Congress to probe how military bases fared during paralyzing winter storms

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.

Ice storm renews Congressional push to make military bases energy independent

In his second term holding the gavel of the House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee, Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) is planning an active year addressing how the military will respond to climate change, continuing oversight of military housing and investigating the military prescription drug supply chain.

In an interview with Federal News Network, Garamendi said one of his first actions this year will be to look into military installations’ response to the ice storm in Texas and surrounding states.

“We are continuing to require that the bases become energy resilient, and in some cases energy independent, that they not depend upon the grid,” he said. “This week’s task is to assess what happened on the bases in Texas. It will be a case study on resiliency and we’ll be reviewing that keeping in mind that we have already written law that the bases need to be paying attention to resiliency.”

Garamendi said he plans on holding a hearing on the issue, but has not yet scheduled it considering the storm cleanup is still ongoing.

Climate change and the resulting extreme weather has become a perennial issue for Defense Department properties.

In 2018, Hurricane Michael completely destroyed Air Force Base Tyndall in Florida. A report sent to Congress by DoD found 53 of 79 critical bases are vulnerable to recurrent flooding and 60 of those installations will face that threat in the next 20 years. Additionally, 43 of the 79 bases are currently susceptible to drought and 48 will be in the next 20 years. Wildfires also pose a threat; 36 bases on the list are currently at risk, while 43 will be over the next two decades.

It’s not only reactive hearings that Garamendi wants to pursue in regard to climate change, though.

The chairman will continue to legislatively push DoD away from fossil fuels during his tenure.

“As the single largest consumer in America of fossil fuels, I wanted the military to pay attention to climate change and to go green,” Garamendi said. “We wrote into the current and previous defense authorization acts requirements that the military undertake initial steps to do that and to recognize the effect of climate change and other natural hazards on the military bases.”

The subcommittee will use the upcoming NDAA to build resiliency into bases by requiring architectural hedges against future disasters.

Garamendi also wants civilian vehicles owned by bases to go the way of Ford and General Motors and move to all electric.

“It may be a small thing, but it is a message not just to the military, but it’s a message to America that we don’t need to consume fossil fuels. There are other options available to us,” he said. — SM


Military housing also on readiness subcommittee’s agenda

Substandard housing, which plagued DoD personnel and came to light in the past two years, falls under the Readiness Subcommittee’s purview.

Privatized military housing and public military housing continue to be inadequate for habitation on some bases. The issue was first brought to light in 2019, when military families told Congress about homes with lead paint, mold, mice and other inadequate living conditions.

Despite pledges from companies and DoD plans to spend an additional $120 million a year on the issue, some families are still not getting the results they need.

“There’s going to be some hand slapping going on here for the contractors,” Garamendi said. “By hand slapping, I do not mean clapping. Quite the opposite. We want the tenant bill of rights done so that there’s clarity as to the responsibility of the privatized housing companies and some of the opportunities and the responsibilities for the tenants.”

Garamendi said the contractors have been holding up some of the provisions of the bill of rights, specifically the ones that have the most teeth.

The missing rights are access to the maintenance history of a house, a process for dispute resolution and the withholding of rent until disputes are resolved.

Garamendi said he wants more government responsibility as well.

“One of the problems we discovered at the outset of this was that the base commanders were not paying attention,” he said. “They said that it had to do with sequestration and money not being available. I disagreed and said, ‘No, the problem is the base commanders simply were not paying attention, they found other things to worry about or to think about.’ Written into the law is a requirement that there be sufficient personnel on every base with a specific responsibility of monitoring the base housing and providing an opportunity for candidates to express their concerns. We’ll want to make sure that that is actually happening.” — SM


Major moves to get DoD acquisition workforce ‘back to basics’

The Defense Department took a big step forward in its plans to overhaul the way it trains and develops its acquisition workforce last week, rolling out a new competency model and certification requirements for its more than 32,000 contracting professionals.

