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.
The National Guard is preparing to take drastic measures to keep its accounts solvent for the remainder of this fiscal year, saying there’s still no indication Congress will come up with the emergency funding it would need to reimburse it for the extra expenses it incurred to secure the nation’s capital.
Leaders of the individual state National Guards said they will be forced to cancel drills for August and September, cancel training events and furlough civilians to keep the Guard afloat.
“This funding shortfall will have significant impacts that this funding shortfall will have lots of these funds will have major impact on our readiness, both for our federal missions and for state emergencies,” Maj. Gen. Richard Neely, the adjutant general of the Illinois National Guard, told reporters Friday. “Most of these soldiers and airmen would lose two months of drill pay, which many of these troops and their families depend on. Troops and their families will incur debt to the government, because life insurance and TRICARE health insurance come out of these service members’ military pay. National Guard members have deductions, such as for the military Blended Retirement Systems as well. All these payments would fail for two months, creating significant debt that would have to be recouped later.”
The National Guard endured about $521 million in unexpected costs this year because of its mission to secure the Capitol following the Jan. 6 insurrection.
“Without reimbursement funding, there is significant impact on National Guard readiness if we’re not able to resolve this in a timely manner,” Army General Daniel R. Hokanson, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, said in a statement to Federal News Network.
The shortfall would affect 54 states and territories, plus Washington, D.C.
Defense One reported late last week that Hokanson sent a memo to the heads of the Air and Army National Guards, ordering them to pull back all unspent federal funds from the states.
The National Guard Bureau “has not received assurance of reimbursement and therefore must take fiscally responsible steps to retain solvency,” Gen. Daniel Hokanson, the chief of the National Guard Bureau wrote to the directors of the Army and Air National Guards, according to the publication. “I am directing you to pull back unexecuted federal funds from the states, territories and District of Columbia beginning 1 August 2021.”
The bureau did not respond specifically to Federal News Network’s requests to confirm the memo’s contents.
There have been a handful of attempts to reimburse the National Guard since the Capitol mission ended. Democrats put forward a larger emergency spending bill based on the future protection of the Capitol, which passed the House, but never made it to the floor of the Senate.
And Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the chairman of the appropriations committee, proposed a $3.7 billion plan to fund Capitol security that would also have reimbursed National Guard. However, it’s unlikely that plan will make it to a vote before the August recess.
Reps. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) and Steve Womack (R-Ark.) also introduced a standalone bill that would reimburse the National Guard.
The Defense Department also has a contingency plan to reprogram funds from other existing accounts to replenish the Guard accounts, Womack said. It would require the consent of Congressional leaders, and he said it should be rejected, because such a reallocation would mean robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Instead, he said, both houses of Congress should pass a “clean” bill to cover the Guard’s costs.
“During the months-long Capitol security mission, they’ve always embodied the National Guard motto of ‘Always Ready, Always There.’ And it is unconscionable that their accounts would be hit in such a way that these cuts would have to take place,” Womack said, adding that the training cancellations that could take place this year might have long-lasting financial impacts on Guard members.
“If you cancel drill, you just simply lose that money, but those 15 days are also pretty important to getting a qualified year for retirement purposes,” he said. “We don’t need to put our guardsmen in this position, we just simply need to take care of them without creating a food fight in the Pentagon to take the money from some account. This is our responsibility.” — SM
The Biden administration has picked a widely-respected defense procurement veteran to head-up the Air Force’s acquisition bureaucracy. But the late date of his nomination makes it look increasingly likely that the Pentagon still won’t have any Senate-confirmed acquisition officials in place until after the August congressional recess.
The White House said on Friday that the president plans to nominate Andrew Hunter to be the next assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics. Hunter is currently a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, where he’s an expert on the complex interplay between DoD and its industrial base.
His nomination makes eminent sense, not just for his knowledge of the Defense acquisition system, but also his prior experience as chief of staff to Frank Kendall during the Obama Administration. Kendall, at that time, was DoD’s top acquisition official, and is now awaiting confirmation as Air Force secretary.
But “awaiting” is a key word here — and it’s a reminder of how thin the crop of the current administration’s Senate-confirmed DoD officials really is, especially in the acquisition space.
As of now, the Army, Navy and Air Force all have their top acquisition leadership slots filled by career officials on an acting basis.
James Geurts, who served in the top acquisition role for the Navy during the Trump administration, is still toiling away in government. But that’s because he’s now reverted to his previous status as a career civil servant, and has stayed on, somewhat paradoxically, to take a more senior temporary job than the one he had when he was Senate-confirmed: Acting undersecretary of the Navy. Technically, for aficionados of the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, he is “performing the duties” of the undersecretary.
But the rest of DoD’s acquisition bureaucracy is completely devoid of political leadership — a fact that’s not likely to change soon, considering the Congressional calendar.
Last week, Michael Brown, Biden’s nominee to be the undersecretary of Defense for acquisition and sustainment withdrew from the confirmation process amid an ongoing inspector general investigation into his current organization, the Defense Innovation Unit. Brown maintained he had nothing improper, but said his withdrawal was prompted by his understanding that that the IG investigation would likely drag out for another year. He remains the director of DIU.
The administration has not yet announced a replacement nominee, but last week, Politico reported that Stacy Cummings, the career acquisition professional who has been acting in the A&S role since January will soon leave DoD soon in order to take a new job with the National Atlantic Treaty Organization.
The other half of the Pentagon’s acquisition apparatus — the undersecretariat for research and engineering — does have a nominee still in the works: Heidi Shyu, who last served as the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology during the Obama administration.
