“DoD Reporter’s Notebook” is a biweekly feature focused on news about the Defense Department and defense contractors, as gathered by Federal News Network DoD Reporter Jared Serbu.
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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 Defense Department’s latest financial statement shows the Pentagon made nearly $5 billion worth of improper payments in its civilian payroll accounts last year, a massive increase from previous years in which the department reported almost none.
In its annual financial report, released last week, DoD said the startling increase was mainly because of a “new sampling plan and testing methodology” financial management officials began implementing in the civilian pay accounts in 2020. But at least so far, those new methodologies appear to have generated more questions than answers as they unearthed billions of dollars in previously-undiscovered potential payment irregularities.
For the overwhelming majority of the $4.916 billion discovered to be improper in the civilian pay arena — 99.1% — auditors aren’t able to say whether they represent overpayments or underpayments. Instead, the department simply doesn’t have the documentation to show whether the payments were authorized at all.
Overall, the new tests showed that nearly 8% of the department’s outlays to its civilian workforce could be improper in one way or another, according to the new data. In 2019, prior to the new sampling and testing processes, the department estimated just 0.14% of its civilian payments were improper.
The newly-reported improper payments for civilians were a major driving factor in the total payment discrepancy rate across the department. In 2020, improper payments stood at 1.73% of DoD’s total spending, compared to 1.43% in 2019, representing an increase of $2.7 billion and raising DoD’s total estimated improper payment amount to $11.4 billion. More than $9 billion of that figure is categorized as “unknown,” meaning the department cannot say whether they were underpayments, overpayments, or, perhaps perfectly justified.
Another major driver of the “unknown” category is DoD’s military pay accounts. In 2019, when the department implemented a similar sampling and testing overhaul for those accounts, the improper payment rate for military pay rose from 6.95% to 7.25%, totaling $7.45 billion.
The department made some progress against that military pay error rate in 2020, but military pay still accounts for $5.2 billion of the department’s improper payments.
However, this year’s report marks the first time DoD’s financial report breaks improper military payments down by military service, and the problems appear to be overwhelmingly in the Army and Air Force, which reported error rates of 8.14% and 5.64%, respectively. Those two services were responsible for $5.1 billion in improper military payments; the Navy and Marine Corps made just $52 million.
And the same appears to be true for those newly-discovered improper payments in the civilian pay area. Although the report doesn’t break improper civilian payments down by DoD component, it does note that the Navy and Marine Corps have estimated improper payment rates of less than 1% in the civilian category.
Federal law requires agencies to publish corrective action plans whenever audits turn up estimated improper payments of $100 million or more in a particular spending category, and DoD crossed that threshold and published a new one for civilian pay in 2020.
The plan called for the department to accelerate post-payment reviews and identify points of contact for identifying improper payments in each DoD component by this month. By next month, the department is supposed to hold a civilian pay “entrance conference,” in part, to make sure “key stakeholders” understand what documentation is needed to support civilian payments.
Another milestone in the corrective action plan is set for next May, when the department will start developing monthly reports on its progress and how much documentation is still missing, and roll out a new software platform to collect data and documentation on civilian improper payments.
Aside from civilian pay, DoD still has significant improper payment problems in four other areas:
But those categories do not suffer from missing documentation problems to nearly the degree DoD’s personnel pay accounts do. For more than 99% of the improper payments in those latter four areas, the department is at least able to tell whether they were overpayments or overpayments, theoretically letting officials chase down overpayments or make good on underpayments after the fact. —JS
The Defense Department will once again ramp up coronavirus protective measures in place for employees at the Pentagon later this week in response to a resurgence of the virus nationwide, including in the National Capital Region.
Starting on Thanksgiving Day, the Pentagon reservation — which includes the nearby Mark Center and DoD-leased space — will move from Health Protection Condition Bravo to a new subcategory the department is calling “Bravo-Plus.”
It won’t mean a return to the full set of precautions officials implemented at the Pentagon in March, when they set HPCON Charlie. Those were relaxed in June, when the Pentagon downgraded itself to HPCON Bravo.
