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The changing world of government contracting

Much has been written and said about government contractors recently. When I started in the field I came out of over 20 years of commercial business and was astonished at how the large government contractors were operating. At the time I worked for one of the big five contractors to the US Department of Defense (DOD). The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were at there height and the DOD was throwing money at all types of contractors, large and small. I was at the time a district sales manager for a large plastic extrusion company and also a member of the Army Reserves. I was mobilized to active duty and sent to the Pentagon. After two years, as my active duty time was coming to an end, I was offered a job with a contractor and decided to take it, my company had gone through several changes and had just been bought by a foreign company. I started out as a direct labor individual contributor, in other words I was doing what I did on active duty only in civilian clothes. I was soon also put in charge of a small part of the team and then deputy project manager and ultimately I became the Program Manager of a different contract. I began to get more and more involved in the business of contracting versus the delivery of services to the government, and this is where I started to get a true education.

When I got to look behind the door I realized how different it was selling service to the government from selling to private industry. I then realized it should not be that different. The problem was that for most of the time the business was growing, it had little or nothing to do with the management of the contracts or business. The government needed bodies and the fast way was through contractors. Basically all a company had to do was produce compliant proposals and they would be assured of winning enough of them to make money. The problem with this was, that as successful as it was for the time, it was not a sustainable business model.

Those of us who have been in business long enough accept the fact that all businesses go through cycles.  As always happens the customer base begins to shrink and competition became an actual fact of life. What was once an asset, the senior leadership in these companies were, for the most part, retired or former military officers and government executives.  While these people understood the customers’ requirements, needs, and desires, they did not always appreciate the requirements, needs, and desires of business. I had many discussions the need to increase the margins on a contract and was told by one senior director “I don’t care about profit I am here to continue my service to my country.” Another time I asked a VP of Operations what the corporate minimum fee (profit) was, he said he did not think there was one and it depended on the contract (I later found out it was 8%). I suggested at one time we be careful about the salaries we were hiring at since we may be in trouble in the future when the salaries exceed the rates the customer is willing to pay. I was told that I was to interested in profit and that they would continue to grow by providing the best of the best and the customer would be willing to pay for the services.

Government contractors now find themselves in a strange new world. Due to reduced requirements and reduced budgets the customer is looking for lower numbers and lower rates. To be honest the government still wants the best of the best of the best, but wants them for up to 50% less than before.  The government continues to declare that they are looking for best value in a contractor but continue to issue contracts based on what is known as Lowest Price Technically Acceptable (LPTA) criteria.  Again to be honest the requests for proposals are in some cases released as LPTA. 

This is causing great confusion in the Business Development offices of companies large and small. In Corporate America there are a number of ways to adjust to a downswing in business. Proctor and Gamble for instance is reducing the number of products offered based on profit.  Others sell off lines or purchase smaller companies that will get them into a new market. Others merge to survive. Many of us remember when Lockheed, Martin, Northrup and Grumman were all separate companies. Some reorganize to reduce the number of middle and senior managers. Jack Walsh was famous for firing the lower 10% of his managers regardless of performance.

What does the contractor do? Much the same is the answer. Following inflated rates which inflated salaries the contractor is left either to reduce salaries and try to keep the long term employee or reduce the work force and replace the old with newer lower paid personnel. This last is usually the result and is not generally received well by the customer.  Some of the larger companies can cross finance to keep senior personnel on the customer’s site, but not for long. Smaller companies do not have this luxury and must work through the problems or be swallowed up by larger firms.

The world of government contracting is changing faster than many companies can adjust. That is why companies such as mine, JANUS Think, have come into existence.  Most companies are better at providing service then trying to understand the changing requirements of the customer, customers who do not themselves understand the changed. A company must be willing to accept the fact that they may not have in-house expertise on all matters. They may also come to realize that ii is more cost effective to hire consultants then retain personnel who in effect are not always fully utilized or burden personnel with excessive requirements that keep them from doing their actual jobs.

Paul Davis is the founder of JANUS Think dedicated to helping business expand and grow. Named for the Roman god of beginnings and transitions we will help you open doors to the future but keep you rooted to your values. With over 25 years of business experience JANUS Think can help you write effective marketing plans and wining proposals. We will always listen to you but will not be afraid to give our advice and the reasons for them.

Veteran owned and operated

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  http:janusthink.wordpress.com

 

Turkey, PKK and the Kurds

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Why the Kurds Must Move Forward United and Why Turkey is Resisting the Future

By Paul Davis

As many of you know, and for those who don’t I will tell you, I am a long time supporter of Kurdish unity and Kurdish independence. As you can see by my photo and name I am not Kurdish. I am an American, originally from New Jersey, now living in Virginia. My opinions are shaped from a lifetime of studying history and politics and a career in intelligence.. I give this introduction so my readers will understand my positions.

