News and notes from day 3 at FOSE

Women in STEM, paper-based thinking, GWAC updates and a framework for cybersecurity hiring.

What female IT leaders think about women and STEM

A 2011 Commerce Department study found that women made up barely a quarter of the science, technology, engineering and math workforce, but a panel of powerful female IT executives at FOSE May 15 had some ideas for addressing that STEM disparity.

Lisa Schlosser of the Office of E-Government at OMB had her mind on a national policy fix. “Is there something bolder that we need to do get more women – and more men – engaged in STEM?” she asked. "Is there a Title IX for technology that we need to think [about]?"

Title IX, the 1972 law that banned gender-based discrimination in education, "was very transformational for women,” she added. "It’s kind of how I got the opportunity."

Encourage young girls and boys alike to study science while their minds are malleable, the panelists agreed. “I believe that we do have to start in elementary schools, encouraging young girls to do coding because it’s the new typing," Amazon Web Services' Teresa Carlson said. "Everybody has to learn coding.”

An audience member asked the panel -- which also included IBM's Anne Altman, Experian's Barbara Rivera, Small Business Administration CIO and Chief Privacy Officer Renee Macklin, and National Security Agency Information Assurance Director Debora Plunkett -- whether the gender gap was more severe in federal defense contracting, notwithstanding the handful of women CEOs in that sector.

The question was not directly answered, but Carlson offered this reply: “Leadership does start with the top, and I think it’s fantastic we have these women CEOs in the defense contracting business. … [But] it’s going to take time, this is not going to change or happen overnight."

Paper-based technology can limit strategic sourcing

The computer systems used by federal contracting officers are still largely modeled on the paper-based in-box, out-box processes that governed acquisitions back in the days of bound ledgers and inkwells. That means that it can take some extra legwork and out-of-the-box thinking for contracting officers to identify opportunities for strategic sourcing, said Al Muñoz, who leads the Customer and Program Management Office in the CIO's shop at the Department of Agriculture.

"It can be difficult to look upstream and see what is happening next, and see if it makes sense to wait a day on a solicitation in order to get a bulk discount," Muñoz said in a May 15 presentation at FOSE.

Contracting officers can obtain the benefits of strategic sourcing through consolidation and pooling, but this process demands both knowledge of what other agencies and components are doing and the flexibility to wait to see if there are opportunities to share in an acquisition. "If the person in the next cubicle over puts out a solicitation for the exact same thing you are buying, it's difficult to pull back and get a do-over," Muñoz said. Once a solicitation is released, under federal acquisition rules, limits are placed on contact between vendors and agency officials.

There are opportunities to drive strategic sourcing on the program side, Muñoz said. A clearly written request for information can give an acquisition officer enough notice to see if there is an opportunity for strategic sourcing before a solicitation goes out. Policies like the recently enacted Data Act could also drive changes, as agencies implement common budget object codes to track acquisitions and spending. For now, Muñoz said, "most of the innovation in strategic sourcing comes from the program side, not acquisitions."

Standardizing cybersecurity jobs

Federal agencies and contractors often have a hard time finding a cybersecurity professional that matches their exact needs, according to a Department of Homeland Security expert. The same job title in one organization may require a different skillset in another.

“It’s harder to qualify people [for cyber jobs] because, although we do have certifications, those certifications are largely very broad. CISSP: a mile wide and an inch deep,” observed Benjamin Scribner, a program analyst in the Department of Homeland Security’s National Protection and Programs Directorate. He was speaking May 15 at FOSE in Washington, D.C, and referring to the Certified Information Systems Security Professional, a common cybersecurity certification.

That nearly every job ad in cybersecurity is unique “drives the universities crazy,” Scribner said, because “they can’t easily describe to those candidates a clear path in job opportunities.”

The federal government’s answer to this mismatch in supply of and demand for cybersecurity professionals is the National Cybersecurity Workforce Framework. The document, drawn up by multiple agencies and released in August 2012, identifies seven broad skillsets needed in the cyber workplace.

The “absence of a common language to describe and understand cybersecurity work and requirements hinders our nation’s ability to establish a baseline of capabilities, identify skills gaps [and] ensure an adequate pipeline of future talent,” the framework says.

The framework is meant to stay up-to-date with the cybersecurity job market in order to sync academic training and careers. A “version 2.0” of the document is in development.

Doing Less With Less

The Project Management Initiative is turning the sequestration-era mantra “doing more with less” on its head by preaching a greater focus on prioritization.

Jordon Sims, director of organization relations and programs at PMI, said that project managers need to have consistent contact with C-suite level executives so priorities are established that are aligned with company goals and those priorities are retained throughout the project.

"[The Project Management Office] is actually going to bring an operationalized perspective,” Sims said at FOSE 2014. “The PMO is going to be able to be the one that can say, ‘that's realistic, that's not realistic; that's deliverable, that's not deliverable.’ If that's hashed out up front, don't look now but we're starting to do requirements definition."

A report released in February by PMI said that in public and private sectors, 44 percent of strategic initiatives don’t meet their original goals and business intent. Additionally, for every $1 billion spent on a project, $109 million is lost.

Sims said filtering effort and resources through an established plan, whether it’s for an IT or research project, is a crucial step in claiming potentially lost resources.

"A project is a project is a project, and the same approach and the same challenges apply," he said.

Sims said an example of a distraction that needs to be cut out of the equation is an abundance of reports. Team leaders need to ask themselves whether it’s worth the time and resources to read and write evaluations on a weekly basis.

"You may end up doing . . . less with less in terms of the volume of the projects that you're undertaking, but you're going to have less resources wasted and less resources at risk," he said.

NIH expects GWAC response by end of year

Officials at the National Institute of Health expect to have responses to the agency’s multibillion-dollar Chief Information Officer–Commodity Solutions Government-wide Acquisition Contract by the end of the year.

The GWAC that CIO-CS will succeed -- NIH's Electronic Commodities Store ECS III -- is set to expire on Nov. 25, said Charles Hicks, contracting officer in NIH's Division of Information Technology Acquisition, which supports NIH's Information Technology Acquisition and Assessment Center (NITAAC).

Hicks said in a May 15 panel at FOSE that his agency submitted the RFP to FedBizOpps on May 7 and that he expected contract awards to come "late this year." Responses are due June 11 for the 10-year Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity contract that will allow all federal agencies to buy IT commodities and solutions using fixed-price delivery orders.

He added that CIO-CS is designed to allow the agency to add new technology easily -- on a daily basis if needed -- giving government customers a better chance to keep up with rapidly advancing IT models, including Infrastructure as a Service, Platform as a Service and Software as a Service.

NIH is one of three government agencies authorized to provide GWACs. The other two are NASA's Solutions for Enterprise Wide Procurement (SEWP) and General Services Administration's Center for Governmentwide Acquisition Contracts.

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