Director of Communications
Truth is, I became a writer because in high school, I couldn’t decide what I wanted to be when I grew up. I still don’t know. But I figured that, while I couldn’t commit to being a doctor or teacher for the rest of my life, I could write about doctors and teachers and cars and housework…oh, how the list goes on…and, OK, so Watergate was really big at the time.
But then, life happened. I met my husband during my first week at Marquette University and we married five years later. In 1983, we had our first of two sons, and I was fortunate enough to be able to be a stay-at-home mom. In 1992, I answered a classified ad for a publication assistant at AFCEA. I’d been out of the work force for nine years, and a “little thing” called personal computers had the nerve to move into offices while I wasn’t looking. But I couldn’t have landed in a better place. Rob Robinson, SIGNAL’s editor in chief at the time, allowed me to write for SIGNAL Magazine from time to time…and I learned. Since then, I’ve worked on a Mac at the office and a PC at home. I’ve had the opportunity to write about artificial intelligence, UAVs, satellites…oh how the list goes on.
Sometimes, people are impressed when I tell them I’m a journalist. I explain that, like most people, I hate to write…I like to have written. What I do enjoy is interviewing people who are passionate about what they do. And there are no more dedicated people in this world than members of the military.
My Recent Content:Air Force Reveals Same-Day Contracting Opportunity
Small businesses will be invited to submit their best solutions to the U.S. Air Force for the opportunity to participate in pitch sessions scheduled for March 6-7, 2019. Prior to the event, the service will reveal a list of requirements, requesting five-page white papers from organizations describing their products or services. Businesses offering the solutions with most potential will be asked to take part in the two-day event and could receive a one-page contract immediately.
“We did an experiment where we wanted to do 50 contracts in 50 hours. We ended up doing 104 contracts with small business, and that was kind of a dry run [for the upcoming event],” U.S. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said.
Prior to what’s being called “pitch day,” the Air Force will describe some of its toughest problems in areas such as software, intelligence and special operations via venues such as LinkedIn and other websites. The service also plans to include an open category so businesses with innovative ideas in other fields can participate.
“At pitch day, if we like your idea, you can walk out that day with a one-page contract, and with a swipe of a government credit card, [you’ll receive] your first down payment for working for the United States Air Force as a contractor,” Wilson explained.
“We want to get small innovative companies able to do work with the United States Air Force, and we're willing to change the way we do business in order to do it,” she said.
Under current procurement laws, the Air Force is required to spend $660 million annually with small businesses. “We think there are innovative small businesses out there that we want to work even more closely with,” Wilson stated.
The site of the first two-day event has not yet been decided; however, the location has been narrowed down to two cities.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) has reorganized its research and development (R&D) structure to more rapidly transition technology capabilities into operations and respond to emerging threats.
William N. Bryan, the senior official performing the duties of the undersecretary for science and technology, DHS, explains the revitalized configuration enhances the focus on the needs of the DHS operational components and homeland security operators across all levels of government.
“We no longer have the luxury of time to do traditional R&D, so we must change if we are to get ahead of threats cycles and keep pace with rapid innovation,” he says. “We are improving our R&D business practices to make it easier for industry, including the start-up community, to work with us.”
The directorate has reorganized into four primary offices that will work collaboratively: the Office of Mission and Capability Support; the Office of Science and Engineering; the Office of Innovation and Collaboration; and the Office of Enterprise Services.
The new configuration enables the agency to be ready to quickly respond to changes in the threat environment. In addition, it can use existing technologies that can be adapted and leveraged to expedite the development of vital capabilities.
“We are engaging our DHS acquisition colleagues earlier in the R&D process to help pave the way for a successful transition of capabilities to our customers as well as to the homeland security marketplace,” said Bryan. “Our emphasis is on clarity, transparency and staying open to new ideas. Scientific and engineering excellence is at the core of everything we do.”
A three-pronged operating model blueprint focuses first on understanding customers’ needs through strategic and transparent engagement then leveraging S&T’s expertise in operational analysis and systems engineering to help customers refine their needs. Next, S&T applies a deliberate, team-based approach that leverages S&T’s full range of capabilities, beginning with seeking out ready-made or easily adaptable solutions that can be delivered quickly and cost-effectively. Finally, it includes an efficient, transparent and accountable execution when a solution must be adapted or developed.
Small businesses often lead the pack in innovation and agility, but cumbersome acquisition processes can stall the way forward when working with government agencies. The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) hopes to grease the skids between ingenuity and warfighters by offering a streamlined method for carrying out prototype projects and transitioning successes into follow-on production.