Turkey is a country that has faced great change in the last century from the base of a once great empire through defeat and breakup and resurrection. Kemal Mustafa Ataturk saved Turkey from falling into the trap many of the new nations did after the first world war. Turkey carved out a new and forward moving country whose people enjoyed political and economic freedom and growth. There were of course problems, there always are, but for the better part of the 20th century  the country moved forward. Recently however Turkey is backsliding both politically and socially. This is a period of change that can be documented in almost any society. This is not a good or bad period, just one that happens because societal changes sometimes happen faster than societies can accept. During this time societies look backward toward a time of a better life and greatness. In fact these times were never better and the perceived greatness was never all that great, at least not for the average person.

The Kurdish people have a different perspective on the world, one that produced a history and a society different than that of  conquerors that ruled the Kurds. What they have is a culture shaped by the different societies under which they have lived but a society that has evolved into  its own uniqueness. The Kurdish people are not however immune to the traps of history and are themselves now caught in that period of change. Like Turkey they can move forward or try to move back, the latter never a successful option. What they and the Turks cannot do is remain where they are.

Much of recent Kurdish history is covered in blood and social and political alienation. As stated above Turkey moved forward in the 20th century, but left behind its Kurdish minority. In point of fact, Turkey refused to admit it had a Kurdish minority and moved to forcibly assimilate them into the new Turkey, again history should have told them this is never a good idea. A number of Kurdish political movements grow up, and most died, in this transitory period. The Kurds fought the Turks, the British, the Iranians and the Syrians. These fights resulted in the current group of political parties that for the most part have their own military. These include the KDP. PUK Gorran, PJAK, PYD, the HDP, and to the point of this paper the PKK.

While all  parties evolved from a common base of Kurdish nationalism they have traveled different roads to arrive at where they are today. In Iraq the KDP is the oldest of the major movements and as such tends to be more conservative, based on tribal and familial rule . The PUK which broke from the KDP derives its base philosophy from the political left and is considered a center-left party. Gorran which broke from the PUK is what in today’s world would be considered progressive. While philosophically different they have one thing in common, they are responsible for running a government, providing basic services and protection. They interact with the central government as well as play on an international political stage.

Those Kurdish parties outside of Iraq, with the current exception of HDP, do none of the above.  For the most part these other organizations are ideologically driven insurgencies with  militias. Both the PKK and the YPG (militia of the PYD) have recently fought valiantly against ISIS. But is fighting enough to claim leadership. have any of these parties provided food, clothing, housing or jobs to a general population that they govern.  I have just read some of the most recent writings coming from the PKK and they brought me back to my college days in the 1970’s with the discussions of total freedom and release from servitude. The socialist and anti-capitalist, non-statist world to come. The only thing missing were unicorns and rainbows. These are easy statements for an organization to make that has no actual duties or requirements to the average citizen. The PKK took to the mountains to plan their utopia and there they stay, except to come out and kill.

Turkey on the other hand does have these duties to its citizens, and in the case of its ethnic Kurdish population abandoned them. The continual repression of the Kurds and the suppression of Kurdish ethnic identity caused the existence of the PKK. For the last three decades Turkey and the PKK fought a running battle. Changes on both sides continued. For Turkey the transition was from a militarized democracy to an elected democracy to, for the last decade, a one party rule that mimics democracy. The PKK for its part started out as radicalized Marxists, through a form of pragmatic socialism to what they are today, a bureaucratic insurgency claiming socialist values . The bottom line however is that neither side has much to show for its efforts against the other.

Now to the KRG. The Kurdistan Regional Government in Erbil Iraq is the only internationally recognized body that has any legitimate authority relative to Kurdish interest. They have been legally entitled by the constitution of Iraq. They have been accepted by the international community as the Kurdish entity that speaks for the Kurds. With this power comes responsibility and restrictions. While many will argue that the KRG is not a democracy but an oligarchy it is the closest thing the Kurds in Iraq have to self rule. Is it democratic – a little, is it corrupt – very likely, is it legitimate – yes.

Putting all of this together;

Turkey is a legitimate government, regardless of how far it has traveled toward dictatorship. Dictatorial regimes are legal entities until they piss off the wrong group. This generally takes a long time. We can look to Iran and North Korea as examples of dictatorships that violate international law and continue to function.

