Contracting for the Urgent Future

By Anne Laurent, NCMA Director of Professional Practice and Innovation 

Government and industry contracting professionals confront a near future of confounding, compelling, and interconnected urgency. In recognition of growing challenges to the profession, NCMA has adopted “The Urgent Future” as the theme for the 2021 Government Contract Management Symposium (GCMS 2021) in Washington, D.C., Dec. 2-3.

What is most striking about the crises before us is their scope. The struggle to contain them today and stave off future worsening no longer rests just on national security and emergency response agencies and industries, if it ever did. The frontlines are too far-reaching and the effects too encompassing. The role of contracting in the urgent future spans all boundaries within and beyond government.

The COVID-19 pandemic spotlighted weaknesses and impediments in medical and pharmaceutical supply chains, and eventually in supply networks for almost all goods. Congressional investigators found that “U.S. adver-saries like China weaponized supply chain vulnerabilities in a way that threatened Americans’ health and security.”1

Both Congress and the Biden administration2 have issued stern and concerning reports pointing out how poorly the government understands the supply chains we all rely on for critical goods.

In the words of a House Armed Services Committee report released in July, “Neither [the Defense Department (DoD)] nor the majority of the Defense Industrial Base (DIB) has sufficient visibility on the supply chain to understand its vulnerabil-ities; DoD cannot build resilience and mitigate risk in the supply chain without a firm understanding of where its materials and supplies are sourced and manufactured; and DoD must have visibility on the defense supply chain to understand its current vulnerabilities and understand its surge capacity in the next crisis.” 3

Similar supply chain visibility and resilience gaps exist across all agencies. The White House supply chain report notes, that the entire federal government is “a significant customer and investor [with] the capacity to shape the market for many critical products.” And it recommends that government leverage its buying and investment power to strengthen federal and U.S. supply chain resilience. 

The SolarWinds cyberattack by the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service4 and the ransomware hacks on Kaseya and other software suppliers demon-strated their vulnerability and that of their customers in government and industry. The Colonial Pipeline attack brought home the real-world conse-quences of cyberattacks, prompting traffic jams at gas pumps along the East Coast. 

Russia and China are known to support criminal cyberattacks moonlighting on government-spon-sored jobs, so even ransomware attacks that appear independent may be sponsored by adversary states. And attacks are increasing. 2020 saw an estimated 65,000 of them, resulting in ransom payments of about $350 million.5

Contracting professionals inside and outside government are working to assimilate proliferating cyberse-curity requirements as DoD imposes, and other federal agencies consider mimicking, the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) program.6 DoD’s industrial policy office is leading a new supply chain resiliency working group to address visibility and security across its supplier network.

Americans attempting to buy cars this spring got an education in the ubiquity and criticality of semicon-ductors. A global microchip shortage left auto dealerships seriously short of inventory. 

Chips are the DNA of technology, revolutionizing almost every sector of the U.S. and global economies—from agriculture and transportation to healthcare, telecommunications, national security, and the Internet. 

The United States leads the world in chip design and sales but doesn’t make nearly enough of them to feed its own voracious demand. Approximately 70 percent currently are manufactured in Asia. Taiwan and South Korea are the top producers.

In August, the Pentagon awarded technology companies Intel and Qualcomm a deal to build a U.S.–based foundry to make chips and diversify designs for Defense semiconductors. The award came through RAMP-C (Rapid Advanced Microelectronics Prototypes-Commercial), a program of the Strategic and Spectrum Missions Advanced Resilient Trusted Systems (S2MARTS) other transaction consortium belonging to the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane, Ind.

Meanwhile, China, the world’s biggest chip consumer, has redoubled its longstanding interest in controlling Taiwan, stepping up military incursions into that nation’s waters and airspace. Any event affecting Taiwan, be it weather or Chinese military action, threatens to shut down a huge segment of global chip production, with drastic results here and abroad.

Many chip-dependent technologies also rely on the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS) of satellites ringing Earth and providing ultra-precise time for synchronization. The simplification of access to space, and brewing struggle to dominate it, spell trouble for GPS, which is virtually unprotected and has no terrestrial backup.

Since its first manned space mission in 2003, China has rapidly developed its program, with an orbital bio-lab slated for completion in 2025 and landings on the Moon and now Mars. Both China and Russia have tested weapons to attack satellites from Earth and in space.

No surprise, then, that the United States stood up a new military branch, U.S. Space Force, in 2020.

Back on Earth, a worst-ever fire season is blistering the U.S. West, already parched from successive years of disastrous drought. Hurricanes flood the East and South and spawn city- and town-ravaging tornadoes. A 2020 freak freeze in Texas shut off water to 12 million and power to 4 million, laying bare the brittleness of the state’s independent electrical system. The storms also disrupted petrochemical and semiconductor supply chains. 

Creativity, Agility, Speed and Resilience
All these challenges touch contracting professionals in government and in companies. Cybersecurity is becoming an issue for almost every product as the Internet of Things connects them, massively expanding the attack sur-face for criminals and nonstate and state aggressors.
7

Semiconductors are vital in all modern technologies. GPS enables everything from air travel to agriculture to weapons systems, communications, and global finance. Climate, disease, and state-sponsored and criminal activity have disrupted networks supplying parts and finished goods in almost every industry.

As imposing and precarious as this recitation of vulnerabilities sounds, it is up to contracting professionals to absorb it and prepare to confront the urgency of the future. We cannot overcome these problems using the same thinking, familiar practices, and solutions we’ve used before. 

