Reconstituting with the NSA under COVID-19
On June 23, the Fort Meade Alliance (FMA) offered another webinar in the Acquisition Guidance Series. This session welcomed back the National Security Agency (NSA) to share updated information related to doing business with the agency during the pandemic. Diane Dunshee, Deputy Director, Business Management & Acquisition and Deputy Senior Acquisition Executive reprised her role as a speaker, sharing the virtual stage with Maria Taylor, Deputy of the Office of Contracting, Maryland Procurement Office.
Dunshee opened the webinar by summarizing the agency’s response to the pandemic and quick action to move to a reduced workforce under COVID-code Yellow and then Orange. She went on to outline the reconstitution strategy, confirming that “reconstitution would be done on a location by location basis” and that “additional personnel, both government and contractor, are being recalled each week.” According to Dunshee, the agency is taking caution in reconstituting, tracking external conditions carefully and following all local, state and federal guidance to ensure the safety of employees.
With the expectation that most offices in Maryland will return to COVID-code Yellow by July 19, the agency has prepared for on-site workers by stockpiling PPE supplies, procuring cleaning and disinfectant products, making changes to the airflow system and installing physical barriers in spaces where social distancing would not be possible. While there is still much work to be done before the agency moves to COVID-code Blue or Green, the ultimate goal is to re-integrate all personnel, including those who are high risk.
As staff return to work, the agency will lean on individuals to take responsibility for their own health and the safety of colleagues by checking their temperature daily prior to coming to work and not coming in at all if they feel ill. As Taylor put it, no one “wants to be the one who gets everybody else sick. From my perspective when I’ve been into the office, everyone is very conscious and doing everything they can to ensure everyone is healthy.”
While the health and safety of the workforce are the top priority as the agency reconstitutes, other important priorities include obligating expiring funds, processing CARES Act invoices, adjusting award fees and preparing an accurate acquisition forecast to be released in October.
With no indication that CARES Act funding will continue beyond September 30, Dunshee and Taylor encouraged participants to submit those invoices within the allowable timeframe. They cautioned that in order to avoid immediate rejection, businesses should check the Acquisition Resource Center (ARC) for the most up-to-date guidance and certification statement. Any invoicing that takes place under the CARES Act should not exceed the expected burn rate for the contract had the pandemic not occurred.
Returning agency personnel will also investigate adjustments needed in award fees, as they “understand that it is very difficult to meet the expectations that were set a year ago.”
One of the most common questions Taylor has received during the pandemic relates to security clearance processing. Though the office of security began to increase their personnel to restart clearance processing in June, Taylor anticipates “it is going to be awhile before we are fully back to speed.”
In the meantime, the agency is piloting telework through unclassified research with universities and the use of the eVo development environment. While the results of these pilots should realistically not be expected before FY21, data from them will be used to determine the viability of telework in the future.
Dunshee and Taylor also provided an update on industry events NAIPE, which will next take place in Spring 2021, and NAMAS, which is scheduled for mid-November. The agency has not yet determined how much of these events will be conducted in-person versus virtual but expect that at least some portion will be held online.