The PKK has no international legitimacy, regardless of how much it feels it does through its Ideology and international mindset, it is not a nation and when it commits acts of violence it does so outside of law and international standards. It is not a state and only a state, according to Weber has “ a monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force. ”

The KRG is a legitimate regional government with international standing, regardless of how some citizens feel disenfranchised by the ruling elite. On the domestic and international stage they have the authority to act as any government entity and as a semi-autonomous region they have their own military, the Peshmerga.

Turkey is a legitimate government that currently has lost the moral high ground. The recent attack on Kurdish positions in Iraq and Syria have been conducted under the cover of fighting terrorism. Until very recently the Turkish government would not get involved in the fight against ISIL. In fact they stood by while ISIL attacked its neighbor Iraq and made gains in Syria into territory claimed by the Kurds. Two important things have happened to change Turkish minds. The first is that the Kurds fought back and not only recaptured lost territory but expanded into territory they did not control before. In conjunction they also did what they have not done before, effectively cooperated. The second, and more important thing to happen was the ruling party lost the majority in the  last election and is in jeopardy of  losing control of the government.

The first item, Kurdish victory and cooperation are terrifying to the Turks who have always feared their indigenous Kurdish population’s desire for freedom or, at the least, autonomy. The second is even more frightening to the ruling party elite who are losing control over a citizenry looking for economic growth and political freedom. The ruling party, the AKP, has ruled over what has become a safe and stable country for the last 12 years. With rising expectations and no existential threat the people looked to change.

The two winning parties need to build a coalition in order to form a new government. While neither one likes the other they both have no love of the AKP. The two avenues to follow would be for the two parties to swallow their pride and form a government or if too much time passes for the President to call for new elections. With no change a new election could be more devastating for the AKP and give enough seats for one of the other parties to form a government. What is needed is a crisis to turn the tide.

For the Turkish government the Kurds have always been the go to crisis and this time is no different. Of course this time, as in the past, the PKK gave them an excuse by attacking and killing 2 Turkish police officers then taking credit. Sending jets to attack PKK positions in Iraq, over and over, is not a justifiable or proportionate response. It is however not an unexpected response given the current state of affairs with-in Turkish politics. Recent polls show AKP growing in popularity since the violence started.

The PKK for its part has continued to foment its version of revolution against the Turkish government. Make no mistake the PKK is well armed and funded, but is impotent relative to its founding purpose. I would equate the current state of the PKK with that of the Colombian guerrilla movement The FARC. The PKK has past its zenith and to use an economic term is past the point of  diminishing returns. The best way the Kurds in Turkey are going to achieve their aims today is politically. The recent strong showing of the HPD in the last Turkish election should be an indicator of what can be done.

Both the AKP and the PKK are opposed to an open democratic resolution to the problems faced by Turkey and the Kurds in the region. To be honest the PKK cannot defeat the Turkish military, and it should be obvious, by now, will not wear down Turkish resolve. Equally obvious is the fact that Turkish military action will not defeat the PKK, in fact it makes it stronger.

The Kurdish future, today, lies in the ballot box. The true aims of Kurdish unity and independence can not be won through force of arms. Acknowledging that a lot of what the Kurds have in Northern Iraq was won in battle, it was not just the Kurds in the fight but the world. At the end of the day it was through politics and diplomacy that the KRG rose to the level of legitimacy. The west is not sending troops to fight the Kurds but diplomats to negotiate treaties.

I have not forgotten ISIS or the other factors that have the region in turmoil. As I said in the beginning I am a student of history and will say that ISIS and the rest of those who are walking backwards will eventually disappear into the dustbin of time.  It is important to continue to move forward to separate yourself from the rest. A warning however is that ISIS will not go quickly or quietly and the world needs to unite to defeat this evil.

The Iran Nuclear Deal: Audacity of Arrogance

It did not get better over the weekend

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Iran Deal

OK I did it, I read the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that outlines the deal the US and the EU made with Iran in regards to Iran’s nuclear program. My head hurts, my eyes are bleeding and I am very frightened. The agreement is a total capitulation to a terrorist regime bent on regional hegemony and total subjugation of any person or country that it deems an enemy. First off, Iran gives up nothing concrete and receives a number of concessions with nothing more than a promise to stop what they have been doing.   Now the president tells us that this is a good agreement that stops Iran from moving down the road to building a nuclear device. “After two years of negotiations, the United States, together with our international partners, has achieved something that decades of animosity has not: a comprehensive long-term deal with Iran that will…

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A letter to the Political Elites

I am the Political Middle and I Have a Job. You are the leadership and have a job.

Please do yours.

