Department of Defense Plans New JEDI Amendment

Chapter 6 Individual Factors: Moral Philosophies And Values

he Defense Department says it will need until Aug. 17 to decide on a new award in its controversial $10 billion Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure cloud procurement. Amazon Web Services is suing DOD over its award of the JEDI contract to Microsoft last October, citing technical problems with the evaluation and political interference from the White House.

The case is on remand for 120 days while DOD considers revised proposals. In a June 16 court filing, lawyers representing the DOD side said “another solicitation amendment will be necessary” and that DOD would review “additional limited proposal revisions.” It’s not stated in the filing what technical areas will be covered by the new amendment.

The previous revisions are centered around storage requirements in an area of the JEDI solicitation called ” price scenario 6″ – a cloud storage component that, according to the judge’s read on the bids, was out of compliance with JEDI requirements. That aspect of the dispute erupted into public view in May as AWS filed a protest with the DOD to obtain more information on the requirements and Microsoft responded with a blog post slamming its rival.

The political aspects of the case – allegations that the contract award was steered to Microsoft to accommodate President Donald Trump’s personal animus to AWS founder Jeff Bezos – are not part of the remand.

Microsoft was also recently caught up in a political firestorm that took aim at its status as a government contractor. Former acting intelligence chief and U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell tweeted June 12 that Microsoft “should be barred from government contracts” for its decision to stop selling facial recognition technology to police departments. Trump shared Grenell’s tweet with his 82 million followers.

AWS announced a similar decision with regard to its Rekognition facial recognition software – a self-imposed one-year moratorium on law enforcement sales, designed to give Congress time to craft regulations for the use of such systems.

In the court filing DOD indicated that it might need more time to review revised proposals and may seek an extension of the remand.

Author: Prasanna Haresh Patil


Re-opening Plans for Federal Contractors

After months of federal agency closures, and a wide expansion of teleworking and other remote work policies crafted in response to the novel coronavirus, the federal government is planning for a phased re-opening. On April 20, 2020, the Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget (OMB) published Memorandum M-20-23 on “Aligning Federal Agency Operations with the National Guidelines for Opening Up America Again.” In this Memorandum, OMB provides a framework to be used by federal agencies to develop policies and procedures for re-opening and a return to the federal workplace. Each federal agency must develop its own policies and procedures consistent with the Guidelines for Employers included in the Memorandum, as well as accounting for the agency’s own operational needs and the geographic area in which each agency operates. Like most states that have issued re-opening guidelines, the Memorandum contemplates a gating period in which the agency must see a downward trend in COVID-19 cases before proceeding to a phased re-opening. Agency policies and procedures for a phased re-opening must consider the following criteria:

(a) Geography: Includes state and regional phasing status and guidance. It also may include, school and day-care closures, mass transit availability, parking availability, facility requirements, and the agency’s mission needs.

(b) Telework: Agencies are given flexibility to develop their own telework policies and are encouraged to maximize telework flexibilities for high-risk populations, and special populations identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It may also include new working arrangements, such as alternating schedules for in-office and telework.

(c) Personnel: Agencies must develop procedures to follow if an employee or contractor is symptomatic or tests positive for COVID-19. Re-opening policies should consider the needs of vulnerable populations. Policies should also address the employee’s ability to wear face coverings, and whether agencies will provide masks.

(d) Facilities, Service & Operations: Re-opening policies should prioritize public-facing properties and facilities. Facilities that handle classified information should also be prioritized. Policies for facilities must set forth the screening procedure that will be implemented, such as questions to be asked, temperature checks, or other visual inspections. Such policies must also ensure that the agency has adequate hygiene supplies, is following CDC guidelines for cleaning buildings, and implements social distancing procedures to the extent practicable.

(e) Travel Guidelines: Agency policies may reconsider travel limitations currently in place and adapt them as necessary based on mission needs.

These are merely guidelines; therefore, federal contractors will need to familiarize themselves and their employees with the policies and procedures for each of the federal agencies with whom they do business. Agencies are still in the early phases of developing policies and procedures in accordance with the Memorandum, and several agencies have begun to publish their plans, whereas others, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, have released solicitations for temperature screening services in anticipation of re-opening.

