Big win for Amazon: 1st provider authorized to handle sensitive DoD workloads in cloud

Amazon Web Services has become the first commercial cloud provider authorized to handle the Defense Department’s most sensitive unclassified data.

Today’s announcement that AWS has achieved a provisional authority to operate under DOD’s cloud security model at impact levels 3-5 is a major win for the company, as it allows DOD customers to provision commercial cloud services for the largest chunks of their data.

In technical speak, the provisional ATO granted by the Defense Information Systems Agency means DOD customers can use AWS’ GovCloud – an isolated region entirely for U.S. government customers – through a private connection routed to DOD’s network. DOD customers can now secure AWS cloud services through a variety of contract vehicles.

In layman’s terms, AWS is the first company with the ability to take any and all of DOD’s unclassified data to the cloud.

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Court of Federal Claims rejects attempt to shoehorn what it characterizes as a contract administration matter into a bid protest

Recently, the CFC rejected a bid protest action filed by Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR) with respect to one of the Army’s LOGCAP contracts. The contractor had performed the logistics and civil augmentation contract, under which the Army issued task orders for different years, on a “cost-reimbursement basis.” When the Army tried to change to a firm-fixed price arrangement for the 2013 close-out period, KBR balked and refused to submit a proposal—instead filing a bid protest action. The CFC dismissed the case, ruling that KBR did not properly invoke the court’s bid protest jurisdiction but rather was attempting to litigate a contract administration dispute.

After years of submitting cost-reimbursement proposals under the LOGCAP agreement, it seems reasonable that KBR didn’t want to switch to a firm-fixed price basis for the close-out period, as “there was ‘no way to accurately define the scope or duration of work’ and [the] ‘[l]egal, administrative compliance, audit response, vendor issues, subcontract close-out, and dispute resolution . . . are all unknowns.’”

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IG: Google executive broke ethics rules while heading-up DARPA

A Google executive who previously ran a $3 billion Pentagon agency tasked with developing technology for the U.S. military violated ethics rules by pitching products from a company she had previously founded, according to a report released Wednesday by the Pentagon’s watchdog agency.

Regina E. Dugan, who ran the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency from July 2009 until March 2012, was cited by the Defense Department Inspector General’s office for endorsing a specific product, service or enterprise, a breach of ethics.

The IG found that while serving as DARPA’s director she briefed numerous senior defense officials on methods for U.S. troops to find improvised explosive devices and bomb-making facilities. The meetings created potential business opportunities for the company RedXDefense, LLC, in which she was a former chief executive officer, said the IG report, released to The Washington Post through the Freedom of Information Act.

“In communications with senior DoD officials, she used RedX proprietary and other materials originally developed for and used in RedX sales presentations,” states the IG report. “She advanced a theory integral to RedX product development, promoted a multi-step process the RedX product suite used to implement the theory, highlighted the results of field trials that used RedX products to demonstrate the efficacy of the theory and process, and featured a RedX sales slogan. She also endorsed the adoption of an effort to put sensors on dogs, an extension of a DARPA project on which RedX performed.”

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IG says Army paid too much upgrading Russian copters

U.S. Army contracting officers overpaid an American company upgrading Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters as contract costs increased almost 70 percent, according to an audit by the Pentagon inspector general.

The Army Contracting Command has responded that it will seek to recoup $128,990 of $151,543 in what the audit called “excess fees” paid since 2010 to Columbia, Maryland-based Science and Engineering Services Inc. The remaining $22,553 in fees was justified, according to the audit by the inspector general dated July 28.

While the amounts wouldn’t put a dent in the Pentagon’s $496 billion annual base budget, the inspector general’s report is the latest of three to question the contracting practices of an Army-run office set up in 2010 to manage the purchase and maintenance of foreign-made helicopters such as the medium-lift Mi-17 transport helicopters sold to U.S. allies Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.

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GAO: Most agencies still not providing complete data on contractors’ past performance

Although their level of compliance has improved over the last year, most federal agencies still haven’t met established governmentwide targets for providing complete, timely and accurate information on contractors’ past performance, congressional investigators found.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) said compliance among the top 10 agencies – based on the number of contracts that each agency needed to evaluate – varied greatly, ranging from 13 percent to 83 percent, as of April.