What has happened to the political middle? We have always seen extremes in political thought, but in the exercise of good government, it was in the past moderated by the need to serve the vast majority that lived between the extremes. Perhaps the fear politicians have stated over the vanishing middle class in American is in fact the inability of these leaders to see the needs wants and desires of those who live and work between the extremes. These extremes exist with-in both parties from the far right “Tea Party” and their standard-bearers such as Ted Cruz and Michelle Bachman, to the left and the new “Progressives” such as Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Bill de Blasio.

On one side, we have a call for a smaller federal government that in effect collects taxes for some program or another, unless Cruz gets his way and we eliminate the IRS. On the other, we have a call for an expanded government that will do everything for everybody. Ok now that we have discussed the needs, wants and desires of probably 10% of the population, a loud percentage but about 10%, what about the rest of us. What of the hot button issues of the day:

Gays have a right to marry, that’s between 2.5 and 3.5% of the population

Affordable Care Act (Obamacare): After all the hooting and hollering the number of uninsured has dropped by about 3%. The other side of this is that premiums seem to be going up based now on actual usage.

The economy and unemployment: We are in the 6th year of a “recovery” and unemployment is going down but wages are stagnant.

We can likely find more but this will do. The bottom line is good news for the gay community, good news for the uninsured (we hope) and good news for the economy and the unemployed (generally).

I know I left out racial tensions but we will cover that another time.

All of the above is meaningless to the vast majority of people in the middle with the exception of stagnant wages.

What does the middle want for itself and from its leaders? Let us start with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Well maybe this is not a good place to start since there is nothing here, with apologies to the political leaders, which the government can provide to the middle. The closest they can come is in the lower two segments by ensuring the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat is clean and healthy. They can ensure our property is safe and that there is social stability. They can however do a lot of harm to the middle class by failing to understand what is important outside of politics.

To begin most of us are ambivalent over gay marriage. If you are a liberal progressive you support it because, well you’re a liberal progressive. If you a conservative tea bag person you should support it because it is none of the governments business who you marry. There may be some moral hand wringing but it will not amount to much and life will go on. Most Americans support the concept of everyone having health insurance and most Americans do. According to the Government even after ACA about 8% of Americans do not have health coverage, which means out of a population of about 322 million around 26 million are uninsured, which is too high. However, it means 296 million Americans are covered. Until or if ACA causes a major increase in taxes America will go on as before and no one will notice or care. As an aside, to keep the activist away, I believe the ACA is a good idea, poorly conceived and badly executed and will cause problems down the road unless fixed.

On the last point, the economy, we are coming closer to needs and desires of the middle. While we have made progress on the economy, it has been in fits and spurts. The employment picture has brightened, wages have lagged, but the good news is inflation was under control. There was and is, belt tightening and other sacrifices, but the middle adjusted and is moving forward. Which brings us to what the majority of the country would like the leadership to understand. We want to live quietly within our communities; we would like to have our children live carefree lives and get a quality education and have a future. We would like to have job opportunities with growth potential. We would like to have full lives with a retirement at the end that does not include eating cat food.

We are fully aware that some people in our society need help to live. I have never met anyone who does not believe in helping those in need. However, the help must lead somewhere, which now brings us to Maslow. Help must lead from support to self-sustainment, which frees the person to continue upward.

We are fully aware that there are people of great wealth among us. Good for them. Whether they earned their wealth or were born to it is meaningless. Their wealth does not diminish mine. I would rather spend time and energy trying to better myself then on envy.

Most people get up in the morning, go to work, raise families, go out with friends, and go to bed. It is not that tough to figure out. We know we need a government to do all those things that help us live the lives we lead and protected from the bad. We just do not want to know the governments there. We are not impressed when a large corporation receives a multimillion-dollar fine for breaking some law we did not know existed. When something goes wrong, we want it fixed and are not concerned in placing blame. When we do want to know who did what it is a person that did something. Stop telling me it the Democrats or Republican ideology that is to blame. We are the middle, the majority of the population. Just do your job and make things work and leave me alone.

The US still has no strategy in its fight against ISIS

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With the administration pressed on all sides because of its lack of an effective foreign policy, a group that had been building up in Syria struck with speed and violence that caused a major breakdown in the regional status quo. Military planning requires time and information to produce a strategy that will result in a desired end state. The current US operation against the Islamic terror group ISIS (ISIL, IS, Da’esh) has shown none of the earmarks of a strategy.

What is strategy; it is the ways and means to an end. The end state given is the total destruction of ISIS. So what then are the ways and means, the strategy to accomplish this? The United States announced it would begin forming a coalition that would engage ISIS from the Air and then from the ground. The ground portion would consist of regional forces with the US leading with…

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