More COVID-19 Guidance

Last week the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) updated its agency guidance for federal contractors, as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The three main takeaways are:

  • Agencies are encouraged to work with their contractors to allow for the maximization of telework.
  • Agencies must be flexible providing extensions to performance dates if working virtually isn’t possible or if a contractor must quarantine. Agencies should also weigh whether to keep key personnel in a mobile-ready state for national security measures.
  • Agencies are urged to leverage the special emergency procurement authorized in connection with the emergency declaration under the “Stafford Act”. These include increases to: the micro-purchase threshold; the simplified acquisition threshold; and the threshold for using simplified procedures for certain commercial items. These are designed to reduce discord for contractors, especially small businesses, allowing for a more rapid response to the increasing demands agencies face. (Nextgov, March 22, 2020)

The agency guidance comes after trade groups and lawmakers strongly voiced the need for contractor guidance. The updated guidance includes a section of frequently asked questions, including contractor exposure to COVID-19. (ibid)

OMB also issued technology guidance for use during the COVID-19 national emergency. The technology guidance also includes a FAQ section, with steps to ensure IT and cybersecurity measures are met while working remotely. It urges agencies to continue updating their websites to enable public access to government services.

Need some help figuring out OMBs agency guidance for contractors? Give us a call.

Government Contracting Automation?

Recent survey results of federal acquisition senior procurement executives and chief acquisition officers provide a window into the world of government procurement and what should occur over the next few years, according to Kraig Conrad CEO of the National Contract Management Association (NCMA), who conducted the survey. (Federal News Network, January 7, 2020)

According to NCMA, the three major findings from the survey are:

  • The role of the contracting officer is changing
  • The business of contracting is changing.
  • The workforce is changing.

The survey found that respondents are looking to shorten the procurement cycle while giving the Contracting Officer the ability to be less restricted and able to focus on providing solutions as opposed to getting mired in the routine administrative tasks. According to Conrad, the acquisition professional should see their role as a solution maker and not a compliance “police” officer, which ultimately limits the Contracting Officer’s impact. (ibid)

One element that threads itself through all of the findings is the need for top cover from agency executives to allow contracting officers as well as program managers the leeway and freedom to try different things and bring new ideas to the table. Conrad gives the example of the Air Force pitch days, in which 51 contracts were awarded to companies that have little or no experience with the military. The service doled out $3.5 million to those small businesses on a Wednesday — each in 15 minutes or less. The first installments of the companies’ contracts were in their bank accounts almost immediately. (ibid)

Conrad noted, “we heard from a lot of our senior procurement executives that in an environment where they feel they have top cover, the risk aversion conversation is easier to overcome. Otherwise, you will go right back to the same old model where everyone is trying to protect themselves. That top cover really only comes when someone in a leadership structure is not afraid to get in trouble. You run into situations where the senior leadership doesn’t feel they are covered or protected. It will take leaders stepping out and leaning over these challenges to be able to open challenges for their workforce.” (ibid)

Another area of impact on federal acquisition is technology. The survey white paper states “Several senior leaders even described a future in which an encyclopedic knowledge of the rules and regulations will be devalued as artificial intelligence further automates their application to acquisitions or incorporates regulatory provisions and requirements into contracting app algorithms.” (ibid)

According to Conrad, “we need to get better at how we train into the workforce. Those that have data science understanding need to tell a really good story with data. How are the contracting officers the solution makers? That really comes down to competency. What is those balance of skills that will allow someone to be competent as a business leader in this function? That is one of the areas, because of technology advances, that the technical components will soon be outweighed by the software skill needs.” Conrad feels the “softer skills” include a baseline knowledge of the actual problem/mission, products, and their related markets. (ibid)

Most senior leaders interviewed expect a shift from tactical to strategic work as technology is used for repetitive or routine tasks. It’s expected that many administrative tasks, for example, contract modifications, will become fully automated. Some senior leaders look to AI to further automate regulatory provisions and requirements into contracting app algorithms. (ibid)

Conrad expects to meet with federal acquisition leaders to discuss the survey results and begin the process of changing the role of the contracting officer.

Wondering if this will affect how you work with a Contracting Officer? Give us a call.

 

Cybersecurity Knowledge for Free

Who should understand cybersecurity? According to the Department of Homeland Security, everyone.  Whether or not you work in IT,  a basic understanding of cybersecurity is necessary. Now, thanks to the National Security Agency (NSA) and Penn State University, you can learn online at no charge. (Federal News Network, October 11, 2019)

NSA and Penn State, as part of an undertaking directed by the Department of Homeland Security, have created an online course to educate people on cybersecurity operations, law, and policy. Geared toward non-lawyers, no technical background is required. The entire course can be taken as a whole or in modules. In addition, anyone interested in the course can teach it or take it. It is offered through the Clark Center, with a variety of other cybersecurity courses.

The course begins with an overview of the U.S. government and the legal system and how they operate, providing a legal framework around cyber operations and cybersecurity. It gives similar overviews of technology concepts, then steps into the legal foundations for modern cyber law and policy focusing on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and their application to these concepts. 

The third and final module reviews cyber operations. This is taught as a cyber threat response framework using real-world cases to keep students engaged. Many examples are taken from actual current events and show how domestic law, national security, and technology intersect. (ibid)

Wondering if you should hone up on your cyber education? Give us a call and we can discuss it with you.

Automating Robots, the GSA Way

To deal with the breakneck pace of emerging technology, GSA has formed a Community of Practice (CoP), specifically for Robotic Process Automation (RPA). This will give government leaders a forum to collaborate and share ideas on how RPA might be implemented into respective agencies.  (GSA.gov, April 2019)

Executive Sponsors of the RPA CoP are GSA Chief Financial Officer Gerard Badorrek and GSA Technology Transformation Services Director Anil Cheriyan. The CoP will be chaired by Ed Burrows of the GSA Office of the Chief Financial Officer (CFO). (ibid)

The RPA aims to shift members of the federal workforce from low-value to high-value work. Additionally, it allows agencies to cost-effectively automate manual, repetitive, and rule-based operations. (ibid)

Some RPA benefits include:

  • Improving and re-engineering processes as they are automated
  • Using fewer resources to complete work
  • Increasing the efficiency of existing operations
  • Reducing costs partly by absorbing various new requirements without additional hiring or spending
  • Reducing processing errors
  • Reducing processing cycle times (ibid)

The GSA Office of the CFO will leverage the existing TTS CoP management capabilities to lead the RPA CoP. If all goes as planned, the RPA CoP will assist in advancing agency missions well into the future.

Do you have questions about the RPA CoP? Give us a call at 301-913-5000 to discuss how this can affect you.