Information technology price transparency could come at cost

TotaKeep reading  governmentwide transparency on pricing for information technology products could have unintended consequences, said a senior acquisition official.

Today, federal agencies have access to the catalog-list prices companies charge through governmentwide acquisition vehicles (GWAC). Although those catalog prices are negotiated with price fairness in mind – to ensure the amounts are comparable to commercial prices – agencies often pay less than list when executing orders of any significance.

That disconnect between the catalog price being the de facto maximum price, rather than the actual price, has led to efforts to record actual prices and share that information between federal agencies.

Rob Coen, acting director of the National Institutes of Health Technology Acquisition and Assessment Center, told an audience of federal officials and private sector sellers that his agency is setting up a dashboard that will permit customers to “see what other agencies are buying, who’s buying what, who they are buying it from and what they are paying.” NIH runs three governmentwide acquisition contracts, contract vehicles dedicated to IT products or services and meant for inter-departmental use.

The General Services Administration is also developing a “Price Paid Tool,” an online portal currently in proof of concept stage.

Keep reading this article at:

Cheapest contract isn’t always the best, acquisition officials say

Confusion over “lowest price, technically acceptable” contracts have rendered the Pentagon’s acquisition workforce “brutalized” by critics and the press who mistake shrinking defense budgets for a lack of ambition for innovation, a top acquisition official said Thursday.

Katrina McFarland, assistant Defense secretary for acquisition and past president of the Defense Acquisition University, said “Low-cost, technically acceptable is good when appropriate, but shouldn’t be used to achieve innovation.” Her “very junior-level” acquisition workforce has a learning curve when it comes to taking the next step toward value added in contracts, McFarland told several hundred industry and government executives at a conference titled “Agility, Velocity and Service Excellence” sponsored by the General Services Administration, the Homeland Security Department and the American Council for Technology-Industry Advisory Council.

Seeking industry input on how to prioritize Defense spending on weapons and information technology, McFarland gave a capsule history of how the acquisition workforce in the 1990s was cut by 20 percent to “reap the peace dividend,” and how, following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the civilian force was then flush with money and focused more on “pushing product out the door to the warfighter. We weren’t focused on honing business skills or maintaining a good customer-provider relationship,” she said.  “We were a bad customer.”

An injection of money by Congress in 2008 allowed planners beginning in 2010 to assemble 53 experts from agencies and industry and boil down 325 proposed initiatives to 23, which eventually resulted in the Pentagon’s pair of Better Buying Power initiatives. These include rewards and incentives for the workforce, McFarland noted, including the first-ever visits to contractor sites by deputy and undersecretaries to explain “from the horse’s mouth” the distinctions between low-cost contracts, value-added innovations and affordability in the context of the long-term costs of ownership of a system. “Instead of beating the workforce about the ears, it is a guide to help you think,” she said. If the workforce doesn’t understand low-cost technically acceptable, it will fumble around a bit,” she added, telling the business representatives, “if [acquisition] people ask questions and say this is not logical, do not stop them,” for this is how risks are taken that succeed.

Keep reading thgis article at:

OMB and GSA try for agility in IT development, oversight

The Office of Management and Budget plans to revamp its TechStat agency information technology oversight methodology, said Beth Corbet, deputy director for management at OMB.

Cobert said a new TechStat approach will allow federal chief information officers to take an incremental, agile approach rather than focusing on static compliance. She testified during a March 12 hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.

“As we think about a process like TechStat, you don’t want to be measuring compliance with requirements. You want to be looking early about how we’re looking at needs,” Cobert told the committee.

The idea of more quickly, efficiently and openly delivering federal IT may be catching on at the General Services Administration as well.

GSA unveiled March 12 a new office called 18F, presumably named after the address of GSA headquarters at 1800 F St. NW. The office’s inaugural blog post explains that it is a startup within GSA, which encompasses the Presidential Innovation fellows program, and in-house designers, developers and project managers from within government.

Keep reading this article at: 

DOD enacts faster, more agile technology acquisitions process

Information technology programs represent a considerable portion of all acquisition programs within the Defense Department, the assistant secretary of defense for acquisition said Tuesday (Feb. 25, 2014).

In fiscal year 2010, the National Defense Authorization Act directed that DOD develop and implement new acquisitions processes for IT systems, Katrina G. McFarland said during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s readiness and management support subcommittee.

So, based on recommendations contained in the 2009 Defense Science Board Report, the department is working to speed up the route to acquiring new systems by increasing collaboration and improving processes, McFarland said.

“To do this, one must start with the defined requirement or capability,” she added.

In the past, once an IT requirement or capability was defined, organizations were able to acquire only that technology which precisely met the predefined parameters.

The introduction of the “IT box” concept is a significant change to the IT acquisition process, McFarland said. The IT box gives organizations the ability to acquire technology that improves on already-approved technology, as long as the changes don’t exceed certain parameters.

In addition to the IT box, the department has introduced interim guidance to adopt “modular, open system methodology, with heavy emphasis on design for change,” which will help DOD adapt to the changing IT environment, the assistant secretary said.

