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.
When it comes to getting to commercial cloud computing capabilities to users in overseas and tactical environments, the Defense Department still thinks the cloud needs to be managed as a central enterprise. But its latest vision involves many different commercial clouds working in tandem, even at the tactical edge.
Those are some of the messages in the DoD chief information officer’s newly-published OCONUS (outside the continental United States) cloud strategy. The first-of-its-kind document updates the department’s 2019 cloud strategy, a broader document that took a more global view toward cloud, to acknowledge some of the unique problems overseas users face.
Previously, the department’s IT leadership has seen its controversial JEDI Cloud project as central to enabling cloud connectivity at the tactical edge: The 2019 strategy said the use of other “fit-for-purpose” clouds would only be allowed by exception.
In marked contrast, the new OCONUS-specific strategy makes no mention of JEDI, or even of a single enterprise cloud. Instead, it envisions service members needing to “traverse” several different future cloud environments to get access to the data they need.
“A warfighter carrying out a mission requires persistent access to information hosted by various cloud providers, in different environments, and at multiple classification levels,” the new strategy reads. “This information ecosystem must include data to and from various tactical devices and mission partner environments that enable information sharing with coalition partners. Mission owner and warfighter access to information must not be tethered to a specific cloud solution or data center. They must be available regardless of geographical location or coalition partnership.”
However, that doesn’t mean the DoD CIO is eager to see the military services and combatant commands develop their own siloed cloud solutions. The new strategy also places a premium on centralized governance and management over whatever future clouds end up serving OCONUS users, partly to make sure new cloud services get approved as quickly as possible.
“This is particularly relevant for security accreditation and parity of cloud services between the enterprise and OCONUS,” the strategy’s authors wrote. “Data needs to be processed close to its source and staged as close to the warfighter as possible to enable data-driven decisions … users must have access to deployable cloud computing, high performance computing, and edge computing capabilities as they become available. This includes innovative cloud services that enable agile software development, robust collaboration, and powerful analytics such as Al/ML. Individually approving and implementing these capabilities at the point of need results in duplicative efforts and sub-optimal use of capacity.”
The 10-page document covers a range of goals the department thinks it will need to achieve before it can deliver effective cloud services to the field, ranging from bandwidth upgrades to new approaches to training, developing and assigning members of a cloud-savvy workforce.
But a central theme is the CIO office’s observation that, as of now, OCONUS users don’t generally have access to the sorts of innovations and enterprise capabilities the department has made progress in developing for its U.S.-based workforce.
“Delivering cloud innovation to the tactical edge requires modernization within all layers of the infrastructure. This modernization must meet the needs of a range of user-profiles in theater, from the warfighter operating outside the wire to the mission planner or IT administrator operating within an established base perimeter or U.S.-led humanitarian efforts,” the authors wrote.
Among the objectives is to give overseas IT developers and customers access to the sorts of DevSecOps and continuous delivery capabilities DoD has advanced state-side through projects like the Air Force’s CloudOne and PlatformOne.
And DoD plans to add some specifics along those particular lines with a new software modernization strategy. That forthcoming document is also meant to serve as an update to the department’s 2019 cloud strategy, said Danielle Metz, the deputy DoD CIO for information enterprise.
“It is a wholesale look at the technical enablers and the business processes we need to be able to transform everything — to optimize us for speed and get quality capability into the hands of the warfighter at the speed of relevance,” Metz said in an interview with Federal News Network. “A lot of our current processes — hold us back from that, and we know that. So working in partnership with the military services and other DoD components, we are taking a wholesale look on how we can optimize each of these processes to be able to deliver capability.”
The role of the JEDI contract — a cloud procurement DoD had once valued at up to $10 billion — remains ambiguous in the department’s current cloud plans. That’s perhaps to be expected, since the award to Microsoft has been stuck in litigation for the past year-and-a-half.
Earlier, the department had signaled it might walk away from the JEDI procurement entirely if a federal judge did not dismiss a part of Amazon Web Services’ lawsuit that alleged improper political influence on the procurement. But the court declined to order that proposed dismissal last month, keeping AWS’ lawsuit intact, and DoD has decided to proceed with the litigation anyway.
On Friday, Amazon submitted its latest request for additional evidence in the case. Those documents were filed with the Court of Federal Claims under seal, so it is not yet clear whether the company is still seeking the litigation-prolonging steps the department had been most concerned about, including it previously-sought court-ordered depositions of former president Donald Trump and other government officials. —JS
Starting in mid-July, military service members will have the option to file claims against the Defense Department for medical malpractice.
The new policy, which was required in the 2020 defense authorization act, gives new recourse to service members who feel their medical cases were mishandled by military professionals.
The policy does not, however, take the traditional route of suing for compensation. Instead, the claims will be handled by DoD through an administrative procedure where service members can request funds. The law, which is subject to various prerequisites and limitations authorizes DoD to “allow, settle, and pay a claim against the United States for personal injury or death incident to the service of a member of the uniformed services that was caused by the medical malpractice of a DoD health care provider.”
