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November 21, 2014

Understanding Convergence & Relationships Leads Contractors to Government Sales

Government contractors might be chomping at the bit to offer their products and services to government agencies. Knowing the potential purchasing needs the government has could put contractors a step ahead when the purse strings open. There is a convergence in services, meaning that contractor offerings are coming together as a package of products and services bundled together. Understanding convergence, and having relationships with government agencies, could facilitate government sales and bring new opportunities for selling to the government.

Many private sector entities have shifted operations into the cloud, where software can be accessed securely online from anywhere. These so-called software-as-a-service, or SaaS, offerings allow customers to save on the costs of maintaining and operating servers. The SaaS model offers customers a great deal of flexibility and a variety of services can be offered in this fashion, leading to the term XaaS, where “X” can stand in for anything.

A recent study by the Professional Services Council and Market Connections found that 64 percent of government contractors see SaaS as a business opportunity. But just 21 percent of government agencies have plans to implement SaaS solutions. Unfortunately for government contractors, the public sector moves more slowly than the private sector. Much more slowly. As a result, contractors can spend time and money developing solutions that government agencies may not buy.

It’s not always possible to make the wheels of government move quickly but there are steps that contractors can do to get them turning. In a blog post, Market Connections suggests that educating potential customers about the solutions is a good way to spark business development. Another way to nudge government agencies into a purchase decision is by conducting a market opportunity assessment, which determines the growth potential of a particular product or service. Such studies can help a contractor and a client understand whether the services offered are adequate and whether any changes or additions need to be made. The bottom line for contractors is that securing government contractors comes down to basic customer service – understanding a government agency’s wants and needs and being prepared to fill those needs. For more information, contact us.

November 14, 2014

Mobile Apps, How They Are Shaping Our Government

It seems like there’s an app for everything these days. Track your caloric intake. Find your favorite coffee house. Deposit a check. Find an alternative route to avoid traffic. Analysts at Flurry estimate that mobile phone users spend two hours and 19 minutes per day using apps. Gartner, IT spending forecasters, estimates mobile app downloads will reach an annual revenue of $77 billion this year. The private sector isn’t the only one partaking of this boom, however. The federal government and numerous states and municipalities are utilizing apps to collect data, provide information and improve customer service. In fact, in 2012 President Obama asked government agencies to create at least two apps to better serve the public. They listened. Here are four of our favorites.

  • US Census Bureau: Labeled America’s Economy for Phone, this apps says it gives users a “pulse on the U.S. Economy straight from your phone.” The apps provides users with access to 19 real-time key economic indicators from the U.S. Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics and Bureau of Economic Analysis including trends regarding employment, construction, international trade, manufacturing and retail sales.
  • Department of Defense: This government department has 12 different apps that cover simple news and updates, offer access to financial aid resources, provide a portable stress management tool in an app called “Breathe2Relax, and the “mTBI” app, aimed at helping physicians identify patients with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and develop a management plan. Additionally, the Department of Veterans Affairs has an app called “PTSD Coach,” offering sufferers with support, resources and a self-assessment tool.
  • Department of Energy: Three apps are available to make “going green” easier. Apps help vehicle operators locate alternative fueling stations, compare the most fuel efficient vehicles, calculate gas mileage, and access the latest science and research.
  • Small Business Administration: The SBA app helps users find advisers, SCORE representatives, Women’s Business Centers and Small Business Development Centers nationwide. Additionally, users can calculate start-up costs and receive the latest small business news.

From apps that help track and arrest child predators to apps that help Department of Children and Families representatives in the field find Head Start programs for their clients, mobile apps are shaping our government. You can review a complete list of available government apps at www.usa.gov/mobileapps.

Financial Engineering Counselors prides itself on being a resource for government contractors, commercial companies, banks, other financial institutions and professionals. Let our expertise work for you. Contact us for a consultation.

November 7, 2014

Internet Experts Expect Major Cyber Security Attack on Government, Business by 2025

Computer hacking isn’t just a business problem. A majority of Internet experts surveyed by the Pew Internet Research Project expect anticipate a major cyber attack affecting business and government will hit by 2025. The attack will cause widespread harm to business and also threaten national security, causing billions of dollars in data and property loss, damage, and even loss of life.

The expectation of greater cyber security risks to government and business comes as a growing number of devices are connected to and rely on the Internet. The so called Internet of Things means that more services, devices, vehicles, and products will be monitored and even controlled via an Internet connection. But these connections also leave the devices vulnerable to hacking.