Re-Opening Guidance Summary:

Department of the Interior

In Phase I, telework will no longer be mandatory, however the agency may continue flexible telework and leave options through the pay period ending May 23, 2020. Priority for telework and leave will be given to employees who self-identify as high risk. Teleworking employees with childcare or dependent care responsibilities affected by COVID-19 have access to up to 20 hours per pay period of excused absence administrative leave.

Department of Veterans Affairs

Contemplates a three-phase approach after localities meet the gating criteria. Dates for each phase are not yet set. Phase 1 will allow the following agencies to resume certain essential and emergency services: Veterans Health Administration, Veterans Benefits Administration, National Cemetery Administration, Board of Veterans’ Appeals VA Staff offices. Telework will continue where possible. Phase 2 will expand to allow non-emergent procedures and services. Reopen additional facilities including Fisher Houses, Hoptel Program, VBA regional offices. Telework will continue where appropriate. Up to 50% of Veteran’s Benefit Administration and Board of Veteran’s Appeals will return on a rotational basis, using staggered shift/steams and expanded core hours. Phase 3 will allow visitor access to all Veteran’s Healthcare Administration facilities. Additional non-emergent procedures and services will be expanded as resources permit. Resume in-person Board of Veteran’s Appeals hearings but also allow virtual hearings. VA will, but has not yet, identified polices for screening, testing, and tracing at VA facilities. VA has enhanced cleaning services and closed common areas. It will disseminate additional policies regarding availability of hygiene supplies and face masks. If required, VA will make those face masks available for employees and contractors on site.

State Department

Phase 1 contemplates alternating teams with up to 40% of the workforce at one time. Mandatory telework will be lifted, but strongly encouraged. Social distancing will be enforced and groups of larger than 10 will be prohibited. Cloth face coverings should be worn but are not mandated. Employees will be encouraged to take their temperature daily. This can occur at home when state and local stay-at-home orders are lifted or modified, and essential businesses are open. Other indicators are that transportation is available, the facility meets CDC disinfection guidelines, offices allow for social distancing, and there is an availability of food, medicine, and sanitation supplies. Phase 2 contemplates an option for alternating teams with up to 80% of the workforce at one time. Bureaus are encouraged to continue telework where possible. Distancing will continue, with an option to wear face masks, and daily temperature monitoring. This can occur when non-essential business can open, and when schools, day care and elder care are available. Phase 3 contemplates a return to work greater than 80% of workforce. Cautious resumption of normal flow and seating, and socializing may resume in larger groups. Cautious resumption of normal travel patterns may happen when public places opened, large events permitted, and restrictions on domestic travel lifted.

Department of Defense (NCR and Pentagon)

The Pentagon Reservation and DoD offices and facilities in the National Capital Region remain open and operational, but with restricted access and enhanced health protection measures being taken.

Author: Prasanna Haresh Patil


DoD Adds 5G Sites – Catching Up to China

Staying ahead of the curve as it pertains to new technology is integral to maintaining superior national security. This is exactly why the Department of Defense is ramping up efforts to catch up with Chinese 5G infrastructure. Joseph Evans, DoD technical director of 5G, recently announced that the agency is adding seven new installation sites in its second round of 5G technology testing and experimentation at the Pentagon via teleconference with reporters.

“5G technology is vital to maintaining America’s military and economic advantages,” Evans said. “5G will be the advent of ubiquitous connectivity, which is the connectivity of everything and everywhere through wireless communications. It is a transformational technology. With this latest tranche of bases and experiments, DoD is ensuring our military can make use of 5G capabilities based on the innovations from U.S. industries.”

For government contractors in the field, this is a huge opportunity to look out for, as the government announced that it will be soliciting industry to experiment at the seven bases it has decided upon.

5G is considered to be a game changer, and Evans maintains that he believes the U.S. is indeed competitive in the 5G space, despite circulating reports that the U.S. is falling behind in some areas of 5G as Chinese companies jump ahead in creating network infrastructure.

Development and implementation of complementary technologies will play a major role in this push as well. Cybersecurity concerns will remain a primary focal point, while laying the groundwork for future technological improvements like 6G and even 7G are also part of the plan.

