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    On the Horizon: Small Business IT Opportunities in the Trump Administration

    SGC IT InnovationAlthough the Trump Administration is only into its first week, it certainly has been a busy one so far. Granted many of the initiatives and priorities that the new Administration will fund are still coming into focus, however recent developments signal where small businesses may want to focus, or continue to focus, in fiscal year 2017.

    Cybersecurity

    Cybersecurity will continue to be an important mission, and one that will continue to see more growth. Given the steady stream of data protection contracts that have been awarded recently, small businesses offering these services would be wise to research some of the contracts, the awardees, and the vehicles used to award these contracts to build relationships and develop opportunities.

    Examples include:

    Department of Homeland Security (DHS) – DHS awarded a contract to Lockheed Martin, with a potential value of $395 million, for various cybersecurity protection services designed to prevent, detect, contain and eradicate cyberthreats.

    General Services Administration (GSA) – GSA continues to expand and modify their existing cadre of procurement vehicles for cyber. According to GSA, in commenting on their recent contract with Adobe:

    …The agreement will help agencies "comply with current information security and electronic government policy recommendations and requirements," including the Cybersecurity National Action Plan, the Cybersecurity Strategy and Implementation Plan, the Cybersecurity Act of 2015, the Government Paperwork Elimination Act, and the E-Sign Act of 2000, according to GSA…

    GSA chose Adobe as a provider of data protection capabilities for federal agencies, via Carahsoft, as an existing GSA Schedule 70 provider, and designated reseller of Adobe offerings.

    Other awards of note:

    • GSA awarded two contracts with a potential total value of $110 million to ManTech, on behalf of DHS, under the GSA Alliant Government-Wide Acquisition Contract vehicle.
    • The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services awarded a contract to Iron Vale, for providing a comprehensive cybersecurity support, using GSA’s IT 70 schedule.
    • DHS awarded Advanced Concepts and Technologies International a $21 million contract through the GSA’s OASIS Small Business Pool.
    • The U.S. Air Force awarded Engility Holdings a $31 million contract to provide cyber-research, security assessments, and analysis. The Defense Technical Information Center, a centralized agency within the Defense Department, facilitated the contract award.
    • The U.S. Army awarded Booz Allen Hamilton a $13.2 million contract for cyber security enterprise support via the Army Contracting Command.

    Federal agencies will continue to look for opportunities to enhance cybersecurity capabilities, so small businesses should see more prospects to build relationships with these agencies, and other firms in the space.

    Big Data Analytics

    After two Senate confirmation hearings, President Trump’s nominee to head the Office of Management and Budget, Rep. Mick Mulvaney, clearly sees big data analytics as a path to improving efficiency of government operations.

    Rep. Mulvaney stated that the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act), a 2014 law that requires standardized reporting on spending data across the federal government, as a critical tool to eliminating waste.

    He also stated in one of the hearings:

    …“We’re living in an age of big data, and then here we are as the federal government and we probably have some of the best big data available anywhere, but we can’t use it because no one can share it or read it.”…

    Small businesses with data analytic services, which also help support DATA ACT, can perhaps find some interesting opportunities in this sector. Further, helping the government with decision-making analytics about improper payments, and other means of rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse, should also continue proving to be an interesting market for further exploration. These capabilities should create new and expanded opportunities at agencies across the government, and the Pentagon.

    As always, being successful in these areas requires good intelligence about how best to add value, and how to solve your customer’s problem. Although modernization should also see significant investment in the Trump Administration, cyber and analytics tools should continue to prove fruitful for new and continuing contracting opportunities.


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    Will Category Management Take a Pause, or Full Speed Ahead?

    One of the initiatives that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) continues to diligently institutionalize is Category Management. This initiative, a governmentwide effort to consolidate contracts to save money through reduced duplication, is widely used in the private sector.

    However, many in industry and government are concerned, and with good reason. Improving federal acquisition is a very difficult task, and OMB and the General Services Administration's (GSA) efforts are laudable and should be commended, especially those that look to reduce contract duplication, and save taxpayer money. However, the OMB Circular No. A-XXX, “Implementing Category Management for Common Goods and Services” raises many issues.

    My principal concern is the way that contracts are to be consolidated, and the way execution of this goal under Category Management will affect the small business community. My firm's comments to the circular can be found here.

    Roger Waldron, president of the The Coalition for Government Procurement, has raised a number of significant issues when it comes to Category Management, and the concerns with the “best-in-class” (BIC) contract solutions for mandatory use, I believe, are worth noting.

    ...Mandatory contract vehicles could lead to significant risk for government and industry. Without vigilance, a well-intended cross-functional team could designate “winners and losers” through mandatory contract solutions for customer agencies and contractors in an attempt to manage the market. Such an approach can limit access to ongoing commercial competition and innovation, as well as negatively impact the small business community... 