Only two departments – Defense and Treasury – had compliance rates above 65 percent, said the GAO report released Aug. 7.

The Office of Federal Procurement Policy, or OFPP, which has been trying to improve agency compliance on this issue, had wanted all such departments to reach or exceed that 65-percent threshold by the end of fiscal 2013, GAO said.

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Proposed line item rule to trace contract funding

The U.S. Department of DefenseNASA and the General Services Administration on August 5, 2014  proposed changing federal acquisition regulations for line items in government contracts to standardize the system and make it easier to trace.

The DOD, NASA and GSA proposed to amend the Federal Acquisition Regulation in fiscal year 2016 to establish a uniform line item identification structure providing pricing, delivery and funding information on items purchased, improving the traceability, accuracy and usability of federal procurement data, according to the proposal published in the Federal Register.

Funding traceability is currently limited to contract-level information, making it harder to implement governmentwide initiatives such as strategic sourcing, according to the rule. Tracking in the new line item identification structure, including keeping tabs on unit pricing in fixed-price contracts, will help trace funding from the time it’s obligated through the time it’s spent, the rule states.

“With this proposed rule, the federal procurement community continues to improve standardization of a unique instrument identifier, moving the procurement community in the direction of enhancing the uniformity and consistency of data,” according to the rule. “This, in turn, will promote the achievement of rigorous accountability of procurement dollars and processes.”

The new rule would apply to solicitations, contracts including governmentwide acquisition contracts and multiagency contracts, purchase orders, agreements involving prepriced supplies or services, and task and delivery orders, according to the rule.

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Blurred lines: Commercial, Defense sectors begin to blend

As companies continue to turn their eyes toward the Middle East and Asia for new business, a trend has emerged: The lines between commercial and defense businesses are increasingly blurring.

All but one company in the top 10 of this year’s Defense News Top 100 — our annual ranking of the largest global defense firms — saw the percentage of their defense business decline or remain flat in 2013. Thales, at No. 9, was the only company in the top 10 that saw growth in the percentage of its business generated by defense.

Click here for the complete list.

Defense-heavy companies, such as U.S. giant Lockheed Martin, which is once again at the top of the list, are diversifying their businesses. Lockheed is entering the commercial marketplace in areas such as air traffic management, aviation training and simulation, energy, and advanced manufacturing.

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Recommendations for DoD acquisition reform focus on 7 areas

The Defense Department added its voice to a growing list of associations and lawmakers with ideas on how to improve the military’s acquisition process.

DoD’s ideas center less on what Congress can do and more on what it shouldn’t do.

Frank Kendall, the undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, sent a letter to Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) back in June detailing seven areas where he thinks DoD needs help to improve acquisition outcomes.

For the first time publicly today at the AFCEA Acquisition Modernization conference in Washington, Kendall highlighted his seven recommendations.

Kendall said the biggest thing Congress could do is end the threat of sequestration in 2016 and beyond.

“2013 was a nightmare year. We actually implemented sequestration well into the year. We bought ourselves a little time with the deal that got us through 2014 and presumably through 2015. It’s coming right back in 2016,” he said. “We are working on the budget right now. The services are finalizing their [budget plans], and we will go through an exercise this fall where we will have to look at what the President will submit and something that is compliant with sequestration to see what the damage is. The damage is huge.”

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Georgia Tech Research Institute’s Huntsville operation works to shorten modeling and simulation testing

Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) researchers are working with a Huntsville, AL company and the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) to test high-altitude missiles without ever firing a shot.

AEgis Technologies, specialists in modeling and simulation, contracted GTRI’s Applied Systems Laboratory to collaborate with MDA on testing high-altitude air defense missiles. ASL is in its second phase of a multi-year project utilizing “hardware-in-the-loop” testing to enable more accurate modeling and simulation for its customer.

