Bots are assisting the Department of Defense in determining the best pricing for weapons systems.

A key purpose of the procurement system is to ensure that the government pays fair and acceptable rates for products and services. However, because obtaining those guarantees may be time-consuming and expensive for both agencies and suppliers, the military services are looking to automation for assistance.

The Army, for example, is trying to complement its ranks of price experts with algorithms that have the potential to automate some of the most time-consuming parts of determining fairness.The Army is attempting to allow bots to crawl through its data systems in order to arrive at trustworthy price determinations. The objective is to cut down on the amount of time its contracting officers and contract experts spend on “low value” work that might be done by robots. According to an Army spokesperson, the more data the bots have access to, the more likely they are to arrive at reliable pricing.

The Air Force has begun a pilot initiative to reduce the time it takes to produce accurate cost estimates by 85%. It utilizes machines to sift through historical pricing for specific components, just as the Army experiment. “We could actually reach to a point where incumbents’ written recommendations for follow-on initiatives become obsolete,” a source adds.

Holt stated that in a hypothetical situation, DoD procurement authorities would be allowed to provide exemptions from the Truth in Negotiations Act’s requirements. When contracting officers get into a sole-source contract, the law compels them to obtain verified cost and pricing data considerably more often. However, any “disruption” would necessitate procedural as well as technical modifications.

In the Truth in Negotiations Act, lawmakers provided the Department of Defense the authority to test sole-source procurements in which procurement authorities might “tailor” standard criteria. Program officials, with high-level Pentagon permission, are able to engage into arrangements with suppliers based mostly on their own data regarding past prices under those trimmed-back legal criteria. Chuck Hagel, the Defense Secretary, “The door is open, or at least cracked, for us to show that we can calculate risk correctly.”

By: Mariatu Alale

Why vendors may not be paying as much attention to the GSA’s Schedule program as they should.

Last year, business on the Multiple Award Schedule contract was at an all-time high. Allen Federal Business Partners is led by Larry Allen. He explains why schedule contracts might not be receiving the consideration they deserve in an interview. Allen explains that GSA Schedules do a lot of work, but they don’t always get the recognition they deserve from contractors or the media. Other programs, such as GSA Polaris and GSA’s Astro, as well as the NIH CIO-SP4 contract, are all new contracts with specific start dates, and you must submit your bid by a certain deadline to be considered. But it’s still there in the schedules, and you can make a bid at any time. And while that might not make headlines, it does make for good business, according to him, and statistics show that scheduled contracts are more common than ever with federal buyers.

According to Jared Smith, “interest in being on track” could have waned a year ago. “My phone has been ringing a lot more” about people who are trying to get back on track, Smith says. “I believe we’re starting to see some improvement. For a moment, there may have been a lull. However, now is the time for industry to resurface” Smith explains. To get on any IDIQ deal, such as the GSA Schedule, you only need one set of skills: the ability to write a good proposal. Selling in those contracts requires a different set of skills, since they’re all like fishing licenses, and you have to go out and catch the fish. The third part is that you must ensure that you remain compliant, Smith clarifies.

The federal company in Huntsville, Alabama, is growing. In Huntsville, the FBI is taking the lead and extending its operations. For the next few years, Huntsville will have over 20,000 government workers. According to Smith, federal business is conducted in San Diego, San Antonio, and Denver. If you work for the government, you may want to consider any of these locations outside of the Beltway. Jared explains that business is expanding so things are getting more and more clear now. There are places where there are huge concentrations of federal employees like San Diego. But they tend to be company towns for one particular department. Martins-burg, West Virginia, has a large diversity of different federal agencies.

Author: Mariatu Alale

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Adieu to CVR, the platform that taught DoD how to act as an IT enterprise

For the past decade, the Pentagon’s IT leadership has struggled how to prevail on the military services and Defense agencies to combine their emails and office implements into something that resembled a unified and consolidated enterprise. After trails and tribulation, multiple setbacks, and even a worldwide pandemic, the Defense Department has finally achieved that goal.

The biggest catalyst for change is a project called, “Commercial Virtual Remote” or CVR, the implementation of Microsoft Teams that DoD launched in March 2020 as an emergency measure to let millions of employees do their jobs from home. At its peak, CVR, hosted in a commercial cloud, handled online meetings and collaboration services for 2.3 million users throughout the department. The wildly-successful service finally went dark on June 15, after having been extended several times. “Typically, when we have the luxury of time, that’s our default. But the experience of CVR has shown that working together as an enterprise really does work.” Danielle Metz, DoD’s deputy CIO for information enterprise said in an interview for Federal News Network’s On DoD. Once a widespread user base adopted and grew to like CVR, it became apparent to IT leaders throughout the department that the demand for cloud-based collaboration wasn’t going to subside.

