their increasingly strident neighbor. Regional tensions between GEORGIA and RUSSIA and between ARMENIA and AZERBAIJAN remain high, and it seems likely that RUSSIA will seek to increase its influence in the area because of its concerns about terrorist instability.

CHINA continues to dominate the entire context of ASIA, extending its influence on the world stage while conducting an ongoing program of ambitious economic and legal reforms. In NORTH KOREA, Kim Jong Un has strengthened his unitary power and renewed focus on the country’s military program via provocative and threatening behaviors including this year’s missile launches and underground nuclear tests. The new bloc presented by the ASEAN community of Asian nations may curtail CHINA’s ambitions, but the cohesiveness of the group is undercut by the different developmental levels of its member states. Elites run everything and corruption is normal.

In SOUTH ASIA, AFGHANISTAN remains unstable, with a deteriorating security situation that is likely to result in yet more fighting this year. ISIL’s new Khorasan branch will remain quiescent, but Taliban forces under the leadership of Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansur present a renewed threat. Tensions between INDIA and PAKISTAN remain at an elevated level. In PAKISTAN, Sheikh Hasina’s continuing efforts to undermine the political opposition will provide openings for terror groups like ISIL, which has already claimed responsibility for a series of attacks on foreigners.

IC no longer considers SUB SAHARAN AFRICA’s stability to be badly compromised by the Lords Resistance Army or Al-Qa‘ida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and the threat from Ebola has for the moment abated. However, NIGERIA’s government must still faces a significant challenge from Boko Haram. Long-running political disputes continue in SUDAN and SOUTH SUDAN, and DRC, BURUNDI and CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC are all dealing tensions arising from broken democratic processes. In SOMALIA, the elected government is reliant on African Union support to exert its authority over al-Shabaab forces in regions of the country outside the capital.

In LATIN AMERICA, droughts, gang violence and political instability are all driving migration to the U.S. The Assessment notes that the exodus from CUBA to the U.S. grew by 76 per cent in 2015, driven by the slow pace of economic reform in the country and fears of a U.S. repeal of the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act. VENEZUELA and BRAZIL both face economically-driven political instability.

The full assessment is here: http://www.dni.gov/files/documents/Unclassified_2015_ATA_SFR_-_SASC_FINAL.pdf

KT headshot blue jacketKristina Tanasichuk is CEO & Founder of the Government Technology & Services Coalition, a non-profit, non-partisan organization of small and imd-sized companies working in homeland and national security.  She is also the president of InfraGardNCR, a public private partnership between the private sector and the FBI to shari information to protect our nation’s critical infrastructure, and the president and founder of Women in Homeland Security.

Part II: Implementing Agile at USCIS

PART II

In part II of our interview with Josh Seckel, Sara Kindsfater-Yerkes, Chair of the GTSC Business Development Exchange, was able to sit down with USCIS’ Chief of the Applied Technology Division (ATD) to discuss the agile transformation at U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Among ATD’s chief responsibilities are driving the adoption of agile across the USCIS enterprise, brought about in part by providing agile coaching services – experts across the technical, process and organizational change domains who help clients shift their culture and mindset to lean/agile thinking. This is a sea change in Federal IT – moving away from the lengthy, and staged waterfall methods to continuous activities for developing software. By doing them continuously quality improves because testing starts day one, visibility improves through collaboration and increased visibility, and risk is reduced through continuous feedback and prioritization of work.  

GTSC: You’ve been through some of the best agile coaching training out there – for those who aren’t coaches what does “being a good mirror” mean?

Josh: Yes. They are able to point out to the team what is engrained that they are doing and can’t see for themselves, and get them to question, “is there a better way” versus accepting “we’ve always done it this way”. That takes a special relationship – one built on trust, honesty but without being a snitch, not judging but helping and not being oversight.

GTSC: So how are coaches typically different than scrum masters?

Josh: Again, really good scrum masters can be agile coaches, as long as they’ve had experience helping teams grow and get better. It’s a really small number of people that can do that though – be scrum masters AND agile coaches. Biggest differences between scrum masters and agile coaches is their area of engagement – scrum masters focus on team, coaches focus on project or program, and multiple teams of developers, scrum masters and stakeholders. At USCIS we have agile coaches that focus on divisions and entire portfolios of systems.

