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Few task orders are worth nearly a billion dollars. But Defense Department central command just sent a big one to Peraton. CENTCOM wants help with a variety of information and intelligence challenges. To learn more about the contract, Shawn Chenoweth, Technical Manager of Peraton’s program, spoke with Federal Drive with Tom Temin.
Tom Temin: I think it would be beneficial to tell people who exactly Peraton is. It’s not yet a household word at the business level, but you’re not a small business start-up either.
Shawn Chenoweth: In fact, what Peraton is, especially in the last year or so, they absorbed it, started as a smaller entity in the history of Harris and other organizations, but they absorbed Northrop Grumman. [federal IT and mission support business], of which I was originally a member in the service industry, effectively doubling the size of Peraton and more. And then right after that, we also acquired Perspecta. So we’ve effectively doubled in size in three months every month, haven’t we? So quite significant.
Tom Temin: And Perspecta, another name that hasn’t really had a chance to catch on, which was part of the old HP I believe? Okay, you need a genealogical chart to figure it all out. But the most important is this contract. And what does CENTCOM ask you to do specifically?
Shawn Chenoweth: Basically, while we’ve built the modern Peraton, right, and it’s structurally focused on what we do, it’s part of the Critical Nexus to protect the American people or American interests, our mission partners support directly these important missions, activities like OPIAS and others that the entrepreneur talks about in particular, it is really designed to achieve operational and strategic advantages mainly in the information environment.
Tom Temin: And you mentioned OPIAS – does that mean something?
Shawn Chenoweth: It does: Operational, planning, implementation and evaluation support.
Tom Temin: Okay, well, a lot of those words don’t say exactly what you’re going to do, i.e., is this a software development contract? Are these professional services? Will you be in line with the employees there with the CENTCOM employees? And how does it work here?
Shawn Chenoweth: So there are three activities that I like like a bucket and what we’re going to do. One would be insight, the other influence. And the last would be expertise. How I sort of break them down, in terms of insight, what we’re really doing is providing a characterization of the information environment, right? How people behave, how they ingest information, how they use it in their cognitive faculties to then make decisions that affect the physical environment. And what’s really important to know about this particular vehicle and the efforts that we’ve put in in our previous incarnations, and now as part of Peraton, is that we’ve been doing this work for a long time. And that’s not just for CENTCOM – CENTCOM is the super user, but we actually support a variety of other government agencies and other fighter commands, Unified Commands, their components, the State Department – so anyone government that seeks support in these activities have insight, influence and expertise. We have been doing this for over five years and will continue to do so through OPIAS.
Tom Temin: And under insight, you look at how people use information, that is, how federal employees interact with sources of information.
Shawn Chenoweth: It’s really focused on foreign audiences, isn’t it? So not internal to the United States, but external, okay? So what we’re really looking at is how different areas that have various cultural nuances, their barriers to change, the things they do that we can do to understand how to influence them to make certain decisions that are favorable to them, more often than not, and, of course, US interests in strategic goals. The world is full of these ideological challenges. And so for the insight part, it’s sort of characterizing these different regions, these different activities, how these target audiences operate from a macro level to a micro level. And then of course, on the influence side, how to send them an appropriate message on a large scale in order to get them to make behavior changes favorable to the American results, but also, often for themselves too. And then, of course, on the expertise side, that’s where we provide the various planners that we have: the staff, the social scientists, etc., who help to enable these activities in the background.
Tom Temin: And which countries does it tend to focus on? I can’t imagine France and Great Britain?
Shawn Chenoweth: It depends on the customer, right? So their interests which are fairly well known, if you read any of their various activities and statements, you can sort of guess, by Fighter Commands or the State Department, what might be of particular interest to them and level of effort that they are made, but fundamentally, on a global scale – we operate on a global scale.
Tom Temin: We speak with Shawn Chenoweth, he is the technical manager of the program at Peraton. So for example, assuming we have some level of engagement going forward with Afghanistan, the way federal agencies, whether it be State Department or possibly USAID or whatever else sending messages and information to people under Taliban control or to Afghans is different than how they would tailor messages and communication to people in Iraq, or to people in Saudi Arabia, or elsewhere.
Shawn Chenoweth: Now I’ve been doing this for over 20 years, really. And we can do things today that were unheard of barely 10 years ago due to the advent of mobile technology, social media, the way people are connected, how they behave, how they behave. identify, what interests them. So you can really get very nuanced about the target audiences you are portraying in a message, at what scale, how you should tailor those messages to them – not just the messages themselves but the delivery mechanism. How you want to build a brand, manage a brand, build communities, gain public access. And all of this requires, again, the experts who can make the policy and the programs, the understanding from which you actually make those plans, and then of course, your ability to exert influence, manage communities and have these impacts.
Tom Temin: And how do you know what a population needs to be effective in terms of communicating with it? How do you find out?
Shawn Chenoweth: You use your pretty standard marketing techniques, don’t you? How do they behave on their normal profiles, their portfolios, the things they access, what they spend their money on, opinion polls, in-depth interviews – we’ll take the gamble. The most effective tools like a good energy policy, isn’t it, that’s more than anything, even with messaging.
Tom Temin: So in other words, to get that information, it has to be a country, at least in which you have some freedom to operate to talk to people in depth. For example, you couldn’t do these activities in North Korea.
Shawn Chenoweth: Well, what’s interesting in particular about what we’re doing in the information environment, and it’s absolutely convincing of how the world is currently aligned and functioning, is, regarding the pure capacity, the United States we talked about – when your near-peer competitors, especially China and Russia, and although this is true they are a close competitor to peers, we still have huge capacity and we let’s jump on them in general, for the most part, right? We often speak in terms of control when we speak and that kind of language, don’t we? Control aerospace, control the sea control the land, when it comes to the information environment, there is no control. It’s a binary choice, are you going to participate in a level that matters or not? So, you know, would I say there’s a place we’re really turned down? No, there isn’t because people will always communicate, communications cross borders, it’s not limited to satellite TV or the internet, it’s face to face communication. That’s how the word got around, and there’s no way to silence it. So this is really, what are you going to do to be influential? If you choose to do nothing, the target audience will make their own decisions and keep going and won’t be able to be surprised when the outcome could be negative.
Tom Temin: So, as part of this task order, Peraton experts are available to various agencies, including CENTCOM, but some of the others you mentioned, to develop better communication products and strategies for everything. what they need to say to the outside world. Is that a good way to sum it up?
Shawn Chenoweth: Absolutely, yeah. To accomplish behavior change, right? Attitude is a bad indicator of behavior. You can still be a bad person and decide not to hurt others.
Tom Temin: Well that’s also true. And by the way, under what contract was this work order, where do they find you?
Shawn Chenoweth: The contract is OPIAS as we talked about – it is under GSA.
Tom Temin: Understood. So this is on the GSA program, or is OPIAS a GSA operated vehicle?
Task order inside the GSA on the OASIS contract vehicle.
Tom Temin: OASIS – OK that’s what I was trying to come up with, curious. Okay, but the task order manager, then, I guess the best way to put it is CENTCOM.
Shawn Chenoweth: Alright, yes, absolutely. The GSA manages the contract. Really, it’s an agreement between us and GSA as the principal, and then the various clients access, obviously through agreements with GSA, which is why again, we serve the entire US government which s ‘interested in it. CENTCOM is of course the super user.