Monday, September 29, 2014

Vendors and customers...talking #apmp

I was not at Tyson's Corner earlier this month - it would have been a pretty long commute from California - but I did read the account of the Association of Proposal Management Professionals' Capture and Business Development Conference.

It appears that one recurring theme in the conference was the idea that vendors and customers should talk to each other.

It sounds like a no-brainer, but in the world of Federal procurement (the APMP is very Federal-focused), some contracting officers have interpreted government procurement rules to mean that they should not talk to vendors.

Two of the presenters at the APMP conference believed otherwise.

Featured Government speakers included Melissa Starinsky, Chancellor of the Veterans Affairs Acquisition Academy, who implored industry and government to meet more, face-to-face, which would help end ambiguity in the procurement process. She also called for improved debriefings between government and its customers, to strengthen trust and eliminate distrust.

This point was emphasized by Ralph White, Esq., of the Government Accountability Office.

As the GAO executive who must sign off on every protest ruling, Mr. White revealed that he believes the majority of protests are not frivolous and are the product of a need for better communication between government and industry. He said GAO considers about 2,500 protests a year, and 43 percent are withdrawn before the 100 day ruling requirement. He said that a lack of communications between government and industry often leads to the protest. Once the customer filing receives more information, the protest is withdrawn nearly half of the time.

Now I obviously have a vested interest in this, since I work for a vendor, and we'd love to talk to customers whenever possible. So keep that under consideration.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Red shirts and health do not mix - or do they?

Years ago, I worked with a very talented co-worker who absolutely hated Star Trek and Star Wars. So naturally, his co-workers started a collection to buy matching Star Trek shirts for him and his young son.

We specified that the Star Trek shirts be red in color.

(Despite this, we actually liked the guy and his son.)

At about this same time, AdRants wrote a post about a healthcare provider called Independent Healthcare. After mentioning that the health company had created a billboard that touted its "Redshirt Treatment," AdRants quoted from the Wikipedia definition for redshirt:

"A redshirt is a stock character, used frequently in science fiction but also in other genres, whose purpose is to die soon after being introduced, thus indicating the dangerous circumstances faced by the main characters. The term comes from the science fiction television series Star Trek, in which security officers wear red shirts and are often killed on missions under the aforementioned circumstances."

While "redshirt" has other meanings in sports and elsewhere, any reference to "redshirt" in a health context is going to conjure a particular image. Take Chris Kim A's recent reshare:

(Extra bonus if you say the words at the bottom like Shatner would say them.)

As with any Internet meme, you immediately wonder if it's outdated, or if it's even true at all. When I saw Chris' reshare, I not only found the 2007 AdRants post, but also found this site.

Yes, Independent Health is still using RedShirts as a service mark.

You’ll always get a response, not the runaround. Count on the RedShirts to get you the answer you need – when you need it. We also give you the tools to help you and your family live a healthier lifestyle. And we help make sure everything with your doctors is seamless.

Yeah - for Doctor McCoy. And we know what McCoy says after a redshirt screams.

"He's dead, Jim."

The cost of away games

U.S. sports leagues like to play the occasional game outside of the United States. These out-of-country games are played in an attempt to provide a worldwide audience for the league in question. For example, the National Football League (where "football" does not refer to a round ball) will play three games in Wembley Stadium in London, England this year, including this weekend's game between the Oakland Raiders and the Miami Dolphins.

However, the extensive travel and the time zone difference aren't the only issues affecting the participants, as Howard Bloom notes.

Oakland and Miami players will be hit with a 45 percent UK tax on their game check for the contest in London. Raiders who live in California will be hit with additional state taxes and lose up to 60 percent.

One shudders to think of what the tax implications would have been if a US team went to the UK in the pre-Thatcher era - the era which prompted George Harrison to pen these words.

Let me tell you how it will be,
There’s one for you, nineteen for me....

Should five per cent appear too small,
Be thankful I don’t take it all.

Howard Bloom speculates that if the NFL ever chose to field a permanent team in London, the players might demand a "tax equalization plan" to recoup income lost to taxation.

Of course, the Raiders, 49ers, and Chargers players might demand something similar because they work in high-tax California.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Eschew obfuscation, the government edition

I am not a member of the Society for Technical Communication, but I read some of its material. The STC recently announced two winners of its 2014 Diane Feldman Technical Editing Undergraduate and Graduate Scholarships.