So, defense components dramatically accelerated their plans to migrate users to more permanent cloud offerings that offer the full suite of Microsoft 365 tools. Danielle Metz proclaimed that 80% of the department’s workforce had already made the transition by the time of the June 15 CVR shutdown. And some DoD components are ahead of others. The long-term replacements differ from their predecessor in several important respects. “CVR was a standalone capability — it was just Microsoft Teams, and it had limitations, by design, because it fit a very specific need,” Metz said. “The 365-cloud environment covers the totality of our controlled unclassified information, and it integrates all of the Office suite productivity — Teams, Outlook, all the Microsoft applications. And it will have the additional security that we didn’t have in CVR, just because it was an extraordinary circumstance.” Another major difference, is the full-fledged cloud productivity suites Defense employees will use from now on aren’t strictly an enterprise service in the same way CVR was. But Metz said the federated environment should still operate more-or-less like a unified enterprise. The department intends to build on lessons it learned from securing CVR, when it used a single cybersecurity services provider. For the time being, the department will give up some of the economy-of-scale pricing advantage it might have achieved by negotiating a single agreement for CVR directly with Microsoft. However, Metz said DoD’s components will still use a relatively small number of consolidated contract vehicles to purchase their Microsoft licenses. The department is strongly encouraging them to buy the services through the $7.6 billion Defense Enterprise Office Solutions (DEOS) contract DoD and the General Services Administration awarded to Leidos in 2019.

Ultimately, the department also wants to reduce the total number of Microsoft 365 tenants it will have to stitch together in the new federated environment. As of now, there are 13. Another key legacy of CVR is a restructuring of the Defense Department’s connectivity to the public internet. When the pandemic started, DoD’s networks were architected with the assumption that almost all of its employees would be working inside of government buildings with direct connections to government networks. Those pandemic-related capacity upgrades will play an ongoing role in the new federated environment, Metz said. “Many DoD leaders are looking at how we’re going to bring people back to work. If we’re going to have a hybrid model, [we’ll need] robust networks and bandwidth, government-furnished equipment, the ability to do the full complement of our work regardless of where you are,” she said. “That affords DoD leadership the

ability to be able to make those types of decisions, because we have the footprint now. It should not matter where your workforce is located, they will be able to execute their mission safely and securely.”

By: Ameer Ford

Source: i ii

Coronavirus Roundup: Full FDA Approval Sought for Second Vaccine

As the world prepares to return back to normality, so is the business world. However, in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, or even different viruses, measures and regulations need to be put in order. The Equal Employment Opportunity commission has updated its guidance on coronavirus vaccines late last week as the business world prepares to go back to normal, and employee prepare to physically be at the workplace. Consequently, the Equal Employment Opportunity commission has reported, “Federal EEO laws do not prevent an employer from requiring all employees physically entering the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19, so long as employers comply with the reasonable accommodation provisions of the [Americans with Disabilities Act] and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other EEO considerations.” Equally important, The National Institutes of Health said on Tuesday it has started clinical trials to study mixed vaccine schedules. Though vaccines were already authorized and administered by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health wants to arrange for the possibility of needing booster shots to counter waning immunity and to keep pace with an evolving virus. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases proclaimed, “The results of this trial are intended to inform public health policy decisions on the potential use of mixed vaccine schedules should booster doses be indicated.” Dr. Francis Collines, the director of the National Institutes of Health, has stated, “This whole issue about whether something happened at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, nobody knows.” The director has called for a thorough investigation” into the origins of the coronavirus outbreak because the World Health Organization, as he claims the, “effort did not meet that standard.” However, such thorough investigation cannot occur if the Chinese government is willing to provide answers. Apart from this, Moderna has announced it is seeking full approval from the US Food and Drug Administration. So far, the company’s vaccine is currently only available to individuals 18 years of age and older. Morderna is also providing data to the agency on a rolling basis. Besides Morderna Pfizer and BioNTech applied for full approval of their vaccine for individuals 16 and older last month.