One of the most famous children’s shows in history is unveiling its newest effort to support military families by tackling some of the race and diversity questions that spread across the nation over the last year.
Sesame Workshop is releasing a series of videos, online games, worksheets and other resources to help children and their parents understand some of the complex issues surrounding race that are being raised in American culture.
“The military community has specific needs, and part of it is because the community is exposed to a lot of diversity,” Maria del Rocio Galarza, vice president of educational content for U.S. social impact at Sesame Workshop, told Federal News Network. “Military families travel so much and see so much. And within the military families, there’s also a lot of diversity because we know that military families come from really different backgrounds.”
Galarza said the resources stemmed from the nation-wide protests following the death of George Floyd. Sesame Workshop is using the term “upstanders” for people who help themselves and others in unfair situations caused by race or language.
“We have a range of materials to help children and parents deal with these situations,” Galarza said. “For example, one of them is an interactive, where you see children of with different backgrounds and they’re doing their self portraits. As part of this exercise, they are exposed to different ways of describing oneself. And, and they also get to explore how they would describe themselves in a self-portrait. In addition to this, we have videos where we encourage families to have a conversation around skin color, and what race means.”
There are also strategies for being an upstander.
Like all Sesame Workshop materials, the resources went through a vigorous process of being developed and vetted by advisors, experts and child psychologists. Sesame Workshop also works with parents to see what resources they need to talk to their children. — SM
The question of the Defense Department’s precise role in defending the U.S. from cyber attacks has always been a somewhat complicated one, depending on precisely which systems are meant to be defended, and who owns them. A big part of the answer has always been that it would depend on cooperation between DoD and the Department of Homeland Security.
But according to the initial results of a joint audit conducted by DoD and DHS’ inspectors general, the two departments haven’t followed through on a major portion of their latest collaboration plans — at least not formally.
The most recent joint agreement — signed in 2018 — set up a joint steering committee, let by DoD and DHS cyber officials. That committee, in turn, was supposed to produce an implementation plan that addressed the six specific lines of effort that the committee agreed to collaborate on. But the plan still does not exist, according to a redacted version of the audit findings DoD’s IG published last week.
“The lack of an implementation plan could result in DoD officials not providing the level of assistance to the DHS needed for the DoD and the DHS to conduct joint operations to protect critical infrastructure; support state, local, tribal, and territorial governments; and jointly defend military and civilian networks from cyber threats,” auditors wrote.
In response to a draft version of the report, Defense officials said they would work with DHS to draw up plans of action and milestones to address the specific areas the two departments agreed to work on in the 2018 memo, but only when they don’t duplicate ongoing “incident response efforts” or “operational planning” directed by the national security council.
DoD officials also told the IG that the 2018 agreement was really only meant to “promote engagement” and “define areas of common interest,” suggesting the departments have found ways to combine efforts outside the formal structure of the steering committee — such as defending election systems from foreign intervention during the 2020 presidential campaign.
But auditors worry that those efforts — while undoubtedly helpful — might miss some critical national vulnerabilities if there’s no documented structure that lays out each department’s roles and responsibilities for the six lines of effort they’ve agreed on for national cyber defense.”
“If differences arise between the [steering group] co-chairs or as the membership changes, the lack of an implementation plan could hinder the level or timeliness of assistance requested and provided,” according to the report. “In 2020, multiple federal agencies and the private sector were compromised by malicious actors using a trusted source, SolarWinds Orion. Although the SolarWinds Orion compromise was not related to the lack of an implementation plan, the compromise continues to show the importance and criticality of the DoD’s and DHS’s ability to respond to any and all cyber threats, which would be significantly improved by implementing a plan to accomplish shared goals in the 2018 joint memorandum.” —JS
Congress is wondering where some of the benefits promised by the Space Force are as the newest military branch hits its 18th month in existence.
Members of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee released the report for the 2022 defense spending bill and in it the committee criticized the progress of the Space Force.
One of the main selling points of the new service was that it would centralize space system acquisitions, however the lawmakers said they haven’t seen the progress they hoped for.
“The committee remains concerned that the Air Force has not taken more aggressive action in addressing longstanding space acquisition issues and has made little progress in defining what the Space Force will be doing that is fundamentally different than when it was a component of the Air Force,” the members of the committee wrote. “The Space Force lacks a clear plan which defines its future space architecture and lacks a strategy for how this architecture will be acquired.”
One of the committee’s main concerns revolves around Space Systems Command, which is in charge of the acquisition and fielding of space equipment.
“The plans for establishing the new acquisition unit, Space Systems Command, consist primarily of renaming the Space and Missile Systems Center and incorporating existing space launch units,” the lawmakers wrote. “The plan does not resolve the fundamental issues of overlap and duplication in roles, responsibilities, and authorities among the various other space acquisition units in the Department of the Air Force.”
The lawmakers are pushing the Air Force to find a space acquisition professional to serve as the assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisition and integration as soon as possible and to move authority to that position.
The law requires that the position be created and filled by October 2022. However, there are still questions over what the role would look like.
“A big part of what we’re doing now is preparing ourselves and posturing ourselves for that new responsibility that will be coming,” Shawn Barnes, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisition and integration said earlier this year. “We’re working very closely with Air Force acquisition to determine what sorts of capability and capacity that this office will need in terms of people, in terms of facilities and networks and clearances and all those kinds of things, so that we can do that service acquisition executive job once that responsibility moves over.” — SM
Jared Serbu is deputy editor of Federal News Network and reports on the Defense Department’s contracting, legislative, workforce and IT issues.