GTSC: This is somewhat self-serving given my background but how is agile driving culture change in the government?

Josh: Agile is helping the government breakdown silos, slowly. People are talking – maybe not collaborating to the fullest extent but we’re realizing why it’s important to talk to other parts of the organization. Within USCIS the IT people are engaging the business side more than they used to. Speed is also a big driver of change – there’s a new expectation for delivery on the order of months not years. The pace of change in government is increasing – I know it’s been that way in industry – but in government we are really pushing to think about what comes next. Agile is also changing the way we think about quality – we’ve got to deliver quicker, with less resources and keep focused on quality while maintaining that pace. Next, we’ve got to focus on understanding MVP (minimum viable product) on the business side – that’s coming.

GTSC: It’s a consistent pain point – how do you procure agile services?  

Josh: We’ve got to focus on agile acquisition, not acquisition for agile. What I mean is we need look at what we need to change in the acquisition process. We’ve also got to keep contractual requirements in contracts and leave business requirements out of them. Come to Agile 2016 to hear me talk about this – I have a lot to say on this topic!

GTSC:  As you know, GTSC’s “tag line” is, It’s All About Mission.  How do you think agile impacts the mission of USCIS? 

Josh:  Agile impacts the mission of USCIS by providing more immediate responses to changes in direction, both large and small.  When the executive order for Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) came down, we were able to start working on the changes much faster than history would indicate.  And when the court stayed the order, we were able to switch back very rapidly as well.  Or on the small level, we are fixing and changing items on a rapid basis because of user feedback. This enables the officers to be much more responsive to the applicants rather than having to deal with a long wait and many work arounds.

GTSC: So last question, how do we work together (government and industry) to continue to bring things like agile, to the government to improve government?

Josh: Neither can do it alone – agile, devops, etc. – it has to be a partnership. We’re going to put out RFPs for agile delivery, and we’re going to expect that those bidding can do things like test driven development (TDD). If companies bidding don’t have the skills they won’t win. It’s a different world. Companies need to keep the skills of their teams up to date and growing; we’ve all got to focus on the work and the mission.

JOIN US to hear Josh in person discussing best practices in agile at USCIS, March 10, 2016.  REGISTER here.

Sara Kindsfater Yerkes


Sara Kindsfater-Yerkes
, leader of GTSC’s DHS Business Development Exchange and member since 2012, is an Organizational Change Strategist with expertise in guiding large-scale transformations, Sara is passionate about helping individuals and teams to become high performing and creating cultures in which all can thrive. She currently supports Josh and USCIS in the cultural adoption of lean/agile practices.

Part I: Implementing Agile at USCIS with Josh Seckel, Chief, ATD, USCIS

We’ve also got to create a culture of partnership. We recognize companies are in business to make money, but we’ve got to create alignment towards a bigger purpose – like changing the way federal IT works.

Sara Kindsfater-Yerkes, Chair of the GTSC Business Development Exchange, was able to sit down with Josh Seckel, Chief of the Applied Technology Division (ATD) at USCIS. In this two-part interview, they discuss the agile transformation at U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Among ATD’s chief responsibilities are driving the adoption of agile across the USCIS enterprise, brought about in part by providing agile coaching services – experts across the technical, process and organizational change domains who help clients shift their culture and mindset to lean/agile thinking. This is a sea change in Federal IT – moving away from the lengthy, and staged waterfall methods to continuous activities for developing software. By doing them continuously quality improves because testing starts day one, visibility improves through collaboration and increased visibility, and risk is reduced through continuous feedback and prioritization of work.  

GTSC: So Josh, we’ve known each other for a while now, but I’d like to give people insight into your background. Where should we start?

Josh: Where to start? So the dinosaurs roamed. No, just kidding! The short version is that after getting my Computer Science degree I went to work for IBM and got to participate in all aspects of the software development process – but come 2001 I was still programming in Cobol. I decided to go back to school and get my MBA which obviously taught be a great deal about the business-side of organizations. I get accounting, P&L, all that good stuff. After that, I came to DC and worked for a few federal contractors, which gave me the experience to support programs with the United States Marine Corps, the Joint Strike Fighter, the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office where I was part of a team introducing agile concepts and then to the Homeland Security Information Network coaching on agile. Then I came to USCIS, as a government employee. I’ve been around DHS since it’s inception and working with agile concepts like rapid application development before agile became mainstream.

