Early returns from PSA-TEC

Though events began here yesterday, the meat of PSA-TEC began today, specifically with a six-hour block of programming dedicated to working with the U.S. government. As you can imagine, it was a lot to take in. Here are some of the salient points: First, a note on the economy from John Mitchell, U.S. Bancorp's Economist, Western Region, and the principal of M & H Economic Consultants (no, not that John Mitchell). Much of his presentation focused on the debate over whether we are, indeed, in the midst of a recession. His answer? Probably, maybe. He noted that the factors pointing to a slow growth, rather than a recession - namely a continuing growth in the GDP (even if it's small), the fact that jobless claims have stayed under 400,000, and that industrial production has remained up - are generally outweighed by recession-looking stats like an unemployment rate that's jumped over five percent, the housing decline, consumer confidence being at a 26-year low, and weak retail numbers. He quoted a great line from Barron's: "Recessions are like beer bellies and bald spots. Where exactly they began is hard to pinpoint, but the evidence becomes overwhelming of their existence." So, the question becomes how long will the recession last and what will the recession look like. Mitchell noted that unless you're over 42 (I'm not), you've never really experienced a recession, considering the last two - 1990-1991 and 2001-2002 - were relatively mild and short, just about eight months each. You have to go back to the early 1980s for the last true recession that really impacted people's lives, he said. So, here are the bellwethers you should be looking for: When does the housing problem end? Not only do new homeowners represent new sales, but state and local governments are affected by price drops and vacant properties when the taxes don't flow in, and this affects their ability to invest in security. If losses in home equity continues in Las Vegas, Miami, and San Diego, for example, the effect could be large. What are the implications of the credit crunch? Are there more mines to be felt in the credit industry? For example, if municipal bonds were to quickly be devalued, that would affect government's ability to spend on large projects, like new construction and security. Will current fiscal policy work? Basically, will the stimulus package, the money being sent out these past couple of weeks by the federal government, actually be spent on things that will get the economy moving again? This is tied directly to whether consumers can shrug off the big price increases in staples like gas, flour, rice, and foodstuffs in general. If this causes people to start stuffing the mattresses with dollar bills, the stimulus package is doomed and it's unlikely people are going to be investing in new security systems (though maybe they'll value security higher, feeling like they have more to protect). One other thing he said to look out for: A labor crunch is on its way. Most projections have the workforce aged 16-54 staying relatively flat through 2014. That means a growing economy will not have a growing labor force. Mitchell warned that if technology is not developed to replace jobs in some sectors, there could be a major labor shortage, just as the Baby Boomers start drawing down the Social Security fund and rapidly growing Medicare spending. Good news: Sure, there's some. For one thing, he said, health care spending ought to be "bullet-proof" going forward, so if you're working in that sector, keep at it, and if you're not, start. Also, he said education should be a robust vertical, while retail, especially, could see hard times in the short term. Much of the rest of the time was taken up with discussion of how to actually sell to the government, with much talk about HSPD-12, NIST, the GSA, the GAO, FIPS 201, and any number of other acronyms. This is truly head-spinning stuff. Deon Ford, chief technologist for SI International, a one-stop federal ID shop, doing about $670 million in revenues, helped shed some light on what the government's looking for, specifically a way to tie the vetting of an individual to a credential in a real and concrete way. That's what HSPD-12 dictates and that's what you need to be able to deliver. He thought it important to be familiar with both this HSPD-12 Conversion Mandate and the FIPS-201-1 Conversion Standard. Bookmark those links, people, if you're interested in government work. Also useful links: The NIST roadmap to Information Security Documents A recommendation for the use of PIV credentials in physical access control systems Further, you need to get on the GSA Schedule, which dictates whom the federal government can buy from. The recommendation was that integrators should get familiar with the following schedules: Schedule 84 – 146-60-1: There was talk that there's actually a paucity of integrators who've applied for this schedule, which is for security systems integration and design work. Schedule 84 – 146-60-2 is for security management support services. Schedule 84 – 146-60-3 is for security system life-cycle support, the maintenance on the systems that you sell. There's been some confusion because Schedule 84 is where access control and other physical security has traditionally been located, but HSPD-12 has been seen as on the IT side, which is Schedule 70, where the IT integrators live. Those guys don't want to be putting in readers at the door, I can assure you. Another point is that even if you're not on the GSA Schedule, you can team up with someone who is through the Contractor Team Arrangement. For those without a schedule, or with a schedule that's the wrong one, two or more contractors can work together by complementing each other’s capabilities as long as one of them has the correct schedule. Is that confusing? Yes. But check out the www.gsa.gov web site. It's still confusing, but the answers are there if you look hard enough and they absolutely need physical security integrators all over the country.