The winner of the graduate scholarship, Cat McGinnis, has a lofty goal.

She wants to teach government employees to use plain language to foster public participation in policy construction.

Good luck, Cat.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

These fries are NOT extremely salty

The best corporations police themselves, and in some instances, do so publicly. In an article entitled "Do the Math," Philip B. Corbett of the New York Times looked at several examples of errors from his paper. In one case, the Times offered a correction on a Burger King article; the correction stated, in part:

The article also misstated the amount of sodium in Satisfries and regular fries. Satisfries have 300 milligrams of sodium, not 300 grams; regular fries have 480 milligrams, not 480 grams.

While Corbett noted that many of us have an "aversion" to the metric system, he did the math himself.

Four hundred and eighty grams is almost half a kilogram (a kilogram being 1,000 grams). And a kilogram is about 2.2 pounds. So 480 grams would mean about a pound of salt in one order of fries.

Of course, some diners would claim that fries ARE that salty.

For more of Corbett's calculations, read his article.

Still no sign of land - update on my (maybe) Thanksgiving post

I haven't talked about my forthcoming Thanksgiving post since last May. To catch you up, this is a post that I wrote a long time ago, but I have had to delay the publication of the post until Thanksgiving Day 2014.

I'm still waiting for something to occur that assures me that I will be able to publish that post.

And I'm still waiting.

Just in you already have reading plans for May Day 2015? If not, I may have something for you.

On adjacency

If you don't know why Spectrum Brands is called Spectrum Brands, look at its product line.

Spectrum Brands includes Rayovac batteries and Remington shavers, plus garden and pet supply products, door locks and small appliances such as George Foreman grills.

But the company is still acquiring things. One week it announced a deal to acquire Tell Manufacturing (doors, locks, and the like), and this week it announced a deal to acquire European rights to some very famous brands.

...Spectrum Brands Holdings announced Tuesday it has acquired two pet food brands in Europe from Procter & Gamble, expanding its scope in the pet products industry.

The acquisition of the Iams and Eukanuba brands will give Spectrum entry into the $21 billion European dog and cat food market....

This complements the company's previous acquisition of an aquatic pet supply maker, a fact noted by Spectrum CEO/President Dave Lumley in a statement that some marketing intern wrote on his behalf.

This acquisition will expand and further strengthen our United Pet Group's broad companion animal product portfolio and help to achieve our objective for more balance between our two products segments of aquatic and companion animals. We are adding complementary brands in an adjacent category to expand our global pet business.

So even if you're selling everything from George Foreman grills to dog food, apparently it's key to have some adjacent products in your product portfolio.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Most useless business phrases

I'm not sure if Blogger supports polling, but if I could construct a poll, I'd ask you which of these phrases is the most useless business phrase.

1. Have a nice day.
2. We value you as a customer.
3. Your call is very important to us.

Personally, I lean toward number 3, since I only hear this phrase when a company is busy and doesn't want to talk to me.

Friday, September 19, 2014

FIRE is better than DOOM

In a recent article, Lt. Col. Dan Ward compared two Federal implementation approaches and asserted that one right from the start.

Why do weapon programs like the JSF bust their huge budgets and long schedules, while others like the Navy’s Virginia-class submarine program (which won the Packard Excellence in Acquisition Award three times) come in under budget, ahead of schedule, and perform superbly in the field? As Lt. Gen. [Charles] Davis implied, the answer can often be found at the program’s inception, when the foundation is laid and when program leaders decide which path to follow.

The JSF malpractitioners chose to follow what we might call “the path of D.O.O.M.” – Delayed, Over-budget, Over-engineered, Marginally-effective — by establishing a massive bureaucracy, a distant delivery date, an enormous budget, and a highly complex technical architecture. This fostered an expansive culture where rising price tags and receding milestones were seen as inevitable and where the primary problem-solving strategy was to add time, money, and complexity to the project....

FIRE stands for Fast, Inexpensive, Restrained, and Elegant. Unlike the expansive D.O.O.M. culture, FIRE fosters a restrained approach to problem solving. Those who follow this path eschew large price tags and long timelines, instead placing a premium on speed and thrift as the Navy did with those Virginia-class submarines.