The Other Transaction Authority (OTA) methodology offers an alternative to the traditional rules outlined in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) process. Congress officially implemented the OTA in 1994 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. In the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018, Congress doubled the dollar thresholds of OTAs that required approvals. In addition, the definition of prototype was broadened to include an analysis, process improvement, hardware and software.
Scott Stewart, technical director, Procurement Services Directorate, DISA, understands that today's innovators in revolutionary and disruptive technologies come from a sector of the economy that faces fewer restrictions in procurement regulations than those the federal government poses. As a result, DISA executes and enters into OTA agreements to leverage leading-edge technologies, while appreciating and accommodating the limitations of these market leaders, he explains.
OTAs offer a streamlined method for carrying out prototype projects and transitioning successes into follow-on production. A prototype project must be directly relevant to enhancing the mission effectiveness of military personnel and the supporting platforms, systems, components or materials DISA may acquire or develop, Stewart explains.
“These prototype projects serve as a preliminary pilot, test, evaluation, demonstration or agile development activity to ‘prove' a technology before entering into a full-scale development effort,” he adds. A prototype project may involve a proof of concept, a pilot, a novel application of a commercial technology or a combination of all of these.
If the prototyping effort is successful, the agency can then move to the production phase, which may or may not be another OTA or the agency might decide to go with a FAR-based contract, whichever is most appropriate.
OTAs can provide greater flexibility and the opportunity to enter into contractual arrangements that more closely resemble commercial agreements; however, they should not be viewed as a panacea of contract perfection. “Traditional contracting, while often seen as cumbersome, has many built-in features that protect the government's rights. For example, data rights and intellectual property [IP] remain with the government if the developed data or IP was government funded,” Stewart notes. Although the government doesn’t give up its rights under an OTA arrangement, its negotiation teams must conduct more due diligence to ensure the government's rights are protected.
Agencies also may be challenged in using a sole-source OTA for requirements more appropriately procured through FAR-based, competitive procedures, Stewart points out. “For this reason, it is incumbent upon the government to ensure the requirement fits the true definition of a prototype and to prevent use of this authority as a way to circumvent fair market competition,” he states.
DISA has a number of ongoing OTAs for projects such as assured identity, mobile endpoint security and continuous authentication. “While these projects are promising, they remain in the prototype environment. It is too early to tell if they will transition into a production phase,” he shares.
Despite his cautiousness about these projects, Stewart is guardedly optimistic about what OTAs ultimately can bring to warfighting. “Tapping into today's leading technologies will ensure the Department of Defense remains the world's strongest fighting force. However, this technology is advancing so fast that traditional contracting methods cannot always keep pace.
“If the agency is successful in implementing a quick, repeatable process for entering into contractual arrangements with market leaders, then we will be able to leverage that same speed to bring advanced, trusted capabilities to the warfighter,” he states.
OTA will be one of the topics discussed at the AFCEA Small Business Innovation Summit on July 26 in Vienna, Virginia. John Nunziato, vice president, SOSSEC Consortium, and Erik Olbeter, advisory board member, National Security Technology Accelerator, will describe how they are being used to obligate fiscal year 2018 funds by September 30 as well as how companies can position themselves for fiscal year 2019 opportunities.
As the tentacles of technology reach further and deeper into mainstream uses, their influence on the job market, man-machine interactions, government agencies and the military will grow exponentially. Capabilities once thought of as fodder for science fiction have become science fact at such unpredictable speeds organizations will need to understand the implications quickly if they hope to take advantage of the benefits they offer and not fall behind the curve.
Among the top technologies most likely to affect the public and private sectors are advanced manufacturing techniques, cloud computing, big data analytics, advanced cybersecurity, quantum computing, mobile communications and computing, artificial intelligence and blockchain.
A recently released overview of these technologies enumerates some of the ways organizations will experience change because of evolving capabilities in the near, mid and long terms. “Technology Vectors” is a quick but in-depth look at the importance, implications and challenges they will bring.
Members of AFCEA International’s Technology Committee create the Technology Vectors presentation annually; however, the material is designed to be updated throughout the year as technologies evolve.
In one section of the presentation, committee members explain how advanced manufacturing will enable organizations to carry out missions more efficiently and effectively. The techniques, which include additive manufacturing, 3D printing and printed electronics, will deeply impact a variety of businesses, from construction to computers. For example, 3D printing and modular units already reduce costs and allow for the improved design of parts, homes, cars and military equipment.
