Government Contracting News: January Edition Two

Written on January 30, 2020

Is Impeachment Slowing the Course of Federal Business? 

The impeachment trial for President Trump began in the Senate last week, playing to headlines in the national media. Previously, the House of Representatives was center stage on deciding whether to make their charges formal. Impeachment proceedings don’t come along every day. Considerable national attention can be focused on such activities. Do they distract federal agencies from the normal pace of business? The short answer is no. Federal agencies continue to meet their missions and conduct regular business, even while national headlines may make it seem like Washington, D.C. is talking about nothing else. Federal agencies all have their Fiscal Year 2020 appropriations. There are management objectives to meet. Even if the President is found guilty in the Senate, the net impact on executive branch operations should be minimal. Distractions that slow the pace of the government market tend to be closer to home. The prospect of an agency closure or not getting paid are definite distractions. The departure of administration appointees is happening soon, which consistently slows the pace of business, especially business related to innovative or new concepts. Departing appointees and the emergence of more feds in an “acting” capacity, typically takes an agency from fifth to fourth gear. The impeachment phenomena may make for good news headlines, but it’s likely not responsible for any downturn your company might see in its federal sales.

Networking Remains Critical as Federal CXOs Play Musical Chairs

Key federal IT officials at the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce and HHS are either retiring or changing jobs. The General Services Administration (GSA) is re-shuffling the deck, also. Over the next few months, political appointees will begin leaving as well. These changes make it difficult for a contractor to maintain relationships in critical agencies. While it’s true that sometimes a good customer at one agency may move to another, creating an opportunity for you in a new place, there may be a gap at the old agency they left behind. Constant change is just one reason continuous networking is a common trait of successful government contractors. Events take place throughout the year, even in traditionally slower periods like August. Upcoming federal events include FCW’s Fed 100 gala, a critical IT networking opportunity on March 19th, and GSA’s FAST 2020 conference in April. In addition, associations such as AFCEA, the Professional Services Council and Coalition for Government Procurement all have breakfasts, seminars, or other meetings where you can meet government officials, hear about what their challenges are, and connect with partners. Industry and government connections made now can pay off later in the fiscal year. These connections can help you drive business for your company, and help you grow in your own federal business career. See the story on the changing faces in.

How Do Contractors Manage “Zero Trust” Cyber Approach with “Default to Truth” Reality? 

The term Zero Trust is frequently heard in concert with the development of secure systems. Forrester Research defined this as having “robust detection and incident response capabilities” to protect vital assets. This methodology goes further than that, though. Truly secure system solutions must include who has access to an agency’s IT network, and how they will use that access. No matter how good the detection, systems will always be at risk for being compromised by people who visit the wrong website or download the wrong attachment. It’s not just a case of “them” vs. us. We all have the potential to be a security risk. Yet, we are wired to trust others. In his most recent book, Talking to Strangers, Malcolm Gladwell points out over and over how, even in the face of mounting evidence, we trust people who we should not. This isn’t just a philosophical point. As contractors invest in Cyber Maturity Model Certification, it is critical to consider the risks caused by careless or untrained workers. Limiting access to certain sites, random monitoring, and frequent training are all parts of a system that can mitigate cyber risk from users. Further, as Gladwell’s book makes clear, even senior people in an organization must be monitored. Common “it could never be them” default mentalities must be changed. As companies look to build internal systems and offer secure solutions to federal clients, the personnel element of security must be an essential part. Read the article here for more on Zero Trust.

Even Acquisition Officials are Focused on New Security Requirements

Supply chain security and contractor cyber certification are taking up an increasing amount of the GSA’s acquisition staff time. This is yet another sign that commercial item contractors are moving into a time where more government-unique requirements are being imposed as a price of doing federal business. Acquisition officials are looking for ways to verify that contractors meet applicable standards and what it means for key programs such as the GSA Schedule, Alliant, OASIS, and even contracts like 8(a) STARS and VETS as small businesses will have to meet the same requirements as larger companies.  Secure supply chain standards examine multiple layers of a company’s operation, including subcontractors, suppliers and partners. Cyber requirements, expected out at the end of the month for DOD acquisitions, mandate that companies take specific steps to meet one of five rankings, with a three thought to the baseline requirement for prime contractors. Similar standards are in development for civilian agencies. The fact that acquisition professionals in the government are focusing on these compliance areas should speak volumes to contractors.  Instead of working on new programs or tweaking existing contracts to improve service, acquisition staff are focused on compliance, and your company must be as well. If the terms “CMMC” or “Section 889 Part B” don’t mean anything to you, they should. Your firm will be required to invest in certifications and scrutinize all business partner relationships. The alternative is to forego the government market. To get just a glimpse of part of what’s in store and why it needs to be a focus in your company, see the story here.

DoD Secretary Issues Further Instructions to Cut Low Priority Spending

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper sent a memo to department leaders on Monday providing the outlines of a reform agenda that he expects the Department to pursue in 2020. This is a follow up from a defense-wide review conducted last year that identified $5 billion in planned savings. This next round will drill down into the spending practices of a wide variety of DoD organizations, from defense agencies to combat commands, and even to the military services themselves. Defense activities and field operations are among priority areas for a review. Esper’s memo calls on the secretaries and uniformed chiefs of the military services to conduct clean sheet reviews of their spending and come up with detailed reform plans based on the results. Contractors should work closely with their DoD customers to validate the importance and priority of work being done under their contracts. Contractor-provided rationale could not only protect important business, but strengthen relationship between contractor and customer. Esper’s memo helps by identifying specific functions that will come under scrutiny. “…reforming business processes, overseeing resource planning and allocation, and evaluating each organization’s performance against business goals” are the chief focus areas.  Work will be headed by the DoD Chief Management Officer, but Esper will also be personally involved, as he was when he led a similar action in the Army. Read the article here for more information.

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