GTSC: What has your role been at USCIS?

Josh: I came to USCIS to help CIO Mark Schwartz advise the organization on the adoption of agile and to be a federal coaching leading contractor coaches.

GTSC: What made the job as a “Govie” appealing to you?

Josh: The ability to say “yes” enticed me. I’d worked as a contractor and was told “great idea, but no” and wanted to listen to great ideas from both government and industry and be able to say “yes – let’s try that.” I also wanted the opportunity to really execute on this idea of agile adoption and improving federal IT more fully.

GTSC: You’ve been very mission focused from that perspective. Very cool. Your response made me think, and this a bit tangential, about the fed/contractor relationship. How do we change and improve that dynamic?

Josh: Good question. The government needs to do its part – we need to improve federal employee education and what I mean by that is putting someone in charge of overseeing an agile program with skills and experience in agile. We hire contractors because they have specific expertise that we don’t, but then we get unfriendly because they know things we don’t. The flipside of that is the perceptions that contractors think the government employees don’t know anything and that too causes tension.

GTSC: It’s definitely a vicious cycle that we’ve got to collectively break. There’s nothing more gratifying as a consultant then to work with a customer who needs your expertise and allows you to work with them to solve real problems.

Josh: Yes, so we’ve also got to create a culture of partnership. We recognize companies are in business to make money, but we’ve got to create alignment towards a bigger purpose – like changing the way federal IT works.

GTSC: You’ve been spearheading agile coaching internally at USCIS, what’s the value agile coaches provide? How are they different from Scrum Masters?

Josh: Well, I would start by saying that they don’t necessarily have to be different then scrum masters; really good, experienced scrum masters can be coaches. Agile coaches provide knowledge on how to do this new thing through their experiences not a 2-day course. Good coaches offer a broader perspective and are a good mirror – they are a reflection of the team back to itself, an objective 3rd party reflection. And they not only coach the development team, they coach management too.

STAY TUNED to next week when Sara and Josh discuss being a good “mirror,” coaches versus scrum masters, and how agile is driving culture change in the government.

Sara Kindsfater YerkesSara Kindsfater-Yerkes, leader of GTSC’s DHS Business Development Exchange and member since 2012, is an Organizational Change Strategist with expertise in guiding large-scale transformations, Sara is passionate about helping individuals and teams to become high performing and creating cultures in which all can thrive. She currently supports Josh and USCIS in the cultural adoption of lean/agile practices.

 

 

The GSA-DHS OASIS MOU: A Game-Changer at DHS

In July, DHS and GSA signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) enabling greater use of GSA’s OASIS contract vehicle across all of DHS. DHS expects to increase its contract awards under OASIS from $11 million in 2015 to $250 million in 2016. This agreement is a game-changer for the DHS contracting community.

Under terms of the MOU, GSA agreed to lower the contract access fee for DHS from 0.75% to 0.25%, and DHS in turn agreed to include OASIS as one of its “Strategic Sourcing” contract vehicles covered under its “Mandatory for Use” Management Directive. This means that current DHS contractors, particularly those under TABSS and EAGLE II, will need to work harder to shape opportunities onto their respective contract vehicles, and OASIS contractors (at least many of them), will have to figure out how to navigate the world of DHS acquisitions.

This sets up a new contracting environment at DHS that could have broad ramifications for industry. GSA’s OASIS is being promoted at DHS as the replacement for TABSS, and the Program Management contract vehicle of choice. This is a body blow to TABSS contract holders and an immediate opportunity for OASIS contractors. With TABSS sun-setting in two years, DHS contracting officers will immediately see OASIS as a preferred contract vehicle, fully endorsed by acquisition leadership. With its wide variety of available NAICS Codes, 21 in Pool 1 alone, this is a huge boon for OASIS contract holders.

Many OASIS contract holders focus on DoD and have less experience at DHS. This may be a partnering opportunity for experienced DHS firms with complementary skills. Small businesses in disadvantaged socio-economic categories with DHS experience are in especially good position to take advantage of partnering.

