Differing DoD and SBA rules on protecting SBIR technical data causing confusion

The intellectual property rights of small business are subject to risk from differing Defense Department and Small Business Administration rules governing Small Business Innovation Research contracts, say DoD auditors.

Policies governing how long the technical data developed by small businesses under the SBIR program differ between the Small Business Administration SBIR Policy Directive and the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement.

Federal agencies that spend more than $100 million annually on external research must allocate during the current fiscal year at least 2.8 percent of that budget to SBIR contracts.

The SBA directive governing SBIR says the technical data protection period starts when the last deliverable under the contract is delivered by a small business awardee. That period can be extended if the SBIR data is protected and referenced under a subsequent SBIR contract, even if the rights expired.

The DFARS rule says project completion determines the protection period. DFARS doesn’t whether the protection period can be extended or renewed.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.fiercegovernment.com/story/differing-dod-and-sba-rules-protecting-sbir-technical-data-causing-confusio/2014-03-31

The DoD Inspector General’s report can be downloaded at: http://www.dodig.mil/pubs/documents/DODIG-2014-049.pdf


Pentagon and Congress begin rewriting DoD acquisition rules

The Pentagon and the U.S. Congress have begun the tedious effort of reviewing decades of antiquated, cumbersome defense acquisition policies to speed up the defense procurement process and get more bang for the buck.

Unlike previous acquisition improvement projects, which in some cases made the process more complicated, those leading this effort are optimistic because lawmakers and Defense Department officials are tackling this review together. These officials also believe that the decline in US defense spending provides incentives to make the project successful.

“The idea is not to really change any of the intent behind the existing laws, but just to simplify that body of law, make it more comprehensible, make it easier to implement and make it something that is much more focused on results and not as confusing and complex for everybody,” Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, said during an interview in December.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.defensenews.com/article/20140216/DEFREG02/302160012/Pentagon-Congress-Begin-Rewriting-DoD-Acquisition-Laws 

Three IT procurement problems worth solving

The arduous process that small technology vendors must go through in order to contract with government agencies is preventing government innovation when we need it most. As the CEO of 12-person tech firm that recently went through the process, I have experienced this first hand.  [Note: This article represents the personal views of Kuang Chen is the CEO and founder of Captricty, a government contractor.]

While a partnership with the federal government is unusual for a company of our size, we got lucky. We were introduced early on to an internal advocate who saw the value of our solution to transform paper backlogs into digital data at the Food and Drug Administration — performing weeks of manual entry in hours to update a critical drug safety database. As we learned, even with a strong advocate, the procurement hurdles were significant. After getting proof of concept in two short weeks, it took two more months to prepare the paperwork for a security authorization to operate (ATO) and five months for a stop-gap contract. Even after clearing the original paper jam, we are without a contract to handle the additional demand that is now flooding our way.

So where should government begin when thinking about how to streamline the process?  Here are three observations:

  1. Security review is confusing and cumbersome.
  2. Complex contracting offers no simple path for a relatively small project.
  3. Existing procurement models don’t work for new technologies.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.nextgov.com/technology-news/tech-insider/2014/01/analysis-three-procurement-problems-worth-solving/77918 

Study group issues recommendations to improve DoD acquisition

The IBM Center for The Business of Government has issued a set of eight recommended actions that government can take to improve the federal acquisition process.

The report, the third in a series on the government acquisition process, is entitled “Eight Actions to Improve Defense Acquisition” and can be downloaded here.

While the report centers on acquisition in the Department of Defense (DoD) because of its dominant size in the federal budget, the eight proposed action s— which build on previous acquisition reforms including increased competition, more use of best value contracts, expanding the supplier base, and better tailoring of contract types to contract goals — apply to civilian agencies as well. The authors emphasize the urgency of acquisition reform in DoD given budgetary constraints and security challenges, finding that “DoD will need to gain every possible efficiency, while resisting the temptation to buy defense on the cheap.”

More information, including information on a second report, A Guide for Agency Leaders on Federal Acquisition: Major Challenges Facing Government, is available at: http://www.businessofgovernment.org/report/eight-actions-improve-defense-acquisition.

The first report in the series, Controlling Federal Spending by Managing the Long Tail of Procurement, provides the first quantitative analysis and recommendations about government “tail spend” (smaller, non-core expenditures that often receive less attention in cost control but can add up to a large overall amount).

In tech buying, the U.S. is still stuck in the last century

Four years after President Obama vowed to “dramatically reform the way we do business on contracts,” the spectacular failure of the HealthCare.gov website has renewed calls for changes in how the government hires and manages private technology companies.