But under “Bravo-Plus,” the changes will include:
DoD Chief Management Officer Lisa Hershman, who approved the new restrictions, said the two DoD-managed Armed Forces Retirement Homes in Washington and Gulfport, Mississippi, which also fall under her purview, will stay at HPCON Delta — DoD’s highest level of restrictions. —JS
The Army will take a hard look at its sexual assault and harassment prevention program after a serious of violent incidents at Ft. Hood in Texas and other bases.
In a video message posted on Twitter last week, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said he reviewed the preliminary findings of the Ft. Hood Review Committee and will require the Army to make serious changes to it Sexual Harassment Assault Response Prevention (SHARP) program.
“Recent cases and recent media coverage have hardened my belief that the Army’s SHARP program hasn’t achieved its mandate to eliminate sexual assault and sexual harassment by creating a climate that respects the dignity of every member of the Army family,” McCarthy said.
On Dec. 8, the Army will release the committee’s review with an action plan to address the recommendations.
“It is clear we have significant work to do to regain our soldiers’ trust in our SHARP program,” McCarthy said.
Much of the Army’s introspection about its sexual assault and harassment problem came after the harassment and murder of Army Specialist Vanessa Guillen this summer. However, advocacy groups have been warning for years that sexual assault is a glaring problem in the military.
Guillen’s death sparked a worldwide movement of service members and veterans divulging their sexual harassment and assault stories.
Military sexual assault and harassment numbers are on the rise.
The inspector general for Army Forces Command visited Ft. Hood this summer. Soldiers told the office they trusted senior leaders to take sexual harassment seriously, but the junior leaders may not have the life experience or the military experience to deal with the situation as it was presented to them.
FORCECOM Inspector General Col. Patrick Wempe said his office noticed issues with SHARP.
“At Ft. Hood we observed the SHARP program needing to improve in certain areas, but one which units generally execute the standard,” Wempe said. “Soldiers reported a hesitancy to report SHARP incidents for several disparate reasons.”
The Army has made some adjustments this year to try to raise the alarm about people in possibly dangerous situations.
In October, the service announced that when soldiers do not show up for duty that they will be reported missing instead of jumping to the more disciplinary absent-without-leave status.
“Spec. Vanessa Guillen really affected all of us. Incredible soldier. We know her family and I think she touched every one of us. What happened to her was horrific,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville said last month. “What we’re putting in place is basically a missing category, because that’s really — what happened to Vanessa Guillen; she was not absent without leave. But she wasn’t present for duty either. She was missing. We want to have a category that’s clear and unequivocal, that if you’re not present for duty, you’re missing. Then the intent is for that unit, and for the Army, to be looking for that soldier.” — SM
Tens of thousands of Army veterans who were less-than-honorably discharged will now get a second chance to receive benefits.
After lengthy court battle, soldiers who have less-than-honorable discharges after Oct. 7, 2001, relating to mental health or sexual trauma will have their discharges reviewed by the Army.
“This settlement will ensure that the Army reconsiders thousands of decisions involving Iraq- and Afghanistan-era veterans with a less-than-fully-honorable discharge,” according to a statement by the Yale Law School Veterans Legal Service Clinic.
The clinic provided legal counsel for the class action suit against the Army.
“Additionally, the Army will adopt procedural reforms, such as a universal telephonic hearing program, that will facilitate access to discharge upgrades for this and future generations,” the statement continued.”
The Army Discharge Review Board and the plaintiffs reached a settlement last Wednesday, which will automatically consider thousands of cases dating back to April 2011. Former soldiers discharged before that will receive notice that they may reapply for benefits.
The Army also agreed to make other changes to the board’s process. There will be additional training for board members and staff, enhanced notices to veterans of legal and medical services that might assist their applications, and more detailed documentation requirements that the ADRB must follow in any written denials.
The new telephonic hearings option is particularly important because now former soldiers will not have to travel to Washington to appear in person for discharge upgrade hearings.