EAGLE II contract holders should also take notice of the OASIS MOU, even with more than five years remaining in EAGLE II’s full period of performance. IT-focused Program Management requirements are still supposed to be released under EAGLE II. Because of the decentralized acquisition model used by DHS, exactly what constitutes “IT Services” under EAGLE II may be interpreted in a variety of ways by different Components. EAGLE II contract holders must continue to educate Component contracting officers and demonstrate how upcoming requirements fit on the NAICS codes in EAGLE II while being aware of the new latitude offered for Program Management services under OASIS.

The net result: Understanding the unique terms of these contract vehicles, as well as the tendencies of contracting officers in each DHS Component will be more important than ever in 2016.

Dennis Murphy President Applied Social Media

About Dennis Murphy, President, ASM Concepts
Dennis Murphy is a former senior executive with DHS and U.S. Customs Service and was a principal with Booz Allen Hamilton. He also served as Assistant Commissioner for Public Affairs and as the first Communications Director for DHS Border and Transportation Security. He is now president of ASM Concepts, a management consulting company offering clients unique ways to merge marketing with business development to differentiate them from their competitors to both grow and scale their business.
Read the full ASM Concepts analysis of the OASIS MOU on the ASM Concepts website . For questions or further information, contact Dennis Murphy at dhmurphy@asm-concepts.com.

 

Your “Preparedness Plan” for a Government Shutdown

by Strategic Partner Justin A. Chiarodo, Partner and Heather L. Petrovich, Dickstein Shapiro

With Congress quickly approaching a September 30 funding deadline with no adequate spending measures in place, and the Office of Management and Budget now directing agencies to prepare contingency plans, the possibility of a government shutdown is becoming increasingly likely. Unfortunately, government contractors faced these challenges just two short years ago during a 16-day shutdown. Among other challenges, contractors may face a lack of incremental funding; the inability to enter into new contracts or contract modifications; closed government facilities; furloughed government employees; delayed payments; increased indirect costs; and unexercised and deferred contract options. This alert highlights steps government contractors can take to protect their business interests in the event of a shutdown.

Review Your Contracts 

Reviewing your contracts is good advice in all times, but particularly so when facing a shutdown. Several key areas are worth reviewing before a shutdown. First, contractors should consider the amount and type of contract funding for each contract. A shutdown will affect incrementally funded contracts more than fully funded contracts. Though exceptions may apply, the funding for incrementally funded contracts may lapse in the event of a shutdown, which could cause the contract work to come to a halt. Fully funded contracts may be impacted by furloughed employees, facility closures, or other unexpected costs. Second, the place of contract performance may affect the ongoing work on a contract if the contractor is performing at a government facility. Many government facilities will close during a shutdown and furloughed employees or limited hours may affect those government facilities that do remain open. Third, the period of contract performance may affect a contract in that the government cannot exercise options and contract extensions during a shutdown. Fourth, the statement of work could also affect how the shutdown applies to a contract. For instance, national security and emergency preparedness contracts are much more likely to be funded during a shutdown than facility maintenance work. Nonetheless, even those exempt contracts may still be affected if the statement of work requires contractors or projects to interact with furloughed employees.

Communicate With Your Contracting Officers 

It is important for contractors to seek written guidance from their contracting officers before a shutdown about contract performance during a shutdown. Among other things, contractors should seek guidance on whether facilities will remain open, whether employees should continue working, and whether contract performance should continue. If the contracting officer informs contractors that contract performance should not continue during the shutdown, contractors should insist on a written stop-work order to protect their interests. Further, contractors should request a stop-work order for contracts that remain funded, but cannot be continued during the shutdown due to furloughed employees or closed government facilities. Finally, contractors should contemporaneously inform contracting officers in writing of any expected delays or added expenses to mitigate the potential for future disagreements regarding these expenses or delays.

Prepare Employees and Subcontractors 

Contractors should take steps to prepare employees and subcontractors if they determine there is a need to furlough employees or suspend subcontracts during a shutdown. These actions should be coordinated with appropriate legal and HR support. Once an action plan is in place, the contractor should take steps to diminish the effects of a shutdown. To mitigate risk to employees, contractors should consider reassigning idle employees to exempt or unaffected programs or requiring employees to use their accrued paid leave during the shutdown if there is no state law or agreement to the contrary.

