Reporter’s Notebook

jason-miller-original“Reporter’s Notebook” is a weekly dispatch of news tidbits, strongly-sourced buzz, and other items of interest happening in the federal IT and acquisition communities.

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OMB, VA turn to experienced executives to hold down the fort

Patience is hard sometimes. This is especially true with a new administration, as we all are waiting for some signals or idea of what the new management agenda will look like.

There have been a few clues, such as the hiring freeze and the draft executive order on approaches to reorganizing agencies.

President Donald Trump will send his fiscal 2018 budget request to Congress around March 13, so that will offer a few more details.

In the meantime, here is a tidbit we recently learned: Linda Springer is working at the Office of Management and Budget as the senior adviser to the director for management.


Congress wants more, better federal cyber workers despite hiring freeze

House and Senate staff members working for committees overseeing federal cybersecurity efforts are placing a bigger focus on the makeup and training of agency workforces this year.

Both the House Homeland Security Committee and the House and Senate intelligence committees want more action from agencies in how they hire and train their workforces to deal with cybersecurity.

And the oversight is for good reason. As Bill Evanina, the national counterintelligence executive, told me recently, 90 percent of all successful hacks are because of spear phishing, and federal employees are more at risk from clicking on links than from sophisticated attacks.

This is why, over the last few years, lawmakers have required agencies to understand the makeup of their workforces and have given DHS more authorities to hire qualified cyber employees.


As OPM’s background bureau gets off the ground, could a bid protest stymie its efforts?

The Office of Personnel Management’s National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB) is almost five months old and already embroiled in its first bid protest.

OPM awarded Primus Solutions $117 million contract on Jan. 23 to provide investigative support services.

Two unsuccessful bidders submitted protests to the Government Accountability Office. Maximus Federal Services and Next Tier Concepts filed complaints with GAO on Feb. 13. Both companies are alleging OPM’s evaluation of their proposals was flawed.

A Maximus spokeswoman said the company doesn’t comment on ongoing protests.


GSA gives the ‘dump DUNS’ movement more hope

By 2018, the General Services Administration will have paid Dun & Bradstreet more than $131 million over the last eight years for access and use of the Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS).

DUNS helps more than 39 agencies uniquely identify contractors with which it does business, according to a November 2016 Congressional Research Service report obtained by the Federation of American Scientists. The 2010 deal also includes access to seven types of software products and 14 data products that enable the government to use the proprietary numbering system for a variety of acquisition-related functions.

This may be the last time D&B receives this type of contract from the government.

GSA added another piece to this two-plus year effort for the government to stop using DUNS after more than 25 years.

GSA released a request for information Feb. 10 asking for details on other possible options to DUNS.

The agency is asking vendors to answer 20 questions about the three components of entity validation services, including core validation, additional services and a method to determine unique assignment.

Responses to the RFI are due March 13.

“GSA is realizing the current situation is untenable,” said Hudson Hollister, founder and executive director of the Data Coalition and an outspoken critic of the continued use of DUNS by agencies. “There are alternatives that do not require proprietary products to run whole systems of identifying federal contractors. Not only are proprietary identifying codes unnecessary and no longer sensible, with priority identification codes, the system is paid for by the users of the data so that means citizens, researchers and others. They have to pay for every use over and over instead of making payments for the one-time use.”

Hollister and others, such as Sean Moulton, open government program manager at the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), have been pushing GSA to change a practice that began in the early-1990s.


How CXOs can close the value-proposition gap

Federal financial managers received some shrewd advice last week. Stop talking like financial managers.

Stop talking about clean opinions. Don’t talk about material weaknesses. You don’t need to mention the CFO Act or the Digital Accountability and Transparency (DATA) Act.

With new leaders coming in across every agency, federal financial managers, instead, should focus on value and mission support.

Adam Goldberg, the executive architect at the Treasury Department’s Financial Innovation and Transformation (FIT), said by focusing on how the CFO’s office furthers the agency’s mission, agency budget and financial management executives can change the conversation about back-office functions.