“Cyberwar just plain makes sense,” Stewart Baker, a partner at Washington, D.C. law firm Steptoe & Johnson, told Pew. “Attacking the power grid or other industrial control systems is asymmetrical and deniable and devilishly effective. Plus, it gets easier every year. We used to worry about Russia and China taking down our infrastructure. Now we have to worry about Iran and Syria and North Korea. Next up: Hezbollah and Anonymous.”

Much of city infrastructure is already vulnerable. Cities and utilities monitor and manage electricity, water, and sewage infrastructure over systems that transmit data over the Internet. These networks have already been found to have at least 25 vulnerabilities that make them susceptible to attack.

Mark Nall, a program manager for NASA told Pew that he expects the current threats of economic transactions, the power grid, and air traffic control will expand in the future to include self-driving cars and unmanned aerial vehicles, as well as building infrastructure. But Nall left open the possibility for resisting the increasing threats, noting that growing use of artificial intelligence to monitor and diagnose systems will help.

The threat of cyber war is likely to increase the amount of network surveillance to monitor for threats. Defense One cites a recently released paper from the Pentagon outlining cyber threats. The paper mentions “networks” and “the cloud” as potential source for signals intelligence.

“Make no mistake, signals intelligence collection means watching how individuals behave online,” Defense One says.

Growing cyber threats will mean more steps will be taken the government and the private sector to build up protective capabilities. To learn more, contact us.

October 27, 2014

Midterm Elections and Defense Legislation: Boon or Bust for Government Contractors?

 

Are you voting in the midterm elections? Because your ballot is particularly important if you’re a government contractor. Several races which could determine the Senate majority and who heads budget committees, remain too close to call. Whether you’re Republican, Democrat, or somewhere in between, the results can determine the fate of government contractors this year. Because in its infinite wisdom, Congress tabled decisions on the following defense legislation until after the national vote:

  • Trillion dollar omnibus spending bill, which includes $550 billion for defense appropriations and another $60 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations, which supports military operations in Afghanistan and counterterrorism missions, among others, in the Middle East. A continuing resolution that passed on Sept 18 funds the government at previous levels until December 11.

  • National Defense Authorization Act. Which covers the budget and spending of the U.S. Department of Defense. This has been past every year for the past 53 years, albeit with much last-minute suspense.

  • Authorization to train and equip Syrian rebels who are vetted, a Pentagon program that also expires on December 11.

In the best case, Congress passes these legislative issues at the requested levels. Government contractors will benefit because more money will be available for projects and bills for current programs will be paid on schedule.

In the worst case, Congressional wrangling could shut the government down before anything is passed, which is what happened last year. Government contractors stand to lose as funds disappear and current bills to the government remain unpaid for months.

If you need more information about how the elections or the budgets in defense legislation could affect you, please contact us.

 

October 24, 2014

Double Protection for Your Small Business Google Accounts

Google has been nothing but a boon for your small business. It offers storage, email, and distribution of graphics and videos at no cost, which helps put your bottom line in the black. And the ability to access your Google accounts while working from home, commuting to your business, or at work improves your productivity tremendously.

Lurking behind these positives, however, is the fear of what would happen to your digital life if someone stole your password. Google defends that possibility with two-step verification. If you set this up, the service not only requires your memorized password for access, it also sends a one-time code to your smartphone. You must enter this code or be denied entry. So, unless a digital criminal has stolen your phone, he can’t mess with your Google accounts even if he has your password.

To set up this additional form of protection, do the following:

  1. Sign into your Google account as you would normally. The Google home page is displayed.

  2. Click your email address drop-down in the upper right corner and choose “Account” to display your Account page.

  3. Choose “Security” from the top to display the Security page.

  4. Click “Setup” next to “2-Step Verification” under “Password” to display the Setup page.

  5. Click the “Start Setup” button to display the Phone page. Enter the number of the phone to which the verification code is sent. Select whether you want the code sent in a “Text Message” or “Voice Call.” Then click the “Send Code” button.

  6. Google sends a test code to the number you specified. Enter that code in the Verify page and click the “Verify” button. The Trust page is displayed.

  7. If you’re using a desktop or otherwise secure computer, leave the check mark by the “Trust This Computer.” You then don’t have to keep entering code when you use this computer. Otherwise, leave the check mark off, such as for mobile devices that might be more easily stolen.

  8. Click the “Next” button to display the Turn On Verification page. Click the “Confirm” button. Optional screens appear asking you to specify a backup number in case you lose your primary number. Fill them in as needed. You’ll also receive a list of backup codes that you can use in case your phone is not handy. Print these out and keep them in a safe place.

