DoD Gets Stimulus Money for Construction

The Department of Defense has announced details surrounding $835 million in stimulus money investments.  This is in addition to the $6.1 billion already detailed on March 20.  There are more than 850 improvement projects here, aimed at Army and Army National Guard facilities in 37 states.  More than half of this money will be distributed in five states: 

  • Texas ($155 million)
  • Kentucky ($83 million)
  • North Carolina ($83 million)
  • Oklahoma ($66 million)
  • Hawaii ($59 million).

Projects appear to be aimed mostly at renovations and repairs of facilities, living quarters and road infrastructure.

Not in the construction business and wondering where your opportunity lies?  First, the “construction” projects will be multi-faceted in nature and will no doubt include a variety of supplier types (IT, services, telephony, etc.).  Second, it’s a safe bet that many of these projects were originally included in an operating budget somewhere.  Stimulus money that now covers these initiatives may free up budget money to be spent elsewhere.  Smart businesses targeting the DoD will look for this underlying potential.

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Too Much Contract Regulation?

As he steps down from his job, one of the top Department of Defense acquisition officials said he’s afraid that military contract regulations will start looking like the complex tax code. John Young, Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisitions, said current movement to make contract procurement even more complicated won’t necessarily produce value for tax payers. He told Defense Weekand other reporters at his final media roundtable, “The more we do this, the more program managers will have to do to comply and they’ll spend less time managing their programs.”

Perhaps inadvertently so, he also provided excellent advice to someone trying to sell to government, “People run programs, not documents and processes,” said Young.

No doubt that you need to understand documents and processes to sell the government, but understanding people will produce real success.

IT “National Dialogue” Begins

On Monday (April 27, 2009), the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board and the OMB opened this online discussion to ask the public for ways to make Recovery.gov a useful portal for tracking spending data from thousands of federal, state, and local entities.  While it is difficult to know what to expect with regards to a level of response from the public, there does not appear to be a tidal wave of participation yet.  As of today, there are more than 250 “idea categories” that have been submitted.  But further examination reveals ideas considered to be “highest rated” (on a 5-point scale) are based on the response of only 20 or so individuals.

Highest rated ideas so far include:

Democratizing the data.  Worrying less about online analysis tools on the Recovery.com site and placing more emphasis on making the detailed raw data available to the public to be sliced and diced at will.

Standardized mapping.  Providing standardized spending details by geographic location (on an interactive map) down to the local level.   

Enterprise Resource Planning tool.   The suggestion relates specifically to housing construction-related projects, but comments suggest it should  be expanded to other areas of interest.

One bit of irony is the lack of analysis tools on the dialogue site to really delve into the ideas being submitted.  Even with a relatively few responses, getting one’s arms around any trends in comments is a bit difficult.  At any rate, the Transparency Board should be commended for making an effort to open up the conversation to the innovative minds of the American people.

Always go to the top?

Your bosses will always tell you that you’re not selling at a high enough level…always. When dealing with the government, that may not be good guidance (OK, criticsm).

I once had a one-on-one meeting with a Presidential cabinet secretary, who shall remain nameless partly because I admired him then and do now. The meeting went well, and he liked the idea I was proposing. He liked it a lot. He certainly didn’t agree to put it into action, but all of the ‘buy’ signs were there. He took all of my contact info and wanted to make sure I would be available in the next few days. (Of course, I would.) He said I would hear from his CIO soon.

When I left the meeting, I was excited. I got what I wanted – perhaps even more. Getting buy-in from a cabinet Secretary would naturally advance the initiative I had been touting. Plus, the CIO was known as an open and creative thinker.

Days passed, and I didn’t hear from the CIO. I thought that with directions from one of the President’s right-hand men, it would be done. A few more days passed…no contact. I sent the CIO emails. I left him voice mails. I talked to his secretary (that is, his personal secretary, not the Secretary, his boss). Still no response. I began to think I had mis-read the Secretary’s enthusiasm.

As luck would have it, I ran into the Secretary. (Well, maybe I arranged to run into him.) He greeted me warmly, and asked how the discussions were going with his CIO. I told him I hadn’t heard from him. He was surprised, apologized and assured me I would hear from his CIO within the next few days. I accepted his apology (naturally) and left feeling good…just a mix-up, I thought. Still, a few days later, no contact from the CIO…then, a couple of weeks passed, and still no contact.

Finally, while festering over the situation during Christmas holidays, I sent the CIO a rather direct email. Within minutes, he emailed back. A few days later, I was sitting in front of him hearing him tell me that he knew what I wanted and already knew he liked it. He then called in the CIO of one of the agencies under his department and told him he would be my “executive sponsor”. I left feeling victorious. I had real high-level buy-in and someone delegated to make it happen. What more could I want?

That was about five years ago. Despite the high-level buy-in and efforts of the executive sponsor, this project still hasn’t been done. It remains alive, but not because of endorsements from top executives. They’ve all moved on, as political appointees do. The project is alive because someone several levels down is keeping it alive. She won’t give up and will continue to keep it alive, despite all of the hoops she has to jump through and re-selling she has to do. She believes in it.