“Testing a missile can be very expensive,” said GTRI Senior Research Engineer and principal investigator Glenn Parker. “Additionally, because of the large number of control variables in a real exercise, it isn’t technically feasible to get complete testing coverage. High-fidelity simulation addresses many of these concerns, but even with modern processors it can take days to compute the trajectory and heat signature of a complex ballistic target.”

Hardware-in-the-loop simulations use portions of the real missile hardware, such as the seeker, with any missing pieces made up by simulated components.

“We use the missile’s actual guidance system and manipulate simulated inputs to make the hardware think it is flying,” Parker said. “By using real hardware in tests, confidence in the results is much higher than in fully simulated models. For non-reusable portions of the missile like the motor and warhead, the use of simulation models makes it possible to run thousands of test cycles without leaving the laboratory, and for less than the cost of one live test.”

With current testing models, thermal signature databases must be computed offline prior to the test, and can take up to three days for a mere fifteen minutes of simulation time. Any alteration to the parameters—altitude, weather, terrain, or even the position of the sun—requires a total re-coding of the database. Testing a missile launch from Hawaii, for example, to intercept a target at a certain distance, altitude and speed takes a long time to calculate all of the missile hardware inputs that are used in the test.

What GTRI is working on, according to Parker, will enable the simulated components to be “looped in” for real-time calculation, eliminating the need for database computation ahead of time. Using off-the-shelf NVIDIA graphics cards, the group will work to provide the seeker with simulated thermally emissive ballistic targets heated by atmospheric effects in real time. The team will be using CUDA, NVIDIA’s parallel computing architecture.

“Our goal is to calculate and provide inputs at up to 200 Hz, which means simulated measurements are sent to the seeker unit 200 times each second,” Parker said. “This will allow us to run dozens of tests in the amount of time we used to spend calculating data for a single run. Test parameters can be changed on the fly—MDA will be able to run many more ‘what if’ scenarios before fielding a defense system.”

AEgis Technologies in Huntsville is the prime contractor of the project. They will operate the Army-owned, hardware-in-the-loop test bed and generate scenarios for use in simulations. GTRI provides the expertise in real-time computing. Prior to this, AEgis had worked indirectly with GTRI’s Electro-Optical Systems Laboratory (EOSL) on the same program, which supported ultraviolet sensor testing.

“We selected GTRI based on what I knew of EOSL’s capabilities, and their expertise in GPU technology,” said AEgis Program Manager Dennis Bunfield. “GTRI’s CUDA expertise is a great value, and their expertise in verification and validation is invaluable.”

The system will be scalable, and the plan is to take what they learn from this project and use it elsewhere in the defense industry. The thermal solver aspect of the project, for example, will be useful for any simulation requiring a real-time solution for thermal image simulation.

“I think with some enhancements to the code framework, the capabilities can be extended to generate signatures in other regions, such as UV, the visible spectrum and for LADAR,” Bunfield said. “Aside from military applications, it could be possible to use the thermal solver for commercial and manufacturing applications, such as thermal analysis simulation.”

“We’re working with AEgis Technologies to best model and simulate firing and the performance of these missiles by providing scenario inputs at the true hardware rate,” Parker said. “Our main goal—writing a massively parallel NVIDIA CUDA thermal differential equation solver—will enable faster and more effective testing of high-cost components at hardware-in-the-loop testing centers.”


DOD stresses testing, evaluation improvements

Although “test and evaluation” is far from the most glamorous piece of the defense acquisition puzzle, Pentagon officials are making the case that it is one of the most important.

As part of the Better Buying Power 2.0 initiative unveiled more than a year ago, the Defense Department is emphasizing test and evaluation earlier in the acquisition process in an effort to keep contractors better informed about what the department expects on projects.

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Darlene Costello

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Darlene Costello

Conducting tests and defining project requirements earlier in the acquisition cycle were priorities in developing DOD’s most recent guidance to industry, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Darlene Costello said at a July 23 conference in Washington hosted by the National Defense Industrial Association. That guidance was developed by Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall, the senior DOD official leading the department’s attempts to make buying weapons, IT and everything else less costly and more efficient.

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