More here.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Am I lawning?

Let me start off by saying that I respect Mike Parkinson. I respect Colleen Jolly. I value their company, the 24 Hour Company. (DISCLOSURE: My employer has used the 24 Hour Company's services, and I once won a prize provided by this firm.)

But I've been puzzling over something that I read this morning.

No, not the September 3 entry from Colleen's personal blog.

It's a corporate email that talked about a new course in "solutioning."

The term has apparently been around for a while; the authoritative source Yahoo! Answers referred to the term nine years ago.

(So it's been around for about a decade, if not longer. I am not trendy.)

Despite my adverse reaction, this is an entirely valid use of the English language, as an article entitled What is Verbing? notes.

Quoting Calvin (the cartoon character, not the theologian), Richard Nordquist acknowledges the negative reactions:

Verbing weirds language.

However, verbing is not new.

Psychologist Steven Pinker estimates that up to a fifth of English verbs are derived from nouns--including such ancient verbs as rain, snow, and thunder along with more recent converts like oil, pressure, referee, bottle, debut, audition, highlight, diagnose, critique, email, and mastermind. "In fact," Pinker reminds us, "easy conversion of nouns to verbs has been part of English grammar for centuries; it is one of the processes that make English English" (The Language Instinct, 1994).

So eventually I'll get used to Mike Parkinson's use of "solutioning" - although for a while I'll probably persist in a "get off my lawn" reaction to the term.

And it could be worse - I could be living in Nigeria.

Interstate 79 is NOT devoid of reason

About a year ago, around the time of the Federal government shutdown and the BART strike, I wrote a post entitled "Silicon Valley is Devoid of Reason, the Monday Edition." It quoted from Chamath Palihapitiya, who was convinced that San Francisco and Silicon Valley were the center of the universe and that "the functional value of government is effectively discounted to zero."

Some technologists, however, act like grownups:

As a lot of Washington reporters are fond of pointing out, the smart companies are the ones that learn to engage bureaucrats rather than circumvent them. Whether that's really true is an open question, but the evidence certainly seems to point in that direction. Google has famously become one of the country's biggest corporate lobbyists, yes, but it's funding think tank research, nonprofits and advocacy groups, too. Netflix, sensing a threat to its business in the debate over net neutrality, has proven remarkably active on that issue. And of course, there are companies like Uber, Aereo and Airbnb, which have all staked their future on battling laws that restrict their activities.

This can also be seen in those who are searching for the next Silicon Valley. If you believe Stephen Morris, the next Silicon Valley will be found in...West Virginia.

“I see this whole Clarksburg/Morgantown corridor, Fairmont, to me I have to imagine similar types of things were happening in California in the 1970s as it led up to the advent of the computer and the whole Silicon Valley,” Morris said. “In a lot of ways, private industry and these individuals that have these high technical degrees and stuff, they’re pioneers when they come here.”

Morris is the Assistant Director at the FBI's CJIS Division; among other things, the CJIS Division handles the FBI's huge database of fingerprints, palmprints, facial images, and other biometric data. (DISCLOSURE: My employer provides services for the FBI.) The CJIS Division happens to be headquartered in West Virginia, a state once represented by powerful U.S. Senator Robert Byrd. And because the CJIS Division is in West Virginia, other companies are in West Virginia.

Morgantown’s economic strength is attributed to the presence of the type of employers least vulnerable to business trends: universities, health care centers and government agencies.

Many of those jobs can be found along West Virginia’s High Technology Corridor. This 73-mile stretch along Interstate 79 is home to the world’s largest cluster of biometric and identity security firms....

A native of Harrison County, [Pamela] Alonge graduated from WVU with a bachelor’s degree in software development. Her job search took her to Washington, D.C., nearly 20 years ago.

“At the time, I was not aware of many software development opportunities here,” she said. “Although we visited as often as possible, I missed my family here and the beauty of the state.”

In 2007, she heard that Lockheed Martin Corp. had jobs available providing information technology operations and maintenance services for the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services division in Clarksburg, W.Va.

Meanwhile, people in Silicon Valley are talking about privacy - not to guarantee that the companies themselves won't get into user data, but to try to guarantee that the government won't get into user data.