Prepare for Lengthy Payment Delays 

Contractors should prepare to go without payment from the government for an extended period on their non-exempt contracts. To mitigate the possible effects of the shutdown, contractors should collect any possible government receivables before the shutdown occurs and contact and advise creditors about their situation. Further, contractors should consider methods of stretching cash flow by evaluating cash reserves, considering additional lines of credit, and reallocating non-essential budgetary resources, such as business development or advertising funds.

Make a Record 

A shutdown will likely lead to additional expenses or delays. These can occur through extra material and vendor costs, costs associated with ramping up or winding down contracts, unabsorbed overhead, delays from furloughed employees, or intervening contractual actions. Contractors should document these expenses as they occur and memorialize all correspondence with agencies, contracting officers, employees, and subcontractors in writing. Contractors should also record any unavoidable costs or actions taken to mitigate costs during the shutdown in order to validate subsequent requests for equitable adjustment that contractors may submit once the shutdown ends.

Comply With All Normal Deadlines 

Unless contractors are explicitly notified in writing otherwise, they should continue to comply with all government-related deadlines. This includes deadlines for solicitations, bid protests, claims, appeals of contracting officers’ final decisions, and any litigation deadlines. Although some deadlines may be tolled during a shutdown, these rules can vary among agencies. The safest way to avoid any missed deadlines is to assume they are not moving. On the flip side of this coin, contractors should also be aware that a shutdown may cause proposals to be awarded far later than expected due to shutdown-related delays.

For Additional Information

To learn more about how we can work with you to address the issues summarized above, please contact GTSC Strategic Partner Justin A. Chiarodo at chiarodoj@dicksteinshapiro.com or (202) 420-2706, Heather L. Petrovich at petrovichh@dicksteinshapiro.com or (202) 420-2693.

5 Steps DHS Can Take To Improve Federal Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity is king! It seems you can’t turn on the news or look at the Internet these days without hearing about ongoing cyber threats, bad actors or investments in new cyber technologies. Behind all the sensationalism is the reality that more and more individuals are actually being adversely impacted by an increasing number of breaches.

After six years in senior leadership at the Department of Homeland Security, I knew it wouldn’t be long before I received my notice from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) regarding the status of my personally identifiable information (PII). It was all contained in the wide-ranging SF-86 form I filled out in 2009 to obtain my Top Secret clearance. Sure enough, it was a short wait.

The letter arrived in a non-descript envelope, from a company I had never heard of, last week. It read, in part, “You are receiving this notification because we have determined that the data compromised in the recent incident may have included your personal information, such as your name, Social Security number, date and place of birth, and current or former address.” This statement downplays the breadth of the information that was actually in those files. Basically, they took it all. I am certainly not alone. This grand slam of PII breaches has the potential to impact current and former Federal employees for years to come.

Increasingly, the White House and Congress are turning to DHS as the epicenter for protecting the .Gov environment.

So what can DHS do to improve Federal cybersecurity?

Here are five steps DHS can take to help reduce risk and better protect key government systems and networks from emerging cyber threats.

  • Accelerate CDM Deployment

DHS has two major acquisitions for protecting the totality of Federal agencies, the National Cybersecurity Protection System (commonly referred to as Einstein) and the Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation program (CDM). Einstein is broken up into several blocks of activity ranging from detection to information sharing. The latest iteration, Einstein 3 Accelerated (E3A), uses the major Internet Service Providers to apply classified and unclassified malicious “signatures” to agency traffic before it enters their networks. The difficulty with this approach is that the ISPs are in different places when it comes to their own capabilities and security postures. This leads to an unevenness when applying the E3A protections. Also, Einstein has to recognize the threat in order to be most effective. We know that hackers are constantly changing their methods and approaches. This makes it harder for Einstein to stop the attacks at the perimeter.

A better investment for DHS and the Federal government would be to increase funding in FY 2017 for CDM. Since we now know the most sophisticated adversaries are going to get past Einstein, it makes more sense to accelerate the program that can actually monitor the network in real time and deploy mitigation strategies quickly to remove the threat before significant harm occurs. The current timetable and investment strategy for CDM is too long to make a significant difference when attacks are damaging us today. Now is the time to give the folks on the front lines of this fight the resources to be most effective.

