January 29, 2003
The SBIR Gateway generally avoids editorials because we want to present the SBIR news, free from personal views. However, the DoD refusal to accept SBIR submissions that couldn't be uploaded to their SBIR submission site in a timely manner (January 15, 2003 at 5:00pm est), is an egregious act designed more to cover the agency's inadequacies than to punish procrastinators who could not follow instructions.
The following is an open letter to Mr. Frank Ramos, Director of the DoD Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (SADBU):
January 29, 2003
Mr. Frank Ramos
DoD Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization
Dear Mr. Ramos:
Many of us involved in the SBIR program were deeply saddened and angered by the DoD SBIR decision to reject SBIR Proposals that were trying to be submitted within the time limits of the solicitation. It was the DoD's system's failure (DoD's system to be inclusive of the DoD contractor) that generated the problem.
I would like to take a moment to discuss awareness, both yours and mine and how it relates to the DoD SBIR and the situation at hand. We have spent a considerable amount of time investigating this matter from the outside in, as I hope you did from the inside out.
I Am Aware:
Are You Aware:
- That you had a very challenging time to bring the SADBU office back to legitimacy after your predecessor's debacle, and you have done a good job in that respect.
- That you and your office does much more than just the SBIR program and you have to depend on your downstream for information to make important decisions.
- That you and your boss, Pete Aldridge (undersecretary of Defense, AT&L), give testimony to congress emphasizing the importance of the small business sector to the DoD and the nation.
- That Mr. Aldridge demands the very best that AT&L can provide for our military forces.
- That one of your missions in SADBU (in your own words) is to enhance the warfighter's access to Small Business' efficiency, innovation and creativity.
- That there are some companies who try to leverage the system, perpetually file late and complain when you reject them, even though the fault clearly lies with their company.
- That the January 15, 2003 submission failures were strictly the fault of your Internet Server and bandwidth availability.
- That some companies started complaining about access problems to submitting their proposals as early as 11:00am on January 15.
- That some companies were actually in your system (well within the time limit) when they were cut off in mid stream and were not able to log back in during the allotted time.
- That the DoD instructions to "file early" were arbitrary with no clear definition, and as a result companies are left to guess as to the real filing deadline.
- That in spite of the DoD claims of system updating to improve the submission site after the 08/14/02 meltdown, DoD continues to use an outdated legacy 1997 Microsoft IIS 4.0 web server technology (which Microsoft no longer supports) in spite of the fact that Microsoft had introduced IIS 5.0 in year 2000 and IIS 6.0 a year ago. Both of these updated versions that DoD chose not to use, had major improvements in memory management and handling simultaneous connections better (a major source of the DoD SBIR problem).
- That many companies and even computer hobbyists often establish a second web site (called a mirror site with the exact same functions) to help handle the extra web traffic on heavily used sites.
- That the DoD SBIR office has and does institute a mirror site which can handle the additional load when one or the other server becomes saturated (see www.acq.osd.mil/sadbu/sbir/solicitations/sttr03/ and www.dodsbir.net/solicitation/ both of which are simultaneously handling the 2003 STTR).
- That in spite of the nice work described above in #g, DoD SBIR DOES NOT use that mirrored technology where it was needed most, in the DoD solicitation submission server.
- That there is no way you can determine from your system and log files, how many people were rejected and at what time those rejections occurred. Although this is not a fault of yours, you must be aware that in spite of what you may have been told, most of the traffic that was turned away by your site, is not trackable.
- That the DoD spent considerable time and effort to help train companies how to use Adobe Acrobat software in order to submit proposals.
- That in spite of the training mentioned above, DoD SBIR does little or nothing to help the offeror in the event of a submission system failure (other than to say file early).
- (the most important item) That perhaps one or more of those many submissions that DoD summarily rejected may be a technology that could save one or more warfighter's lives.
The fact that the DoD office failed to adequately bring their server system even into the new millenium, let alone up-to-date, makes the decision to reject those submissions capricious and contemptuous. This shows an unacceptable level of commitment to serve the small business technology sector, and allow them to help serve the needs of the DoD. I believe this is totally out of step with your previous commitments as well as your and Mr. Aldridge's testimony to Congress.
Suggested remedies need not be complex or expensive. You will always have a few complainers but when they are counted in triple digits, you know something is wrong.
- Update those antiquated servers! Perhaps consider a Unix or Linux platform if you don't want to update your Microsoft servers.
- Change your deadline time to 12:00 midnight. Not as many people will be burning the midnight oil as those filing before 5:00pm est.
- Educate your submitters to print any error pages they receive, then immediately call the helpdesk and/or fax the printed error page to the DoD with a short cover page describing the situation. This must be done immediately after the server error takes place.
- Utilize your already existing mirror site configuration to handle the submission overload.
- Keep a log of perpetual abusers and handle them in a consistent manner.
- Define your acceptance policy succinctly and include it in your solicitation and on your web site.
This has not been a pleasant experience for anyone. There have been mistakes made on both sides but the predominate fault has to point to the DoD SBIR submittal infrastructure and the lack of any clear and concise policy. For this and other reasons delineated in this letter, I urge you to reconsider the DoD acceptance position.
It is distasteful that some of those policy abusers may "sneak" in, but the overwhelming number of businesses that are currently shut out without cause, far outweigh those few abusers.
I ask you, under all of the above circumstances - Is rigidly adhering to the ill-fated deadline worth the price that all of us (and the SBIR Program itself) will pay?
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Sequim, WA 98382
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