State prepares for Coronavirus: Starting from Federal Government

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources’ Bureau for Public Health is continuing to prepare for the spread of COVID-19 — more commonly known as the coronavirus — as the federal government increases its response to the disease. There are no reported cases or investigations of coronavirus in West Virginia. The bureau said Wednesday the immediate health risk is low, but international outbreaks make it important for officials to prepare.

Gov. Jim Justice ordered the state Department of Health and Human Resources to monitor the outbreak as well as reach out to local, state and federal health officials as necessary. “We are working to ensure our health systems, emergency management agencies, first responders and county health departments are prepared and have the resources they need to respond to localized outbreaks in West Virginia communities,” said Dr. Cathy Slemp, state health officer and bureau commissioner. Officials are developing tools to prepare and respond to localized outbreaks if needed. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday disclosed a new COVID-19 case in California which could be the first American case involving the general population.

Author: Prasanna Haresh Patil


Federal IT Assessments: Small Business Concerns

TRAs and TRLs

How do federal agencies know when a new technology is mature enough or safe enough to implement? Worse than remaining stagnant with antiquated software can be the disastrous consequences of investing in an immature new tech. For branches of the military and NASA, these risks are well known and have been accounted for throughout the last few decades.

With the continuous rapid increase of technology of late, other federal agencies and program management offices are looking for a solution to the question, “When is technology safe to implement?” That answer has been provided by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) with the release of their “Technology Readiness Assessment (TRA) Guide,” and more recently by the Air Force Research Laboratory who developed a “Technology Readiness Level (TRL) Calculator.”

Using the guide provided by GAO, agencies can generate a report that can help decision makers decide whether or not a prescribed TRL goal has been achieved, or highlight areas of potential risk. These methods may prove to be critical for the success of future projects and missions. They may also prove critical for those government contractors looking to provide tech solutions to federal agencies.

Implications for Small Businesses

It would behoove small business government contracting firms to understand this process which is becoming more commonplace in a better-connected federal marketplace. Previously, cyber-security certifications had been discussed as potential barriers-to-entry for small businesses looking to compete in government contracting, but now the ability for agencies to utilize these new methods of evaluation for technical solutions may prove to be an additional hurdle.

The moral of the story is that the landscape is always changing. To remain competitive, small business contractors have to play to their strengths and use the responsiveness enjoyed by small organizations to get out in front of the growing technical hurdles that are so frequently materializing. Knowledge is power, so small businesses should strive to stay in-the-know and leverage that to win contracts.

Author: Paul McVeigh


Federal Contractors to Be Limited on Criminal Background Checks

Private employers with federal contracts will soon be prohibited from requesting criminal history information from candidates at the onset of the hiring process; instead, they will have to wait until after an offer is made.

The Fair Chance to Compete for Jobs Act of 2019 (Act) was discreetly tucked into the Defense Spending Bill approved on December 20, 2019. The Act is part of a growing national trend of “Ban the Box” laws, referring to the question on job applications asking whether a candidate has been convicted of a crime. Ban the Box laws largely have bipartisan support and, according to the National Employment Law Project, have been approved in 35 states and more than 150 cities across the United States.

As of March 31, 2017, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management already required most federal agencies to wait until the conditional offer stage of the hiring process to request criminal history information from a job candidate. The Act supersedes this regulation and applies the prohibition to both the federal government and now certain private employers.

Specifically, the Act prohibits private employers that contract with the federal government from requesting criminal history information, including arrests and convictions, from candidates for positions within the scope of the federal contracts until after the conditional offer stage.

A “conditional offer” means an offer that is conditioned upon the results of a criminal history inquiry. The Act does not entirely prevent federal contractors from seeking criminal history information, nor does it impose specific standards or requirements on how the employer uses that information. It only delays the inquiry timing until after a conditional offer has been made.

The Act is crafted so that it only applies to prime contractors and to those employees performing work for the federal government on a federal contract. The language is specifically limited to those who “submit a bid for a contract” and those “receiving a Federal Contract and receiving payments” from the federal government on those contracts.

The Act is intended to be consistent with and not supersede or restrict the application of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin, or other relevant federal civil rights laws. Penalties for violating the Act range from a written warning for the first violation up to suspending payment under the federal contract for subsequent violations.

Critical to the Act, and to most of the state and local Ban the Box laws, is that it includes exceptions to the law. This particular Act does not apply to positions involving access to classified information, law enforcement, or national security positions. Within 16 months of the enactment of the Act, the Administrator of General Services, in consultation with the Secretary of Defense, must issue regulations identifying additional positions to which the prohibitions do not apply, giving consideration to positions involving interactions with minors, access to sensitive information, or managing financial transactions.

