Bots Can be Your Friend

It’s been just about a year since Dr. Michael Wooten, the Policy Administrator for the Office of Federal Procurement, disclosed his plan to remove friction from the acquisition process. His intention is to rely on robotics process automation (RPA) as well as a few additional concepts to lessen the burden on contracting officers. (Federal News Network, October 12, 2020)

One way Wooten plans to do this is through the reduction of procurement administration lead time. Wooten recently spoke at the ACT-IAC Acquisition Excellence conference and said, “We look to accelerate the use of facilitated requirements development workshops, known as SAWS. We should enhance the requirements development process with the same technologies used to finish my sentences when I send texts or emails. This is no pie-in-the-sky vision. The technology exists today. In fact, the Department of Interior is piloting this approach. Under one of its contracts, a contractor supporting the Department of Interior applies natural language processing and machine learning tools to coach Interior’s acquisition community through the acquisition process. These artificial intelligence tools collect data to identify training needs. These data support management decisions to support better performance through training or process improvements.” (ibid)

When purchasing anything from help desk services to a fighter jet, AI and natural language processing tools pull clauses and requirements, which are applicable, by scanning previous contracts. The next step hopefully finds the manager performing minor tweaks to the language because most of the language has been used previously. GSA has been using these facilitated requirement development workshops (SAWS) since 2015 for BPAs and DoD has used SAWS since 2012 for service acquisitions over $1 billion. (ibid)

The acquisition community is taking a hard look at automation. RPA has been applied to the procurement process by the IRS, the Army, and GSA. Wooten feels RPA will improve compliance and ultimately become routine. He said, “these process automation tools can take on the ‘flow-chartable’ tasks. These tools will execute program decisions. In this fashion, automation can enable a compliance system that enables greater speed and accuracy. As process automation tools take on program decisions, they free people to make non-program decisions. They free people to exercise critical thinking and professional judgment. They empower people to create solutions.”

IRS has two programs under the Pilot IRS initiative:

  • Contract Clause Review:  a tool allowing a procurement document to be uploaded while answering questions about the document. Within seconds a compliance report is generated. Missing characters, text, and incompleteness is checked while at the same time syncing to the FAR, the Treasury Acquisition regulations, and the IRS acquisition policies. The tool is expected to have a large Return on Investment.
  • Contractor responsibility determination will automatically, prior to contract award, verify a company is eligible to do business with the government. Instead of a manual process, a bot will search databases, sending a report back to the employee within five minutes.

The Army launched another form of automation, a bot to retrieve information from SAM.gov and FAPIS.gov and summarize the information in a formatted template. Air Force and Navy should be utilizing the bot in fiscal 2021. Liz Chirico, the acquisition innovation lead in the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for procurement said, “our team is looking into a couple of other interesting intelligent automation ideas. We are looking at automating some of the manual lookup processes for pricing so going to some of the public-facing pricing sites like GSA’s CALC and the Bureau of Labor and Statistics are two examples. We are also looking into streamlining the acquisition requirements process. That process often takes a lot of time and requires duplicative information, so if there is any way for us to streamline that and have all of the requirements stated upfront and have those templates and forms prepopulated.” Bots will probably also be used to ensure compliance with Section 889, prohibition of Chinese made telecommunications products. (ibid)

The IRS and the Army are using automation tools to move quickly through the procurement process and it’s likely the rest of the federal agencies are not far behind.

Questions concerning an upcoming bid and your company approvals through RPA or other automation processes? Give us a call.

Self-Assess No More

Cybersecurity for  Department of Defense (DoD) contractors is an ongoing issue. Now, DoD is issuing an interim rule to implement an Assessment Methodology and Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification framework. This will assess contractor implementation of cybersecurity requirements and enhance the protection of unclassified information within the DoD supply chain. (Federal Register, DFARS Case 2019-D041 Action: Interim Rule)

The current self-attestation of NIST Special Publication (SP) 800-171 is not working due to a lack of DoD verification. Until the implementation of the interim rule, DoD did not have a mandate to verify contractor basic safeguarding or security requirements prior to contract award.  This regulation changes that. The interim rule adds a process for contractors to  implement cybersecurity requirements. This is to be accomplished while the DoD’s Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) and the procedures with the Accreditation Body (AB) are solidified. (Meritalk, September 28, 2020)

Questions about how the new rule will affect your contract or upcoming bid and what you can expect? Give us a call.

What Brand is Your Telcom and Video?

Section 889 of the FY 2019 National Defense Authorization Act was passed to fight national security and intellectual property threats to the United States.  The legislation includes two prohibitions Part A and Part B. (GSA Section 889 Industry Focused Flyer, GSA.gov, July 16, 2020)

Part A, which became effective on August 13, 2019 bans telecommunications/video surveillance equipment made by the following companies:

  • Huawei Technologies Company
  • ZTE Corporation
  • Hytera Communications Corporation
  • Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Company
  • Dahua Technology Company

Part A can be found in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) at FAR subpart 2.1.

