Navy Yard whistleblowers warned of security gaps

“Inside the DoD Reporter’s Notebook” is a biweekly feature focused on news about the Defense Department and defense community, as gathered by Federal News Radio DoD Reporter Jared Serbu.

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Whistleblowers warned of security gaps prior to Navy Yard shooting

By way of three exhaustive internal and external investigations, it’s already been well documented that the Washington Navy Yard had serious physical and other security weaknesses prior to the mass shooting there in Sept. 2013. But a newly disclosed report makes clear that security managers on the base had tried to point out at least some of the deficiencies well in advance of the shootings.

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The findings are part of a Naval Inspector General investigation launched just days after the shooting in response to earlier whistleblower complaints to the Office of Special Counsel. The whistleblowers —Sparky Edwards and Vernon Londagin — were the command security manager (CSM) and deputy CSM for the Navy’s office of Strategic Systems Programs, the organization in charge of acquiring and securing all of Navy’s nuclear weapons.

Most of their complaints had to do with specific security problems at SSP, whose headquarters is at the Navy Yard. But some related to weaknesses in the overall base’s security perimeter, including the allegation that contracted gate guards were letting anyone with a valid driver’s license drive onto the installation without any further screening, instead of requiring military ID. Edwards and Longadin said they complained to Navy Yard security officials that the practice was unsafe and complicated their efforts to build a “layered defense” for SSP, but were told that the policy was necessary so that visitors could easily access a credit union and historical museum on Navy Yard property.

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Too many military personnel performing civilian jobs?

The fight about whether a civilian or contractor should fill a particular government job is a long-running one that probably will never die. But in a new report, the Congressional Budget Office raises a question that’s not asked quite as often: do we have too many uniformed military personnel performing office work?

CBO seems to think so. The office estimated that DoD has 340,000 military members assigned to “commercial” or support jobs. Converting just 80,000 of those into civilian positions would trim DoD’s personnel costs by anywhere between $3.1 billion and $5.7 billion per year, analysts concluded.

CBO is almost universally respected as fiercely nonpartisan for its expertise on fiscal matters — not necessarily for achieving the most effective personnel policies. But it definitely has a point when it concludes that military personnel are a lot more expensive to employ in the types positions where a civilian could do the work. Counting veterans benefits, health care, pensions, education and ancillary benefits like commissaries, the average military member costs the federal budget $135,000 per year compared to $96,000 for the average civilian. Also, a smaller number of civilians could replace existing military members in non-combat jobs.

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Small business advocates wary about impact of new DoD cyber rules

The Defense Department has an understandable preoccupation with the cybersecurity practices of its vendors, especially since a preponderance of the successful cyber thefts of Defense information involve private IT systems, not government ones.

But small business advocates inside the department are concerned about a new set of requirements DoD imposed on a huge number of IT contractors beginning in October.

The office of Defense Procurement and Acquisition Policy (DPAP) issued a class deviation — an emergency workaround to the usual process of writing acquisition rules — ordering all of DoD’s contracting officers to insert new language into their contracts requiring, among other things, multifactor authentication on any contractor-owned system that houses unclassified but “controlled” Defense information and quick notification to DoD when any of those systems appear to have been breached.

“We’re hearing from a lot of our people out in the field saying, ‘Hey, this is going to be a huge impact to our small contractors,’” Carol White, the Air Force’s deputy director for small business programs said during a panel I moderated last week at AFCEA NoVA’s annual Air Force IT day. “It’s mostly anecdotal at this point, and we need to hear more from our small business contractors, but this is potentially going to drive up their costs.”

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