But they're thousands of miles away from the real action.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Living high off the hog

Another white collar case, this one resulting in an $18 million settlement. This involved executives at a China-US hog farm company.

"Xiong, Jin, Li, and Ouyang inflated revenues by, among other things, booking sales of nonexistent hogs and by manipulating hog weights, and later covered it up by, among other things, reporting that the fake hogs had died," the complaint states.

See my September 4 post.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

On encouraging research

Everyone agrees that research is often required before products can be brought to the marketplace, but there is vast disagreement regarding the way in which research should be encouraged.

Take this company, which has been in the news lately. This company began with a goal of researching a particular twentieth-century problem.

Personal Audio, Inc. was founded in 1996 with a mission of offering personalized audio to listeners over the Internet. The company worked to develop an audio player that could download, store and manipulate audio files to fulfill this mission.

So did this lead to the release of a Personal Audio player? Not exactly.

This system along with related ideas was described in several patent applications filed in October 1996. The Company’s system and patent application pioneered techniques now commonly used today in smartphones, tablets and other devices that store and play audio and video files that work with downloaded playlists, Other pioneering innovations included the uploading and distribution of episodic content such as podcasts and serialized television shows.

The Personal Audio patents issued starting in 1998. In 2009, Personal Audio, LLC was founded to market the innovations described in the patents and Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi L.L.P. was engaged to assert the patents against Apple Inc. and others. The complaint resulted in a jury trial in July 2011 and Apple was found to have infringed U.S. Patent 6,199,076.

Some people do not view Personal Audio's efforts as a good thing. Here's how a TechDirt writer describes the company:

Personal Audio, the patent troll that ridiculously pretended to own a patent on "podcasting"...

Only one problem with TechDirt's "pretended" characterization - the courts don't agree.

Personal Audio LLC sued the [CBS] television network last year, alleging that its patented "system for disseminating media content" in sequenced episodes was infringed upon when CBS started posting podcasts online of television shows like "60 Minutes" and "Face the Nation."...

A jury on Monday rejected claims by the network that Personal Audio's patent claims are invalid.

Now TechDirt and the Electronic Frontier Foundation and others (presumably including CBS) believe that patent law should be modified to prevent abuses by patent trolls. And there have been bills in Congress to reform patents, but none of them has passed. Why not?

Ron Eritano, director of federal affairs for The Normandy Group, a Washington lobbying firm, has been working with a variety of clients for the passage of a patent-troll bill. Eritano said the most outspoken opponents of the bill have been the bio-pharma companies, which hold large patent portfolios and like the laws governing patents the way they are.

"They've utilized the system for a long time, and it's worked very well for them, particularly as it relates to interactions with generic drug makers," said Eritano.

Other industries and companies with large patent portfolios...have lined up against the bill, too. Universities are worried that their research and development efforts could be hindered....

Trial lawyers have come out against the reform, and particularly against fee shifting, which would make it easier to collect legal fees if the target of a patent-troll lawsuit demonstrates there was no patent infringement.

It's not often that you get trial lawyers and universities and large companies on the same side of an issue, but patent reform appears to have done it.

One can ask the question - isn't a large company or university worried that a patent troll will go after them?

Presumably, these institutions believe that they can lawyer up to outlast any patent troll.

So despite the wishes of the self-enthroned Defenders of All Freedom, patents won't change any time soon.

Worldwide business is hard, even if you speak the same language

Because this article mentioned biometrics in the fifth paragraph, one of my co-workers was reading this article from India Today - but had no idea what it was talking about.

The law on chucking has to become more streamlined and forceful. Cricket, somehow, has shown leniency about the matter and as a result, many bowlers with dodgy actions have flourished and many batsmen have been unfairly dismissed. The record books are full of chuckers.

Saeed Ajmal, the most versatile of the contemporary off-spinners, after six years of international cricket and more than 300 wickets, succumbed to a law that was made easy for a bowler's existence - the 15-degree acceptable bend!

Those Indian off-spinners are obviously so inferior to Murican baseball players. Our players bend more than 15 degrees.