Two-step verification is now activated. You can turn it off from the same Security page you used to set up the protection. If you want more information, please contact us.

How Hardware Can Secure Your Small Business Finances Online

JPMorgan Chase, Target, Home Depot, and the U.S. Office of Personnel Management are just some on a long list of organizations that have been recently hacked. You presume that they have state-of-the-art network security systems and dedicated cyberstaff. But if they can’t protect their digital information with all their resources, what chance does a small business like you have?

The fact that you are small is a point in your favor. Hackers prefer to go for bigger fish. But if you’re a government contractor, that’s a point against you. Cyber-criminals may target you just because you work with the government. So continue to take your standard precautions of using long, unbreakable passwords and update your anti-virus software.

One other way to beef up your digital security online is to dedicate one computer only to online financial access. Use it solely for your financial activities such as checking your back accounts or paying bills. Never use it to post your Facebook status, upload selfies, access emails, or browse the web. Such activities are common pipelines for transmitting viruses. Hook it up to your Internet Service Provider only via cable and turn off any wireless access to avoid WiFi spying. Don’t allow any external media or devices, such as flash drives to be plugged into its ports.

Add an extra layer of security by relying an operating system that isn’t well-used. Hackers prefer to target into Windows or IOS. A Chromebook may be ideal because you can get one for under $200 and it runs a little-used operating system called Chrome OS. Just make sure it has a Local Area Network (LAN) port for hooking up to the Internet with a cable.

For more information on protecting your small business or on government contracting, please contact us.

October 17, 2014

Choosing the right bank for your small business

 

One of the most important aspects of owning a small business is finding a reliable bank for all of your financial needs. From complex lines of credit to separate business checking accounts, knowing what to look for is a crucial step for all of your future endeavors.

When making a decision, there are many factors that you need to consider. Establishing a strong relationship with your financial institution should be one of your primary goals.

Keep in mind that not all banks are cut from the same cloth. Here are some guidelines that can help you to find the perfect bank for all of your small business requisites.

What Specialized Services Do You Need?

Do an assessment of what specialized services you might need either now or in the future. Do you need a loan or help with investing? How much cash flow will your business be dealing with on a daily basis? Many banks offer incentive programs to fledgling businesses, like when you maintain a set amount of funds in your account. Also, a financial adviser should be available, who can assist you with investments and cash flow management.

Compare Features

When you do decide what exactly you need in a bank, do some comparison shopping. Call and ask them for specific information, including interest rates, fee structures, and what other additional services they possibly offer. Having open access to your funds is a plus, and should be on the top of your list of priorities. As a potential customer, you have the right to ask as many questions as you need to ensure that their particular bank is a right fit for you.

Smaller Banks Can Be A Great Choice

In the small business world, research has shown that you may be more likely to receive a loan from a smaller bank than from one of its larger competitors. When banks can’t provide financing or sufficient financing, that’s when Financial Engineering Counselors, Ltd. is of greatest assistance in helping to secure alternative financing for adequate working capital to both meet current requirements and provide the leverage to bid on more and larger contracts.

Community banking, on the plus side, may offer the extra added benefit of forming long term relationships with the bankers and lending officers, because there seems to be less moving around to different areas within the bank. They may be more prone to assist you when it comes to reaching your business goals and aspirations. Smaller banks often have more personal human interaction and are generally more flexible.

Choosing the right bank doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Think of it as a partnership that can offer both of you stability in a shaky post credit crisis economy. In many ways, you are actually hiring a small banking institution as part of your business team.

If you have any questions about what small business banking can do for you, please contact us.

 

 

October 10, 2014

4 DCAA Myths Busted

 

You’ve won that government contract. You’ve pre-planned and are ready to enter the government contractor’s world. With so much misinformation out there, understanding the DCAA compliance rules and regulations you must follow can be mind-boggling. Let’s examine and dismantle a few myths to guide you in getting your accounting system ready.

Myth #1: DCAA automatically audits contractor accounting systems on request. They will not audit you until a government agency asks them to. This usually occurs after the contractor wins the bid, and the contracting agency has called and requested it to be done. The only time a contractor can request the DCAA to step in is if they have previously failed an audit. Furthermore, due to the massive backlog the DCAA has, the probability of a contractor being audited at any time without any specific reason has increased.