Author: Paul McVeigh


Department of Labor’s Ombuds Service Established to Help Federal Contractors/Employees

Have you heard of the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP)? Chances are you have not if you are outside of the world of federal contracting. The agency is prominent in the government contracting community, as it serves as a civil rights agency holding government contractors accountable for complying with non-discrimination legal requirements and affirmative action. Marcus Stergio, Ombudsman for the OFCCP, provides further insight into what the agency does: “the agency conducts a series of compliance evaluations to essentially review a contractor’s affirmative action plans an equal employment opportunity data to ensure that contractors are hiring, compensating and promoting without discriminating against protected classes of workers… So, discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability or status as a protected veteran.”

The OFCCP went a step further, strongly considering feedback from contractors and recommendations from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), by instituting an ombuds service to help federal contractors comply with rules and serve as a confidential neutral resource for contractors to seek resolutions about OFCCP. “There’s this fear that exists among the contractor community,” states Stergio, “when you know they feel the need to raise concerns or requests that issues be addressed by the same federal enforcement agency who reviews their employment practices. So, you know, the ombuds service is really the agency’s answer to those recommendations.”

So how will this new ombuds service work? How will people contact the ombudsman or use the service? Marcus Stergio, in an interview with the Federal Drive, is very welcoming, inviting contractors to simply give him a call, though he jokes that, “Although, you know, I think that seems like more of an old school approach these days.” He goes on to invite contractors to send him an email to set up a time and date for a discussion. The OFCCP website can also be utilized to submit online referral forms. Employees of federal contractors can also utilize this OFCCP ombuds service to report instances of individual discrimination.

In today’s world, having a confidential resource to help solve big problems like discrimination in the federal contracting marketplace comes as a welcomed relief. Additionally, having a little help navigating all the legal requirements as a contractor will be extremely helpful. Marcus Stergio maintains his resolve to be as helpful as possible to any and all who seek his help or the help of the OFCCP, aiming to build the comfort level and provide trustworthy service.

Author: Paul McVeigh


The Future of Government Contracting

As technological improvements continue to change the way the world does business, it is critical that we look ahead to what the future may hold. To remain competitive in an ever-changing market, government contractors must adapt, learn, and grow. To this point, The National Association of Contract Management (NCMA) has recently released a white paper titled, “Preparing for the Future of Contracting,” that makes some daring predictions.

This white paper outlines key findings that are essential to the success of government contractors moving forward. First, contractors will need to become well-versed, even subject matter experts in emerging fields to adapt to the changing landscape. Some examples given were machine learning, supply chain systems, and artificial intelligence.

The technology already exists that would allow agencies to replace jobs requiring repetitive tasks typically performed by humans with robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (AI). For contractors to be on the right side of this trend, a working knowledge of the technology and an understanding of how to implement it would be paramount to continuing to win contracts in administrative fields.  Acquisition professionals would be able to utilize this technology in the future as well, allowing them to free themselves from monotonous tasks and concentrate on more strategic issues.

Kraig Conrad, CEO of The National Association of Contract Management (NCMA), argues that considering the recent COVID-19 crisis, it is going to more important than ever to leverage the latest technology to improve response time and react to immediate government needs. Things like innovation, business acumen, data analysis, market supplier and supply chain intelligence are extremely valuable in times of crisis. The government will look to improve upon all of these areas in the wake of COVID-19.

Author: Paul McVeigh


8(a) STARS II Hits Ceiling: Implications for Small Business Contractors

The General Services Administration’s 8(a) STARS II program has been one of the most popular governmentwide acquisition contracts (GWAC) in history. So much so, that for the first time since the GWAC has been around, it hit its $15 billion ceiling.

Other notable GWACs for reference would be Alliant at $50 billion, Networx at $20 billion, and Veterans Technology Services (VETS) GWAC at $5 billion. Note of said contract vehicles have hit or even come close to reaching their respective ceilings.

What makes the 8(a) STARS II GWAC’s milestone so significant is that it reached its $15 billion ceiling 16 months before the end of the contract, which is set to expire August 30, 2021. While the popularity may seem like an overall positive, it can also have negative implications for those small businesses which credit high percentages of their earnings to STARS II. Should an 8(a) small business seek to acquire the follow-on to one if its contracts, for example, it would be ineligible if the contracting office released it via the 8(a)STARS II GWAC.