But if I am puzzled over that description, imagine how the world reacts to this description:

With the Twins down 1-0 to the Angels, runners on first and second and none out in the ninth today, Justin Morneau hit a little popup to the right of the mound. Angels closer Ernesto Frieri, employing some quick thinking, let the ball drop and turned it into a 1-3-6-3 double play. He followed that up with a walk before striking out Chris Herrmann to end the game.

Which is all well and good for the Angels. But why do we have an infield-fly rule if not for this exact situation?...

Obviously, the umpire’s argument here would be that the ball wasn’t up in the air for long and that Frieri wasn’t camped under it.


Many baseball fans understand that entire passage. In my case, I understand everything except for the specific position numbers (the nine defensive players on the field are assigned numbers to distinguish them when they complete a play). But to most of the world, the whole passage is a jumble. Even if you know that the Twins and Angels are teams and that baseball is a nine-inning game, what is a "popup"? A "mound"? Why was Frieri "closer" to the action? Does a "double play" change the score to 3-0, or 1-2? And why did Frieri decide to go for a walk before pulling a Ray Rice on poor Chris Herrman? Did Frieri's team therefore win by knockout? And why didn't Herrmann strike Frieri out while he was taking that walk? Is that what the infield fly rule is about - you're not allowed to fly at someone while he is walking around the infield?

It is claimed that one of the reasons for the popularity of American football over baseball is that fact that parents no longer explain the game of baseball to their kids. How could they? The kids are too busy at soccer practice.

These examples are not limited to the sports world. Every culture has its own specific terminology, and before a multinational can advance to meet a common objective, people need to understand what the other people are saying.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Money talks - or, how Roger Goodell's future will be decided

For those who think that critical corporate decisions are made based upon theoretical concepts of ethics, the headline to a Bloomberg article succinctly summarizes how the ongoing controversy over Ray Rice will affect the job of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Goodell Has Ownership’s Support as Long as Sponsors Stay

When categorization goes awry (or, your reputation precedes you)

I have previously discussed my preference for following topics rather than following people. There are times when a person may discuss one thing that matches your interests, but you may not be interested in the other things that the person says. Just as an example, let's say that you don't care for the technological discussions that Robert Scoble launches, and therefore decide that you are not going to follow him. If you make that decision, you will miss on his discussions of non-tech topics, such as autism. (When Scoble wrote that post in 2007, he presumably had no idea that it would affect him personally.)

But this issue isn't only limited to choosing which people to follow or not follow.

If you work for a big company, your corporate access to the Internet is probably managed. And the management system may well use the data provided by Microsoft Reputation Services. The purpose of MRS is to categorize websites into one or more categories, which can therefore provide system administrators with the tools required to allow or deny access to these websites. Note that Microsoft Reputation Services itself does not make these decisions; they are made by the company's system administrator. Why? Let's look at one of the categories:

Religion/Ideology : Religion/Ideology Web sites are site which promote, offer, sell, supply, encourage or otherwise advocate religion or ideology.

Now some public corporations may choose to block access to web sites in this category, believing that religious discussion has no place at work.

But what if you work at the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod? Or the Council on American-Islamic Relations? Those organizations clearly wouldn't want to block religious websites; they wouldn't be able to get any work done.

However, this idea of allowing or denying access to an entire site can have its drawbacks, similar to the decision to follow or not follow a person. I'll give you an example. Obviously the employees at my employer have an interest in biometrics, including vein recognition. One day, one of our employees was notified that an article discussing vein recognition was available on the web. The employee went to read the article...but was prevented from doing so.

Why? Because the article happened to be posted at a site called And that site has a particular categorization.

Provocative Attire : Provocative attire Web sites are sites which sell, review, or describe alluring attire but do not involve nudity.

Never mind that the specific article in question had nothing alluring - unless you are a vampire, I guess. Because all of has received the "Provocative Attire" categorization, the non-alluring article also received that designation. As far as MRS is concerned, all of these stories are identical:

As I said in 2009,

For enterprises and enterprise workers to truly mine the information that is out there, we need better ways to do it.

I don't think we're much closer to that goal in 2014.

P.S. Yes, I realize that this is September 11, and that I have broken the Bloggers Code by failing to write something about September 11, 2001 or terrorism or stuff like that. I'm not worried; I've broken the Bloggers Code before.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Ferguson, Ray Rice, and the Societal Cost of Video Monitoring of Everything

[DISCLOSURE: I am employed by a firm that provides facial recognition software. The views are my own.]