    One size does not necessarily fit all, and this is one of the major concerns for both government and industry that needs further review. Also of note is the fact that BIC contract solutions are seemingly not getting enough industry input. For these initiatives to be successful, more input, not less, is necessary from both industry and government stakeholders.

    Certainly input from industry partners should be sought to help government make more informed decisions about commercial solutions.

    It will be interesting to see how this initiative moves forward under a Trump Administration. I believe the goals to be important, but I know many in industry do not have the information they need to help government reduce regulations, streamline processes, and improve competition and innovation.

    Perhaps a pause is in order, and a fully vetted review and cost benefit analysis can be conducted or shared. If after all the facts are in, and the initiatives need to move forward as-is, then I believe we can call agree to get on board and do what is necessary for successful implementation.

    I am just not sure we are there yet...


  •  

    Will Category Management Take a Pause, or Full Speed Ahead?

    One of the initiatives that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) continues to diligently institutionalize is Category Management. This initiative, a governmentwide effort to consolidate contracts to save money through reduced duplication, is widely used in the private sector.

    However, many in industry and government are concerned, and with good reason. Improving federal acquisition is a very difficult task, and OMB and the General Services Administration's (GSA) efforts are laudable and should be commended, especially those that look to reduce contract duplication, and save taxpayer money. However, the OMB Circular No. A-XXX, “Implementing Category Management for Common Goods and Services” raises many issues.

    My principal concern is the way that contracts are to be consolidated, and the way execution of this goal under Category Management will affect the small business community. My firm's comments to the circular can be found here.

    Roger Waldron, president of the The Coalition for Government Procurement, has raised a number of significant issues when it comes to Category Management, and the concerns with the “best-in-class” (BIC) contract solutions for mandatory use, I believe, are worth noting.

    ...Mandatory contract vehicles could lead to significant risk for government and industry. Without vigilance, a well-intended cross-functional team could designate “winners and losers” through mandatory contract solutions for customer agencies and contractors in an attempt to manage the market. Such an approach can limit access to ongoing commercial competition and innovation, as well as negatively impact the small business community... 

    One size does not necessarily fit all, and this is one of the major concerns for both government and industry that needs further review. Also of note is the fact that BIC contract solutions are seemingly not getting enough industry input. For these initiatives to be successful, more input, not less, is necessary from both industry and government stakeholders.

    Certainly input from industry partners should be sought to help government make more informed decisions about commercial solutions.

    It will be interesting to see how this initiative moves forward under a Trump Administration. I believe the goals to be important, but I know many in industry do not have the information they need to help government reduce regulations, streamline processes, and improve competition and innovation.

    Perhaps a pause is in order, and a fully vetted review and cost benefit analysis can be conducted or shared. If after all the facts are in, and the initiatives need to move forward as-is, then I believe we can call agree to get on board and do what is necessary for successful implementation.

    I am just not sure we are there yet...


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    Needed or Redundant Regulation: You Make the Call

    Remember those "You Make the Call" commercials that used to air during Monday Night Football games during the 1980’s and early 90’s, where you test your knowledge of the rules against the officials? If not, here is a sample:

    I was talking to several people this week about the utility of a proposed rule by the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council in Nov. 29’s Federal Register, which is aimed at improving communications between government and industry.

    According to the proposed rule:

    ...“government acquisition personnel are permitted and encouraged to engage in responsible and constructive exchanges with industry, so long as those exchanges are consistent with existing laws and regulations, and promote a fair competitive environment.”...

    Doesn't the language in the Federal Acquisition Regulation Part 10 (Market Research) effectively provide similar language and/or sentiment? Is this new rule even necessary? How is creating this new rule going to change anything?

    As reported by Federal News Radio:

    ...Two mythbusters memos from the Office of Federal Procurement Policy; the reestablishment of the Frontline Forum for contracting officers; a host of Web and in-person educational sessions over the last five years, and still the idea that government and industry can communicate about contracts is hard for many acquisition workers to grasp...

    So this is where we are. Does anyone really think the communications issue is getting better?

    Yes and No.

    Is it the fear of auditors? Too much oversight? A risk averse culture that creates fear of doing something wrong? Lack of training? Leadership?

    Yes on all counts.

    For starters, the message of communication and collaboration with industry seems to have stayed at the top of most organizations, because most leaders in the federal procurement world state they are implementing such measures.

    Really? Because someone needs to talk to the acquisition workforce. The acquisition workforce is being taken to task for not communicating more, and being more collaborative. Granted there is truth to that complaint. However, it is the equivalent of screaming at a customer service agent of a large corporation. It might make you feel better, but that person is doing their best to follow the policies placed before them, along with the resources and direction they have been given.

    The acquisition workforce needs help to improve. They need resources, training, and the ability to be empowered to make decisions, do what is in the best interest of the taxpayer, and be able to make mistakes. Provide them motivation, show them how, and establish the tools they need to be more successful.

