Team TAPE and Operation Blended Warrior at I/ITSEC 2017

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This is a guest post by Walt Long, Business Analyst at TAPE, LLC.

In this post we’ll continue our recap of the 2017 Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC), in Orlando, Florida, the world’s largest modeling, simulation, and training conference.

While we were there, we visited Marines conducting a training exercise as part of the 2017 Operation Blended Warrior (OBW), a yearlong collaborative, live-virtual-constructive (LVC) planning and execution event that culminates during I/ITSEC with the purpose of uncovering and documenting the challenges in the rapid development and integration of diverse simulation systems and components.

We’re proud that this work was supported by our Orlando TAPE office in Research Park. There, we provide contracted subject matter experts to support the Program Manager Training Systems (PM TRASYS) program office. In this specific case, we provided analysts who supported the set up, execution, and breakdown of the OBW demonstration at I/ITSEC.

In a video for I/ITSEC TV, OBW Manager Kent Gritton discussed the need for this type of event:

“There are multiple ways of doing training: you can do it live where you actually jump into your aircraft and go fly with your actual system itself; you can do it virtually, where you are in a simulator actually controlling the event – it’s a man-controlled event; or you can do it in constructive where it’s a computer controlled event.

Each of those capabilities are used for certain objectives in the training world. With the richness that [an LVC event] can provide by blending all these three together we have a better training environment for whatever we want to accomplish. Plus we have some warfare capabilities now that cannot be trained solely within the live realm and so it’s a necessity to go ahead and bring that virtual and constructive into the live domain so that we can train all of the capabilities of the new warfare platforms.”

Team TAPE devoted extensive time and effort over these many months in setting up the network infrastructure, developing the scenarios, and coordinating with multiple government and industry participants to execute the four-day Ground Scenario portion of OBW. Team TAPE’s professional presentation of the ground operations set a high mark of achievement and received many accolades from senior government and industry personnel.

Carlos Cuevas, project manager of Orlando team, shared the support team’s highlights from the training event:

• Operation Blended Warrior (OBW) is a unique forum to assist military services, industry and academia in meeting tough challenges associated with live-virtual-constructive simulation environments. I/ITSEC 2017 was an overwhelming success. PMTRASYS/TEAM TAPE were among the 38 government and industry organizations that participated.

• Team TAPE PTSS support to I/ITSEC/OBW was comprised of extensive coordination prior to IITSEC commencing. This included, but was not limited to loading specific software on designated laptops and creating and rehearsing scenarios in Virtual Battle Space (VBS), and working directly with the Reserve Detachment; these Marines would serve as the actual operators for the OBW demo.

• Upon I/ITSEC start, Team TAPE personnel participated in the setup of the TRASYS booth and assisted in booth duties as required throughout the week. During this time, several OBW scenarios or “vignettes” were executed; this required communication, coordination with other entities participating, as well as any last minute troubleshooting.

• At the conclusion of I/ITSEC, Team TAPE personnel assisted with the teardown of the booth, and return/accountability of the equipment utilized. Additionally, all provided detailed after-action report comments.

In the final post in this series, TAPE’s Information Systems Analyst Jeff Long will share his notes from the I/ITSEC Build a Game workshop.


VR & Game Technology Showcased at I/ITSEC 2017

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This is a guest post by Walt Long, Business Analyst at TAPE, LLC.

In Fall 2017, I joined TAPE’s Information Systems Analyst Jeff Long, and CEO and President Louisa Jaffe Louisa Jaffe, as well as several others, for the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC), an annual five-day convention held in Orlando, Florida. Orlando has many good facilities for large conventions and the nearby University of Central Florida (UCF) plays a major role in modeling and simulation research as well as implementation for the US Military.

From the official I/ITSEC webpage: “I/ITSEC is the world’s largest modeling, simulation, and training conference. Held near the beginning of December in Orlando, Florida, USA, I/ITSEC consists of peer-reviewed paper presentations, tutorials, special events, professional workshops, a commercial exhibit hall, a serious games competition, and STEM events for teachers and secondary students.