Goldberg said when he talks about the Fiscal Service he focuses on the 269 auctions the agency conducted in 2016 and how it awarded $6.9 trillion in Treasury marketable securities — the money that funds the government on a day-to-day basis.

“We issued over $2.6 trillion in federal payments, including Social Security, veterans benefits and income tax refunds. We are giving money to people who have paid into the system, who have worked hard in the system and now are using this to fill their day-to-day needs,” Goldberg said at the Association of Government Accountants National Leadership Training conference in Washington. “We collected over $3.98 trillion in federal revenue, again money we are using to operate the government. We collected over $7.2 billion in delinquent debt. These are the things we do on a day-to-day basis and I think these are the type of things that we can all talk about when we speak about our organization.”

It’s not just collecting and issuing money. But it’s paying teachers who work for the Bureau of Indian Affairs school system. Or how the FBI CFO’s office is simplifying its policies so non-financial experts know how best to follow them, and they are making it easier for agents to submit travel vouchers or book flights or ensure funds are available so they can travel.

“We have to be very transparent. We have to have clarity,” said Kamile Narine, accounting section chief at the FBI.


As CIO exits, DoD’s direction for IT has distinct commercial flavor

During his two-plus years as the Department of Defense chief information officer, Terry Halvorsen didn’t shy away from big challenges or pronouncements.

Halvorsen, whose last day at the Pentagon was Feb. 17, sparked uproars about everything from moving off the Common Access Card to moving 90 percent of the DoD to Microsoft’s Windows 10. He set, what some would call, stretch or even unachievable goals and dared the services and military agencies to tell him why it wasn’t achievable.

While I never had the pleasure of attending a meeting with other military service or even federal CIOs where Halvorsen spoke, having been in several press conferences with him I could only imagine his patience for unsupported or long, drawn out reasonings was short.

From a media perspective, Halvorsen was always a fun interview. He was sharp, got to the answer quickly and didn’t have tolerance for reporters who asked a question and then asked it again. He told you as much as he could and wasn’t bashful in moving on from questions he was done with.

That is why Halvorsen’s final media roundtable was both a treat and an opportunity to understand where DoD is heading in the future.


Are contractors worrying too much over GSA’s data rule?

Many government contractors are worried, fearful and in disbelief about the General Services Administration’s implementation of its Transactional Data Rule.

There are calls for delays in implementation and more training for contracting officers and contracting specialists. There are worries that contracting officers will continue to ask for the dreaded, outdated, lawsuit inducing data that the TDR is supposed to replace — commercial sales practices (CSPs) and the price reduction clause disclosures.

And maybe most of all, industry is concerned about the cost to collect and transmit the data back to GSA.

Despite all of these fears, we know very little about the impact, cost or problems with GSA collecting transactional data, which it says is information generated when the government purchases goods or services from a vendor. The rule requires vendors to report specific details such as descriptions, part numbers, quantities and prices paid for the items purchased.

GSA finalized the TDR rule in June creating a requirement for government contractors to submit information about transactions through the schedule contracts and those governmentwide acquisition contracts run by the agency.

Let’s start off with what we do know about the GSA’s Transactional Data Rule. More than 1,000 companies have signed the modification under their Schedules contract and are starting to provide the data under the pilot. That is about 40 percent of the total number of contractors who are eligible under the pilot and 8 percent have held off, while the other 52 percent still are considering whether to take part in the year-long pilot or not.


New interagency group to show resistance to the cloud is futile

It would be an understatement to say David Bray, the Federal Communications Commission’s chief information officer, is a strong proponent of cloud computing.

It also would be an understatement to say Bray’s beliefs about the power of cloud doesn’t always jive with his colleagues.

Few CIOs are comfortable with Bray’s vision for government and the cloud — even six years after the Office of Management and Budget issued its cloud-first policy.