Two recent stories are intersecting nicely together.

The first is the issue of police actions against citizens, as discussed in relation to Ferguson, Missouri and other places. As far as we know, no video exists of the exact moment when Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown. Because of this, we do not know exactly what happened during that encounter. Did Brown attack Wilson? Did Wilson shoot a non-threatening Brown? However, as Nick Gillespie noted last month, there is a solution to this issue, at least in terms of police encounters:

[T]here is an obvious way to reduce violent law enforcement confrontations while also building trust in cops: Police should be required to use wearable cameras and record their interactions with citizens. These cameras—various models are already on the market—are small and unobtrusive and include safeguards against subsequent manipulation of any recordings.

Predictably, Gillespie was not alone in his suggestion. There has been a near-universal chorus, including a chorus from some police agencies themselves, to require wearable recording cameras. While many civil libertarians believe that this will reduce police misconduct, they have been silent on the other part of this technological move - the fact that these cameras will also record any illegal activity by people that the police encounter. So while the resulting video can be used to exonerate someone who was illegally harassed by police, it can also be used to convict someone who did something illegal in front of the police.

How are the civil libertarians going to react when mandated police video is used to convict a person? Will they demand that video monitoring by police be suspended, to protect individuals against self-incrimination? Perhaps.

In either case, video is powerful. While there is certain power in someone describing something, there is infinitely more power in showing video or photographic evidence of the same thing. Certainly video evidence can be edited, altered, or otherwise manipulated to show one point of view over another, but the power of video is unquestionable.

Further evidence of this is found in the second story, which resulted in a terse tweet within the last hour or so.

Obviously this entire story can't be contained in 140 characters.

As many of you know, a video surfaced on TMZ a few months ago of Baltimore Ravens football player Ray Rice dragging his then-fiancée (they have since married) out of an elevator. Although the video didn't show it, Rice subsequently admitted that he hit her. While Rice was indicted, he was not convicted of a crime (he entered a diversion program).

Despite his innocence in the eyes of the law, there were calls for the NFL to take action anyway under its personal conduct policy. The NFL did, suspending Rice for a grand total of two games. (Among other things, this was a first offense for Rice, and therefore wasn't necessarily comparable to NFL players who have committed multiple offenses.) After condemnation for the perceived lightness of the offense, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced that the penalty for future offenders would be raised to a six game suspension for a first offense, and an indefinite suspension (also known as a de facto expulsion) for a second offense.

And that's where things stood, until TMZ posted another video - one that showed what went on in the elevator itself.

In a way, the new video didn't tell us anything that we didn't already know. We knew that Rice hit his fiancée. We knew that she was unconscious as a result.

However, the power of video ensured that the revelation of the actual moment when Rice hit her would provoke new outrage. People who were wishing for a six-game suspension yesterday were asking for immediate banishment today. The facts didn't change - our perception did, resulting in outrage.

And that outrage resulted in the Baltimore Ravens doing something that they hadn't done in a previous incident, when another Ray (Ray Lewis) was charged with murder. Heck, the Ravens just erected a statue honoring Lewis.

But they probably won't be erecting a statue to Ray Rice.

Instead, the Ravens released Rice from his contract.

This has meaning outside of Ferguson, Missouri and Atlantic City, New Jersey. As technology continues to pervade every corner of our society, it is likely that more and more of our lives will be documented on video - videos from government agencies, videos from companies, and videos from individuals.

Will that result in future changes in how alleged criminals are perceived - and punished?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

If you provide a financial disincentive, who cares?

So anyways, I've been writing about white collar crime lately. There was my Tuesday post about misdoings in Progreso, Texas, and my more recent post about SDVOSB fraud. In addition, the FBI has discussed another case - this one involving artificial inflation of revenue by some ArthroCare Corporation executives.

All of these resulted (or will result) in convictions.

Jose Vela, mastermind of the Progreso fraud that cost taxpayers, was sentenced to 151 months in prison.

The SDVOSB fraud, which resulted in $23.5 million of fraudulent contracts, could put Ram Hingorani in prison for up to two years.