At last known count in February, 227 troops filed malpractice claims that could equal a payout of $2.2 billion. They have yet to be reviewed by the Pentagon.
The policy states that substantiated claims under $100,000 will be paid directly to a service member of their estate.
“The Treasury Department will review and pay claims that the secretary of defense values at more than $100,000. Service members must present a claim that is received by DoD within two years after the claim accrues,” the Federal Register interim final rule posting on the issue states.
The policy makes it clear that the new process is separate from the Military Health System Healthcare Resolutions Program. That entity is an independent, confidential system that “promotes full disclosure of factual clinical information involving adverse events and outcomes, and mediation of clinical conflicts. The program is part of the Military Health System’s commitment to transparency, which also includes a patient’s right to be heard as part of any quality assurance review,” the posting states.
The law, which took DoD a year and a half to actually put into effect, scoots around the Feres doctrine — a Supreme Court decision that active duty personnel may not sue the government for personal injuries suffered while on service
Instead of going through the process of judicial review, DoD decides who gets payouts. While there is an appeals process, there is no recourse for troops who want to take their malpractice claims through a court process. — SM
The Defense Department is making overtures to Congress to allow the individual military services to keep their own medical research wings.
In a list of legislative proposals for the 2022 defense authorization bill, the Pentagon is requesting that Congress repeal the requirement that the Defense Health Agency establish a subordinate entity called Defense Health Agency Research to absorb Army Medical Research and Materiel Command and other medical research organizations.
“This proposal is necessary to ensure that the secretaries of the military departments are capable of continued performance of those functions that are in direct support of operating forces to execute the U.S. national security and defense strategies,” DoD officials wrote in the proposal. “It is essential to military readiness that these programs are synchronized and integrated with other warfighting functions to ensure that proper combat casualty care and military medical readiness supports the Army’s lethality in a timely and efficient manner”
In other words, the Pentagon thinks the services will be better able to direct research to cater to their needs than DHA.
Mark Esper said as much when he was holding the position of Army secretary in 2018.
“My concern with that provision is it might not enable us to do what we need to do with readiness on the battlefield and training,” Esper said. “My preference would be to keep that, the medical research, because I want to be thinking about what I need on the future battlefield. It’s a readiness issue for me.
In 2020, then-Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy wrote a memo stating the same thing.
“Moving Army Medical Research and Materiel Command from Army management to agency management will specifically produce inefficiencies for the Army that are contrary to best practices described by the Government Accountability Office and others,” the memo reads. “As conditions during war may change rapidly, medical research and development is essential to respond quickly and effectively to support warfighter capabilities and survivability.”
Congress has been mostly mum on the issue of medical research. DoD and DHA have had some growing pains in other areas where DHA is taking over.
Coronavirus put a pause on the DHA takeover of military treatment facilities and forced the agency to rethink how some private providers could step in to pick up patients in some markets.
The leaders of the military services called for a halt in the transition during the middle of the pandemic. However, Congress has encouraged DoD to keep up with the process.
“More than four years after the law required the department to transform the Military Health System, the services are trying to further delay change and are using the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason to delay,” the aide said in response to the letter. “The transformation process, which is already more than a year into execution, should continue to move forward. The DoD’s medical response to the pandemic has provided lessons, which should be used to inform the plan moving forward, not grind implementation to a halt.” — SM
Last month, the leader of the National Guard said his first priority is ensuring free health care for all National Guard members. Now the military component’s largest advocacy group is joining the fight.
The National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS) is calling on Congress and President Biden to support the Healthcare for Our Troops bill, which would give health care to guardsmen.
“Most Americans would probably be shocked to learn that we sent soldiers and airmen to the front lines of the worst public health crisis in a century without health insurance,” J. Roy Robinson, president of NGAUS, wrote in a letter to the president. “We did the same during civil disturbances last summer and when responding to hurricanes and wildfires. The problem is, nearly one in five Guard members has no private health insurance and they are usually not entitled to government-provided coverage when mobilized for domestic missions.”
Robinson continued to say that private, employer-provided health insurance is picking up the table for treatment of injuries and ailments from Guard service.
National Guard chief Gen. Daniel Hokanson said in May that lack of access to mental health services may be causing increases in suicides and that guardsmen need insurance from the government.
“We want the service member and their family to know if anything happens, if they’re sick, before or after duty, they’re going to get the care they need to continue their civilian or military employment,” Hokanson told the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee.
The National Guard has more than 400,000 troops. There is no estimate as to what it might cost to provide health care.
The Healthcare for Our Troops bill seems to try to offset some costs by requiring a study on eliminating annual physicals during drill and replacing them with forms to be completed by civilian providers to assess medical readiness. The bill claims that could save more than $162 million annually in contracted medical assessments. — SM
Jared Serbu is deputy editor of Federal News Network and reports on the Defense Department’s contracting, legislative, workforce and IT issues.