Alinea


Defense auditors caught in crossfire

No one likes auditors. For years, companies have complained about intrusive GSA audits. When I was at CIT, state auditors would show up and sit in our conference room for weeks going over every piece of paper. It’s the nature of the activity that seems to create tension and distrust.

But the Defense Contract Audit Agency has risen to a new level of infamy. After two withering GAO reports on its performance, the director was reassigned to a different job in the Defense Department comptroller’s office. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held a hearing and blasted the organization’s ability to ferret out waste, fraud and abuse.

Meanwhile, industry is complaining about the exact opposite. We have heard horror stories from companies about audits that go back years and measure seemingly insignificant details instead of performance and results. We have read the stories of no-bid contracts that lead to massive overcharges.

We know DCAA is understaffed and overworked. But the solution to this mismatch is not to focus on the details of the process but rather on the final product. If the agency is pleased with the result, that should be at least some indication of success.

Distrust of contractors is a particularly disturbing byproduct of those investigations. Everyone seems to forget that many of the employees at the contracting companies were once feds. They don’t leave the government and suddenly become crooks. Most contractors still believe in and work for the mission of the agency.

Audits will remain an important protection for the taxpayer, but it’s hard to see this environment improving when industry is screaming and passing the costs of these audits on to the customer, Congress is complaining that not enough crooks have been found, and DCAA remains understaffed.

Posted by Anne Armstrong on Nov 05, 2009 at 7:20 PM4 comments


Congress once again not doing its most important job

For many people, this is a favorite time of year in Washington.  The weather is beautiful. Kids are back in school. It’s the beginning of many new projects. Holidays are around the corner.

It is one of my least favorite because we are once again in Continuing Resolution hell.

In all but three of the last 30 years, Congress has failed to pass a budget to fund the federal government by the beginning of its new fiscal year, which we all know starts Oct. 1. Some years, it is politically correct to fund DOD or Homeland Security, and they are the exceptions that are funded. But, no surprise, Congress never fails to fund itself. This year, the legislative branch bill was the only appropriations bill passed.

I just cannot understand why no one is upset. Why do the American people put up with a group of people that cannot perform its most basic function?

If one’s job is to sweep the sidewalk, it is not appropriate to skip that and say that the trees need pruning. But that’s what Congress appears to do year after year.

As you can tell, I foam at the mouth over this repeated failure to perform.

Actions have consequences. Continuing resolutions have negative effects on the agencies that have to live with them. Don’t take my word for it. GAO just published a report detailing the many effects living under a continuing resolution has for the agencies. For the full report, see Continuing Resolutions: Uncertainty Limited Management Options and Increased Workload in Selected Agencies  (Government Accountability Office, 9/24/2009).

So according to the GAO, most agencies operate under a CR for part of the year. Startling is the fact that most agencies spend between 60 and 90 days under the CR. One third of the fiscal year, they are limited in how they spend funds, whether they can start new projects and how they can fund grants.

Then starting in the spring, Congress hauls all the execs up to Capitol Hill to explain why there are delays in projects.

If this were a movie, I would shout, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not to take it anymore.”

The scarier part is, the public doesn’t seem to care. We are fighting about public options in health care, but not whether the Congress is performing its most basic function.

Where is the appropriations tea party?

What about the notion that you only get August off if the appropriations bills are passed?

Posted by Anne Armstrong on Oct 06, 2009 at 7:20 PM6 comments


Is Transparency Killing Partnership?

Two gatherings last week prompted similar disturbing questions about the current state of relations between government and industry. It wasn’t that long ago when all the major conferences had the word “partnership” in the theme. IAC named its professional development program, The Partners Program. The Clinger Cohen approach to procurement reform rested on the assumption of a trusted partnership.

Nick Wakeman has described in his blog some of the industry concerns that surfaced at a dinner to discuss how relationships between government and industry have changed.

On the same evening, the Government Marketing Forum hosted a panel discussion of how the new ethics rules have changed how companies market to government and how they interact.

One of the themes from both meetings is that there is a great deal of confusion about what kinds of conversations are permitted. Faced with that, government folks either refuse to have meetings or include their legal team. Industry responds by hiring more lawyers and ethics professionals. Large integrators may have up to 80 or more ethics people to vet every request. Both sides ratchet up proof of compliance.