I/ITSEC is organized by the National Training and Simulation Association (NTSA), which promotes international and interdisciplinary cooperation within the fields of modeling and simulation (M&S), training, education, analysis, and related disciplines at this annual meeting. The NTSA is an affiliate subsidiary of the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA). Hence, I/ITSEC also emphasizes themes related to defense and security.”

Having attended the previous year’s conference, I saw that there were some interesting evolutions happening on different fronts. In the few booths I visited where I experienced virtual reality (VR) thru a VR headset/goggles, I was able to see that VR comes a little further every year in sophistication.

Once you get past the fear of how you look to others who are outside of your virtual world, it is pretty amazing to put on VR goggles and really experience how real everything looks that you are seeing in the virtual world. You can usually look in any direction and see detail that stretches out quite a ways. It’s always fun to see what folks come up with each year in the way of virtual landscapes.

The other type of software that impressed me was a set of learning games in the Serious Games Showcase & Challenge section, as described on the I/ITSEC website: “The Serious Games Showcase & Challenge (SGS&C) celebrates the use of games and game technology as a delivery medium for instructional material. The Challenge is divided into categories: Business, Government, Student, Mobile, and Special Emphasis. After a rigorous evaluation, the top entries from all received are selected as finalists and invited to Showcase their Games on the exhibit floor during I/ITSEC.”

These game products were specifically designed to put the user into a workplace setting where they faced other people in difficult situations and needed to make tough decisions in managing those people as well as other resources. The games introduced levels of stress in terms including people that were difficult to deal with and/or a stressful fast-paced office environment with many choices needing to be made in a relatively short period of time while navigating one-on-one conversations, phone calls, and subordinates requesting direction.

Unlike other sections of the I/ITSEC showroom floor, some of these games had nothing to do with combat or even in some cases the military. One was about how to deal with a white collar office environment and make choices about email content and how to manage a piece of work.

Another game was designed for veterans’ hospital staff, on how to speak to ill and sometimes poorly informed veteran patients about their treatment and expectations of what healing they might be able to accomplish in partnership with VA staff.

In subsequent posts we’ll highlight how TEAM TAPE in Orlando, Florida had their work showcased at I/ITSEC, and Jeff Long will share notes from the Build a Game workshop.


How DIUx Works With Non-Traditional Innovators

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In a recent blog post we described a procurement method known as other transaction agreements (OTA) that has become increasingly popular to access valuable war-fighting technologies, especially from non-traditional defense companies.

We highlight a structure used by Army Contracting Command – New Jersey (ACC-NJ) that leverages a consortia of companies that agree to participate under a common ruleset to submit white papers in response to the government’s interest in emerging technologies.

10 USC 2371b (Other Transaction Authority for Prototype Projects) provides significant flexibility in how DoD can use OTAs for prototype projects. Another methodology in use by DoD’s Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) bypasses the use of consortia and solicits ideas directly from industry with a focus on non-traditional defense companies.

DIUx was stood up in 2016 to “develop new partnerships with the private sector in communities in Silicon Valley and America’s many other great innovation hubs” to “put commercial-based innovation in the hands of America’s soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines.” That same year DIUx initiated a first-of-its-kind acquisition framework called the Commercial Solutions Opening (CSO) by which DIUx solicits solutions to problems that our warfighters are facing.

To effectively work with non-traditional innovators DIUx divided the CSO into several phases: Solicitation, Phase 1 Evaluation, Pitch, Phase II Evaluation, Kick-offs, Proposal, Negotiation and Awards, and OT Modifications as applicable.

In the solicitation phase, DIUx posts areas of interest (AOIs) on its website. Instead of complex requirements and specifications, AOIs describe problems to be solved or particular technologies DoD is interested in. In response to solicitations posted on the DIUx website, companies submit either a short 5-page white paper or a presentation not to exceed 15 slides. In their submission they simply describe their technology and their company.

In Evaluation Phase I, DIUx uses four factors for evaluation:

  1. Relevance: Is the company’s solution relevant to the AOI?
  2. Technical merit: Does the proposed solution feasibly address the AOI?
  3. Business viability: Is the company viable enough to perform the work?
  4. Innovation: Does the solution represent a truly unique and innovative approach?