Myth #2: DCAA recruits the best and brightest in the accounting field. While this is most often the case, according to GAO, the DCAA management cut its auditing costs by not paying their auditors well, not providing adequate training, and putting them on jobs beyond their capabilities and expertise. In fact, most auditors hired by the DCAA make a fraction of what accountants outside of the government make, yet many still rise above this condition and provide excellent work for their country.

Myth #3: You have no choice but to accept DCAA’s findings. While you should hope the DCAA finds nothing, most of the time, their findings are correct. However, there are rare instances when they are wrong. When this happens, there are several levels of appeal open to the contractor. These include:

  • a well written management response that the DCAA is required to publish with their audit
  • appeal to the DCMA to investigate and draw their own conclusions
  • submit a formal appeal to the OIG, appeal board, or even CID

Myth #4: You can purchase DCAA-approved accounting systems in a box. The DCAA does not, in fact, endorse any accounting software program. Two contractors can use the same software and one will pass its audit and one won’t. This is because the DCAA approves all accounting systems regardless of its brand based on a set of evaluation criteria, which follows the standards required by the Federal Acquisitions Regulations. Accounting systems themselves are more than just the software anyway. Even with a software system like Quickbooks, it’s all about what the system addresses. To ensure your system passes the DCAA audit, it needs to be able to segregate the costs according to projects, contracts, or jobs and have labor distribution ability within it. Most available accounting software programs out there have the ability to do this.

Last year, the DCAA upgraded their pre-award checklist, making it more important than ever for small businesses to have an accounting system that is operational and their policies in effect prior to the DCAA audit.

With just a little preparation, there is nothing to fear from a DCAA audit. Need help ensuring your accounting system meets the requirements of the DCAA? Contact us today!

 

September 26, 2014

Start Your Own Bank!

Have you ever wanted to start your own bank? Why not, right? It must be great to use other people’s money to invest with, and be insured (for free) by the FDIC. Is it risky? Well, a recent news article states that current statistics reveal that only “one in 1,000” banks fail every three years. Those are pretty good odds, all things considered.

Here is what you should consider when starting a new bank:

  • Is there a need for a bank in the area you’re planning on starting your new bank? Often times, there are locations which no bank is conveniently close to. People would rather drive to a local bank than drive 20-30 minutes away to do their weekly or daily banking activities – especially local businesses who run to the bank more often than everyday consumers.
  • The actual capital. Well before your customers secure their money with you, you’ll need a starting capital of “$12 to 20 million.” Don’t worry! It doesn’t have to all come from you! You can organize your bank to have a board of directors whose members will pool their funds together. You can ask local law firms, physician practices, etc.
  • Digitize it. The majority of consumers decide to utilize banking service, not to secure their funds, but for the convenience they provide. Some businesses don’t take cash – only checks, and many people use credit and debit cards for the convenience as well. So, logically, if you make your customers’ banking services available online and mobile-accessible, your bank will be much more attractive than the next local bank.

Financial Engineering Counselors, Ltd. can help you in your business startup endeavors. We have over 30+ years experience in counseling government contractors and financial institutions. Contact us today to learn more about our finance services.

New Requirements For Government Contractors Regarding Human Trafficking

The Federal Government expects to release new Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) amendments before the end of this year.  The intention of these regulations is to strengthen existing prohibitions against human trafficking and may levy new obligations on government contractors to evaluate their exposure.

According to an article in lexology.com, the new requirements prohibit the following:

  • Denying an employee access to his or her identification.
  • Documents using false or misleading recruitment practices.
  • Forcing employees to pay recruitment fees.
  • Failing to provide employees return travel arrangements upon the end of their engagement.
  • Housing employees in conditions that violate the health and safety standards of the host country.
  • Failing to provide employees employment contracts when they are required.

For out-of-country contracts over $500,000, there are additional requirements, according to mondaq.com.

  • Develop a compliance plan for out of country work meeting a set of requisite standards.
  • Submit proof of plan implementation.
  • Post compliance plan details at location where the contract is performed.

The new rules include an employee bill of rights which covers rights to on-time wage payment, lunch and break rules, ability of employees to terminate employment at will, and address grievances without fear of reprisal, according to law360.com.

The due diligence required may impose delays and additional costs. Also, government contractors may be subject to greater liability due to the higher risk of trafficking in some countries. Prime contractors will need to monitor and ensure subcontractors and agents associated with these contracts are not involved in human trafficking. Defense contractor exposure is greater in conflict areas where large numbers of non-professional workers are used.

If you need help sorting out how these rules will affect your organization, contact us. We are a resource for government contractors and we will be happy to assist you.

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