The unintended effect of all the new rules designed to provide transparency and openness has been to shut down conversation. I may be naïve, but I still believe that the more industry understands about what government is trying to accomplish, the better the proposals and outcomes will be.

But underlying all the reporting changes is a more fundamental shift -- a loss of trust on both sides. That will be far more difficult to change. It will take some dynamic leadership and risk takers on both sides to restore.

Posted by Anne Armstrong on Sep 21, 2009 at 7:20 PM0 comments


To cover the Kundra résumé issue or not to cover, that is the question

There has been a great deal of buzz about the new media, especially from this administration, which has included them in press conferences and treated them as equal members of the press corps.

The public, in general, has indicated that it does not value  the role journalists have traditionally played of verifying the accuracy of information in a story. (Hope I do not sound old and bitter.) We all remember Woodward and Bernstein needing two sources to run with a story. The new view is that the Web is self-policing and the wisdom of crowds will eventually win out.

As a result, we have a whole new class of journalists -- the bloggers, who do not subscribe to the need to verify before publishing, but who believe if they publish and it is incorrect, some one will correct it -- the Wikipedia approach to news.

Today, we had an interesting example of the issues that approach creates. John Dvorak, a former editor of PC Magazine and a well known blogger, posted an entry questioning the credentials and experience of Vivek Kundra, CIO of the White House.

Links to the blog post started flying around the industry. I got several emails with it. When our editorial folks tried to get a comment from the White House or OMB, they were told the administration talked with the bloggers to “set the record straight” in the blogosphere,  but they wanted  to talk FCW  out of doing the story because “you’re a real news organization.”

The OMB communications person said AP, the Washington Post and others had been calling, and that they agreed that there was no story.  Mission accomplished from a PR point of view.

FCW’s editor, David Rapp told the OMB spokesman that it was their quotes to the blog Gigaom that legitimized the story.

We checked it out. The allegations were false. But we can’t ignore something that is being circulated widely in the community. We had to write the story and explain the accusations and the facts.

I was fascinated in the different ways the White House treats the different media.

About the blog post, which is too long, poorly edited and has been corrected after everyone else checked the University of Maryland credentials, I thought it was interesting that Dvorak thinks working in industry provides experience and credentials, but working in state and local government does not.

From my experience, I can assure him, there is lots to learn in state government and you earn plenty of battle scars. What an interesting parochial point of view.

But he successfully got all of us to do the checking of the facts. So maybe it is a brave new world.

Posted by Anne Armstrong on Aug 14, 2009 at 7:20 PM6 comments


Who wants to be the poster child for the next cyber disaster?

The hardest part of writing a blog is finding the time to actually write it.

While I know that no one cares about my schedule, I just want to acknowledge that I understand that I need to update it regularly. I promise to be better.

So, a lot happened while I was on the other coast. I had this whole blog post about cyber security ready and then everyone quit.  I kept asking why no one wanted this job and the answer I kept hearing is this is the job with a target on one’s back. No matter how good one is or what one does, someone one, somewhere, will hack into a network. The cyber czar will be the poster child for the latest cyber disaster.

If this person knows anything about cyber security, there are many more people who will pay them much more money at less risk. That leaves patriots and the-already-rich as candidates. I keep hearing names in both categories so maybe it will happen, but there seems to be a lot of infighting about this job.

I don’t know how to slide this fact in, but this is what happened to government 10 years ago when they discovered they couldn’t afford IT people. This is how we discovered outsourcing.

I am dying to see how the new insourcing plan works.

Heard Dave McClure has left Gartner for a government job. Can’t flush out what that job is. If you know, please tell me. Dave has a distinguished GAO career, plus time in industry. I have ideas that I would put some money on, but no hard evidence or even a good rumor.

Posted by Anne Armstrong on Aug 12, 2009 at 7:20 PM0 comments


New Group Publisher at 1105 GIG

The protocol for announcing a new top executive is that you send out a press release on the day the person starts. The new social media options have undercut that etiquette. Now people announce on Facebook what their new job will be. The reporter in me loves that. Everyone  trying to manage a message hates it. So I’m trying a middle ground—the blog. Formal press release will follow.

I’m really pleased to announce the addition of a key partner at 1105 GIG. Jennifer Weiss, currently Vice President and Group Publisher at SourceMedia’s  Investment Advisor Group, will join our team as VP and Group Publisher of the print and online properties in August.

