House NDAA presses DoD to get serious about sustainment costs

In both chambers of Congress, next year's NDAA tells DoD it's time to devote more energy toward understanding not just the cost of buying weapons, but the long-...

The DoD Reporter’s Notebook is a weekly summary of personnel, acquisition, technology and management stories that may have fallen below your radar during the past week, but are nonetheless important. It’s compiled and published each Monday by Federal News Network DoD reporters Jared Serbu and Scott Maucione.

House Defense bill demands a ‘framework’ to address sustainment spending

The Defense Department may be about to get an extra push from Congress to focus more attention on the part of the acquisition process where it spends most of its money: Sustaining weapon systems over the long-term after they’ve been bought or built.

A draft version of the National Defense Authorization Act the House Armed Services Committee will begin debating this week includes a provision requiring DoD to develop a strategic framework for sustaining its weapons systems. That document would need to incorporate considerations about the core logistics functions needed to keep each system operating over time, including the industrial base needed to support them.

The provision, now included in what’s known as the “chairman’s mark,” was first advanced by Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the committee’s ranking member.

“We spend more money to sustain a program than buying it to begin with,” he told reporters in April, when the legislation was first introduced. “In previous NDAAs, we’ve said that you have to have a sustainment strategy before you buy something. What we did not do, however, was require a sustainment strategy across systems.”

Separately, the House NDAA would require each of the military departments to appoint a full-time deputy assistant secretary focused exclusively on sustainment issues. The Navy did just that last September, and the Air Force has a similar position: The deputy assistant secretary for logistics and product support.

Meanwhile, the Senate version of the bill aims to increase transparency around DoD’s sustainment plans. It would require the department to publish data about operating and support costs for its most expensive systems on a public website. —JS

DoD says it’s learned IT lessons from COVID-19; Senate wants proof

Military leaders say the requirement to suddenly transition the overwhelming majority of the DoD workforce to telework produced a lot of lessons on IT modernization. Now, the Senate wants the department to institutionalize those lessons.

The Senate’s version of the 2021 NDAA, which lawmakers are continuing to debate on the Senate floor this week, would order DoD to update its digital modernization strategy to reflect the work DoD needs to do to make its IT services more resilient to an unexpected event like COVID-19.

“The committee believes that the Department of Defense’s need to work remotely as part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic exposed a decade or more of underinvestment in critical enterprise-wide information technology infrastructure, to include end user devices, network capacity and stability, cloud services, and classified capabilities,” members of the Senate Armed Services Committee wrote in a report accompanying the bill.

Lawmakers acknowledged the department acted unusually quickly to upgrade its networks and contract for new services like the new Commercial Virtual Remote platform to support a massive increase in telework.

“However, the committee is concerned about significant degradation of certain functions — especially those requiring access to classified information — that have not been fully mitigated,” they wrote. “Furthermore, the committee believes that, in order to sustain improvements in capacity and resiliency, the department needs to reexamine its requirements.”

Besides ordering an update to the modernization strategy, the bill orders the department to draft a report on the actions it plans to take to make its networks more resilient over the long term, and how much it will cost to do so. That funding estimate would be due at the time DoD submits its IT budget request for 2022. —JS

Space National Guard temporarily on ice

After more than a year of Defense Department support for a Space National Guard, the Senate Armed Services Committee is easing into the idea like an old man into a cold pool. The Senate version of the 2021 NDAA says the Guard component may not be established until the defense secretary certifies in writing to the congressional defense committees that a Space National Guard is “the organization best suited to discharge in an effective and efficient manner the missions intended to be assigned to it.”

Part of that certification comes from the results of a study the Air Force owes to Congress on the matter. The study is supposed to explain exactly what missions the Guard will conduct. That should prove for interesting reading considering the Guard is based within individual states and space, well, doesn’t have any political jurisdictions. So what does a space mission look like for an individual state and when does it call on its Space Guard component? Experts say situations like using satellites to pinpoint wildfires may be a good explanation of what a state space mission would look like. —SM

House demands documents from Lockheed as part of new probe on F-35 parts

Leaders of the House Oversight Committee have requested a bevy of documents from Lockheed Martin as part of a Congressional investigation into spare parts irregularities in the military’s most expensive weapons program.