But despite Mr. Obama’s promises in the last two months to “leap into the 21st century,” there is little evidence that the administration is moving quickly to pursue an overhaul of the current system in the coming year.

Outside experts, members of Congress, technology executives and former government officials say the botched rollout of the Affordable Care Act’s website is the nearly inevitable result of a procurement process that stifles innovation and wastes taxpayer dollars. The Air Force last year scrapped a $1 billion supply management system. Officials abandoned a new F.B.I. system after spending $170 million on it. And a $438 million air traffic control systems update, a critical part of a $45 billion nationwide upgrade that is years behind schedule, is expected to go at least $270 million over budget.

Longstanding laws intended to prevent corruption and conflict of interest often saddle agencies with vendors selected by distant committees and contracts that stretch for years, even as technology changes rapidly. The rules frequently leave the government officials in charge of a project with little choice over their suppliers, little control over the project’s execution and almost no authority to terminate a contract that is failing.

Keep reading this article at:http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/23/us/politics/in-tech-buying-us-still-stuck-in-last-century.html?pagewanted=2&pagewanted=all

In Defense acquisitions, prevention is better than cure

The same question keeps being asked at Pentagon meetings:  Is there a better way to do weapon acquisitions? 

There might be. But Pentagon officials do not believe that rewriting defense procurement rules from scratch will fix what ails the system.

It has become a parlor game at the Pentagon to contemplate the problems of weapon procurements and recommend solutions. “If we could only write the definitive book on how to do acquisition,” William LaPlante Jr., the Air Force’s principal deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, said wistfully.

“Coming into this job, I found it is fun to do that. The room takes over,” LaPlante recounted last week at the Air Armaments Symposium in Fort Walton Beach, near Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.

But trying to reinvent the acquisition wheel ultimately is a waste of time, he acknowledged. “We don’t need new ideas. We need the ideas that are good, and already are in the books, and implement them.”

The Government Accountability Office estimated that 39 percent of the Pentagon’s weapons programs in fiscal year 2012 were running 25 percent or more over budget.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/blog/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?ID=1329

New contracting agency increases Air Force acquisition flexibility

The Air Force has created a new Installation Contracting Agency (AFICA) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.  The unit officially stood up during a transition ceremony on Nov. 13, 2013.

Following manpower cuts last year, Air Force leaders designed AFICA, a field operating agency that reports directly to the deputy assistant secretary for contracting, to ensure bases around the world receive the installation contracting services they need to remain mission-ready.

“This new field operating agency will help us usher in a new era of support to our customers by maximizing our precious and scarce resources,” said Maj. Gen. Wendy Masiello, the deputy assistant secretary for contracting.

The re-designation will not require personnel to move from their current location, as the organization intends to take advantage of virtual environments. AFICA will maintain existing contracting staffs as operating locations at each supported major command headquarters along with specialized contract execution capability at current locations supporting Air Education and Training Command, Air Force Special Operations Command, Air Mobility Command, U.S. Air Forces in Europe, and Pacific Air Forces. The main benefit of the redesign is to continue to meet the MAJCOM mission needs through deliberate alignment of workload and resources and elimination of duplication of effort.

On Oct. 1, AFICA achieved initial operating capability by consolidating the manpower and functions of eight major command contracting staffs, the Enterprise Sourcing Group, and five specialized execution units into the FOA. The Enterprise Sourcing Group has been redesignated as AFICA and is headquartered here.

By design, AFICA assumes a role in Air Force contracting oversight, specialized execution, and strategic sourcing.

“The complex demands on today’s Air Force installations mean that AFICA must operate at peak efficiency to deliver the needed services on time and on cost,” said Brig. Gen. Casey Blake, the AFICA commander. “We are ready for the challenge.”

Composed of more than 700 personnel at 17 locations spanning 14 time zones, AFICA will support customers at eight major commands: Air Combat Command, AETC, Air Force Global Strike Command, AMC, AFSOC, Air Force Space Command, PACAF, and USAFE. Air Force Materiel Command and Air Force Reserve Command are not a part of the AFICA structure.

AFICA will continue to implement programs and standardize processes as it works toward full operating capability on Oct. 1, 2014.

Former comptroller questions competence of DoD’s acquisition team

Acquisition personnel at the Defense Department from management on down don’t have the knowledge or incentives to do their jobs well, said Dov Zakheim, the  department’s former comptroller, on Oct. 29.

The era where DoD technology was far more advanced than the private sector  has passed, he said, with Silicon Valley and other technology centers holding  their own. But DoD doesn’t ensure that its acquisition workforce remains  conversant with the latest advances, Zakheim said during a House Armed Services  Committee hearing.