  • Cross-Train Current DHS IT Professionals for the Cyber Fight
    In 2012, then DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano formed the CyberSkills Task Force under the Homeland Security Advisory Council. The charge to this group of cyber experts from industry, academia and government was to delineate an executable strategy for properly staffing DHS for the cyber fight to come. The task force called for hiring of up to 600 additional cyber professionals in 10 mission critical cyber skill sets. Even with a special hiring authority from OPM, this recommendation has fallen far short. One bright spot from these recommendations has been the exceptional work of the Cyber Management Support Initiative (CMSI), led by Executive Director Renee Forney. This office, with limited resources, has helped to set standards and provide meaningful tools to components across DHS to assist in the hiring process. The reality is that DHS will continue to have trouble hiring cyber ninjas when competing with the private sector and other Federal agencies, like the FBI and NSA that seem more exciting. There are currently thousands of DHS employees doing IT work across the department, but only a fraction qualify to be categorized within the 10 mission critical cyber skills sets. With OPM going to paper processing for screening of security clearances, it will take an eon to onboard a critical mass of expertise from the outside. With the help of CMSI, DHS should start cross training a sub set of current IT professionals who can swiftly be deployed to key cyber jobs that need filling now. DHS should also go to its major partners in the private sector for a short term filling of the skills gap.
  • Deliver Fast Track Acquisition for Cyber
    Responding to an imminent cyber threat is not the same as building a National Security Cutter for the Coast Guard, yet for acquisition purposes, DHS treats both the same. This is not the department’s fault. The Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR), which are about a foot thick, dictate much of this policy. Several years ago, DHS made an effort to provide key cyber components a tiered approach to procuring essential tools and services based on emerging threat. This acquisition approach was more agile and more likely to allow DHS offices the ability to respond within days not months. Unfortunately, that program was not completely successful. In light of recent events, DHS needs to renew the drive for fast track acquisition capability in those cyber programs where it is obviously needed and can be justified as an imminent threat.
  • Co-Locate the DHS Cyber Watch Floor and US-CERT at St. Elizabeths
    The DHS Headquarters Consolidation Plan at St. Elizabeths in SE Washington DC has long been a political football. Proposed by then DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff as a way to improve command and control for a nascent department, Congress has never really gotten on board with the funding. Phase I of the plan was to build the Coast Guard a new home. With American Recovery and Reninvestment Act (ARRA) funding, this became a reality. That’s where the construction stopped for about four years. In more recent budget bills, Congress has authorized the rehabilitation of the Center Building, which will likely house future DHS secretaries. In the interim, there is an opportunity to take advantage of some important cyber synergies at Coast Guard headquarters. Last year, the DHS Security Operations Center relocated to St Es. When coupled with the strong vision Coast Guard Commandant Zukunft has for advancing cyber as a member of the .Mil community, the co-location of the DHS National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC) and the US Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) would be a powerful combination for enhanced cyber cooperation and coordination. The added benefit would be that other partners in government and key infrastructure sectors who also staff the NCCIC would be situated together on a 21st century cyber watch floor at a Level 5 secure facility.
  • Embrace Private Sector Cyber Innovation
    Since leaving government after 24 years to work with the private sector, I have been pleasantly surprised at how forward leaning industry has become in advancing innovative cyber approaches. Part of the challenge is that when you’re inside the fence line at DHS headquarters or in the components it is often difficult to hear this message. With the renewed push for strategic and pre-acquisition planning led by current DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson, there is a real chance to create an ongoing dialogue with industry that will not be seen as violative of procurement regulations. One general DHS Industry Day per year is not going to be sufficient to generate the ideas necessary to advance innovative cyber discussions that can turn into action. The DHS Under Secretary for Management and the Under Secretary for Science and Technology should jointly establish a formal process for the department that gives private sector companies the chance to offer innovative methods and ideas for combatting cyber threats early in the acquisition lifecycle.

While combatting cyber threats can be a complex and resource intensive journey, there is hope that by acting on these ideas and others we can find a way to reduce the risk to our citizens. There are a great many dedicated professions at DHS and across the government that deserve our full support as this battle continues.