Jennifer has spent more than 20 years in the business to business and consumer advertising space. She has worked on technology publications such as Digital News and Review and was a district manager and later national sales director for Government Computer News State and Local  in the mid to late 1990s.

Since 2002, she has managed business publications such as Insurance Networking News and most recently was group publisher for three publications in the financial advisory market -- Financial Planning, On Wall Street and Bank Investment Consultant.

In addition to the core GIG properties, Jennifer will also have responsibility for the print and online sales of our regulatory and environmental products, including Security Products, Occupational Health and Safety and Environmental Protection and Water and Wastewater News.

She understands that the government market is a community. She understands this market. She will be based in the DC area.

I’m looking forward to introducing her to you all.

aa

Posted by Anne Armstrong on Jul 27, 2009 at 7:20 PM0 comments


Who's on First?

Some very interesting discussions around governance down at the OGI conference.
  • Aneesh Chopra, the CTO, has been described as Mr. Outside the government.
  • Vivek Kundra, the CIO, will be Mr. Inside.

Security cuts across all of the above so not certain how the new White House cyber chief interacts.

I asked one official about how they would work together since each reports up different chains, and he just laughed at me. “You are so old school,” he said. “That’s the command-and-control world. They all work on their own and take responsibility for letting each other know what is going on.”

I learned Facebook. I guess I can learn about this leaderless organization theory.

Also some questions about what to read into the jobs that are still open:

  • DOD CIO. I haven’t even heard rumors. Dave Wennergren, the deputy CIO (and deputy assistant secretary) at DOD, is a very capable career man, but it seems strange that the top job, which has very high visibility, hasn’t been filled. If you have heard of some candidates, let me know.
  • Administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy. Again there is a very capable deputy in place (Leslie Field, who also has the acting administrator title), so no perceived rush. But some people are saying it means that procurement is not a priority for this administration. Yesterday Vivek Kundra mentioned the need to tackle procurement reform. He focused in on Paperwork Reduction Act and cookies policy, but I think this is one the first times I have ever heard procurement reform mentioned by Obama people — fixed price contract rules don’t count.
  • Cybersecurity czar. This is a tough one as everyone has heard of someone who has been offered the job and said no. Concerns seem to be this is a thankless job that will inevitably have some intrusion or incident and no one wants to be person trying to explain that. Names still floating include Melissa Hathaway and former Congressman Tom Davis. When asked, Davis said the right things about wanting to stay at Deloitte, but it’s hard to turn down the president. So will be interesting to see if the administration wants him enough to have the president make the call.

-aa

Posted by Anne Armstrong on Jul 22, 2009 at 7:20 PM0 comments


DOD at work on social media policy

On the first day of the Open Government and Innovations Conference down at the Convention Center, there was a remarkable amount of energy and excitement about the discussions over transparency and innovation. Since this was a conference the 1105 Government Information Group put on with the help of nearly a dozen partners, let me acknowledge I have a vested interest and move on to some of the takeaways.

There were interesting questions raised about the current acquisition environment and how the speed and agility the Administration is proposing fit into that structure. Vivek Kundra, the federal CIO, acknowledged that it is time to look again at procurement reform and emphasized that a building should not be acquired the same way as technology. True, but the current rules do not offer acquisition professionals that distinction. It is pretty clear that the White House is looking at policies they can change quickly—Paperwork Reduction Act, cookies policy and others.

If they get into full scale procurement reform, it could take years, with it getting backed up behind the other Obama initiatives.

Another new initiative is a DOD policy for the use of social media. Debra Filippi, director of Commercial Technology and Acquisition Portfolio Management and Enterprise Infrastructure at DOD and Tamie Lyles-Santiago, Senior Special Assistant to the DOD Deputy CIO, are working on getting the public’s views as a first step.

There are some approvals still in the wings, but the pair expects to be able to roll out a blog introducing the subject in the next several weeks. They will break the subject into several manageable parts and ask the citizens what they think is reasonable in the use of these new social networking technologies.

Based on the input they receive, they will then put together a draft policy for consideration by the powers that be. Should be a really interesting process to watch. Right now, lots of component commands have their own rules and policies, but there is not uniform guidance from the top.

The most fascinating part of the discussion today was the questions which were raised. More on that later.

aa

Posted by Anne Armstrong on Jul 22, 2009 at 7:20 PM0 comments


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