New Bill Gives President Emergency Powers over Cyberspace

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Earlier this week, Reuters obtained a draft copy of a bill circulating around Capitol Hill  which would give the president the power to declare an emergency in the case of a major online attack.  The bill could force certain businesses to enhance their cyber defenses and open themselves to greater scrutiny by the Federal Government.  Specifically, the bill would allow the president to declare an emergency if there is an imminent threat to the U.S. electrical grid or other critical infrastructure (such as the water supply or financial network) because of a cyber attack.

Entire industries, companies or portions of companies could be temporarily shut down, or be required to take other steps to address the situation.  The emergency declaration would last for 30 days, unless the president renews it. However, it cannot last more than 90 days without action from Congress.

This piece of legislation will be interesting to watch.  On one hand, many experts believe cyberspace is the battleground of the not-so-distant future.  With most of the nation’s critical infrastructure in the private sector, effectively preventing and responding to attacks is desirable.  However, any time the Federal Government ordains itself with the power to seize control of a private sector business, people get nervous (including the very vendors from which the government buys).

This story highlights the growing interweaving of government, commercial concerns, citizens and technology.  Don’t expect this debate to end anytime soon.

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House Passes Bill to Allow State and Local Access to GSA in Emergency

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The House has passed a bill to allow state and local agencies to buy products and services through the GSA‘s Federal Supply Schedules in the event of an emergency.  The Senate passed the bill in May.  According to an article in Federal Computer Week, the bill allows governments to buy from schedule contracts in order to prepare for an imminent disaster and also gives the American Red Cross permission to use the schedules. Since the House amended the Senate’s original version, the Senate must now approve the bill as written.

This is likely a good thing as no one wants to see local response inhibited in preparation for disasters such as hurricanes or oil spills due to government red tape.  While the GSA is now temporarily allowing access, this law will make it permanent.

State CIOs Reveal IT Trends

 

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The National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) recently released its 2010 state CIO survey report, “Perspectives and Trends from State Government IT Leaders.” Forty state CIOs participated in survey.  Here are a couple of intersting findings for contractors.

First, the majority of CIOs expect budgets to be tight through 2013.  Many expect ongoing maintenance spending to continue, but new funding will be limited. To balance budgets, some CIOs are cutting staff.  While 64 percent reported a decrease in budgets, 23 percent expect their budget to hold steady, and 13 percent expect an increase due to funding from sources like the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).

CIOs also provided feedback on the importance of emerging technologies such as cloud computing, social media, and green IT.  Half of the state CIOs surveyed said their organizations are looking into cloud computing, but have yet to implement it. One in five said their organization currently employs active or pilot cloud computing projects. 

 Though only 25 percent of states have statewide social media policies, nearly half have CIO organizations using social media, including YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. Ten percent of CIOs reported their states prohibiting the use of social media.

92 percent of CIOs recognized the importance of green IT in saving money on electricity.  46 percent of those surveyed said state policies are currently in place to mandate green IT while 21 percent reported having no active policies.  31 percent reported these policies were in development.

For IT contractors, it appears the belts will remain tight for another two years.  Still, bright spots clearly exist in the areas of cloud computing and green IT initiatives.

RFP Databases: Benefits & Limitations

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Information is power, and online RFP databases can be useful for uncovering leads in the government space.  Various companies and government agencies provide online listings of open RFPs allowing sales people to locate potential projects.  Here are some considerations when using these resources. 

Benefits

One of the nicest things about these databases is the handy consolidation of a great deal of information.  With a single login, salespeople can search, filter, view and evaluate RFPs issued from government agencies.  Historically, this task was ridiculously difficult requiring constant phone calls and lengthy snail-mail wait times or camping out by a FAX machine.  Online databases have made this part of lead discovery a fairly efficient process. 

Another benefit is the ability to see not only RFPs that are open, but also those that are closed or awarded.  At times, it is useful to see what it took for a company to win similar projects (pricing, features, etc.).  Even if great detail is not available, bits of information can be helpful when putting together a proposal. 

A third benefit relates to trending information.  While most frequently, sales people are looking for specific sales opportunities, searching and analyzing these databases can provide a clue for emerging or declining trends in their industry.  Some commercial services actually do the legwork for you along these lines, and provide summaries of deal trends and RFPs issued quarter by quarter. 

Limitations

The main problem with online databases is sales teams’ over-reliance on them as a means for lead generation.  Too often, sales teams wait passively for RFPs to be issued in their product category.  Then, a response team is ignited to respond.  While this may yield some fruit, it eliminates any influence the salesperson might have had over the sale.  It’s no surprise that the competition has access to all of the same online resources and everyone else is springing into action, too.  If your product or service is head-and-shoulders above the rest and you have a Pulitzer Prize winner for a proposal writer, then a “wait and see” approach may be just fine.  If you’re like 95% of the rest of the market, you’d do best not to rely too heavily on published RFP sources.