The decision to prohibit inquiries into criminal histories at any early stage of the hiring process is intended to help qualified workers with arrest or conviction records compete fairly for employment in federal agencies and with federal contractors. A study in 2019 conducted by Daniel Shoag of Case Western University and Stan Veuger of the American Enterprise Institute found the policy of banning criminal history questions increased employment by 4% in the nation’s most criminalized neighborhoods (i.e., neighborhoods with the highest concentrations of people with records).

The Defense Spending Bill included two other laws which affect the federal government and its employees. The Defense Spending Bill included a 3.1% average federal pay raise increase for federal employees and a paid parental leave program for all federal workers. The program allows federal employees up to 12 weeks of paid time off for the birth, adoption, or foster care of a new child. The paid parental program will begin in October 2020.

The federal government joins several states including California, New Jersey, and New York, which already offer paid parental or sick leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act requires employers with 50 or more employees to offer employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to attend to their own or close family member’s serious health condition or for the birth or adoption of a child, among other things. The Defense Spending Bill’s paid parental leave program only covers leave for the care of a new baby after birth, adoption, or the start of foster care; it does not cover care for a sick relative or oneself.

The Act does not take effect until December 2021, two years from the date of enactment. Nonetheless, employers that contract with the federal government should consider revising their employment applications now to remove questions regarding a candidate’s criminal history. Federal contractors should also begin training management to not ask this question prior to a conditional offer of employment being made. For all other employers, check your state and/or local laws to see whether a Ban the Box law has been passed.

Author: Prasanna Haresh Patil


Core Value Focus: Teamwork

 “Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress and working together is success.” – Henry Ford

There may be no “I” in team, but being part of a team can help you grow. “By sharing information and essentially cross training each other, each individual member of the team can flourish,” says John Murphy, a specialist in business transformation and author of Pulling Together: 10 Rules for High-Performance Teamwork. You might discover new concepts from colleagues with different experiences. You can also learn from someone else’s mistakes.

 Teamwork is the combined action of a group of people, especially when effective and efficient. At Sabre88 we strive to uphold a company culture of teamwork, selflessness and cooperation. Our back office hosts a modern open office layout, which is being adopted by many large companies in hopes of improving their teamwork. For us at the back office it allows for fluid communication and a friendly, open atmosphere. The practice of prioritizing teamwork resonates not just through the back office. Paul McVeigh, a member of the Sabre88 back office resonates this as he speaks on our office community.

“Our office community is a team. We are a collection of individuals who come together to achieve goals that help the business grow and thrive. To do this, we communicate effectively and efficiently through multiple avenues, making sure to keep everyone in the loop. Both professional and casual communication is encouraged, and this helps build relationships and ultimately strengthens the team. Our “Morning Huddle” is a great example of using communication to forge interpersonal bonds, as we take time each morning to discuss a topic brought by a different team member each day”.

Teamwork is a core value of Sabre88 because of the inherent understanding that strong teamwork raises productivity and happiness. There are many benefits to teamwork, for one, teamwork lowers stress and increases creativity, according to 61% of an interviewed population. When people with different perspectives come together in group brainstorms, innovative ideas rise to the surface with one caveat. Research shows this can only happen when communication within the team is open and collaborative. Sabre88 believes in establishing training and development support mechanisms that will enable the organization to succeed. Consequently, this means the implementation of innovative training measures that expand the knowledge base of all personnel that can address potential weaknesses, develop consistent performance metrics and create overall employee satisfaction.

When asked about Sabre88’s training methods Paul said, “I appreciate Sabre88’s training initiative. I rather enjoy the online trainings which are educational, interactive and mostly fun. They also offer certificates upon completion that can be kept and shown off! Personally, I enjoy going over opportunity scoring methods with my coworkers. We do it in such a way that we are consistently sharpening each other’s skills, helping the effectiveness of the team grow each meeting”. We can all find times within our daily regime at Sabre88 that we rely on the help of others, finding new methods to operate more successfully aligns with our core values and team mentality.

“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.” – Michael Jordan

“Each individual has unique gifts, and talents and skills,” says Murphy, “When we bring them to the table and share them for a common purpose, it can give companies a real competitive advantage”. The consulting firm McKinsey & Company backs this up in a recent study. It found teams made up of members from diverse backgrounds are more creative and perform better by up to 35 percent, compared to more homogeneous teams. Research from Tufts University suggests that just being exposed to diversity can shift the way you think. A study on a diverse mock jury found that interacting with individuals who are different forces people to be more open minded, and to expect that reaching consensus will take effort.

With teamwork the dream is actualized as everyone needs to motivate themselves. At Sabre88 we have a culture of self-motivation, where each individual is encouraged to grow and develop in their own fashion.

Author: Bobby Cottingham