At issue are allegations that Lockheed routinely supplies military bases with F-35 parts that don’t comply with its contract requirements because they aren’t accurately accounted for in the program’s electronic equipment logs (EELs).

According to the committee, that’s not just a mundane recordkeeping problem — it’s forced DoD to spend more than $300 million in workarounds to resolve the discrepancies, partly because if a part is installed without accurate EEL data, it triggers warnings in the F-35’s Automated Logistics Information System (ALIS) that need to be resolved before the plane is deemed safe for flight.

House Oversight officials say the concerns arose from GAO and DoD inspector general findings, as well as committee staff’s own site visits to various bases. At one, Luke Air Force Base, near Phoenix, Arizona, commanders reported 60% of the parts they received had “EEL issues” and that the time spent dealing with those was a “massive manpower suck.”

“During the committee staff delegations, military leaders expressed concerns that deficiencies with EELs will grow and become even more challenging to address as the F-35 fleet grows,” the committee wrote in its letter to James Taiclet, Lockheed’s president and CEO. “The risks incurred from faulty electronic records and spare parts may compound as more F-35 squadrons deploy on combat mission.”

According to GAO, the main risk with faulty EELs is that pilots and maintainers will get so accustomed to the false warnings they produce in the ALIS system that operators will eventually distrust ALIS altogether — even when it’s flagging issues that could be genuine flight safety concerns. It’s also much easier to overlook real problems with spare parts and maintenance when DoD personnel are using manual workarounds like Excel spreadsheets to track the status of parts, military officials told the watchdog.

The oversight committee’s letter, initially sent on June 18, gives Lockheed until June 30 to turn over records related to the EELs. —JS

Putting ‘nitrous’ on recruiting

The Army is conducting a national hiring “day,” which will run from June 30 to July 2. During that time the service is asking everyone in the Army, associated with the Army or formerly in the Army to bring awareness to the service’s need for recruits.

“What we’re asking people to do on Army national hiring days is you to take that recruiting engine, which sits there and operates at 350 horsepower and does some great burnouts — we’re going to put a 10 pound nitrous kit on it for three days across the Army and our veterans,” Maj. Gen. Frank Muth, the commander of Army Recruiting Command said.

The Army hopes to get 10,000 people to sign up. That doesn’t necessary translate into contracts, but it will give the Army leads on who is interested. The Army is also offering a special $2,000 bonus if recruits sign a contract during the three-day event. —SM

DoD clarifying policies on CBD use

The Defense Department is making moves that will make it a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice to use CBD products under almost all circumstances unless they have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

A memo signed by Defense Undersecretary for Personnel and Readiness Matt Donovan made the rounds last week warning service members that CBD can still legally hold small amounts of THC — the active ingredient in cannabis — and therefore should not be used.

CBD was legalized in the United States by the 2018 Agriculture Improvement Act.

“Service members cannot rely on the packaging and labeling of hemp products regarding whether the amount of THC contained in the product could cause a positive urinalysis result,” Donovan wrote in the memo.

The policy establishes that effective March 1, the military will make the used of CBD a punishable offense regardless of the THC concentration.

“I find that protecting the integrity of the drug testing program requires the prohibition of the use of all hemp products, subject to the exclusions set out in this memorandum, even though such a prohibition will, in some instances, extend to products the normal use of which could not cause a positive urinalysis result,” Donovan wrote.

Proponents of CBD say it’s a safer option to treat pain, anxiety and other ailments compared to prescription drugs with harsher mental and physical side effects. —SM

A dubious jump in housing satisfaction

The Army saw a tiny increase in its overall satisfaction in privatized housing. Approval of privatized housing stepped up to a score of 75.1 out of 100 for fall 2019. That’s a 0.5 bump in score. The increase comes as the Army and the other military services are still dealing with reports of mice, mold, lead paint and other substandard living conditions reported in privatized housing.

The overall score doesn’t exactly reflect an across-the-board change. Of the 43 installations with privatized housing 26 saw and increased score and 17 saw a downward trajectory. About 61% of soldiers and their families said they were satisfied with their privatized housing community and 26% were dissatisfied.

The results should be taken with a grain of salt, however. The Government Accountability Office reported in the past that the way the Defense Department and military services collect satisfaction data is inconsistent and limits their ability to assess whether residents would recommend privatized housing. —SM

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