Maryann Lawlor


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Maryann Lawlor
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:

Chapters Assist Furloughed Workers
February 12, 2019
By Maryann Lawlor
Donations help federal employees and contractors through tough times.
  • “I never thought that I would have to go to the food bank. We would always donate, because a lot of families out there don’t have the luxuries we have. I’ve been through four furloughs. This is the first time that I’ve needed to reach out for help,” says Michael Westmoreland, furloughed Coast Guard worker.
     “I never thought that I would have to go to the food bank. We would always donate, because a lot of families out there don’t have the luxuries we have. I’ve been through four furloughs. This is the first time that I’ve needed to reach out for help,” says Michael Westmoreland, furloughed Coast Guard worker.
  • Rep. Paul Sarbanes (D-MD) (r) speaks with Joe Flynn of the American Federation of Government Employees about how the shutdown is affecting his organization’s members
     Rep. Paul Sarbanes (D-MD) (r) speaks with Joe Flynn of the American Federation of Government Employees about how the shutdown is affecting his organization’s members

AFCEA chapters got to the heart of the matter of the recent partial government shutdown by responding to the immediate needs of federal workers and contractors with contributions to assistance organizations.

To ease the strain on resources the influx of families in need of food, the Energy and Earth Sciences Chapter donated $5,000 to the Maryland Food Bank (MFB). Its donation was matched by an individual AFCEAN.

Chapter President Guy Mincey explains the MFB was chosen to receive the donation because of the tremendous respect he has for the work the organization does in a region filled with both federal workers and contractors. It services an area that includes more than 170,000 federal workers, including employees of the U.S. Coast Guard, and distributes more than 37 million meals year around.

The MFB is a central food collection point. Individuals, community groups and companies such as grocery stores contribute to the food bank. The MFB then distributes the food through nearly 1,200 partner programs, including schools, shelters and community centers, which service individuals and families. Because it is privately funded, the MFB can provide three meals daily for individuals for each dollar donated.

According to Amy Chase, director of corporate relations, MFB, the food bank continued its standard practices when the shutdown began, but had to step up its efforts as the shutdown continued. To augment its outreach, the MFB expanded its pop-up food distribution effort called the Pantry on the Go program. Rather than hand out presorted bags of groceries, it set up food stands in locations like grocery store parking lots, so event attendees could shop for the items they needed.

Through their traditional food distribution partners and the pop-up events, the food bank distributed approximately 80,000 pounds of food during the weeks following the beginning of the shutdown, Chase says.

Assisting the families was a moving experience for both Mincey and Chase. Many federal workers and contractors reaching for assistance were embarrassed by their situation. For example, during one pop-up event, Mincey and Chase spoke with a single mother of four who explained that her mother had told her all her life that as long as she worked hard, she would always have enough to take care of her family. Asking for help was difficult for the mom because she had always worked hard, but under the circumstances, she had to put feeding her family first and ask for help.

In addition to the Energy and Earth Sciences Chapter, AFCEA’s Belvoir Chapter also responded to the unexpected needs of Coast Guard personnel during the shutdown. The chapter’s $1,500 donation supported the Coast Guard Mutual Assistance (CGMA) organization.

In response to the donation, Rear Adm. Cari Thomas, USCG (Ret.), CEO, CGMA, thanked the chapter saying, “Words cannot express how grateful that I am for the large outpouring of support for the men and women of the Coast Guard during the government shutdown 2018/19. We are so pleased to have you as part of the team helping them through this and other situations that provide financial assistance.”

Adm. Thomas explained that the organization offers grant and loan programs for family support, education assistance and in response to disaster and emergency situations. While the CGMA provided $5.1 million to more than 6,000 clients during 2018, during the shutdown, it provided historic levels of $8.4 million to over 6,200 members and families in need in less than a month.

Departments: 
Silicon Valley Technology Transitions to Border Security
February 13, 2019
By Maryann Lawlor
Innovative solutions help detect danger.
  • Automated machine learning expedites the development of predictive models ensuring they are up to date.
     Automated machine learning expedites the development of predictive models ensuring they are up to date.
  • DataRobot makes it easy for all users, including those who lack a background in data science, to understand how a machine learning model was built and explain to others why a model made the prediction it did.
     DataRobot makes it easy for all users, including those who lack a background in data science, to understand how a machine learning model was built and explain to others why a model made the prediction it did.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is benefiting from the first three technologies to successfully transition from the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate’s Silicon Valley Innovation Program (SVIP).

Tamr Inc. was one of the directorate’s first group of companies under the SVIP and was the first project to transition to CBP use. The firm was tasked with enhancing the Global Travel Assessment System (GTAS), a nonproprietary computer application available to partner countries that provides the capability to screen foreign travelers. The CBP developed the system to combat foreign terrorist fighters by using industry-regulated traveler information.

Tamr’s software improves the analysis of multiple data sets to determine matches between entities, data sets and possible relationships within the GTAS. The company’s solution resides within the core of the system and helps users sort through data that appears to be the same but is different, a common challenge in the dynamic travel environment.

The CBP also purchased pilot licenses of DataRobot’s applied automated machine learning (AML) for the GTAS to expedite the development of predictive models. Currently, the time required to develop predictive models places them at risk of being outdated before they are completed. By applying AML, DataRobot can produce models faster and more accurately. The CBP says the AML also is easier to use than traditional machine learning by automatically completing complex tasks while simplifying the user experience.

DataRobot’s technology is helping conduct the counter-narcotics mission, identifying ways to improve the facilitation of lawful trade and travel, and developing and testing synthetic data sets to further spur CBP innovation.