If the company receives a favorable evaluation they will be asked to pitch their idea either in person or through video conference. During the pitch phase the company and DIUx discuss the technology and potential use cases in more detail as well as a rough order of magnitude (ROM) of the costs involved.

After the pitch DIUx re-evaluates the technology based on the Phase 1 factors and three additional Phase II factors: cost, schedule, and data rights. Based on a positive evaluation the agreements officer (AO) will issue a Request for Prototype Proposal (RPP).

Once the RPP is issued DIUx schedules a kickoff meeting with the company, the DoD customer and the AO. At the kickoff meeting, the DoD team will explain the proposal process, which is a collaborative process wherein the contractor will develop the statement of work in collaboration with the government. During this process the government team and contractor discuss different ideas and send drafts of the proposal back and forth.

In the proposal process a final statement of work has been collaboratively developed, accordingly the technical aspects of the proposal have already been evaluated and the government performs a final cost/price evaluation based upon non-traditional government methods which might include return on investment.

After evaluation the agreements officer will negotiate the terms and conditions of the OT with the company. Since the government and the company have worked collaboratively, this is usually a relatively quick process. Often the company is willing to sign the baseline OT without any modifications.

Once the project is underway the government may want to modify the scope of the OT based upon requirements changes or even because of emerging technology. As long as the scope changes are within the original AOI, the government and the contractor work together to update the project scope and modify the OT.

The CSO process outlined above and OTs have allowed DIUx to effectively access innovative technologies from non-traditional defense companies. It offers another way to do this without the use of consortia by reaching out directly to the technology companies and leveraging the OT authorities recently given to the Department of Defense.


Intellectual Property and the NDAA 2018

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Early in 2018, Edmund Amorisi of Smith Pachter McWhorter PLC and and Bill Walters of Dixon Hughes Goodman LLP presented a comprehensive summary of the key provisions of the FY 2018 NDAA. As they explained, Sec. 802 emphasizes DoD’s ongoing interest in intellectual property issues.

It directs DoD establish a “cadre of intellectual property experts” to “ensure a consistent, strategic, and highly knowledgeable approach to acquiring or licensing [IP] by providing expert advice” to the acquisition workforce. Sec. 802 also authorizes DoD to contract with a private-sector entity for “specialized expertise” to support the cadre.

Currently there are FAR and DFAR provisions to protect intellectual property, both the portion that the government should own after something new is developed, and the portion that the contractor brings to the table. However, this expertise does not exist in the regular contracting workforce. So this provision really goes into detail about intellectual property and directs the DoD to establish some intellectual property expertise that they can use.

Any company with an innovation will have a real issue about bringing their innovation into the contracting community because they may not be properly protected to keep their IP. Too often contractors don’t pursue their innovative ideas because they don’t want their innovation to become the property of the government.

So this provision is really about allowing innovation to play a part, and that’s a very good thing.


The 3 Most Critical Elements of a Small Business Cybersecurity Plan

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This is a guest post from Tonya Buckner of BucknerMT Management & Technology, Inc.

In a previous post, we looked at the disturbing prevalence of cyber-attacks, and how small businesses are especially at risk.

As of December 31, 2017, any company wishing to work with the government is required to have a documented cybersecurity plan. This is an excellent opportunity to make sure your business is prepared for this inevitable threat.

The three critical elements of a cybersecurity plan

1. People

• Requires executive leadership commitment to security
• Train and educate employees about cyber threats and hold them accountable
• Require employees to use strong passwords and to change them often

The bottom line is that employees should participate in identifying and protecting your business from security incidents. Ultimately, your goal is to build a culture of cybersecurity that includes employees knowing how to protect themselves and the business.

2. Processes

• Create a cybersecurity policy for your business
• Develop procedures for safeguarding employee, vendor, and customer information
• Establish security practices and policies to protect sensitive information
• Include protocols/processes that employees must follow in case of a breach

3. Technology

Although all three are critical, the technology is the most critical element of a cybersecurity plan.

• Update computers and software
• Regularly update your computers, including desktops, laptops, and mobile devices
• Ensure operating systems, software applications, and web browsers are up to date
• Encrypt data and create backups
• Regularly backup the information so if information is stolen, you will have another copy somewhere else
• Limit and control access
• Unauthorized personnel should not have access to company computers and accounts
• Secure your infrastructure (physical location, network, etc.)
• A business’s Wi-Fi can be an easy way to access data; secure your Wi-Fi so only authorized personnel can access it.