It’s part of a broader initiative the Pentagon calls “Back to Basics,” which the department first announced last September. Fundamentally, the idea is to cut back on the amount of one-size-fits all training that acquisition professionals have to take to get an initial certification in their career field, but supplement it with more specialized “just in time” training that’s relevant to the actual problems they’re working on throughout their careers.

A memo signed last week by John Tenaglia, the department’s principal director for pricing and contracting, lays out how the program will work for the contracting career field, which makes about almost one-fifth of DoD’s total acquisition workforce of 183,000 military and civilian employees. Under the new “streamlined” program, new contracting professionals will only need to take four courses, totaling 200 hours, to get their initial certifications.

The department said the new requirements are based on training developed by the National Contract Management Association, and will replace the three-tiered system that currently requires people to go through up to 650 hours of training.

“The contracting competency model represents a set of competencies that are foundational and common among the contracting workforce, regardless of the organization or mission area, and will form the basis of the contracting training program,” Tenaglia wrote. “In addition to achieving certification in contracting, a workforce member may earn credentials and complete specialty training relevant to the needs of their current job assignment, and will engage in continuous learning throughout their career.”

As part of the overhaul, DoD is absorbing acquisition professionals who’d previously been dubbed “purchasing and property” experts into the contracting workforce. Anyone who’s already earned certification under the contracting or purchasing programs will get to keep it – veteran acquisition professionals won’t have to start from scratch.

DoD plans to reorganize the training pipelines for the rest of its acquisition workforce by the end of October, and there will be other consolidations and simplifications along the same lines.

As of now, there are 14 distinct “functional areas” that are considered part of the acquisition workforce. Under the reimagined structure, there will be just six: Program management, contracting, life cycle logistics, engineering and technical management, test and evaluation, and cost estimating.

In some cases — as with contracting and purchasing — the department is simply consolidating some of the legacy competency definitions into one. But in others, it’s decided there are some skillsets that aren’t really part of the acquisition workforce.

Auditing, for example, will move outside the acquisition workforce training model, and be led by the Defense Contract Audit Institute, the Defense Contract Audit Agency’s training arm. Meanwhile, acquisition attorneys and facilities engineers will move to a more decentralized model where their training is led by the military services they work for.

Once it’s all said and done, the Pentagon said Back to Basics will have been the biggest change to its acquisition workforce since the early 1990s, when DoD first stood up the Defense Acquisition University, formalizing and centralizing its training programs in response to the Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act.

“Our current three-level certification requires extensive training time — most of it early in a professional’s career — to achieve certification. The certification program is highly structured and overly comprehensive, making it inflexible and inefficient. Too often, training is provided to the wrong people, or at the wrong time,” Al Shaffer, then the Pentagon’s number-two acquisition official wrote shortly after the program’s initial announcement. “In this new environment, both individuals and supervisors will have increased responsibility for managing training and development opportunities. This will require greater attention to your personal career goals and growth, while also focusing on the needs of your organization.” —JS


Securing the military’s drug supply chain

Last year, in conjunction with Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), Garamendi added a provision to the NDAA that required DoD to look into how prescription drugs used by service members are manufactured.

The concern was that many generic drugs were coming from Chinese manufacturers and could be tampered with.

In response, DoD and the Department of Health and Human Services awarded a more than $60 million contract to develop a domestic production capability for critical active pharmaceutical ingredients. Another $20 million contract was awarded to develop a domestic production capability for critical active pharmaceutical ingredients.

That’s not the end of the story though. Brig. Gen. Dr. Paul Friedrichs, the Joint Staff surgeon general, said in a hearing last week that DoD is still assessing the issue.

