Robert Novotny (Brigadier General, USAF, Retired) is a Federal Expert on the OnFrontiers platform providing in-depth consultations and advisory services to some of the most competitive federal contracting firms bidding to provide the United States Air Force with the communications equipment, defense, and warfare machinery they require.
Robert has a 28-year distinguished career in the United States Air Force, achieving numerous high-level positions covering operations and logistics, operational test and emerging technologies, and development and acquisition. Robert currently holds a Top Secret Security Clearance of Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI). OnFrontiers recently connected with Robert to learn more about his career and experience working with prime and sub-contractors and thoughts on the future of government contracting.
Can you tell us about your experience working in the US Defense?
I have been fortunate to have three decades in the United States Air Force. I recently retired as Brigadier General–a command pilot with more than 2,800 flight hours in 12 different aircrafts, primarily in the F-15C/D/E, and more than 540 combat hours. Most of my background has been in test evaluation and advanced programs. I started working on programatics early in my career; addressing questions like How do we pay for this? and working to build 5-10 year contracts to acquire the necessary systems for the military to achieve success. What may be unique about my experience compared to others is that I have worked and been impacted by government contracting across planning and fulfillment and testing and evaluation. I have experience flying the very aircrafts I was once responsible for purchasing.
When I became a Colonel, I lead a large diverse workforce that worked across space, stealth fighters, bombers, and weapons, where I had to manage and evaluate activities for all programming. Finally, I had the opportunity to join the Air Combat and Command Staff as Deputy Director for Plans, Programs, Requirements, where I worked with all the major contractors to ensure they fully understood and zeroed in on the Air Force’s major requirements.
What differentiates larger contractors from smaller ones?
The larger companies (i.e., Lockheed Martin) have more access to specialized personnel, many of who are either vets with experience in the military, or who have experience in the acquisition space. As a result, they bring a significant amount of intelligence, which translates to asking and responding to highly targeted needs, problems, and opportunities. Smaller companies certainly operate with greater agility and hunger for success. A lot of times, smaller enterprises that do their due diligence turn out to be the innovators the US Defense is seeking. But to win federal agencies over, smaller enterprises must maintain and leverage their nimbleness, take the time to identify the knowledge they do not have and connect with experts who can fill those knowledge gaps to demonstrate competitiveness and high value. This is where OnFrontiers becomes a major asset and facilitator in disrupting the status quo.
What major developments have occurred in the US Defense Industry over the last five years?
There has been a big shift towards expediting the acquisition process and getting products to market. The acquisition process has long been governed by federal acquisition regulations written by Congress. Many of them date back to a time when it would take 5-10 years to build a Battleship that would then be used for the next 30 years. This is no longer the reality of the industry. The pace of micro-electronic development, agile software development, and globalized competition have contributed to the need for speed, and evolved the nature of contracting; contracts need to be more agile and less encumbering to enable federal agencies to pivot when change is needed and utilize new technologies when it is required.
How has COVID-19 impacted the Defense Industry, and what big changes do you foresee for this space?
In the industry, we say “Captains talk tactics and Generals talk logistics.” COVID-19 has really affected logistics. Everyone I am aware of in the United States is still suffering from supply chain disruptions. With U.S. suppliers scattered across different states, and each state having its own varying responses to the pandemic, it’s been a big challenge to adapt. When adding international suppliers in the mix, logistics surrounding manufacturing and delivery grew more complex.
Companies that were mature in their thinking and forecasting, like having diverse and multiple suppliers and a domestic procurement strategy, have experienced more stability. Companies that did not do that level of planning or contingency strategies in place simply don’t exist today.
What advice do you have for contractors seeking to learn more and do more to support US Defense?
The government is attracted to companies that are learning, open for constructive feedback, and progressive. So, companies should keep that top of mind and find ways to create leverage.
During my time as a Brigadier General, a prime contractor would come on-site for a presentation and have 10 things they would want to address – highlighting existing products while drawing visibility to their research and development activities. From my purview, that was a strategic way for them to get direct client feedback to shape their research and product development. When the time came to respond to an RFP, they had trusted relationships and a lot of intelligence to put towards their bid.
What has your experience been like with OnFrontiers? What has the OnFrontiers platform and service help you do better?
OnFrontiers is incredibly easy to use. It’s quick, simple, and straightforward. As a consultant, I appreciate the expediency in knowing whether or not I have landed a new opportunity. And when it comes to speed, OnFrontiers is fast in making payments, which is a major attraction for experts like myself that run small consultancies. OnFrontiers also supports advertising our expertise. The team reacts quickly to customer requests and offers us up if we meet customer requirements and have the expertise and relationships to deliver high value. It’s been a lot of fun so far and I am looking forward to more engagements down the road.
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