With this in mind, there are a number of avenues that may be taken by the GSA, and some that small businesses should consider. First, 8(a) small businesses should seek out other contract vehicles with which to obtain 8(a) contracts. Should STARS II not up its ceiling, 8(a) companies can convince their customers to procure follow-ons through these alternate contract vehicles.

The GSA may also increase the ceiling by $5-7 billion. “GSA is exploring its options regarding the 8(a) STARS II GWAC; however, at this time, there is no guarantee of additional contract value being made available. In the interim, agencies should contact GSA regarding short term options such as VETS and the GSA Schedule,” said Bill Zielinski, the assistant commissioner for the Office of Information Technology Category. “GSA intends to issue the solicitation for 8(a) STARS III in fiscal 2020. GSA has developed an aggressive solicitation and evaluation timeline to award 8(a) STARS III as soon as possible.”

While 8(a) STARS III may be a beacon of hope, it is a light at the end of a long tunnel. Despite releasing the draft solicitation last summer, little movement has been seen on the contractor end.

Author: Paul McVeigh


Artificial Intelligence and Federal Agencies

Artificial intelligence stands to revolutionize government agencies — as long as they understand how to procure, implement and use it, according to a new report.

The Administrative Conference of the United States commissioned the report, titled “Government by Algorithm: Artificial Intelligence in Federal Administrative Agencies,” from researchers at Stanford and New York Universities. Released in February, it found that 45% of federal agencies have experimented with AI and related machine learning tools and that those agencies are already improving operations in myriad ways, such as monitoring risks to public health and safety and enforcing regulations on environmental protection.

“The growing sophistication of and interest in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) is among the most important contextual changes for federal agencies during the past few decades,” the report stated.

The Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs had 12 AI use cases — the most of the responding agencies. The Securities and Exchange Commission and NASA follow with 10 and 9, respectively. In total, the researchers documented 157 use cases across 64 agencies after studying 142 federal departments, agencies and subagencies.

More broadly, the top three policy areas where AI is used were law enforcement, health and financial regulation. In terms of government tasks, regulatory research, analysis and monitoring clocked in at about 80 use cases, while enforcement had about 55, and public services and engagement had about 35.

The report also found that agencies were at different stages of AI and ML use. Fifty-three use cases, or 33%, were fully deployed, whereas roughly 60 were in the planning phase and about 45 were piloting or have partially deployed. More than half — 53% — of the AI and ML use cases were developed in-house, while roughly a third were built by commercial contractors and about 13% involved collaboration with non-commercial entities such as an academic lab.

One agency that uses AI for enforcement is SEC, which has a suite of algorithmic tools to identify violators of securities laws. For example, to detect fraud in accounting and financial reporting, the agency developed the Corporate Issuer Risk Assessment, which has a dashboard of about 200 metrics that can find anomalies in the financial reporting of more than 7,000 corporate issuers of securities. An ML tool identifies filers who might be engaging in suspicious activities by using historical data to predict possible misconduct.

Two other tools — the Advanced Relational Trading Enforcement Metrics Investigation System and the Abnormal Trading and Link Analysis System — look for suspicious trading. ARTEMIS hunts for potential serial insider trading offenders by using an electronic database of more than 6 billion electronic equities and options trading records to study patterns and relationships among traders. ATLAS analyzes for first-time offenders.

Lastly, the Form ADV Fraud Predictor helps predict which financial services professionals who manage more than $25 million in assets annually may be violating federal securities laws. The tool parses Form ADVs, which those professionals must submit to the SEC annually. Ultimately, it flags people as high, medium or low priority for further SEC investigation.

Despite the ways these tools help SEC employees, there are challenges. For instance, many of the documents powering the tools are not in machine-readable formats, the agency struggles to find accurate ground truth for algorithm training data, and it must stay up-to-date on what constitutes wrongdoing.

The report identified a common lack of sophistication across the use cases. Researchers ranked only 12% as highly sophisticated. “This is concerning because agencies will find it harder to realize gains in accuracy and efficiency with less sophisticated tools,” the report stated. “This result also underscores AI’s potential to widen, not narrow, the public-private technology gap.”

More understanding about how agencies use and acquire AI and ML tools is necessary to further adoption, the report said.