Author: Ameer Ford


GAO flags longstanding quality and organizational concerns with DHS OIG

Based on its analysis of the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG), the Government Accountability Office submitted preliminary findings and recommendations to Congress. Audits are taking longer, and the DHS OIG has gone four out of six years without main auditing policies and processes, including a strategic plan. The quality of work at the DHS OIG was also a source of concern for GAO, in part because the office lacked a consistent quality assurance program. Between 2017 and 2018, the DHS Office of Inspector General withdrew 13 reports after an internal investigation raised concerns about whether they met government auditing requirements. The Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency conducted a peer review of the DHS OIG in 2018 and gave it a “Pass with Deficit” ranking for its audit work.

In less than a year, the DHS OIG completed seven of 67 audits. The acting DHS Inspector General, Joseph Cuffari, retained an outside law firm to investigate charges of corruption against three OIG executives. According to the GAO, these are preliminary results from the DHS OIG’s ongoing study. The GAO analysis, according to Currie, was not intended to focus on the past, but rather to expose the root causes of the DHS OIG’s problems. Morale among DHS OIG employees has increased, according to Cuffari, with the most recent findings from the 2020 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey reaching a five-year high within his organization. Currie believes that without a broad strategic plan or concrete policies in place, OIG staff and the public would be left to “Fill in the Gaps” regarding the inspector general’s priorities and why some programs are taken on while others are not.

Several committee members, including Katko, said they wanted to hold more hearings so they could monitor the OIG’s progress.

Author: Emely Rivas

Source: y-and-organizational-concerns-with-dhs-oig/

Senator to propose wage increase for federal employees

The world is currently in harsh and crucial times. But we still have hard working employees that would work to see the change and greatness of the American country. Employees can often be overlooked even when they are breaking their backs at their designated jobs. With their hard work they still get little pay but Senator Brian Schatz is trying his absolute best to give federal employees a raise in the next year to come. “This time the bill would give civilian federal employees an average 3.2% pay raise in 2022”. This increase in payment will tremendously affect employees. But many challenges have risen in fulfilling this task.

When the Federal Adjustment of Income Rates, or FAIR Act is brought up to congress it gets overshadowed with other problems such as funding for IT modernization for companies, increased federal contracting opportunities for small businesses, and the case of firing Social Security Administration Commissioner Andrew Saul and Deputy Commissioner David Black. “From my current seat on the appropriations committee, it’s going to take resources. We’ve dealt with budget caps over the last ten years and when your choice is between programs that impact families and IT systems, sometimes IT systems have not won out.” The government is in a strenuous place of having to choose where the money goes and how to continue budgeting, but people are working hard on letting this legislation be brought to light and getting passed. “Cardin, Van Hollen, Blumenthal, Kaine, Warner, Brown, Hirono, Baldwin, Merkley, Sanders another who sponsored this legislation in an effort to help those who keep the country running every day,”. The FAIR Act assists federal employees that have been damaged to the core by the pandemic where they get the opportunity to rising costs in health care, housing, and higher education.

During such a jarring time, federal employees continued to risk their lives and serve their country even in a global pandemic. They continue to be selfless and active during their duties. Sen. Brian Schatz highlights these key points in justifying why they deserve an increase in pay. The FAIR Act will show these front-line heroes how much they are valued and respected for their work.

Author: Joyce Divo


Covid-19 successes set new changes and expectations for federal acquisition community

It is clear, Covid-19 has caused major impacts everywhere, including in the federal acquisition community. The ongoing pandemic has allowed federal acquirers to review their skills and come up with complete and innovative technological implementations that may allow them to succeed in the near future. These new adopted implementations will pave a new way on how they do business within the community. The new level of expectations has skyrocketed over the course of the years. Leaving many to become unsettled.

The Food and Drug Administration’s director, (Andrew Jernell) states, “We have a lot of young people, they’re comfortable with this, and they’re going to want to move and use these tools to procure these things.” There is a large demand for changes within business practices, especially since new tools and resources were discovered and utilized since the oncoming of Covid-19. Despite the changes seen, there obstacles and hurdles to cross. This leads to a bigger rise in demand for new innovation while the fear remains the strategic business goals and growth strategies will not be met by those acquiring businesses.

The following evidence provides additional insight of problems that occurred when trying to find solutions in time. “At the Defense Department, acquisition officials were tasked early in the pandemic with assisting the Department of Health and Human Services with emergency procurements of medical supplies and personal protective equipment. But without deep knowledge of the medical device industry, officials realized they needed new ways to quickly determine which firms could actually fulfill orders and which could not.” Although this difficulty occurred in the end, they were eventually able to find a solution adapting new tools such as commercially-available supply chains that proved to be valuable enough. This solution worked out so greatly that it was adapted as an ongoing strategy.

