President's Commentary: The Future Belongs to the Flexible

June 1, 2020
By Lt. Gen. Robert M. Shea, USMC (Ret.)

The onslaught of COVID-19 is changing society in an unprecedented manner, and AFCEA is fully enmeshed in preparing for what will likely be a changed new world. In addition to taking major steps to safeguard its staff, its members and its broad range of partners, the association has begun planning for the post-COVID-19 virus age. This new era will be characterized by changes in technology and in methods of operation.

AFCEA has two major thrusts underway. One is to continue to provide vital member and partner services in an era when government, academia and industry must work more closely than any time since World War II. The other is that AFCEA has begun looking ahead to the post-COVID-19 virus world, a world different from that to which we have become accustomed.

Today, government and industry are working closely to defeat this common viral enemy. I have been privileged to serve on a working group headed by the deputy assistant secretary of defense for industrial policy highlighting critical industrial base issues adversely affecting the government COVID-19 response. The group works in conjunction with the Office of the Secretary of Defense across various government agencies, associations and commercial industries, successfully focusing on identifying challenges that are inhibiting the timely delivery of critical support in the fight against the COVID-19 virus. This effort is illuminating supply chain concerns and capability shortfalls in the national defense industrial base and the national infrastructure. 

Government and industry representatives are viewing these critical infrastructure issues in a new light as part of the greater challenge facing national security. What has become readily apparent is that this close cooperation must be extended well after the immediate crisis has passed. The artificial policy barriers that have been put in place over the decades must be permanently eliminated or modified as we look to compete globally and rebuild our infrastructure and economy.

AFCEA and our member services and activities are adapting to meet the emerging challenges created by the COVID-19 virus. We are discovering new ways of serving our members and our international partner community in this time of social distancing. We are turning challenges into new opportunities, and many new ideas will be incorporated into our post-virus operations as a matter of course.

We are taking advantage of teleconferences and videoconferences to expand our reach to the executive committee, board of directors, regional vice presidents, chapters, The Small Business Procurement Series, our Mentor-Protégé program, defense and government partners and other select targeted audiences. We have converted some of our events to virtual presentations as evidenced by our recent CMMC seminar. Virtual presentations offer another option in getting a message out to government and industry that will be integrated into future events and operations. Additionally, the number of webinars has risen sharply.

We are continually exploring the use of different platforms to get the message out and continue our vital mission going forward. These platforms complement our traditional activities—SIGNAL Magazine, SIGNAL Online, email newsletters and the AFCEA website—that bring important information to the AFCEA community. Our longstanding efforts have not slackened; they actually have been leveraged for a greater capability and will continue to serve as the backbone of our outreach. The traditional business model will evolve as we incorporate new capabilities into our operations. Out of the chute this summer will be Signal Kids, a supplement for young people focused on developing interest in STEM-related topics for students in grades three to six.

Concurrently, we are in the process of identifying the requirements for a new association management system that will launch us into the new digitized era as we seek ways to become more efficient, effective and relevant in a world that is increasingly dominated by digital media and services.

Further, in the last month, I have been a signatory on two separate letters initiated by NDIA on behalf of the AFCEA membership: one to the Senate Armed Services Committee and the House Armed Services Committee requesting that the Defense Department continue to publish unclassified versions of the Five-Year Defense Plan, and a separate letter to Office of Management and Budget asking for consistency and overarching guidance on implementation of Section 3610 of the CARES Act across government agencies.

Out of this global tragedy will come better ways of serving the national security community, both domestically and internationally. AFCEA is going beyond merely coping with COVID-19; we, along with our wonderful chapters, are learning and implementing new lessons that will improve the dialogue among all members of the AFCEA community. Change and improved services will be the association’s new normal, and it likely will turn out to be the new paradigm for meeting the burgeoning challenges of the 21st century. When the “new normal” finally takes shape, AFCEA will be fully involved.

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