    Under the current environment of being overworked, poorly trained and supported, not having proper direction and guidance, fear of effective engagements under threat of protest, not to mention intense oversight scrutiny, I don't see how any new rule of telling the workforce to do what they already know they need to be doing will change.

    We need to figure out why this collaboration is not being done, and help create a culture of being able to be more communicative. Some of the best federal contracting officers and program managers I know sadly tell me they simply have no reason to continue being collaborative and communicative with industry. Why bother, when they don't get supported by above, get misinformation or no support from legal, and continuously are getting hammered from all sides? All negative, and no positive reasons.

    There is vast room for improvement on both sides of the fence, because this is not just a problem with the federal government. For example, threatening the "P" word at the drop of a hat is counterproductive, and breeds the resentment and fear that closes the doors to effective communication.

    There are pockets of excellence that need to be leveraged, such as liaison positions in government, ombudsman, and great leadership at the General Services Administration in developing programs such as Alliant, OASIS and Networks 2020. You can also just follow Jose Arrieta around town in Washington, D.C., who is a maverick in this area, and did a marvelous job at the Department of Homeland Security (video), and continues this work as Director of the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization at the Department of Treasury.

    Let's do what we need to do. We don't need more rules and regulations. We know what the problems are, so let's fix it.

    So, to the original question. Is this new proposed rule a path forward to improving the communications issue?

    You make the call!


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    What will federal IT and innovation look like in a Trump Administration?

    There has been much discussion since the election of Donald J. Trump as our 45th President, in regards to where we go from here in federal IT. The short answer is that we really don’t know, given how little attention was given to the issue during the election. However, much work remains to be done, and some of the ways that the future of IT innovation, and the direction of federal technology programs, is dependent on what becomes the priorities of the Trump Administration.

    Given what little we know, or certainly expect, is a modest increase in the federal IT budget, given the desire to freeze the federal workforce and an expected increase in contracting for IT services. Certainly at the Defense department, the expectation is a two-fold boon to large defense contractors with the elimination or easing of sequestration, followed by a healthy increase in overall defense spending.

    However, there is also discussion of possibly eliminating programs that are seen as either not cost effective, or underperforming. One of those programs that could be on the chopping block is 18F, the digital services team located within the General Services Administration (GSA). This program was recently criticized for its spending and management practices, and if eliminated in short order, could be sign of the way the Trump Administration will manage federal IT.  

    GSA itself is the cross-hairs, especially with $3.1 billion IT modernization fund, which apparently is being threatened since Trump officials have commented they don’t trust the GSA to administer the money to the agencies.

    …“That’s why it’s not going to happen,” the official said. “I see no chance now.”

    …IT management will be handled more like a business under the Trump administration, according to the official…

    Further complicating GSA’s initiatives is the future of Category Management, especially given the bipartisan support of questioning the program, and the letter sent to Office of Management and Budget criticizing the implementation of the initiative. According to GSA, Category Management “is an approach the Federal Government is applying to buy smarter and more like a single enterprise.” 

    Steve Chabot (R-OH), Chairman of the House Small Business Committee, along with Ranking Member Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY), wrote to OMB:

    “By moving ahead with its Category Management scam, OMB has decided to deny small businesses the ability to fully and fairly compete for federal contracts,” Chairman Chabot said. “I will continue to work with Ranking Member Velázquez and members of our Committee in a bipartisan manner to fight back against this destructive policy on behalf of American taxpayers and small businesses.”

    Another initiative in question is the continued outreach to Silicon Valley for technical innovation. This has been especially important at the Pentagon, with their Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) program. These programs have greater uncertainty for their futures until the budget is formally established, and policy initiatives are outlined for defense spending next year, given Trumps’ advocacy for significantly increasing defense spending in shipbuilding and expanding the size of the armed forces.

    Nonetheless, Ben FitzGerald, a senior fellow and director of the Technology and National Security Program at CNAS, said it best:

    "…It's not just about buying more things.... We need to invest in our technological advantage."…

    One program that I hope continues to move forward for innovation, and should be seen as a good source of investment, is the Ideas Lab at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and similar other initiatives. Included in the Idea Lab is the HHS Buyers Club, which has been a great success in testing new methods to modernize IT acquisitions. This program was built with the premise to not implement new regulations, but rather emphasizing new strategies allowed under the Federal Acquisition Regulation, or other approved legislation. These are the types of programs that hopefully will have a future in the Trump Administration.

    What does the crystal ball hold for the future of federal IT? I believe it will be hopeful, and continued opportunities for initiatives such as digital services, cyber, cloud, big data, and innovation through modernization will continue to help improve the government’s technology transformation.

    First thing is first, of course. Let’s get the Administration up and running, let’s get the budget in place, and let’s keep moving forward.