“Too many program managers appear to be deficient when it comes to  supervising the progress of programs simply because they don’t know the  technology that they’re supervising,” he said. Some have to depend on contractors to help them understand the technologies they oversee.

Zakheim was DoD’s comptroller and chief financial officer during the George  W. Bush administration. He was also a high-ranking DoD official in the Reagan Administration.

Also out of date, he said, are the policies for promotion within an agency,  as many employees move up the chain because of their years of service rather  than as a reward for good work. Zakheim proposed that DoD include cost savings  that acquisition officers have achieved as a factor in promotions, to alter their incentives.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.fiercegovernment.com/story/ex-pentagon-official-acquisition-failures-tied-personnel-issues/2013-10-30

A webcast and prepared testimonies are available on the hearing webpage at http://armedservices.house.gov/index.cfm/hearings-display?ContentRecord_id=df2275cc-a8dd-40dc-878f-ed7afc2cdacd 

Georgia Tech warns of threats to cloud data storage and mobile devices in report of ‘emerging cyber threats’

As more businesses find their way into the cloud, few engage in security measures beyond those provided by the associated cloud storage firm, a new report from Georgia Tech notes. Even fewer seek heightened data protection because of concerns that usability and access to remote data would be significantly reduced.

These concerns are among findings made by the Georgia Tech Information Security Center (GTISC) and the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) in today’s release of the Georgia Tech Emerging Cyber Threats Report for 2014. The report was released at the annual Georgia Tech Cyber Security Summit, a gathering of industry and academic leaders who have distinguished themselves in the field of cyber security.
“With recent revelations of data collection by the federal government, we will continue to see a focus on cloud security,” said Wenke Lee, director of GTISC. “But encryption in the cloud often impacts data accessibility and processing speed. So we are likely to see increased debate about the tradeoffs between security, functionality and efficiency.”

Encryption challenges were a focus at this year’s summit, which featured some of the nation’s top information security experts. These included keynote speaker Martin Hellman, professor emeritus at Stanford University and one of the inventors of public key cryptography, a way of securing communications without relying on pre-shared secrets.

In related findings, the report reveals security issues involving the “Internet of Things,” referring to the notion that the increase of Internet-capable devices could create opportunities remote hacking and data leakage. With everything from home automation to smartphones and other personal devices becoming connected to the Internet, these devices will capture more real-world information and could permit outside parties, companies, and governments to misuse that information.

In the mobile space, even though designers of mobile devices and tablets have developed a robust ecosystem to prevent large-scale device compromises, the report finds that the threat of malicious and potentially targeted use remains. Earlier this year, researchers at Georgia Tech reported that they found ways to bypass the vetting process of Apple’s App Store and subsequently showed how malicious USB chargers can be used to infect Apple iOS devices.

“No matter how successful we have been, black hat operatives will continue to attack infrastructure at every angle possible, making cyber security a global issue for years to come,” said Bo Rotoloni, director of GTRI’s Cyber Technology and Information Security Laboratory (CTISL). “We must remain vigilant. The purpose of this Summit and Report is to raise awareness, create educational opportunities and maintain an ongoing dialogue among industry, academia and government.”

The Georgia Tech Cyber Security Summit is a forum for the IT security ecosystem to gather together, discuss and debate the evolving nature of cyber threats, and to chart the course for creating collaborative solutions.

In addition to Hellman’s keynote address, the 2013 Summit included a panel of security experts from Microsoft, Splunk, Dell Secureworks, Solera Networks and Georgia Tech.

The Georgia Institute of Technology is one of the nation’s leading public research universities and the home of cyber security research and education initiatives through GTISC, GTRI and other facilities across campus. These efforts focus on producing technology and innovations that help drive economic growth and improve daily life on a global scale.

The report is available for download at gtsecuritysummit.com.

LPTA contracts gaining favor among agencies, but give vendors less incentive to innovate, study says

Lowest price technically acceptable procurements have been gaining favor  among agencies, but that gives vendors less incentive to be innovative if the  approach costs more, an Oct. 24 Market Connections and Centurion Research study says.

Under LPTA, agencies focus more on price than on past performance as long as  the vendor meets minimal job requirements. So if a vendor comes to an agency  with a unique solution that costs more than a competitor who comes with a more  basic solution, the agency is more likely to choose the cheaper solution as long  as it meets the minimum requirements.

The practice has been utilized by the Defense Department through its Better  Buying Initiative, the study says, but has proliferated through other agencies  as well.

The study showed that of the $27 billion in procurements it analyzed, the  Veterans Affairs Department was the biggest user of LPTA outside of the DoD.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.fiercegovernment.com/story/lpta-contracts-gaining-favor-among-agencies-give-vendors-less-incentive-inn/2013-10-28