Top Secret “Teleworking”

Government employees with security clearances may soon be able to access classified information from remote locations, according to an article on www.Nextgov.com.  The 2010 Defense appropriation bill (the National Defense Authorization Act) calls for a pilot program to test the feasibility of a secure “telework” site within the Washington, D.C. area for government employees needing access to classified information.  Currently, employees accessing sensitive information must be physically located within a handful of secure locations inside the beltway.

The project stemmed from the 2005 base realignment and closure mandate as employees were moved from northern Virgina to Fort Meade, MD.  Though only 26 miles, the traffic situation adds an hour to the commute, making employee attraction and retention difficult.  Currently 2500 employees now have some level of permission to telework, though they only have access to non-classified networks.  

IMPLICATIONS

While government employees will not be able to work on classified documents at home in their ‘jammies (thankfully), we believe ultimately a distributed network of secure centers will emerge–first in D.C. then other key places.  This will create opportunities for vendors to deliver highly secure networks, applications, collaboration tools, videoconferencing, etc. for this specialized remote environment.  These may ultimately allow for better local knowledge and identification of patterns related to threats, as these centers may have ties to local/regional fusion centers and public safety agencies.  In all, it will certainly be interesting to see how the needs for centralized security and the needs for mobility intersect over time within government. 

-LBB

 

States Struggle to Pass Fiscal 2010 Budgets

With mere days left until states begin a new fiscal year, an unprecedented number have not passed their fiscal budgets for 2010.   At least 19 states are still working to align spending plans with revenues.  According to an article on www.cnn.com,  states are struggling to reduce shortfalls totaling $121 billion for fiscal 2010 as the ongoing recession negatively impacts tax revenues.  “Isn’t the stimulus money going to fix things?” you may ask. 

To a degree the stimulus money will help.  The Administration’s position is the shortfall would be greater without the stimulus.  However, states attempting to fill budget deficit gaps with certain parts of the stimulus are running into road blocks.  Last week, Education Secretary Arne Duncan warned states it may withhold millions of dollars if they attempt to use education stimulus dollars for making up general budget shortfalls.  According to an article in on www.usatoday.com, the comments came in response to Pennsylvania’s Senate which had planned to “reduce the share of the state budget for education while leaving its rainy-day surplus untouched.”

IMPLICATIONS

States will ultimately pass budgets and continue to buy, though clearly spending will be cut across the country in efforts to balance budgets.  Some vendors will go untouched, yet others will find their “honey hole” has dried up.  In all cases, providers need to improve their abilty to help government buyers find alternative means of funding purchases.  Grants, lease options, etc. may open doors that appear to be closed. 

Also, it is not too early to begin building a value proposition for next year’s budget cycle.  The current situation may highlight areas of weakness a business must overcome or influencers/decision-makers it must convince of value. 

Success in government selling comes to those with an understanding of the long-term nature of the business, a strong relationship network, and the ability to weather tough times and uncertainty.  What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger…

-LBB

Stimulus Guidance Released

Vendors expecting to receive funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), pay attention.  The federal government has released new guidelines for information they want for projects and activities related to the economic stimulus law.  Called “Implementing Guidance for the Reports on Use of Funds Pursuant to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009“, The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) says it wants:

  •  Total amount of funds received; and of that, the amount spent on projects and activities;
  • A list of projects and activities funded by name to include:  (a) Description, (b) Completion status, (c) Estimates on jobs created or retained;
  • Details on sub-awards and other payments.

Seems simple enough.  Wrong!   The guidance is 41-pages long, and makes a number of references to still other bits of guidance.  Plus, the mechanism for actually submitting the information, a new web site called www.FederalReporting.gov will have its own guidance. 

The amount of data required of those who receive the funds is greater than other programs, and vendors should take heed.  As your customers are required to provide more information, you will be, too.  Be familiar with the guidelines so you can help your customers fulfill their requirements.  Know, though, that your customers will have their own means for collecting information, based on the ARRA requirements.  Like always, pay attention, listen to your customers, and be prepared to deliver strong value. 

It’s amazing how paying attention to the fundamentals will help make paying attention to the detailed paperwork easier.

 

Public Safety Stimulus Spending Controversy

A public safety battle in Wilmington, DE provides a foreshadowing of the ensuing controversy regarding how stimulus money should be spent.  An article on www.delawareonline.com, describes the reaction of the police union to the city’s spending of $1.5 million received from the Byrne/JAG program funded by the stimulus.  The funds were used to bolster two police-related programs instead of  using the money for police salaries.  Prior to this, the city had been in negotiations with the Fraternal Order of Police, and was prepared to lay off 17 officers if the union did not accept wage freezes (which it eventually accepted).  Instead of utilizing the stimulus money to enhance salaries and avoid layoffs, the city funded a social work and police “partnering program” for children, and anti-crime surveillance cameras. 

