SecDef Carter enlists Silicon Valley to transform the military

The “Doomsday Plane” weighs 800,000 pounds when fully loaded and can withstand the effects of a nuclear bomb or asteroid blast while remaining aloft for 12 hours without refueling.

Tech Sector Remains Wary of Government Contracting 11.2015First deployed in 1974, the Boeing E-4B has been the preferred mode of long-range transportation for US secretaries of defense ever since. But when Ashton Carter’s staff discovered the behemoth would literally crush the runway in Sun Valley, Idaho, where he planned to attend the annual gathering of tech elite at the Allen & Co. conference, the SecDef nimbly switched to a sleek Gulfstream V. He jetted in with just a few aides, his wife (the conference is something of a family affair), an overnight bag weighing less than 10 pounds—and the message that the US military has a new spirit of agile entrepreneurialism.

The DOD of course has a long history of jump-starting innovation. Historically, it has taken the megafunding and top-down control structures of the federal government to do the kind of investing required to create important technology for the military. Digital photography, GPS, the Internet itself—all were nourished by defense contracts before being opened up to the private sector, which then turned them into billion-dollar industries.

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‘If I knew then …’

This is part of a recurring series sponsored by Federal Times, where former federal leaders reflect upon the lessons learned since leaving government.

If I Knew ThenIf you knew then what you know now … How would you have partnered with industry differently?

When agency needs arise, in order to ensure fairness and equitable consideration, lengthy and detailed requirements are crafted and sent to the industry. However, this often leads to bad outcomes. In order to mitigate protest risks, requirements are increasingly specific and fixed, but they leave very little if any room for industry to offer alternate, compelling approaches to solve the stated problems. As a result, many innovative and compelling solutions don’t even make it past the first gate, and the government suffers as a result. It also reinforces a cycle of inertia, whereby since government employees don’t see those innovative solutions, they keep asking for what they know, and as a result, continue to get the same traditional approaches and solutions.

If I had to do it over again, I would find ways to re-think how government partners with the industry.

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Tech contractors pay $12 million to settle claims they failed to screen staff

Two technology contractors have agreed to pay the U.S. government over $12 million in total to settle a civil court case alleging they allowed employees to work on a Defense Department contract without security clearance.

Services firms NetCracker Technology and CSC will pay $11.4 million and $1.35 million, respectively, according to a Department of Justice release .

False Claims ActIt reveals that the two were accused of contravening the False Claims Act by using staff who had not gone through required vetting procedures to work on a Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) contract.

CSC was the prime contractor on the project to provide software to manage the Defense Department telecoms network between 2008 and 2013.

However, during that time, NetCracker is alleged to have knowingly used employees without security clearance, resulting in CSC “recklessly” submitting false claims for payment to DISA, the notice claimed.

A Washington Post report went further, claiming that some of the code written for the project was developed by Russian programmers and subsequently placed onto U.S. government computer networks with no testing for backdoors or other possibly malicious elements.

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Challenges buy government what contracts can’t

When the government needs to buy supplies or capital items, or it needs to develop a new bomber, it awards a contract.  But what if it needs answers that aren’t for sale in the classic sense?

Office of Science and Technology PolicyJenn Gustetic says contracts are how you access value available from companies. But over the past five years, the executive branch has found an effective and relatively inexpensive way to tap into the brain power of individuals. Namely, challenge grants.

Gustetic is the assistant director for open innovation at the Office of Science and Technology Policy. On my show this morning, she noted that as the challenge grant program crosses its fifth birthday, it’s awarded 450 prizes to some 200,000 individuals for a total of about $150 million.

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There’s hope for local procurement reform at ‘Code for America’

‘The promise of technology and data transparency … is very exciting and will bring about change.’ But there’s a lot of work to do.

It’s not a secret that the procurement process is problematic across all levels of government in the United States. That’s certainly true in local jurisdictions.

RFPProcurement has especially been a source of frustration in tech circles, where it might not be surprising for vendors to find a root canal more pleasant than dealing with cumbersome and antiquated municipal RFP processes usually designed for purchasing physical products than IT services.

While procurement problems persist, there’s some hope, too. Some of the leading minds in local government procurement reform recently gathered at the 2015 Code for America Summit at the Oakland Convention Center to discuss the some success stories in different parts of the county, in addition to the lingering and persistent challenges.

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