And finally, the ArthroCare Corporation case, which resulted in losses (including shareholder losses) of $750 million, resulted in a 20 year sentence for former ArthroCare Corporation Chief Executive Officer Michael Baker.

Are these sentences too light? Too harsh? Consider the effects of white collar crime. Sam Antar:

White-collar crime is more brutal than violent crime. The actions of one or a few corrupt public officials and corrupt businessmen can affect the livelihoods of thousands, even millions of people.

But on the other hand, Antar says the following:

Many people mistakenly believe that strong punishment such as long prison sentences is a major deterrent to white-collar crime. Recently, many white collar criminals have received very stiff prison sentences, which I firmly support. At best, it holds those guilty of white-collar crime accountable and responsible for their actions. However, strong punishment does relatively little to prevent white-collar crime. Often, we watch prosecutors pound the podium in front of the cameras and claim that their latest successful case sends a strong message to fraudsters to stop doing crime. However, white-collar criminals don't listen to the rhetoric of prosecutors. No white-collar criminal discovers ethical behavior and stops doing crime because another criminal ends up in prison. While white-collar criminals take precautions against failure, they do not plan on ever ending up in prison.

Well, a white collar conviction will often scare the offender straight, right? Not necessarily:

The criminal career paradigm has become an increasingly important perspective in the study of street crimes, but it has generated little interest among scholars concerned with white-collar criminality. Behind this neglect lies a common assumption about white-collar criminals. Although street criminals are assumed highly likely to recidivate, white-collar offenders are thought to be “one-shot” criminals unlikely to be processed in the justice system after their initial brush with the law....Findings show that white-collar criminals are often repeat offenders.

If you provide a financial incentive, people will try to get it (the paper SDVOSBs)

Have you ever heard of a rewards structure that ended up going haywire?

For example, if you provide incentives to computer programmers to fix software bugs, the programmers will have a financial incentive to create software bugs so that they can fix them.

Well, something similar has happened with SDVOSBs (incidentally, my new favorite acronym). If you're not familiar with this particular acronym, it stands for "Service-Disabled, Veteran-Owned Small Business." The U.S. federal government, like any government, wants to encourage certain behaviors, and as a thank you to former military people who were injured while on duty, the government has created "set-asides" for businesses owned by these people.

Sounds like a wonderful idea - until all of a sudden all of these SDVOSBs start popping up that aren't SDVOSBs.

Rent-a-vet schemes are common. These involve the creation of a shell company, owned and controlled on paper by a qualifying veteran, but in reality run by another individual or firm....

Midwest Contracting Inc. was supposedly created in 2007 by Ronald Waugh, a service-disabled Vietnam veteran and employee of one of [Ram] Hingorani’s other firms.

In reality, Hingorani controlled MCI....

“The investigation revealed MCI was a pass-through and/or front company for Hingorani’s other businesses and that Waugh was simply a figurehead or ‘rent-a-vet’ who was being used for his SDV status,” according to the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of Iowa. The guilty plea was made public Tuesday by the VA inspector general.

Those contracts were valued at $23.5 million. Federal agents previously seized about $3.9 million from 14 separate financial accounts linked to the scheme.

And Hingorani got $23.5 million worth of SDVOSB contracts through the shell company. He was caught, entered a guilty plea, and will receive a sentence of up to two years and possible forfeiture of all profits.

Is a two year sentence enough? That's another question.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

If you want to work for the FBI, get an accounting degree

Having worked in the automated fingerprint identification system industry for a number of years, I have a somewhat skewed perspective of what the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) does. When I think of the FBI, I think about fingerprints and palmprints and mugshots and stuff like that.

Obviously, that isn't all that the FBI does. Everyone knows that FBI agents have guns and cool scientific tools and spend their time running down alleys, chasing terrorists and other criminals.

Well, it turns out that the common view of the FBI is also skewed.

Source: FBI

Take this recent FBI post:

Public corruption arrests and convictions in major metropolitan areas usually garner a great deal of national attention. But big cities don’t have a monopoly on crooked politicians—they can be found anywhere.

Like Progreso, Texas, a small town a few miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border. For almost a decade—from 2004 to 2013—several members of the same family, all Progreso government officials, used their positions to exact bribes and kickbacks from city and school district service providers. Through their illegal activities, they distorted the contract playing field, cheated the very citizens they purported to serve, stole education money from the children whose educations they were supposed to ensure, and lined their own pockets in the process.