Chris Cummiskey Headshot

Chris Cummiskey is a former Acting Under Secretary for Management at DHS. He also serves as a Strategic Advisor to GTSC and a Senior Fellow with the George Washington University Center for Cyber and Homeland Security.

 

Executive Interview: Matt Warren, Managing Director, Accenture

GTSC’s Executive profiles feature leaders in the homeland and national security market to provide our members and friends insight into the strategies and philosophies that are leading and exceeding in our market.  These individuals bring their excellence to the mission while growing their companies in an exceedingly difficult market.  

This month’s profile with Matt Warren, Managing Director, Accenture Federal Services.  Matt leads Accenture’s IT and digital services portfolio serving the Department of Homeland Security, focused on developing targeted solutions to DHS’ mission-critical IT challenges.  Matt was President of the Justice & Homeland Security Sector at Agilex Technologies since 2008, where he built a multimillion dollar business that continues to serve customers such as U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS), and Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Agilex was acquired by Accenture Federal Services in February 2015.  Matt is a veteran of sales within the Federal Government since 1996 with a strong focus on the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice. Matt previously worked at Oracle where he helped start and lead the DHS sales team as one of the top performing accounts in Federal. Matt finished his almost 11 year career at Oracle managing about one third of Federal Civilian before joining Agilex.

Accenture_Agilex_CoBranded

 

 

What differentiates Agilex from other companies in our market? To what do you attribute your impressive growth?

Matt: From the very beginning, we wanted to solve – not just work on – our clients’ most mission-critical IT challenges. As a result, we partner closely with them to develop targeted solutions to their unique requirements. We also respect the urgency that they operate under, as our agile approach is designed to deliver rapid and demonstrable value. This model has established us increasingly as our clients’ go-to partner for can’t-fail projects.

As part of Accenture Federal Services (AFS), we will maintain and actually extend this focus. Both companies share a long-term commitment to delivering superior customer value by ‘getting to done’ – delivering our solutions on time and on-budget as promised.

AFS is renowned for taking on the government’s biggest and most complex challenges. With their additional resources, we can scale dramatically the impact that we are having on our clients’ performance. It’s only been a short time, but I can’t wait to bring our two teams together as we have all-stars on both sides.

GTSC:  What do you find to be the greatest challenge to moving things forward, or being “agile”?

Matt:  Strategy is important but execution is where you see the results. For Agilex, our agile approach is a team effort requiring focus, tenacity and a tireless pursuit of excellence. Fortunately, we have a team that’s both committed and smart.

We have also been asked by a number of clients to support their agile adoption as well. Based on their success, three factors jump out as being critical to sustainable adoption. First, it takes leaders in government that are committed to change for the benefit of the mission and are willing to personally invest themselves in overcoming obstacles. Second, your contractors must be skilled and aligned to deliver value and performance under these new benchmarks. Finally, you need contract vehicles that can drive accountability, which means they need to be flexible enough to quickly award and reassign task orders as needed.

GTSC:  Do you see areas of growth in 2015? If so, where?

Matt:  Over the past eight years, we have established a very enviable reputation in government. Based on this track record, 2015 can be an incredible year for us.

First, the mindset of the government buyer is changing rapidly. No longer are they acquiring resources and hoping for the best. Instead, they are looking to partner with companies that engage themselves in actually solving the problem at hand. Furthermore, they’ve become more committed to agile approaches as a means for ensuring performance and maintaining accountability.

Second, the emerging technologies that we’ve championed since day one are entering the mainstream in government. These areas include mobile, cloud, Big Data analytics, agile and DevOps. Our track record in government for these technologies is unsurpassed.

Finally, as part of Accenture Federal Services, we now have the resources and scale needed to take on our clients’ biggest challenges. As just one example, we can now draw upon advances in border security globally as part of the Accenture family.

 

GTSC:  As part of Accenture, will you continue to support GTSC?

Absolutely. More than a small business group, we’ve always viewed GTSC as a champion for performance-based contracting and those companies that want to make a difference and deliver real value. Our commitment here hasn’t changed.

As we go forward, I expect GTSC to be a great forum for building strategic partnerships with the companies that are really having an impact within DHS. By capitalizing on the unique strengths of a variety of companies, we can maximize our long-term impact.