Pentagon names new chief data officer

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.

 

New DoD chief data officer will be first to work inside CIO’s office

The Pentagon said Friday it had picked Dave Spirk as its new chief data officer, making him the first person to hold the job since a 2019 law overhauled the department’s data management functions.

Spirk will join the Pentagon from his previous job at U.S. Special Operations Command, where he also served as CDO.

“Effective data management is the central component of the department’s Digital Modernization Strategy,” Dana Deasy, DoD’s chief information officer said in a statement. “Dave brings extensive experience and a thorough understanding of how data empowers joint, all-domain operations. I look forward to working with Dave as we create a strong data culture across the department.”

Spirk is only the second person to hold the title of DoD CDO. The first was Michael Conlin, when the department created the data management position within the office of the Chief Management Officer in 2018.

But as part of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress moved the CDO job to the CIO’s office. Within weeks of its passage, Deasy announced he was launching a job search to hire a new chief data officer and stand up a data management operation within his office.

The same bill also ordered the CIO and CDO to work together on a number of issues, including developing a comprehensive strategy and implementation instructions for moving applications to the cloud and “optimizing” the department’s IT budget and cyber investments.

The NDAA also gave the CDO the responsibility for making the DoD’s data available and usable across the department, and created a legal mandate for DoD components to share their data with the CDO. —JS


House to launch its own investigation into Roosevelt COVID outbreak

The 88-page report the Navy published on Friday detailing its investigation into the coronavirus outbreak on the USS Theodore Roosevelt will evidently not be the final word on the matter.

The House Armed Services Committee, apparently unimpressed with the Navy’s conclusions, will launch its own independent investigation, the committee’s chairman, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said Friday afternoon.

In its detailed review, the Navy found Capt. Brett Crozier, the Roosevelt’s commanding officer, deserved to be relieved because he didn’t do nearly enough to ensure the safety of his crew after the virus began spreading. But Adm. Michael Gilday, the chief of naval operations, said the letter in which Crozier pleaded for help — and which served as the initial basis for his dismissal — should not have been treated as a firing offense in and of itself.

In a statement, Smith suggested the Navy’s investigation did not go far enough to assign accountability beyond the ship’s leadership team.

“Everyone up and down the chain of command had a role to play in the inadequate response — including then-Acting Secretary of the Navy Modly. The department’s civilian leadership portrayed Capt. Crozier’s decision-making aboard the Roosevelt as the critical weakness in the Navy’s response, but the truth is that civilian leadership was also to blame,” he said. “The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over. The Navy and DoD will continue to grapple with the challenges presented by the pandemic for months to come. Civilian leadership at the Department of the Defense is crucial to our national security, and as such they must be held accountable as we move forward.” —JS


More signs of COVID industrial impacts

About half of the Defense Department’s suppliers for space needs say they are moderately hurting or worse from cash flow and workforce issues resulting from the coronavirus epidemic.

Shawn Barnes, acting assistant Air Force secretary for space acquisition and integration, said it’s no surprise considering how impactful the epidemic was.

“About half have adjusted their business strategies for the next couple of years,” Barnes said during an online discussion hosted by the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies. “More than a third have had schedule impacts, over half have seen supply chain workforce impacts, less than a third have seen supply chain materiel impacts.”

The poll surveyed members of the Space Enterprise Consortium — a group of 388 space-focused companies working with the Pentagon. Others polled include nonprofit organizations and research and development centers.

The industrial base problems are an issue for the fledgling Space Force, which is set to continue growing into a full military service over the next few years. —SM


Additive manufacturing

The Office of Naval Research is using some of its tech savvy to provide personnel protection equipment to reduce the risk of coronavirus infection. ONR is working with multiple partners to develop prototypes of 3D printable PPE that can be used with tactical gear. The masks use a filter and form a seal around the nose and mouth. The prototypes will be used at Camp Humphreys in South Korea.

“This is a good test of how we can respond to the needs of the fleet in an emergency,” said Ross Wilhelm, principal technologist for Naval Undersea Warfare Center – Keyport Maintenance Division’s engineering and industrial operations department. “How many masks can we produce and how fast? We hope this serves as a model for Department of Defense commands worldwide.”

South Korea emerged as one of the first hot spots of coronavirus, and the first service member infected with COVID-19 was stationed there. Due to the fast demand for PPE in the area ONR started reaching out and thinking of ways to beef up its supply chain.

“These masks can play a key role in strengthening our medical infrastructure of preparedness,” Wilhelm said. “That way, people won’t be scrambling for supplies at the beginning of another pandemic.” —SM


House legislation aims to elevate DoD’s AI hub

The 2021 NDAA bill House lawmakers will begin marking up this week includes language that Congressional officials say is meant to strengthen DoD’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC).

The provisions are part of the NDAA subpackage scheduled to be voted on today by the House Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on intelligence, emerging threats and capabilities.

For starters, the legislation would move the JAIC’s director up a rung in DoD’s organizational chart: he or she would report directly to the deputy secretary of Defense. Currently, the AI center is part of the DoD CIO’s office.

Secondly, the bill would create a somewhat unique oversight and advisory structure – at least by DoD historical standards. A JAIC “board of directors,” made up of DoD officials and industry AI experts, would be something of a hybrid between a traditional federal advisory committee and an in-house technical panel. It would both conduct long-range studies on the military use and ethics of AI, and help the JAIC write strategic guidance on hardware, supply chain and other technical issues.

“The concept is to marry senior-level DoD decision makers with a perspective from the outside,” said a Congressional aide involved in drafting the legislation. “We’ll have representations of civilian, senior military, as well as non-governmental from academia or private industry. It’s to bring them together to afford the director of the JAIC a resource that they can turn to for longer term strategic level direction and guidance.” —JS


NSA pilot

The National Security Agency’s cybersecurity directorate was stood up late last year, but it’s already working on a pilot that will help defense companies.

Secure DNS is a commercially managed service provider that gives companies a secure domain name system.

Anne Neuberger, head of the cybersecurity directorate, said NSA hoped the program would “jumpstart security, particularly for smaller and medium sized companies that may not have the ability to invest in the resources or the right skilled personnel.”

“Our analysis highlighted that using Secure DNS would reduce the ability for 92% of malware attacks, both from command and control perspective and deploying malware on a given network,” Neuberger said at the Defense One Tech Summit last week.

She said the next steps will be to document and standardize what a secure DNS service looks like, and then allow companies within the defense industrial base to adopt it.  —SM


TRICARE emergency costs

Two senators want to give TRICARE beneficiaries monetary relief during crises like the coronavirus pandemic. Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Nev.) introduced a proposal that would eliminate prescription drug co-payments during a national or public health emergency. The proposal would help beneficiaries who are unable to get to a military treatment facility, where prescriptions can be filled for free.

Drug co-payments increased this year by a range of $3 to $7 depending on the drug and method of delivery. Tricare co-pays range from $10 to $60 if it’s a generic drug versus a brand-name formulary drug.

“In the wake of a widespread disaster like a hurricane or global pandemic, our military service members, veterans, and their families should not have to worry about how they will continue to afford lifesaving treatments,” Wicker said in a statement. “The TRICARE Prescription Relief Act would give our defense leaders the flexibility they need to waive cost-sharing requirements for TRICARE beneficiaries through the duration of a crisis.”

The bill comes at a time when many groups are calling for decreased defense spending after the United States funded unprecedented stimulus bills to reinvigorate the economy as the coronavirus pandemic continues.   —SM

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