If you become a victim of a breach take the following steps:

Act immediately
• Contact your IT team, legal counsel and cyber liability insurance agent

Contain the breach
• Take affected systems offline, but don’t turn them off – that way your IT team can examine the source of the breach

Document every step
• Authorities will need to know these details

Communicate clearly
• Ensure affected groups are made aware of the issue and the steps being taken

A great cybersecurity resource is the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT), who distributes bulletins and alerts. It provides information for both technical and non-technical users, shares cybersecurity tips, and responds to incident, phishing, and vulnerabilities reports.

It is imperative that businesses exercise breach preparedness and readiness in order to remain competitive in today’s marketplace. Cybersecurity strategies are not optional; they need to be regarded as a core activity in your business.

BucknerMT Management & Technology, Inc. (BucknerMT, Inc.) is a verified service-disabled veteran-owned small business (SDVOSB) and woman-owned small business (WOSB). Since 2007, they have supported the Department of Defense (DoD), Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) by providing engineering, integration, and sustainment solutions to protect its critical military infrastructure, platforms and data. Department of Defense is the highest level of cyber protection.


Cybersecurity: What Your Small Business Needs to Know

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This is a guest post from Tonya Buckner of BucknerMT Management & Technology, Inc.

“I am convinced that there are only two types of companies: those that have been hacked and those that will be.”Former FBI Director Robert Mueller

The City of Atlanta, Amazon, BlueCross BlueShield, Disney, Equifax, Home Depot, Microsoft, Sony, Target, and Yahoo. What do all these companies have in common? These are large organizations with massive infrastructure. If it can happen to them, it can definitely happen to you. Small businesses are the heart of the US economy and yet we are some of the most vulnerable to the threat of cyber attacks.

Cyber-attacks are growing every day, from influencing major elections to crippling businesses overnight. Consider these statistics:

  • There is a hacker attack every 39 seconds, affecting one in three Americans each year
  • 64% of companies have experienced web-based attacks
  • 62% experienced phishing & social engineering attacks
  • 59% of companies experienced malicious code and botnets and 51% experienced denial of service attacks
  • The average cost of a data breach in 2020 will exceed $150 million by 2020, as more business infrastructure gets connected
  • In 2017, 61% of small businesses experienced cyber-attacks
  • 60% of all small businesses go out of business within six months of experiencing a cyber-attack

(Source: Verizon Data Breach Report)

Most disturbingly, the same report found that 90% of small businesses do not use any data protection to secure their company and customer information.

As small business owners, we often find ourselves “laptop road warriors,” working in our cars, at Starbucks, on a plane, in a restaurant, or in a hotel room, just to name a few. Yet these environments are playgrounds for cyber attackers. Public Wi-Fi systems are unsecure and a gateway for hackers to access your system and steal your information. By using them you are exposing yourself to the world.

It is important to take proactive steps to combat cyber attacks to protect your company and your customers’ information, as well as to avoid excessive financial cost. It is critical that you do not underestimate the effect cyber warfare can have on your business.

Cybersecurity refers to a set of techniques used to protect the integrity of networks, programs and data from attack, damage or unauthorized access, ensuring the integrity, confidentiality and availability of information. It represents the ability to defend against and recover from attacks by adversaries.

The first step to cybersecurity is to assess the current vulnerability of your organization. It is equally important to understand the cyber risks as your business grows, adding new technologies or functions. Once you understand the risks associated with your organization, you can better protect it from theft. Potential risks include:

  • Outdated and/or unlicensed hardware and software
  • Ineffective/nonexistent policies
  • Ineffective/nonexistent procedures
  • Lazy oversight/lack of training
  • Loose enforcement

In a follow up post, we’ll look at the most important elements of your small business’s cybersecurity plan.

BucknerMT Management & Technology, Inc. (BucknerMT, Inc.) is a verified service-disabled veteran-owned small business (SDVOSB) and woman-owned small business (WOSB). Since 2007, they have supported the Department of Defense (DoD), Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) by providing engineering, integration, and sustainment solutions to protect its critical military infrastructure, platforms and data. Department of Defense is the highest level of cyber protection.


