Punishments, and first religious exemptions, for military vaccine refusers

The Marine Corps granted its first two religious exemptions to the military's vaccine mandate last week. But punitive actions have moved ahead for thousands of ...

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 hammer is starting to fall on soldiers who are resisting getting their COVID-19 vaccinations as the Army continues its push for compliance, however the military saw it’s first religious exemptions for not getting the shot with two Marines getting passes.

Recent numbers provided by the Army show that a little more than 3,600 soldiers are refusing to get the shot.

While that makes up a very small number of the active duty force, the Army is following through on the punitive actions it promised for soldiers who refuse the shot.

To date, the Army has not separated any soldiers solely for refusing to get the shot, though that is the final step for soldiers who ultimately do not get vaccinated. However, the service said it issued nearly 3,000 general reprimands to soldiers refusing the vaccine order.

The service also relieved six active duty leaders and two battalion commanders of their duties.

Soldiers were supposed to be fully vaccinated in December. Reservists and members of the National Guard have until the end of June to meet the mandate.

The Army has approved nearly 6,000 temporary exemptions, but permanent exemptions are few and far between. Only five medical exemptions were approved out of about 650. There are still about 50 of those exemption requests pending.

A total of 2,128 soldiers requested religious accommodations. None have been approved and more than 160 have been disapproved.

The Marine Corps is already beginning to offload service members who refused to get the shot and has separated more than 350 troops. The Air Force and Navy have done the same, firing 87 airmen and 20 sailors.

The Marine Corps granted two religious exemptions last week. The military as a whole already denied thousands of religious accommodation requests. The Defense Department is taking a hard-nosed stance on religion as a means to avoid the vaccine. Applications ask for previous proof that service members have religious issues with other vaccines or medical treatments. Service members must get 17 different vaccines to serve.

The Marine Corps’  decision to permit the two exemptions are the first vaccine passes in 10 years.

In a statement, the Marines said “all current exemption requests are being reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Each request will be given full consideration with respect to the facts and circumstances submitted in the request. ”

The vast majority of service members are complying with the vaccine mandate. The Army’s active duty component is 96% vaccinated and the Reserve is already 73% vaccinated.

All of the other services are in the same range with vaccination compliance in the mid- to high-90s range. — SM

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

DoD finally ready to be done with DUNS

It’s been a long time coming, but the Defense Department is telling its acquisition professionals it’s time to ditch the proprietary numbering system the government has used to identify its contractors for more than 25 years.

In a Jan. 7 memo to the workforce, the department’s top contracting policy official said DoD organizations should start transitioning away from Dun & Bradstreet’s system of DUNS numbers as soon as they can. After several years of preparation, the government as a whole is making its final move to a new system called the Unique Entity Identifier (UEI) in April.

“This transition allows the government to streamline the entity identification and validation process, making it easier and less burdensome for entities to do business with the federal government,” wrote John Tenaglia, the principal director in DoD’s Defense Pricing and Contracting office. “We encourage you to transition as soon as practicable to ensure your systems have time to address any implementation issues with [the General Services Administration] before GSA retires the use of the DUNS number.”

The government’s reliance on DUNS numbers to keep track of vendors dates back to the 1970s, but it’s been essentially mandatory for federal agencies to use them — and for contactors to register for numbers with Dun & Bradstreet — since 2003. It’s been especially useful to keep track of which company named, say, “AAA Building Supply” you’re talking about when you’re writing a contract or tracking spending, or to differentiate between various business units of a big conglomerate.

GSA has been thinking through ways to replace the system since at least 2012, the same year a Government Accountability Office report noted the government’s reliance on a sole-source contract to track its vendors was becoming increasingly expensive.

At that point, GSA’s agreement with Dun & Bradstreet to borrow its numbering scheme was costing about $19 million per year, GAO found. And GSA paid the company nearly $208 million between 2010 and 2022, according to figures in the government’s USASpending database.

The contract terms were also fairly restrictive: Other agencies who needed to query Dun & Bradstreet’s DUNS database for research or other purposes had to reach their own licensing agreements with the firm and pay separately. And anyone searching the government’s Federal Procurement Data System was presented with a spooky message cautioning them they weren’t allowed to use the DUNS numbers — ubiquitous throughout FPDS — for purposes that aren’t specifically “permissible” under the company’s agreement with GSA.

For a time, the requirement to use DUNS numbers was specifically written into the Federal Acquisition Regulation. The FAR Council, realizing it was a bad look for a body of regulation that insists on fair and open competition to also require the use of a specific company’s product, removed that requirement in 2016 in preparation for the eventual move to UEIs, the Congressional Research Service notes.

A good part of the transition has already happened. Under the new government-operated numbering system, GSA has already issued new UEI numbers to every vendor that’s registered in the System for Award Management (SAM). From now on, new contractors will get those numbers automatically, rather than having to register with Dun & Bradstreet separately.

DoD’s main, aging contract writing system, the Standard Procurement System, has also been successfully updated to use the new UEIs, Tenaglia wrote. The new numbers won’t become the “authoritative” identifiers and won’t fully replace DUNS until April 4.

Until then, prime contractors will still need to use DUNS numbers to report their subcontracting data. But after that, they’ll have to use UEIs. That’s when DUNS will be officially dead — at least for government contracting purposes. —JS

DoD establishes cybersecurity consortium with universities

The Defense Department is teaming up with academia to start a new consortium focused on cybersecurity.

The Department of Defense Consortium for Cybersecurity (UC2) will open up communication between the Pentagon and schools and vice versa on creative ways to protect networks.

The consortium is putting particular emphasis on community colleges and Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

“Diversity of ideas will create the best innovation,” Heidi Shyu, DoD undersecretary for research and engineering, said at the consortium kickoff.

The schools and DoD will share insights and recommendations.

“The detailed information will come out a bit later,” Shyu told reporters at a Defense Writers Group forum. “We have specific challenges or have specific research areas we are interested in like zero trust. You can utilize this consortium to develop the critical enabling technologies.”

The consortium stems from a mandate in the 2020 defense authorization act. That law tells DoD to develop partnerships with schools to improve security.

“The functions of the consortium are to provide to the defense secretary access to the expertise of the members of the consortium on matters relating to cybersecurity,” the legislative report states. “The consortium will align the efforts of consortia members in support of the Department of Defense and to act as a facilitator in responding to department requests relating to advice and assistance on matters relating to cybersecurity and to provide feedback to the secretary from members of the consortium.”

Senior Defense cyber leaders and academics kicked off the effort during a meeting at Ft. McNair in Washington. — SM

Army comes up with quick fix for email attachment issues

The Army is making digital life a little easier for soldiers by making it possible to download and send attachments in emails outside of a government network.

Raj Iyer, Army chief information officer, announced last week that after receiving complaints for employees, the service will be changing its policy.

“When we initially rolled out Army365 we were not ready to address the cybersecurity risks associated with allowing users to download/ upload files from your personal devices,” Iyer wrote on his LinkedIn page. “We now have a solution that we are currently implementing to enable you to do just that. Be on the watch for detailed instructions on Army365 in the next few days on how you can leverage this new functionality.”

Right now, soldiers can only access some files if they are using a government network, something that was particularly prohibitive for Reserve and National Guard members.

Iyer also teased some new pilots that soldiers can look forward to in the near future.

“We are getting ready to pilot bring your own device and Virtual Desktop Infrastructure that will tremendously enhance the user experience this year,” Iyer wrote. — SM


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