In the end despite the bombarding issues with Covid-19, federal business acquirers were able to take advantage of this problem and find new ways to reach their goals of success. Adapting new tools and innovations to make changes within businesses. Even though expectations of changes were on the rise many were able to meet these expectations and develop plans that will benefit them greatly in the future.

Author: Robinson, Amiyah


GSA, DHS to address shortcomings in contractor assessments

In the world of federal contracting, the Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System (CPARS) is well known. For some contractors, their CPARS ratings are critical, as they essentially reflect the quality of work done on government contracts. The General Services Administration and the Department of Homeland Security are taking a look at the process and plan to improve upon it.

According to Mike Smith, a former DHS director, “We think there is a clear appetite for Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System (CPARS), but contracting officers and industry also know the current CPARS process is broken. I think OFPP hears it from contracting officers that it’s burdensome, and they hear from contractors that it’s not resulting in fair and accurate ratings.” On the other hand, there are many in the industry that believe that contractive officers to not take the time to accurately assess contractors, often grading them satisfactorily due to a desire to lessen their own burden.

GSA and DHS both have different plans to improve the CPARS assessment process. DHS is trying to address these shortcomings by applying artificial intelligence tools to the CPARS process. For GSA, it’s a matter of whether contracting officers pick up on the ability for vendors to provide self-assessments on specific projects. GSA senior procurement executive, Jeff Koses, issued a memo in February promoting the use of vendor self-assessments as one step in the overall CPARS process.

Ultimately, many in the federal contracting industry believe that the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) needs to get more involved. Though GSA and DHS are looking to improve upon the CPARS process, OFPP can issue a government-wide memo on increasing confidence in the CPARS or even steps to take for bettering the process. This initiative will ultimately help small business, as it will help contracting officers feel more comfortable issuing awards based on increased accuracy and confidence in these assessments.

Author: Paul McVeigh


DoD Worries: Supply Chain, Heavy Spending, Fewer Prime Contractors

The following is a summary of a conversation between Senior Bloomberg reporter Travis Tritten and Tom Temlin of Federal Drive:

It is said that over the last decade, there has been kind of this stunning decline in the number of prime vendors out there. A 36% decrease. You have also seen the defense budget climb pretty significantly. Defense spending is up 18%. And what we’ve seen is that the bottom lines of companies are growing. A smaller pool of companies are getting a bigger piece of the Pentagon’s funding pie.

We don’t have the indigenous, domestic technical ability that we need as the military adopts these cutting-edge technologies, like artificial intelligence. The military is trying to modernize and it needs this tech know-how, what you find a lot in these midsize and smaller companies, to accomplish this type of modernization. They are finding it harder and harder to get these companies on board. Therefore, it has created a system that is weak, you don’t have the technical know-how and also you have fewer companies competing for contracts. This creates challenges with the lack of competition that keeps prices down. Resulting in taxpayers paying more for these contracts.

Manufacturing is really the hard problem of the defense industrial base. You saw the last acquisition chief as she was leaving, in January, she warned about the offshoring of U.S. manufacturing, right. This is a huge long-term trend. The United States has lost a lot of these domestic abilities, these manufacturing capabilities. This is a difficult problem, because it’s much greater than just the Pentagon, although the Pentagon suffers greatly.

Biden has his deputy defense secretary in place, Kathleen Hicks, and she has mentioned that she is concerned about the consolidation of the defense industrial base. One of the issues for the Biden administration, is they do not have their top people in place yet. We’re still waiting for nominees and for a Pentagon acquisition chief to be named. That is the true point person in the department for these types of issues. It is believed at this point the administration does not have a fully executable game plan that is fully formed. This is going to be a pressing issue, and they’re going to need to get on it once they get somebody in place.

The reason that this is so concerning is because we depend on a lot of this stuff from China. And China is our main competitor, as the Pentagon always says it’s the pacing threat. When you have your main competitor in the world, who has the capability of producing this stuff, and you’re dependent on it for your defense supply chain and puts you in a really difficult situation, strategically, that’s just untenable. It’s something that needs to be addressed. There has been this rising alarm over and over of China’s involvement in the supply chain.

Author: Patrina Philips