Commercial Item Contracting Changes in NDAA 2018

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While we at TAPE provide services, other companies provide products, or a combination of the two. In terms of federal contracting, commercial items are all the things that are stuff, for example office supplies like pencils and paper clips.

What Sec. 846 of NDAA 2018 is trying to do is establish Amazon-like online portals where contracting officers and authorized people can simply go online and order their products and commercial items.

That would replace the current process, which in many cases is ordering these supplies off GSA schedules, and will make it easier and more efficient for government buyers to do their job. The problem is whether this takes away opportunities for competition. How do you regulate all of these things?

There is still work to be done to determine who is included in the portal, how search results are delivered, what kind of e-commerce portal do you create, and how this relates to the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS).

Until we figure out these things, I don’t think this portal will happen immediately. There doesn’t seem to be a rush to implement this, and this might be partially because GSA sees this as a competitor to their own portal. But I also don’t think we’ll be waiting too long.


Bid Protest Changes in NDAA 2018

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We’ve been taking a closer look at some of the most relevant changes to the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which includes several provisions designed to reduce the number of protests.

According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), “federal agencies are required to award government contracts in accordance with numerous acquisition laws and regulations. If a party interested in a government contract believes that an agency has violated procurement law or regulation in a solicitation for goods or services, or in the award of a contract, it may file a bid protest with our Office.”

With contracting dollars being so tight over the last 10 years, every loss was a big deal, and large losses in particular resulted in long and involved protests. This led to us seeing more and more contracts being protested, which is creating a lot of problems.

So there are a number of things that this provision attempts to do, including to increase the amount of information flow in the debriefing (see: how to take full advantage of a debriefing).

That’s a double-edged sword for both the government and the contractor. On the one hand, it will help bidders better understand the decisions and help them shape future proposals for more success.

For example, they will now allow businesses pursuing contracts of $100 million or greater to see a redacted version of the source selection decision document. This is the recommendation document that goes to the source selection authority (SSA) – the panel that decides who to select among the bids – and is an incredible source of information. Small businesses may request the same disclosure for contracts valued at $10 million or more.

On the other side, these changes will produce a lot more documentation and paper trails, and sometimes when a contractor learns more about a decision, it actually increases the possibility of protest.

Another potential down side is a potential pilot program of charging protesters if they’re unsuccessful when a protest is made and denied. This compensates for the fact that the government has to spend money to defend the protest.

That means you’ll have to really think twice because there is the potential to incur hard costs (where before it was just your legal fees).

The hope in all of this is to get rid of frivolous protests that are only meant to extend existing contracts. Unfortunately, some incumbents who are about to be replaced start a protest knowing that for the 4-6 months while it’s in process, they can still be performing and collecting their money. While the protest is going on the government is prohibited to hire the new company. This is an unfair practice and definitely needs to stop. Time will tell if these changes are successful in doing that.


Acquisition Threshold Changes in NDAA 2018

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Simplified acquisition is “a contracting method which seeks to reduce the amount of work the government must undertake to evaluate an offer. Because source selection is less arduous under simplified acquisition, the dollar value of contracts allowable under simplified acquisition …is capped.” (Georgia Tech Contracting Education Academy.)

In the NDAA 2018, this simplified acquisition threshold increased from $100,000 to $250,000, in order to expand opportunities and increase participation of small and disadvantaged businesses – service-disabled, women-owned, small, and small disadvantaged (what used to be known as 8(a)).

What that means is that contracts valued up to $250,000 – a pretty fair amount to most small businesses – don’t have a justification and authorization requirement (known as a J&A). The government contracting officer can just issue a purchase order to the small business.

The Truthful Cost or Pricing Act (TINA) (previously known as the Truth in Negotiations Act) was instituted to protect government agencies from unfair pricing practices by contractors. NDAA 2018 also bumps up the threshold for which contracts need this particular oversight – from $750,000 to $2 million. From a government standpoint, this means fewer regulations associated with a larger pool of contract dollars.