Until the FBI got wind of what was going on, that is, and opened a case. Our investigation—which included confidential sources, undercover scenarios, financial record examinations, and witness interviews—collected plenty of evidence of wrongdoing and ultimately led to guilty pleas by the defendants.

Now a lot of this marries up to the popular depiction of the FBI agent. "Casey, you go contact confidential source in Progreso and see what's going on. Mickey, you set up a dummy school supply store and see if the Progreso officials try to bribe you. Reggie, you go talk to that cousin and see if you can persuade him to speak."

But one point doesn't make the cut in your average FBI drama.

"Johnstone, you check the school district invoices and compare them against the physical inventories that were conducted."

Huh? That's not an FBI agent, is it?

Let's go back to another FBI story that I shared back in February, about some California DMV employees who earned some extra money by helping a driving school owner get his clients licenses - no questions (including test questions) asked. That was a $50,000 fraud case - and you know that accountants were needed to look at that.

The FBI has described this aspect of its work:

Accountants have been woven into the fabric of the FBI since its creation in the summer of 1908, when a dozen bank examiners were included among the original force of 34 investigators. Today, around 15 percent of agents employed by the Bureau qualify as special agent accountants.

Non-agent accounting positions at the FBI date back to the early 1970s, when we created a cadre of accounting technicians to help agents working increasingly complex financial cases. During the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s and 1990s, the FBI’s ability to address complex, sophisticated financial investigations was elevated further with the addition of financial analysts to our ranks.

Post-9/11, the criminal landscape changed again with large-scale corporate frauds and a multitude of other complex financial schemes. And once again, we adapted by adding new resources and skills. One key element was the 2009 creation of a standardized, professional investigative support position known as a forensic accountant.

One forensic accountant described the importance of the profession to the FBI's mission:

Almost every investigative matter the Bureau is involved in has a financial nexus—it’s always about money. The forensic accountant can serve as a consultant/advisor to agents on financial and economic matters, assist in interviews—especially those involving financial aspects—and assist in identifying key records for subpoena requests or search warrants.

Whether you're talking about the Mafia or a foreign terrorist group, you can often find the group by looking at the money trail. Don't forget that Al Capone didn't end up in Alcatraz because of a murder conviction - income tax evasion brought him down.

Monday, September 1, 2014

It's Labor Day, Charlie Brown!

I'm going to pull an Ann Landers and recycle some old material.

Actually, I'm going to be worse than Ann Landers and not recycle the old material, but merely link to it.

Whenever you talk about Labor Day, you have to talk about May Day. And I've talked about it (at least) three times.

May 1, 2009:

While the majority of readers of my blogs are from the United States, I do get readers from other parts of the world. And most of those international readers are celebrating May Day today.

But in the United States, most of us aren't.

May 1, 2012:

Each of us is undoubtedly influenced by the environment that we encounter throughout our lives. Which is why I, as an American, have a different attitude on May 1 than the attitude held by much of the world.

Many people throughout the world celebrate May Day in different ways. Some attend military parades. Some dance around poles in post-pagan rituals. Some throw sailor hats into the air – well, at least I call them sailor hats.

I do not do any of these things.

May 1, 2013:

In a sense, it's unfair to compare the attitudes of one generation with the attitudes of another. Just because Thomas Jefferson didn't endorse interracial gay atheist marriage doesn't mean that he's a fascist - especially since fascism didn't exist in the 18th century.

But it is illuminating the compare the attitudes of different generations.

Last year at about this time, I wrote a post in my tymshft blog that explained why those of us in the United States don't join in the worldwide May Day celebrations. As part of that post, I quoted extensively from a page at the Massachusetts AFL-CIO web site. This site explains why one of the AFL-CIO's predecessors, the American Federaion of Labor and its leader Samuel Gompers, opposed May 1 labor celebrations.

This begs the question - if I'm such a true red, white, and blue Murican, then why did I write all of these posts on the Commie May Day? Why didn't I write them on the Murican Labor Day?

So follow the links, read the posts, and pretend that I wrote them on a Monday in September.