Echodyne Corporation, another member of the SVIP’s first group of companies, created the Metamaterial Electronically Scanning Array (MESA) radar system. It uses engineered, artificial materials with properties to build a new architecture for an all-electronic scanning radar system.

The CBP purchased a pilot quantity of MESA radar units and intends to test their efficacy in two programs to evaluate their ability to improve border situational awareness.

In addition to this testing, MESA currently is being used as the primary detection and cueing component on autonomous surveillance towers deployed in the San Diego Sector.

Following additional testing, the CBP may procure additional radar units during the next three years.

These three technologies are the first to come from SVIP, a program designed to connect DHS with startups and small businesses to find innovative solutions for the threats facing the homeland security mission.

“By engaging with small businesses and startups, S&T has gained access to the previously inaccessible, cutting-edge innovations available in the commercial market,” said William N. Bryan, senior official performing the duties of the undersecretary of science and technology.

“These transitions are proof of the power of collaboration between DHS and startups and between SVIP and operational components like CBP,” said Melissa Oh, SVIP managing director. “With dozens more companies currently in the program, we can expect more transitions in 2019.”

Departments: 
Program Tests Value of Virtual Training
February 4, 2019
By Maryann Lawlor
Land forces join air and sea services in immersive environments.
  • Virtual Reality Land Training (VRLT) technology enables soldiers to train in a variety of environments, including urban streets. (Photo by BiSim)
     Virtual Reality Land Training (VRLT) technology enables soldiers to train in a variety of environments, including urban streets. (Photo by BiSim)
  • The VRLT’s Avatar customization capability enables the British Army to replicate facial features and body shapes so soldiers can recognize friendly troops. (Photo by BiSim)
     The VRLT’s Avatar customization capability enables the British Army to replicate facial features and body shapes so soldiers can recognize friendly troops. (Photo by BiSim)
  • Virtual reality combined with simulation enables soldiers to train in simulated scenarios that are costly to recreate in traditional training facilities. (Photo by BiSim)
     Virtual reality combined with simulation enables soldiers to train in simulated scenarios that are costly to recreate in traditional training facilities. (Photo by BiSim)

The British Army is exploring how virtual reality can be integrated into soldier training. Virtual Reality in Land Training (VRLT) technology allows soldiers to train in complex and hostile simulated scenarios that are difficult to recreate on a training ground. The system will place troops in the middle of an urban firefight, intense crowd control situation or within a building filled with enemy soldiers.

Virtual reality enables training situations to be set-up quickly, re-run and analyzed to demonstrate the most effective approaches to real-life battlefield challenges. At the end of the pilot program, recommendations will be proposed about how to best exploit the technology for soldier training.

The VRLT pilot program will test specific virtual reality applications. High-resolution virtual reality headsets improve environmental immersion; mixed reality technology enables warfighters to see and interact with physical objects; and avatar customization replicates realistic facial features and body shapes so users can recognize their fellow soldiers. The program also will include after-action review enhancement that captures and analyzes data so soldiers can better understand their own performance.

Bohemia Interactive Simulations (BiSim) created the VRLT and will demonstrate the advantages of virtual reality, machine learning and cloud computing as part of the army’s Collective Training Transformation Programme. The VRLT contract was awarded through the £800 million (more than $1 million) Defence Innovation Fund, which helps develop cutting-edge ideas to benefit frontline warfighters.

“The army has a reputation for world-class training, which prepares our people for demanding and complex operations,” Brig. Bobby Walton-Knight, CBE, Army Head of Training Capability, said. “Our training continually develops, and so we constantly look for the best technology to make it as effective as possible. Innovations such as virtual reality offer immersive and flexible training, and this pilot is pushing the boundaries to explore how we might make best use of it.”

UK armed forces utilize simulation to hone the skills of other service personnel. For example, RAF Odiham unveiled Chinook simulators that replicate real-life operations, and the Royal Navy uses bridge simulators that create an immersive experience and allows officers to take charge of a vessel in different weather and emergency conditions.

Departments: 
Air Force Reveals Same-Day Contracting Opportunity
November 19, 2018
By Maryann Lawlor
Service aims at increasing work with small businesses.
  • Heather Wilson, secretary of the Air Force; Gen. David L. Goldfein, USAF, Air Force chief of staff; and John H. Pendleton, director, defense capabilities and management, U.S. Government Accountability Office, speak about Air Force Readiness to the Senate Armed Services Committee. They discussed topics such as closing the maintainer’s gap, training ranges and cost effectiveness in logistics. (Photo by Wayne Clark)
     Heather Wilson, secretary of the Air Force; Gen. David L. Goldfein, USAF, Air Force chief of staff; and John H. Pendleton, director, defense capabilities and management, U.S. Government Accountability Office, speak about Air Force Readiness to the Senate Armed Services Committee. They discussed topics such as closing the maintainer’s gap, training ranges and cost effectiveness in logistics. (Photo by Wayne Clark)

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.

Directorate Reorganizes for Efficiency
October 4, 2018
By Maryann Lawlor
New structure will help keep pace with rapid innovation.
  • The RoboCup competitions are an opportunity for the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate to work with other government agencies to bring emerging technologies to fruition faster. Courtesy of DHS S&T.
     The RoboCup competitions are an opportunity for the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate to work with other government agencies to bring emerging technologies to fruition faster. Courtesy of DHS S&T.
  • Credit: NB2 by geralt
     Credit: NB2 by geralt

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.

Departments: 

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