Part B, effective 13 August 2020, prohibits the government from contracting with any organization that uses equipment or services of any of the companies listed under Part A. Part B applies, whether or not that usage is in performance of work under a Federal contract. In other words, if you use any of the banned companies in the fulfillment of a  non-government contract, you will be prohibited from working with the government. All contractors must verify whether they do or do not use prohibited telecommunications/video surveillance equipment or services. Part B has been added to the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) at FAR subpart 4.21. (ibid)

GSA recommends companies to complete an in-depth review of all in-house technology to rule out using banned companies in Part A . If prohibited equipment or services are being used, companies that wish to continue doing business with the government must eliminate them. GSA does not take responsibility for changes contractors make, unless done so by a modification to a current contract.

However, two possible waiver procedures with extremely high standards are available. This is to ensure waivers are not used to get “around” the prohibitions.

GSA is modifying all solicitations, Indefinite Delivery Vehicles (IDVs), GWACs, and other IDIQ contracts, to include Section 889 Part B requirements immediately. These requirements will be added to GSA’s existing non-IDV contracts as those contracts have their periods of performance extended.

GSA is hosting the following events so that industry may obtain additional guidance:

  1. The GSA Office of Small Business Utilization webinar on Section 889, July 30, 2020, 2:00 p.m. EST, registration may be found here.
  2. GSA recorded virtual webinar August 12, 2020, at 1:00 p.m. EST, registration forthcoming. This webinar will include leaders from GSA’s business lines explaining how they are implementing Section 889 into their business lines and panelists will answer pre-collected questions. (Questions may be sent to gsaombudsman@gsa.gov to arrive by COB August 5, 2020.) (ibid)

GSA recommends that vendors study the tools and publications to aid their understanding and compliance, as provided in Acquisition.gov.

Not certain if your contract is affected by Section 889 Part B and if so, what you can do? Give us a call.

Pilot Programs to Decrease Bid Cycle Time

Selling to the government can be a difficult and lengthy process for the most patient of vendors. The buying process in private industry might take a week or two whereas federal buying can take a year or more. Added to that, the costs associated with bidding on government contracts, with no guarantee of a contract, often makes doing business with the government less than appealing. Unfortunately, this makes many companies with innovative products and services steer clear of working with the government.

Now two agencies, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), are introducing programs to address costly and time-consuming barriers. (Washington Technology, June 2, 2020)

DHS created the Procurement Innovation Lab; its mission to diminish barriers to competition while opening up the competition to nontraditional companies and by creating multiple awards from a single solicitation. Within the lab, teams test Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) flexibilities. Working with the Department of Defense GSA, DHS created the Commercial Solutions Opening Pilot. This affords participants greater latitude when purchasing innovative products below $10 million. (ibid)

DHS is also working to greatly reduce the lengthy proposal process through a phased proposal model. Phase one might involve a lightweight proposal of five pages or possibly a 30-minute phone interview. Then DHS would advise the vendor on how competitive their idea is and let the vendor decide whether it makes sense to move forward with a proposal. Additionally, DHS is working to receive oral presentations and product demonstrations using a paperless process. This allows vendors an opportunity to showcase their wares, and gives the government insight into those vendors they might award contracts to.  The phased proposal allows many vendors the opportunity to engage with the government when otherwise they would not be able to afford to do so. It allows the government to stay on top of innovative solutions that they otherwise might have missed out on. (ibid)

The IRS wants to phase in a pilot program as well. Their goal is to work with non-traditional small businesses to rapidly prototype and test emerging technologies. Project phasing will help to circumvent locking into a single vendor’s solutions as new (and often better) solutions are made available. (ibid)

Questions about the DHS and IRS programs and how you might prepare a lightweight proposal? Give us a call.

Speedy Payments? Yes Please.

The Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) is changing to allow government contracting small businesses to get paid within 15 days of invoicing. Furthermore, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Department of the Treasury (Treasury), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the General Services Administration (GSA) are working together to issue a memorandum that authorizes the expedited payments in advance of the updated changes to the FAR. (JDSUPRA, May 14, 2020)

Contractors should contact their government Contracting Officer to facilitate those payments. For example, a DHS Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) recipient currently paid within 30 days of invoicing may be eligible for a contract modification to accelerate payments upon the exercise of any options under that contract. (ibid)

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, Section 873, requires agencies to establish an accelerated payment date for certain contracts with a goal of payment 15 days after an invoice is received, if a specific payment date is not established by the contract. The change will be implemented via an applicable FAR revision.

Other formal additions to the FAR include 52.212-5 (Contract Terms and Conditions Required to Implement Statutes or Executive Orders – Commercial items), FAR 52.213-4 (Terms and Conditions – Simplified Acquisitions (Other Thank Commercial Items)), and FAR 52.244-6 (Subcontracts and Commercial Items.) (ibid)

This is great news for small businesses looking to decrease hardships produced by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Questions about the FAR changes and the expedited payment memorandum? Give us a call.