As we head into the year-end federal purchasing blitz, everybody just got their budgets and they have to spend all of their money by September 30th. These changes give small business contractors important opportunities to get bigger amounts of money in sole sourcing.


Trends in Government Contract Financing

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This is a guest post by Katie Bilek of Republic Capital Access.

Small businesses face a unique set of financial challenges as federal government procurement has evolved over the past few years. Here are some recent trends that stress small businesses:

Awards too large for a company’s financial wherewithal

The nature of the federal contracting environment has led to many out-sized contract awards to small businesses. It’s not uncommon for us to see a contractor win work that is at least 3 to 4 times the size of their existing portfolio of contracts. In many cases, this may be the result of desired efficiency, where a contracting officer chooses to merge multiple legacy contracts into a single vehicle.

More frequently, contracts are “flipped” from full and open to a small business preference (such as HUBzone, SDVOSB, etc.) to achieve set-aside goals, introducing the potential awardee to what was previously a large business task, most likely at the high end of their NAICS ceiling. It is important to have a financial institution that is prepared to triple or quadruple the size of your existing financing upon contract award.

Cost of pursuing indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity (IDIQ) and blanket purchase agreement (BPA) contracts

While multi-billion (or trillion) dollar contract ceilings sound enviable for any small business owner, IDIQ/GWAC and BPA contracts are merely a license to hunt. We have seen many small businesses expend nearly all of their resources and cash reserves to win large IDIQ contracts. When they finally pursue task orders and hire key personnel in advance of execution, many lack the capital to perform the work.

Focus on cash flow projections and choose a financial partner who can provide financing based upon the creditworthiness of your government customer and contract, not your balance sheet.

Requirement to have financing in place in order to be compliant with bid

We have seen increasing scrutiny on the part of contracting officers to make sure small businesses can demonstrate financial capability to execute the contract in compliance with the FAR.

Many solicitations now require a financial capability letter from a financing institution citing the solicitation, description and a financing facility equal to at least three months’ worth of billings in. Your financial partner should be able to provide this commitment letter at no cost for future contract awards.

Challenges related to financing joint ventures

Unpopulated joint ventures are a popular teaming vehicle, yet the unpopulated joint venture structure itself often struggles to qualify for stand-alone financing without significant capital contributions or guarantees from its participating partners. Even when the JV partners maintain their own bank lines of credit independent from the JV, those banks are often unwilling to extend credit to the JV as an external entity.

Find a financial partner who will underwrite the unpopulated joint venture without requiring capital contributions from either party. This is done via non-recourse receivables financing.

Surges and volatility of product procurements

For value-added resellers, the federal fiscal year-end results in the lion’s share of revenue. For our small business friends holding NASA SEWP, CIO-CS and other contract vehicles, a combination of receivable and vendor financing is critical to executing large product orders.

While vendor credit programs can be affordable sources of financing, not all small business balance sheets can support 8-figure product orders on vendor credit alone; the non-recourse sale of receivables to pay vendors and manufacturers completes the financing package that allows resellers to execute during peak seasonal times. Choose a financial partner with a vendor financing solution with adequate availability for your largest product orders.

Loan sharks in sheep’s clothing

The prevalence of online, financial technology (FinTech) loans is startling. These fast money products are basically like an electronic version of payday loans for businesses, usually priced well above 30%.

They dress their virtual storefronts up in any manner of ways: the jeans-and-t-shirt, San Francisco techies; the self-proclaimed veteran lovers invoking images of patriotism, the Buy by Midnight! used car salesmen and the not-so-subtle cash advance lenders.

All of these lenders hawk financial products that are priced higher than most small business government contractor margins can support. Beware of online lenders, and always read the fine print; even if they tell you “It’s only 9%!” share the proposal with a banker who can shed light on the real math.

Republic Capital Access (RCA) is a specialty finance company for government contractors. RCA’s product offering includes non-recourse receivables financing, unbilled (mobilization) financing, financial commitment letters, joint venture financing, term loans and more. Katie Bilek currently serves as senior vice president of Republic Capital Access. She is also co-founder of govmates and board member of the National Veteran Small Business Coalition. Katie lives in Alexandria with her husband Beau and son Jackson.

 


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