Report raises questions about commanders’ ability to handle legal decisions

A Government Accountability Office review found the legal training commanders rely on is delivered inconsistently, and poorly tracked by military departments.

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More evidence is cropping up that military commanders may not be prepared to handle complex legal decisions entrusted to them, such as knowing when to prosecute a crime.

A report from the Government Accountability Office found that the military services were unable to account for legal training that military commanders took. Additionally, GAO found that legal training is generally for mid-level commanders, who may have held command positions before and their decisions could have benefited from the courses. GAO also found that commanders in similar grades and legal responsibilities may not have the same amount of training.

The report is more fodder for two bills with heavy bipartisan support currently making their way through Congress. The bills would take nonmilitary crimes out of the chain of command and give them to an independent prosecutor to handle.

The leaders of the military services have come out against completely taking all nonmilitary crimes out of the chain of command, stating that it would jeopardize good order and discipline.

Experts have testified before Congress that commanders are not legal professionals and therefore are not equipped to make the decisions with which they are given responsibility.

According to GAO, the military services do not have complete records on whether their commanders have even taken the required legal training to make those decisions.

“Officers who were in positions of command during 2019 completed dedicated legal training at varying rates depending on the service and commander’s grade,” the authors of the report wrote. “For example, at the O-6 grade, completion rates range from 38% for the Marine Corps to 95% for the Navy.”

GAO heard stories of missing data variables and inconsistent attendance records.

The GAO investigators found that even when commanders took courses, the training sometimes did not meet the legal needs for the decisions the commanders needed to make.

“Navy participants in two of our four commander discussion groups said that they did not feel prepared to handle legal issues,” the authors wrote. “For example, one Navy O-5 commander said that the legal training was not sufficient and that most of what they know did not come from training but from a gut feeling.”

GAO did report that there were more positive than negative reviews about preparedness.

“Commanders in 13 of our 15 commander discussion groups and 10 of 16 semi-structured interviews with general officers said that commanders are generally prepared to handle the legal issues they face,” the GAO investigators wrote. “Participants in 13 of 15 commander discussion groups and eight of 16 semi-structured interviews expressed the sentiment that they were prepared due to their ability to call an attorney for support. An Army O-6 commander in one discussion group stated that commanders are not expected to know everything and therefore call their attorneys when legal issues arise.”

GAO suggested that considering the differences in legal training between ranks and that service members can hold multiple command positions throughout their career that officers would benefit from more legal training.

The authors of the report offer 15 recommendations. Those include using a system of record to better track training data in the military services and looking into ways to survey commanders more often for better feedback on courses.  — SM

Microsoft has until end of July to tally costs for now-cancelled JEDI contract

Having decided to finally end to the contentious JEDI Cloud procurement last week, the government wasted no time putting the litigation that’s dogged the procurement for years behind it.

Within 48 hours after Defense officials announced to reporters that they were cancelling JEDI, Justice Department attorneys filed a motion asking the Court of Federal Claims to dismiss Amazon’s long-running legal challenge as moot; Judge Patricia E. Campbell-Smith granted the request the same day, since neither Amazon nor Microsoft opposed it.

According to the contract termination notice DoD sent Microsoft last week, the company has until July 30 to invoice the government for any billable costs it incurred as part of the wind-down of the ill-fated cloud endeavor.

“You are instructed to destroy all data stored in the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) Cloud, per the terms and conditions of the subject JEDI Cloud Contract,” the notice reads. “While the government expects that this will be a no-cost termination, subject to the terms of the JEDI Cloud contract, you are afforded the opportunity to supply the government with a proposal of termination costs.”

It’s unclear how large those expenses would be, since Microsoft and DoD have been under a court order to halt all work on JEDI since February of 2020. By that point, the department had only issued Microsoft a single task order for $1 million, the minimum guarantee for what was supposed to be a multibillion dollar contract.

Another, more important upcoming deadline in DoD’s enterprise cloud plans is coming up next week.

The Pentagon said last week that as of now, Amazon and Microsoft, to the best of its knowledge, are the only two companies with the technical capability to handle the work that’ll be required under JEDI’s replacement contract, dubbed Joint Warfighter Cloud Capability (JWCC). Other cloud vendors have until July 20 to submit “capability statements” arguing that they, too, should be part of JWCC, according to a presolicitation notice the department published last week.

Defense officials said those written statements are only one part of the market research DoD plans to conduct between now and October, when the Pentagon will issue direct solicitations to whichever firms it believes can perform under JWCC.

As part of that process, John Sherman, the acting DoD chief information officer, told reporters last Tuesday the he was planning to speak one-on-one with leaders from all five U.S.-based “hyperscale” cloud providers, including Google, IBM and Oracle.

Those three companies were deemed not to meet the “gate criteria” DoD set for JEDI, and were excluded from consideration in that procurement. Oracle challenged its exclusion with protests to the Government Accountability Office and the Court of Federal Claims. After losing those cases, it appealed unsuccessfully to a federal appeals court, and then to the U.S. Supreme Court.

As of Monday morning, Oracle had not moved to withdraw its Supreme Court petition, leaving that case as the final vestige of a legal drama that has enveloped JEDI for nearly three years. —JS

DoD waiving online grocery shopping fees until further notice

The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way the world shops and military commissaries are no different.

Earlier this summer, the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) announced it would expand its CLICK2GO program to all commissaries in the United States by the end of the year and to overseas commissaries soon after.

Now the agency says its e-commerce option is waiving its $5 service fee until at least the end of the year.

“We’re just weeks into the rollout and internet grocery shopping has continued its dramatic growth nationwide, so we are pleased to be able to waive the service fee for a limited time to encourage this increasingly popular convenience for our patrons to enjoy their commissary benefit,” said Bill Moore, DeCA’s director and CEO.

Previously, shoppers could get a month of service without any charge after signing up.

“We’re out to establish a strong e-commerce presence in keeping with DeCA’s strategic goals to make the commissary benefit accessible to as many patrons as possible,” Moore said. “Commissary CLICK2GO builds on the vital benefit we deliver exclusively for our military community and their families – we deliver the savings and now we’ve made it easier and more convenient.”

The Food Marketing Institute recently reported that online grocery shopping has escalated to previously unpredictable rates since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. FMI had estimated that 20% of all U.S. grocery shopping would be done online by 2025. However, the rates of e-grocery sales expected to occur over a 10-year timeframe actually occurred in just six months.

The expansion is part of the Commissary CLICK2GO program, which gives users an online portal to shop.

The program is now improved to optimize navigation and search functions, offer enhanced product details and feature sales and promotions.

The improvements also include recipes, order histories and online payment.

CLICK2GO is already service Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina, Fts. Belvoir, Eustis and Lee in Virginia, Ft. Polk in Louisiana, Jacksonville Naval Air Station in Florida, McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey, Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia, Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, and Quantico Marine Corps Base in Virginia.

A large swath of bases are projected to get the service by the end of July.

This year, the military commissaries opened up to 4.1 million new customers.

The changes were mandated by Congress as part of last year’s National Defense Authorization Act. Veterans with service-connected disabilities, Purple Heart recipients and former prisoners of war will be allowed to shop in the on-base grocery and retail stores. Their caregivers will be eligible too. The military services are changing their access control procedures so eligible veterans can get on base using their Department of Veterans Affairs health ID cards.  — SM


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