Union officials are calling for a federal investigation into “misuse” of funds, while the city is defending its decision and adherence to federal grant guidelines.

IMPLICATIONS

Expect more of this type of controversy–much more.  Funding priority decisions are never easy and someone always loses out.  As such, the battle for many projects will be waged in the arena of politics and public opinion (even more than usual given the magnitude and sensitivity of the stimulus).  Even great vendors with outstanding products and services can be cast in a negative light by the opposition or the media looking for “dirt.” 

Providers should prepare themselves for the ensuing environment as much as possible.  Media training and public relations activities, if not a part of the marketing plan, should be pursued.  Straightforward and honest responses to RFPs should be common  practice as everyone will be watching (and waiting for a slip up).  Open and frequent communications with the customer is also critical for detecting possible “situations.”  Delivering strong value while keeping an eye on the political landscape will help vendors navigate both the pitfalls and the opportunities.

-LBB

Grant Support Program Announced

Many vendors understand that grants can drive business, particularly in these days of economic stimulus and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).  We hear vendors talk about it every day.  Not so many understand how to do it, though.  It’s not easy, but done correctly grant programs can in effect build a company.  (We’ve seen it first hand…more than once.)

Ingram Micro seems to be on the right track.  They’ve rolled out what they say is are “unrivaled lead generation and grants intelligence services “.  Calling it “IMStimulus” in thier press release, Ingram Micro is making the service available to their channel partners.  They say the service provides:  end-user needs assessments, grant availability and tracking, grant writing and sales expertise.  Ingram appears to be charging its channel partners for the service, with a credit issued once Ingram receives an order through the grant support program.

We only know what we read about the service, but at least on the surface, we’re impressed.  It looks like their IMStimulus contains quite a few of the elements required to build business through grants.

Many companies say they offer grant support services, but we’ve not seen many who seem to understand that success comes from more than simply pointing potential customers to grant sources (which they probably know already anyway) and offering a bit of language for a grant application.  Ingram seems to have figured it out, and has apparently developed a program to help their channel partners understand it, too.  Way to go Ingram!

The Grant Mystery

If you think conducting business through government grants is confusing to you, you should hear your customers talk.   They’re often just as befuddled.  I had a chance to listen last week to discussions among local administrators around the country who handle one of the Department of Homeland Security grants.  Their single biggest complaint was that the time requirements are sometimes confusing, generally too short, and often change unexpectedly.  It’s quite a chore to keep up with the deadlines, much less other elements of a grant program.  The job has become tougher with a new administration changing existing programs and introducing new ones.  Then, Congress has said spending must be done faster, but oversight must be tougher under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

What’s a vendor to do?  Well, first of all, pay close attention.  Know the programs, and know them well.  Develop contacts who administer the grants who will keep you informed.  Listen to your customers.  Listen carefully.  Put yourself in their position.  Most importantly, make sure at every turn that your value proposition is strong and reflective of the grant at hand.

Grants can drive business, but it’s not easy and it’s certainly not quick.  Know your stuff, provide good service throughout the process, and reap the rewards.

The Stimulus Heat is On

The political heat is rising on the stimulus package as project details begin to emerge and politicians look to capitalize on any Administration missteps.  Yesterday, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. released a report criticizing 100 ‘questionable’ stimulus projects. Examples of these projects include a $1.2 million guardrail for a reservoir in Oklahoma that is basically dry, and a little-used Wisconsin bridge leading to a country club.

In addition, articles and posts such as one appearing on Propublica continue to criticize the level of detail and usability of published stimulus data–particularly as it relates to interpreting what is actually spent versus what is promised.

IMPLICATIONS

Expect the pressure to continue to build over the next six months.  With a program as large and speedily passed as the stimulus bill, boneheaded projects will exist.  And, there will be no shortage of politicians available to lead the criticism parade.

Vendors should look carefully at the projects for which they bid, conducting a cost-benefit analysis that takes into account the full economic and political impact of involvement.  Vendors lured by short term projects may find their brand and long-term business damaged irrevocably due to their participation in a clear “pork” initiative.

Also, vendors should be prepared for project cancellations and scope of work changes.   Intense scrutiny and political pressure will impact certain projects; and associated vendors could be left holding the bag with little sympathy from their communities.

In all, vendors should be a part of the solution–not the problem.  Despite the allure of a fast dollar, government providers should stay the course with a little integrity and transparency of their own.