Federal leaders continue to make cyber-security a top priority – one that transcends traditional IT work and extends well into the world of professional services, office equipment, and other areas. Federal leaders believe that cybersecurity measures work best when they’re “baked in” to industry solutions. Many devices, such as tablets and smart phones, however, don’t have sufficient cyber protections today. This poses challenges for the popularity of programs such as BYOD. While companies, particularly those offering the latest commercial solutions, can help, federal buying rules aren’t making it very easy. There’s a wide gulf, too, between those in government who are asking for industry help and those who would actually buy such solutions. Contractors are reluctant to offer some solutions because contracting officials and IG’s demand 100% full-proof solutions. This is virtually impossible today, given the increased sophistication of attacks. One federal official stated that incursions have become so targeted that they use the term “spear phishing” to denote such activity. Contractors can offer good solutions and most want to help the government keep their systems secure. Taking unreasonable risk with their own business, however, is bridge too far for many. The acquisition community needs to work quickly with those on the cyber front lines to get a solution so that procurement does not jeopardize national security.
Let’s be clear at the outset: The author remembers the days when risk taking and innovation dominated the government acquisition market. There was also a time when government budgets, while always finite, were a little bit less so than they are today. That’s not the market, however, in which we currently work. Some contractor executives react with surprise when faced with this reality. Regardless of what you want, though, your company needs to make smart decisions based on “what is”. For some, that may mean adapting to tight budgets, increased competition and a still-growing number of specialized rules (we’re looking you DPAP) or walking away from federal business. Staying in the market requires investment and specialized knowledge. There is no half-measure that leads to success. No one should think they can develop or sustain a federal business practice without the requisite commitment. If you’re a small business, you have to be able to separate the rhetoric (we want you) from reality (but only if you can jump through our increasing number of flaming hoops).
One other suggestion if your firm doesn’t like this market: Work to change it. Procurement reform didn’t happen a generation ago because government leaders thought it all up on their own. It happened because the contractor leaders of that time looked up from their quarterly reports long enough to bring about positive change. That type of leadership today would likely bring similar results. Can it be found, though, somewhere other than on the panel of a milk carton?
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