As protectors of companies’ and the country’s budgets, advisers to buyers, providers of capability, and weavers of solutions, contracting professionals must shape responses to these problems today.

Contract managers no longer can work effectively in isolation, if they ever could. In every area of contract spending, anticipatory intelligence and action are critical. All the challenges of the urgent future have direct effects on which organizations buy from which suppliers, using which contracting strategies and contract types.

Contract administration and supplier relationship management are paramount to ensure capability is delivered, outcomes are achieved, and preferred contractors are recognized, developed, and their innovations harvested and adopted.

Creativity, agility, speed, and resilience, all prized today, will become the hallmarks and standards of successful contracting in the near future. 

The Contested Marketplace
The era of exquisite systems, be they weapons or information technology, soon will be over. Prototyping, failing fast, delivering capability in incre-ments, iterating on digital models before bending metal will become standard practice. With additive manu-facturing, and it might no longer even be metal that’s bent. What’s relevant to an immediate mission may be bought on the fly and replaced almost imme-diately with a different version or a new technology to meet ever-changing needs and adversary tactics.

The global marketplace has become a contested space,8 where countries vie using capital and contracts. U.S. government and private-sector contracting profes-sionals must lead in this competition using agile, rapid, and creative strategies. They must compete with contract professionals worldwide to win the support and products of leading companies.

Governments are competing for access to people, data, research, and intellectual property. U.S. contracting and procurement organizations fight daily to beat global competitors in finding and adopting emerging technologies. Delays in U.S. acquisition create opportunities for adversary buyers to seize ground by cutting deals with, investing in, supporting, and creating innovative companies to put emerging technology out of U.S. reach.

The Urgent Future: Creative and Agile Contracting
To help contracting professionals prepare for the cacophony of challenges ahead, GCMS 2021 will offer two experiences in one conference. Plenaries for all GCMS attendees will fill in the details of today’s rapidly evolving marketplace and the urgency it is creating. Plenary takeaways will supply context for the creativity and agility that will allow our contracting professionals to prevail.

In traditional conference format, GCMS proper will offer competency-focused breakout tracks presenting the latest developments in contracting basics, examples of smart and agile contracting, training for buy- and sell-side professionals on small business capabilities and success, and examples of leadership qualities and practices needed for an Urgent Future.

“2025: The Future Is Here” will immerse participants for two days in a fact-based near-future scenario, where industry and government teams will tackle urgent contracting problems. Experienced contracting pros will facilitate the team projects, and roving subject-matter experts will help participants understand what is possible and collaborate with them in adopting innovative approaches.

Team problems will call for new contracting solutions to acquire capabilities and products to reduce vulnerabilities, battle evolved adversaries, and confront and assimilate bleeding-edge technologies.

2025 will provide participants relevant, case-based trainings applicable to the problems teams face. Presenters will describe and demonstrate strategies, tactics, and techniques in use today that will be necessary to create and manage contracts in the urgent 2025 future and beyond.

The 2025 experience will spur, test, and draw upon participants’ curiosity, creativity and courage. Emotional connection with one other and immersion in 2025 will drive problem-solvers to imagine, improvise, take smart risks, adapt, and contract at the speed of relevance.

Participants in the traditional GCMS format’s competency-based breakouts will sharpen their knowledge of techniques and tools essential to creative and agile contracting. All attendees will learn what’s new in contracting by visiting Innovation Alley and a new Innovation Wing exhibit space featuring organizations working to bring new companies into the government market.

Through traditional GCMS 2021 breakout sessions and 2025 future scape trainings, NCMA is striving to ensure the contracting community understands and is prepared for the urgency of the near future. As so often in our nation’s history, America’s security, health, and economic success again depend on contracting professionalism, agility, creativity, and resilience. Our community owns this fight, and GCMS 2021 will arm us to win it. CM


Endnotes

1 “Congressional Report Could Be Major Step To Strengthen US Defense Supply Chain,” Breaking Defense, August 4, 2021, https://breakingdefense.com/2021/08/reports-propose-fixes-to-us-defense-supply-chain-vulnerabilities/

2. “Building Resilient Supply Chains, Revitalizing American Manufacturing, and Fostering Broad-Based Growth,” The White House,” June 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/100-day-supply-chain-review-report.pdf

3. “Report of the Critical Supply Chain Task Force,” House Armed Services Committee, July 22, 2021, https://armedservices.house.gov/_ cache/files/e/5/e5b9a98f-9923-47f6-a5b5-ccf77e bbb441/7E26814EA08F7F701B16D4C5FA37F043. defense-critical-supply-chain-task-force-report. pdf

4. “SolarWinds Cyberattack Demands Significant Federal and Private-Sector Response,” Government Accountability Office, April 22, 2021, https://www.gao.gov/blog/solarwinds-cyberattack-demands-significant-federal-and-private-sector-response-infographic

5 “What’s Driving the Surge in Ransomware Attacks?” New York, Sept. 7, 2021, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/article/ransomware-attacks-2021.html

6. Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition & Sustainment Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification, https://www.acq. osd.mil/cmmc/

7. “P.W. Singer: Adapt Fast, or Fail,” The Strategist, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, July 7, 2018, https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/p-w-singer-adapt-fast-or-fail/

8. “We Are in an Acquisition War. Contracting Professionals Must Lead It.” Contract Management Magazine, October 2021

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