“Rapid developments in AI have the potential to reduce the cost of core governance functions, improve the quality of decisions, and unleash the power of administrative data, thereby making government performance more efficient and effective,” the report stated. “Agencies that use AI to realize these gains will also confront important questions about the proper design of algorithms and user interfaces, the respective scope of human and machine decision-making, the boundaries between public actions and private contracting, their own capacity to learn over time using AI, and whether the use of AI is even permitted. These are important issues for public debate and academic inquiry.”

Author: Prasanna Haresh Patil


IG Report: GSA Missed out on $1.1 Billion in Potential Savings

The General Services Administrations inspector general issued its annual review this month of 130 pre-award audits of new or renewed schedule contracts. The report outlines several adjustments to price and discounts that amount to an alarming $1.1 billion in potential savings that the agency has missed out on.

“By not effectively using all of the negotiation tools available, contracting officers are failing to leverage the government’s purchasing power,” the report states. “While we recognize that negotiations may not always yield the full amount of cost savings identified in our pre-award audit reports, FAS’ general disregard of pre-award audit results wasted our audit resources and forfeited opportunities to save over $900 million in taxpayer dollars.”

The report is a huge hit to the GSA, as a potential loss of this magnitude could cause a great deal of trouble for those responsible. This $1.1 billion figure may not be entirely accurate. These pre-award audits arise from an analysis of a single data point, and does not take negotiations and other administrative costs into account.

Experts maintain that, while pre-award audits are helpful, they may not accurately depict the actual price paid by the agency. To make a more accurate report, the inspector general’s audits would need to wait to review post-award information. While this may result in more accurate information, the delay could wind up allowing agencies to overpay for years before the issue is identified.

GSA and the IG have been working together to make improvements to schedule contracts. A GSA official said the Federal Acquisition Service and the IG formed a working group in 2018 to improve the value of pre-award audits. The working group helped develop new policies, established performance metrics that are reviewed quarterly, which led to a 22% improvement in audit timeliness, and more than 2,100 hours of training for the acquisition workforce.

Author: Paul McVeigh


Navy Contract Spending: 30% Increase Despite COVID-19

For many across the country, across the world for that matter, the effects of COVID-19 have had a significant impact on everyday businesses. For most, this impact is negative, costing tens of millions of Americans their jobs and forcing small businesses to hang on for dear life. Within Federal contracting, contractors have had the fortunate of performing the needs required by the country maintain the status quo in the ability to perform daily task, showing improved results from previous years.

Even with trillions of dollars being allocated for stimulus and small business relief, the Navy reported a 30% increase in contract spending as compared to last years figures. As of Tuesday, April 28, 2020, the Department of the Navy obligated $96.9 billion towards contracts in April, compared to $74.7 billion in April of 2019, even though more than 95% of its contracting workforce is working remotely. During the same month, those acquisition professionals also increased their use of distance learning for ongoing workforce development by more than 65%.

This increase is undoubtedly a result of the Navy’s efforts to combat this virus, spending more dollars-on-contract to ensure our country’s safety and supply chain efficiency. The increase also shows that the Navy has seen research and development efforts, as well as acquisition efficiencies pay off. “I’m seeing some remarkable efficiencies,” said James Geurts, the assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, on a conference call Tuesday. “I think a lot of that is getting rid of layers of bureaucracy that weren’t needed. Some of it is also creating better partnerships with industry so that we can leverage cost and pricing data we already have, and we don’t have to send out an RFP and get a proposal back just to confirm that data. And some of it is just a continued sense of urgency and mission focus.”

The Navy’s efforts, along with the contractors who continue to fulfill critical contract obligations, are paying off in fighting this unprecedented virus. It is encouraging that we are seeing an increase in spending, especially since it illuminates improvements in reaction time and efficiency, areas that are integral in keeping our country safe.

Author: Paul McVeigh


Small Business Association’s Paycheck Protection Program and Benefits

The Paycheck Protection Program is a forgivable loan designed to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll. The Small Business Association will forgive loans if used for expenses related to payroll, rent, mortgage interest, or utilities.

Starting April 10th, independent contractors and self-employed individuals can apply. Officials are encouraging business owners to apply as quickly as possible because there is a funding cap. The Paycheck Protection Program will be available through June 30, 2020. You can apply through any existing SBA 7(a) lender or through any federally insured depository institution, federally insured credit union, and Farm Credit System institution that is participating. 

Author: Prasanna Haresh Patil