Here’s the point: If you can get to the top, take advantage of it. But at the same time, you need to find a a “coach”, someone who will keep your project alive despite the obstacles and the reality that the people at the top of government can’t wave magic wands to get things done. Let your coach guide you, and pay attention to what she/he says. In the end, you will be rewarded with success.

Oh, when we meet in person one day, remind me to tell you the story about how much the top general of one of the largest armies in the world loved my proposition…and to this day, still hasn’t bought anything from me.

Companies Hiring Grant Experts

No surprise here.  Companies interested in doing business with the government are beginning to line up grant expertise to help prospective customers navigate the choppy waters of economic stimulus. 

Motorola, one of the largest vendors of government products and services, has announced it has hired a former U.S. Department of Justice official to head their Government and Enterprise Fundings Programs. 

Domingo Harraiz should know the topic well.  He was director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance, which handles many of the Justice Department’s public safety grant programs.  Among them is the Byrne/Justice Assistance Grant program, which received a huge boost from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).

Motorola has also launched a grant resource web site with tips on finding and writing grants.  Of course, they’re touting Motorola’s “end-to-end” communications solutions.  (Hey, MOTO, where’s mention of the state stabilization funds?)

Motorola is not the only one.  Government vendors have been adding at least mentions of federal grant funding to their web sites in rapid pace. 

Based on past experience, we believe government buyers will welcome these resources…as long as the products and services touted solve their problems, tie nicely to the grant programs, and produce strong values.  That’s where the challenge lies.  It’s not that difficult to point to grant programs.  Resources abound.  The key to success is truly understanding the processes…but, more importantly relating a company’s products and services to the right grant programs for the right customers.

Another Boost for Police Technology?

Public safety technology vendors may find another big source of funds.  The House has approved 1.25-billion-dollars per year for the next five years for the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program, and 350-million-dollars of that money each year can be used for technology.  The bill now goes to the Senate.

Economic stimulus placed one-billion-dollars into the COPS grant program, but the economic stimulus funds could only be used for hiring – no technology.  Police departments across the country are now scrambling to get their share of the money for beefing up their forces.   (Good for them.)

Back in the day, technology funding was an important part of the COPS program. Many law enforcement technology applications established their beach-heads with money from COPS grants.  They had to present a compelling case that their technology would stretch law enforcement resources.   This was not difficult for communications, 9-1-1, computer aided dispatch, automated emergency notification, crime analysis, incident management, and other vendors.  (Now, add interoperability, video surveillance, information-sharing and collaboration to the list.)  But, the COPS technology funds almost dried up when the program’s funding was cut under the Bush administration. 

The economic stimulus boost to COPS funding has been highly publicized.  (Politicians like to talk about hiring more police officers.)  Technology vendors had hoped that some of the COPS economic stimulus money could be used for non-hiring purposes, but that wasn’t to be.  Now, if the House has its way, significant technology spending can resume under the COPS program.

Not that technology vendors had no reason to be hopeful.  Technology-friendly programs, much larger than COPS, were funded under the economic stimulus law.  Proceeds of both the Byrne/Justice Assistant Grant program and State Stabilization Funds can be spent on public safety technology.  (See Galain Solutions report, “Impact of the Economic Stimulus Law on Public Safety“).

The House action doesn’t mean blank checks for public safety technology vendors.  First, the Senate must approve and the President must sign the law.  Then, the money will be turned over to the Justice Department, which administers COPS funding.  Then, states must apply.  Then, localities must apply.  Then, procurement rules will need to be followed.  Each step in the process is challenged because of the enormity of new demands handling large amounts of money, perhaps under new oversight.

Still, vendors are in a strong position to boost their revenues by (1) understanding the process, (2) assisting their prospects, and most importantly (3) understanding their customers and effectively presenting strong value propositions that relate to the grant programs.

Another Economic Stimulus?

We believe the impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 will be long-term.  Even with pronouncements that the money must be spent quickly, it will take much time for money from the ARRA of 2009 to make its way into vendors’ bank accounts. 

Meantime, there’s already talk of another economic stimulus law.  It’s early stage, but as you can imagine, the talk coincides with party affiliations.  Stateline.org, which tracks state government affairs, has asked leaders of the National Conference of State Legislators whether there should be another economic stimulus law.  The President-Elect, a Republican, told Stateline.org that the nation cannot afford another economic stimulus law.  The current NCLA President, a Democrat, says the federal government is the only institution that can “keep us out of a depression”, so it’s too early to tell whether another economic stimulus will be needed.

Whether there will be another economic stimulus law or not, the current one is still in its early stages.  Its impact will be long-lived, and buyers and sellers should act accordingly.  Sales and purchase cycles will still be long.  Value propositions must be strong.

At least there will be sales and purchase cycles – not so true in other sectors of the economy.