“We can take more advantage of things like artificial intelligence and machine learning once we’ve moved all of public service to the cloud, and right now there has been a lot of resistance, some of it just the concern of those who are currently doing their jobs that are familiar with the client-server model,” Bray said during the recent Government of the Future conference sponsored by Verizon in Arlington, Virginia. “If you don’t get them comfortable with cloud and comfortable with relying on partners beyond the scope of their agencies, they are kind of concerned they may not be able to observe blinking lights. But we’ve got to move to the cloud as quickly as possible, whether it’s private cloud for the Department of Defense and the Intelligence Community or public cloud for the rest of the civilian agencies.”

Bray said government has to get out of the business of writing its own code, out of the business of hosting its own infrastructure and maybe most importantly, rely on the commercial sector to provide reusable applications that agencies can stitch together to meet their missions.

Bray isn’t just talking the talk, but walking the walk, as the FCC has moved a large portion of its technology to the commercial cloud. By doing that, the FCC cut spending on legacy systems and operations and maintenance by 35 percent.

So it’s no wonder that when the General Services Administration began searching for a chairman of its new cloud center of excellence, Bray was the natural choice.


Federal procurement reforms start by naming the right type of leaders, experts tell Trump

The next administrator for the Office of Federal Procurement Policy —whomever that person ends up being — will have a significant to-do list as they walk in the door. There is a host of Obama administration-era priorities that industry disdains — category management, transactional data rule and a stack of executive orders that many would like to be undone or changed significantly.

Before the new OFPP administrator begins the analysis to set their priorities, a group of former OFPP, Defense Department and agency acquisition executives are urging the administration to focus as much on the “who” as the “what.”

The Procurement Roundtable, which includes former OFPP Administrator Allan Burman, former OFPP Deputy Administrator Rob Burton, former acting Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology Ken Oscar, former General Services Administration Senior Procurement Executive David Drabkin and many others, sent a letter in January to then President-elect Donald Trump outlining three areas the new administration should focus its efforts to improve the acquisition process.

The most important suggestion, however, isn’t about what needs to change or improve, but who is leading the overall effort.

“We thought it was the right time to reinforce with the President-elect the importance of picking the right candidates for the various position he has to fill from OFPP administrator to the GSA administrator to the various chief acquisition officers and undersecretaries. In considering their backgrounds in people he might select, having government and industry experience is key. That has not necessarily been the background of people who have been selected historically,” said Drabkin, who now is a member of the Section 809 Panel, “Advisory Panel on Streamlining and Codifying Acquisition Regulations” and director of government contracts at Dixon Hughes Goodman, LLP. “We also wanted to impress upon the President-elect our sense that he provides leadership to the acquisition workforce, and the workforce requires leadership to ensure agencies are getting value for the taxpayer and he should be leading that charge.”

Congress created the Section 809 panel in the fiscal 2016 Defense authorization bill to find ways to streamline and improve the DoD acquisition process. The panel has two years to develop recommendations for changes in the regulation and associated statutes.


GSA to join DoD in hiring ethical hackers to find cyber vulnerabilities

The federal market for “white hat” hackers continues to grow. Not only are ethical security burglars popular in the Defense Department, but now the General Services Administration’s Technology Transformation Service (TTS) is setting up a bug bounty program.

TTS issued a draft solicitation in January aiming to set up a program where ethical hackers scan and find vulnerabilities in their cloud-based applications.

“As part of its programmatic focus on security, TTS needs to purchase access to a pre-existing, commercially available Bug Bounty software-as-a-service (SaaS) Platform that will allow it to launch and manage the TTS Bug Bounty program,” the performance work statement said. “This acquisition will give TTS access to a large network of security researchers, people who have an interest — both personally and financially — in helping to find and address bugs and other technical issues within TTS-owned web applications. While the Department of Defense has conducted a bug bounty program, this TTS program will be the first of its kind to be generated by a civilian (or non-DoD) federal agency. Only a select few small businesses are able to provide this software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform and that large network of researchers.”

TTS is asking for insights from vendors on how to set up the program that provides 12 services, including having ethical hackers test up to five applications and set up a secure reporting platform.


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