“The policy addresses the realization that IT capabilities may evolve, so desired capabilities can be traded off against cost and initial operational capability to deliver the best product to the field in a timely manner,” she said.

In accordance with the fiscal year 2011 NDAA, the department chartered the Cyber Investment Management Board, which unites IT policy and operational requirements by identifying gaps in resources and in capabilities, McFarland said. But, she said, finding personnel with the required expertise work in IT acquisitions and development is “challenging.”

“The talent pool is small,” she noted.

One way the department is working to address these challenges is through the Defense Acquisition Workforce Development Fund, McFarland said, which is supporting training of IT acquisitions personnel through the Defense Acquisition University.

In addition, DOD is developing a cybersecurity guidebook for program managers to assist them in understanding what cybersecurity activities are necessary at each point of the acquisition life cycle, she said.

“The department will continue its efforts to operate as affordably, efficiently, and as effectively as possible,” McFarland said. “We are evolving our approach to acquisition for IT and recognize the distinct challenges that come with it.”

NASA’s Johnson Space Center takes customer-first approach to IT

NASA’s Johnson Space Center is taking a different approach to working with vendors and one that the Obama administration has been promoting over the last few years.

Annette Moore, the acting chief information officer, said vendors approach her organization through a vendor management office.

Annette Moore, acting chief information officer, Johnson Space Center

Annette Moore, acting chief information officer, Johnson Space Center

“When Larry Sweet was the CIO at NASA Johnson Space Center, Larry made an intentional decision to get us more in the direction of a business technology office,” she said. “We actually created a position for vendor management support and IT procurement support. So we actually have a staff dedicated here on our directorate level that works that vendor management piece to ensure that the vendor gets connected to the right office in our directorate, gets connected with the right individual in our directorate and gets the right level of attention to get them connected into what we are doing with our initiatives and our priorities. We also have a chief technology officer on the directorate staff. That CTO does the same thing and those two positions work hand-in-hand to ensure that the vendor gets the appropriate level of contact at the right level within our directorate.”

Sweet moved on to become NASA CIO in June.

Moore said the goal is to simplify the path for vendors to find the most appropriate person and to help her office ensure they are using their time most wisely.

Keep reading this article at: 

Homeland Security chief visits Georgia Tech campus community

Through ongoing research in the Georgia Tech Information Security Center and the Georgia Tech Research Institute, Georgia Tech is vitally connected to the cyber security industry, which has become critical to the nation’s security and vast segments of its economy.

Last Friday, Feb. 14, 2014, Georgia Tech welcomed Secretary Jeh Johnson, Department of Homeland Security.  Johnson met with students and other members of the campus community to discuss the Institute’s contributions to the field.

He was accompanied by Phyllis Schneck, Deputy Under Secretary for Cybersecurity for the National Protection and Programs Directorate.  Schneck received her Ph.D. in Computer Science from Tech and pioneered the field of information security and security-based high-performance computing at the Institute.

DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson

DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson visited with Georgia Tech students and researchers on February 14, 2014.

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: 

Dozens of companies file bid protests in DHS competition for IT projects

The Department of Homeland Security’s seven-year, $22 billion Eagle 2 information technology contract is getting buried under vendor protests, according to the Government Accountability Office.

More than 49 companies have filed protests against DHS with the GAO. Another firm, STG Inc., has filed a complaint in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

GAO has 100 days to review each bid protest, which could drag out any task order awards until March. DHS awarded the small-business portion of Eagle 2 on Sept. 6 and the unrestricted portion on Sept. 27.

The companies protesting the award include Accenture Federal Services, Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Harris IT Services Corp. and CGI Federal.

Keep reading this article at:

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 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:

Georgia Tech expands cyber security educational offerings into certificate program

Georgia Tech Professional Education (GTPE), in cooperation with the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI), now offers a Cyber Security Certificate that offers participants a more in-depth approach, including a focus on policy-making, people issues and engineering frameworks for cyber security.

The five-course certificate is composed of one required course and four electives, and applies systems engineering principles to create a holistic approach to cyber security. Choosing from seven courses, participants can customize their certificate to give a unique focus to particular topics.

According to Terrye Schaetzel, director of Educational Outreach with GTRI, this course will help organizations move their cyber security efforts from a reactive approach to a predictive model.

“Cyber Security is not just an information technology (IT) function,” said Schaetzel, who works with GTRI’s Cyber Technology and Information Security Laboratory (CTISL). “It is becoming a core strategic function of any organization. This certificate and courses enable people to take a broader look at the whole picture of cyber security.”

Designed for technical professionals who lead cyber security efforts and aspire to be CISO’s (Chief Information Security Officers), the courses also enable participants to further develop critical thinking skills. Hands-on labs and exercises provide a deeper understanding of solutions to help counter increasing threats to cyber security.

Each course takes roughly three to four days, which allows for a relatively quick turnaround for the certificate. All requirements for the certificate must be completed within six years from the date of completion of the first course.

For more information, please visit: