ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Illinois – A lot has changed since the 1983 release of the movie War Games, a fictional movie highlighting the dangers of hacking government and defense networks. Intended as entertainment, the movie opened many peoples’ eyes to the real-life dangers of the then-emerging cyber world.
Nearly 40 years later, the world is undeniably and inextricably cyber-based, and the protection of the vital data it contains is under constant attack.
Numerous government agencies, programs and efforts have been developed to fight this battle, one of them being the relatively recently created Defensive Cyber Operations (DCO) mission, falling under the Program Executive Office-Enterprise Information Systems (PEO EIS) organization.
DCO, which stood-up in November 2017, provides hardware, software and tools to protect and defend the Army’s network from cyber-attacks. According to DCO, it works closely with industry, academia, Army Contracting Command-Rock Island (ACC-RI), the Army Test and Evaluation Command (ATEC), and the joint forces community to meet stakeholder requirements.
Contracting professionals from ACC-RI have supported the DCO mission – even before its official stand-up – since early 2016.
This mission has been unique, challenging and enlightening, and has required flexibility and the development of unique contracting solutions for a relatively youthful customer.
“DCO is a new organization so we’ve had to work closely with them on helping navigate their acquisition process so that they are successful,” said Katie Crompton Silvis, branch chief, Information Technology Directorate, ACC-RI, who oversees the DCO contracting mission. “With this program, we rarely go into sustainment, whereas a lot of the programs that ACC-RI provides contracting for become mature because they are in sustainment. Most of our programs are overcome by events in the cyber community rendering them obsolete.”
The contracting solutions being developed for DCO are also significant in that they directly address service-wide acquisition reform directives, said Justin Trine, deputy director, IT Contracting Directorate, ACC-RI.
“We are contributing to the cyber world; thinking differently than the old school ‘everything is black and white’, very methodical way of contracting,” said Trine. “We’ve created the ability to have numerous contract vehicles in place or options to use in order to address a threat in multiple ways.”
ACC-RI’s contracting has also enhanced readiness for Soldiers working the cyber mission who need to be able to solve real world mission in real time.
“We’ve developed contract strategies that have been immediately employed when a threat has emerged,” said Crompton Silvis. “We’ve been able to respond to it in a time that prevents significant damage to the U.S. government.”
In the year-and-a-half that ACC-RI has provided acquisition support to DCO, it has learned how complex contracting is for this type of customer. There are numerous examples of how ACC-RI has provided contracting support; two outstanding examples are the 874 Agile Pilot Program and the PEO EIS Cyber Operations Broad Responsive Agreement (COBRA).
Under the 874 Agile Pilot Program the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) was required to designate ten programs of record for software intensive development using agile methodologies, improve current processes and develop acquisition strategies that complement iterative software development.
Both of the Army’s programs - Defensive Cyber Operations Mission Planning (DCOMP) and Cyber Analytics (CA), both non-commercial supply items valued at $50 million each – were selected and required award within 90 days from the Aug. 18, 2018 OSD approval, as allotted by Congress.
Since a prototype had already been developed, the team needed to work within the confines of the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR). Working within the FAR with a 90-day timeframe, and no identified existing contracting vehicles that could produce the award, required an innovative approach that emphasizes the importance of collaboration between government stakeholders, industry; real-time sharing of information, and modifications to approval routing processes both within the government and industry.
Ultimately, the government completed the acquisition package on Oct. 2, 2018, featuring a best value trade-off strategy that combined oral presentations with very limited written technical proposals to reduce proposal evaluation time. Solicitations were released on Oct. 3, 2018 and closed on Oct. 18, 2018 for DCOMP and Oct. 22 for CA, at which time the team began a streamlined evaluation process and both awards were ready for execution within the 90 days as mandated by Congress.
“The team’s innovation and dedication allowed them to utilize flexibilities within the FAR to create a 90-day acquisition strategy; write the documentation; review and get necessary approvals; collaborate with industry; share lessons learned; streamline processes; evaluate multiple proposals; and have two contracts available for award all within the 90 days allotted by Congress,” said Crompton Silvis. “The processes developed by the team have been reutilized to support other acquisitions and can be replicated to help streamline future acquisitions to support critical Army missions.”
ACC-RI also set up a rapid prototyping mechanism for cyber capabilities via the COBRA Other Transaction Agreement (OTA) that has five different acquisition lanes that can be used for prototype competitions.
“One of them that we did is called the Coliseum,” said Crompton Silvis. “This was for multiple identified capability areas and we received 160 submissions, which we down-selected to 90 orals, and further down-selected to 10 on-the-spot awards all within a seven-day period.”
Col. Chad Harris, project manager, DCO, said he clearly sees the innovation and collaboration rapid prototyping brings to the process.
“Using PEO EIS’s COBRA as a primary method ensures fresh ideas and cutting edge technologies are available at the speed of relevance to our cyber warfighters,” said Harris.
Under COBRA, the rapid acquisition process has the capability of awarding in 30-60 days from receipt of requirement. Acquisition cycles typically take 18 months to award the contract, then you’re looking at another year to 18 months for something to be delivered, said Crompton Silvis.
“We are able to do rapid prototyping to get to rapid production,” said Crompton Silvis. “It really provides the government the ability to test and leverage the prototype before actually bringing it into their programs of record.”
ACC-RI’s support of the mission began in FY17 with two employees, and by the end of FY19, it had nine dedicated cyber cadre employees, and five interns. As a relatively small staff for such a vital mission, the branch is fully aware of the importance of collaboration.
“We bring in competition advocate, policy, legal, everybody who is responsible for overseeing that package, be it a [Justification & Approval (J&A)] or an actual whole and complete acquisition strategy,” said Crompton Silvis. “For example, we did one of those and had a J&A signed within two hours so we could begin negotiations with a company versus two weeks.”
ACC-RI, DCO and other government, industry and academia partners have created the Forge at Fort Belvoir and that’s where industry and government and academia can all come in together and there is actually an ACC-RI employee embedded in there.
Ensuring the contracting staff stay within the requirement of how the Army is supposed to purchase IT, has also required collaboration - within the center itself.
“This branch has done an exceptional job at partnering and communicating with pricing, policy, legal, the front office and others to get the buy-in and the trust on the process,” said Crompton Silvis.
Trine said working closely with industry is vital in that there are so many one-of-a-kind situations in both vendor relations and pricing out solutions.
“We’re talking to people who have never worked with the government,” said Trine. They typically only do commercial work, but there are so many great ideas out there that they bring to the table. We find ourselves working with non-traditional government industry partners to creatively price something that’s never been bought by the government. So, not only are we buying unpriced solutions to requirements we’ve never heard of, we are also under the constraint of how fast we can get it done.”
For ACC-RI’s contracting branch, the measure of success has nothing to do with dollars obligated, rather it’s the creativity used to accomplish the mission.
“You could have a prototype that is literally $30,000 but can address multiple capability sets and eliminate years of development time, so we don’t measure our impact based on dollars,” said Crompton Silvis.
As this mission continues, most Army Soldiers and civilians will never stop to consider the importance – unless their computer stops working or a system is down.
“For us, success is that we have done our due diligence to help cyber defense Soldiers stop vulnerabilities to our network and provide for the business users in the Army,” said Crompton Silvis. “We’re not the bright shiny object, but we support the Army’s Soldiers who are fighting the cyber war and that is a war that is non-stop.”