“We looked at the operational medications that we rely on and are deployed assemblages, and identified which ones rely on ingredients from other countries,” Friedrichs said. “We are working with the Food and Drug Administration to obtain ingredients for those where we’ve not been able to identify the source of origin. The next step is to understand fully through the global supply chain, where all of the ingredients come from, and ensure that pharmaceutical companies are able to share that information with us so that we can then identify what risks there is to those medications in our deployable assemblages.” — SM


Influx of ideas comes to 18th Airborne, crowdsourcing ways to combat sexual assault and harassment

Last week the Notebook reported on the Army’s XVIII Airborne Corps crowdsourcing ideas from its soldiers to improve sexual assault and harassment prevention and response. Now the proposals are submitted and seven soldiers will present their visions to a panel for implementation across the corps.

“Originally, only two soldiers with the most impactful concepts were slated to compete,” a release from the corps states. “The volume of viable concepts submitted, however, precipitated the need to expand the number of presenters.”

The ideas — which range from having the best film schools revamp training videos to using virtual reality help soldiers understand what it’s like to be harassed — will be presented Shark Tank-style to leaders within the corps.

“Not only did responses come in from corps soldiers, but they also came in from soldiers assigned to units unaffiliated with the corps,” the release states. “Concepts ranged from policy recommendations to incorporating new technology to bring about positive change within the SHARP program.”

The finalists are:

  • 2nd Lt. Hannah Alderete, assigned to 525th Military Intelligence Brigade, recommended creating compelling SHARP training by asking students at the top three to five U.S. film schools to compete to produce the best content. Alderete drew on her experience as a freshman mentor at Claremont McKenna College in California to develop a program whereby the nation’s top five film schools compete to create a compelling, emotional scenario-based 30-minute video that will replace power point SHARP training.
  • Jillian Collins, assigned to 3rd Infantry Division, recommended more command group involvement in SHARP training, and the implementation of systems that would allow commanders to provide greater support to victims of sexual harassment or sexual assault.
  • Staff Sgt. Shameka Dudley, assigned to 525th Military Intelligence Brigade, recommended creating virtual reality SHARP training during which soldiers would be “virtually” put in the place of individuals who are being sexually harassed so they witness what other soldiers may see or go through daily. Dudley drew on the vast body of research indicating that virtual reality training can build empathy.
  • 1st Lt. Alexandra Elison, assigned to XVIII Airborne Corps, recommended a three-tiered revamp to the current SHARP program that includes giving soldiers the option to report cases to SHARP representatives outside of their units, degrading the opportunity for Soldiers to use SHARP as a manipulation tool, and providing military investigators with more resources.
  • Christopher Higgins, assigned to 101st Airborne Division, recommended the development of a single Army/DoD-wide digital application to host all programs of record, installation services offered, and relevant unit information, which would integrate artificial intelligence and machine learning to augment data.
  • Taylor Knueven, assigned to 101st Airborne Division, recommended molding the SHARP program into something meaningful that encourages peer-on-peer pressure to do the right thing and features transparency by presenting statistics on SHARP-related incidents within units.
  • Col. Scott Stephens, a battalion commander assigned to 3rd Infantry Division, recommended creating “Dragon Guardian,” a program focused on educating and empowering junior leaders and creating “SHARP Ambassadors;” and implementing a formal leader certification process. Stephens is the co-author of the 2020 book “Athena Thriving” on the subject of combatting sexual harassment and discrimination in the Army. His proposal is supported by a deep body of academic and scientific research.

Corps Commanding General Lt. Gen. Erik Kurilla decided to prioritize sexual assault as a crowdsourced challenge after hearing from a handful of soldiers around base who had thought deeply about the issue.

“You have tons of ideas that are often locked down at the lowest level that are trapped by this Army hierarchy of grade rank and experience, and just bureaucracy,” said Capt. Annie Blank, aide-de-camp to the corps’ deputy commanding general said. “If we can flip this paradigm where we can empower and give a voice to all those ideas, but with the backing of the rank of someone like Lt. Gen. Kurilla, we might be actually be able to produce something innovative and implement it at like a wide breadth across a corps.”

A winner will be chosen on Feb. 22. — SM

 

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