Although these methods only account for about 10 percent of manufacturing today, TechCast Global, which assisted with the report, predicts that high-tech modular units made via 3D printing will make up 30 percent of new construction by the mid 2020s.
The new techniques will certainly bring advantages. For example, more rapid building also means quicker rebuilding, speeding disaster management. For this reason, FEMA is a major proponent of modular building. Hurricane Katrina displaced 1.5 million people and destroyed 200,000 homes in the New Orleans area. 3D printing seems perfect for building emergency shelters after this kind of natural disaster.
Advanced cybersecurity is another highlighted technology. The evaluation surmises that a “Cyber Armageddon” is less likely than a continuing wave of small assaults that wear away at infrastructure and morale. Experts agree that more powerful cybersecurity tools are being developed and will reach the 30 percent adoption level by about 2023.
In examining the future of mobile technology, committee members point out that connectivity challenges remain but predict seamless roaming will occur in the long term.
For more extensive use of wireless technologies within the U.S. Defense Department workforce, overall foundation work needs to be done to reduce the burden on mission owners who must justify mobile expenditures to realize a mobile-first vision. A high-level but comprehensive business case analysis will identify cost areas within the department’s mobile implementation. This must be addressed to allow the benefits of mobility to justify more applications and use cases. However, this work can become the model for deploying virtually all future nonweapon systems new technologies, the report states.
Additional committee members insights into the paths other leading technologies are likely to take in the near, mid and far terms are available online.
The U.S. Air Force is exploring innovative ways to put technology to work and address both warfighter fitness maintenance issues and access to troop fitness readiness data. With the help of AF CyberWorx, a public-private design center, innovators will tackle one of two challenges during a daylong hackathon.
Although usually associated with cybersecurity, this hackathon follows the more general definition of the term: to create usable software. Teams are invited to take part in one of two challenges during the July 11-13 event. The first is to design a wearable fitness application, which is the first step toward creating a “smart” physical training program. The second is to develop an autonomous query tool to help Air Force users and leadership overcome limited access to data by making fitness information available and tailorable through an open application programming interface.
“We’re using this event to fast-track technological innovation to improve the warfighter experience with maintaining and tracking physical fitness and readiness,” says Lt. Col. Cynthia Brothers, USAF, director of strategic engagement, AF CyberWorx.
In conjunction with the hackathon, the Center for Technology, Research and Commercialization is offering a $1,000 participation incentive for each team. In addition, and at its sole discretion, the center is authorized to select two hackathon teams to receive a total maximum collaboration incentive of $20,000.
According to Ryan Winstead, partnership manager, CyberWorx, the goal of the wearable device challenge is to help unit fitness program managers (UFPMs) monitor and coach airmen as well as alert key health partners of health issues. “This technology should offer the opportunity for personalized guidance to members who lack motivation or have health concerns,” Winstead explains.
The solution also should feature a database of gathered fitness information. This capability would enable service members to create their own fitness profile and determine goals they want to attain in a specific time frame. It should also allow their data to be monitored in real time by UFPMs so the managers can keep users motivated as well as understand how the whole unit is measuring up to fitness requirements.
The call for the autonomous query tool came from the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force, Manpower, Personnel and Services, which identified the capability as an immediate need. One goal of the second challenge is to develop a tool for the various information technology systems and software applications to communicate, exchange data and use the information that has been exchanged to answer the query, Winstead explains.
Innovators interested in participating in the hackathon can apply as a team or individuals until June 29. Eligible teams and individuals will be interviewed, and selected participants will be notified by July 3. Approximately eight teams are expected to take part in the hackathon.
The hackathon will begin with a kick-off dinner and introduction on July 11. Participants will then have two days to develop and present a prototype that meets the needs of one of the design challenges. Each team will present its solution to Air Force stakeholders; the solutions will be evaluated based on innovation, quality and technical feasibility, use of data and presentation. Air Force users will be present to provide direct feedback to teams as they work through iterations of their prototype solutions.
The hackathon is attracting interest from people with a variety of different backgrounds, including developers, designers, coders, project managers and business developers, Winstead says.
Previous design sprints AF CyberWorx conducted sparked the interest for this hackathon. These sprints delved into integrating the Internet of Things and smart technologies into the day-to-day life of airmen and Air Force cadets. Participants homed in on making smarter technologies a part of the physical training and testing program for airmen.
AF CyberWorx is the Air Force’s cyber design and innovation center. It educates airmen and cadets while partnering with industry to solve cyber problems the United States faces. Information about AF CyberWorx is available online.