“This is a watershed vindication of veterans’ rights,” said plaintiff Steve Kennedy, who served in Iraq and is a founder of the Connecticut chapter of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “Not only will this have a practical impact on the lives of thousands of veterans, but this settlement will also signal that the federal government must be held accountable to its word to veterans.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) added, “I am elated by this historic victory — resulting from a relentless fight for justice. After three years of tireless effort from a great team led by the Yale Law School Veterans Legal Services Clinic and thousands of Army veterans, we can celebrate this significant step forward. Heroic veterans suffering from the invisible wounds of war deserve support and treatment, not the stain and stigma of a less-than-honorable discharge. I’m proud to see that this injustice has been righted for an entire generation of Army servicemen and women.” — SM
It’s been an exciting time to be a space command lately. The Marine Corps set up its own service-specific space command and the Air Force is honing in on where it will headquarter U.S. Space Command next year.
Marine Corps Forces Space Command is now operational, and being led by Maj. Gen. Matthew Glavy.
The command was created from the existing Marine space experts who were previously stationed with U.S. Strategic Command.
MARFORSPACE will “focus on providing space operational support to the Fleet Marine Force while building a convergence capability to increase warfighter lethality,” according to a release from the Marine Corps.
“We have an incredible opportunity to create a synergy across the information environment based on our unique position within the naval and joint force,” Glavy said. “Space and cyber are critical capabilities in the information environment that, when brought together, can provide a competitive advantage. Convergence requires flexible and interconnected teams focused on solving hard problems with speed. We cannot be successful in these technology-heavy domains without prioritizing people, ideas and things in that order.”
Glavy will be dual hatted as the leader of Marine Corps Forces Cyberspace Command as well.
On a larger scale, the Air Force announced six possible locations where SPACECOM headquarters may be located. The candidates are:
SPACECOM is temporarily headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base. The Air Force considered 24 communities before narrowing it down to six.
“The Department of the Air Force evaluated each location and will now conduct both virtual and on-site visits at each candidate location to assess which location is best suited to host the U.S. Space Command Headquarters,” said Air Force spokesperson Ann Stefanek. “This assessment will be based on factors related to mission, infrastructure capacity, community support, and costs to the Department of Defense.”
The Air Force plans to pick a location early next year. — SM
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.
A prominent government panel says the Defense Department is failing to provide proper medical care to military women, potentially harming the chance to retain talented female service members.
Even though some military services have made recent changes — like offering refrigerators for women to store breast milk and trying to find better ways for women pilots to use the bathroom in-flight — a yearlong study by the Defense Health Board suggests the Pentagon is not providing proper medical care to women, and therefore wasting money and hurting readiness.
Despite multiple studies going back decades, the military’s one-size-fits-all approach to healthcare leaves women challenged with musculoskeletal injuries, reproductive and genitourinary issues and improper mental health care.
“Active duty women continue to experience high rates of stress fractures and other musculoskeletal injuries, urogenital infections, unintended pregnancies, sexual violence, anxiety, depression, adjustment disorders, and eating disorders. These conditions adversely affect active duty women’s readiness and health,” the authors conclude.
A lot of problems stem from clothing and equipment. Clothing and armor made for men cause issues for women, the lack of proper footwear and the need for better support through sports bras also contribute.
Access to contraceptive services and sexual education differs between services and influences the rate of unintended pregnancies, the board states.
There is also variability in screening protocols for eating disorders — a mental health issue that disproportionately affects women — which causes “stark differences” in the reported prevalence of diagnoses, the board said.
Those issues compounded with sexual harassment and assault, and the higher prevalence of women to leave the military for family reasons results in many fewer women staying in the service and reaching leadership positions.
Previous studies have fallen on ears unwilling to listen, according to the board.
“The differential incidence of these conditions among active duty women have persisted despite 70 years of integration efforts and the creation of more than 10 advisory and decision-making groups, specifically created to improve active duty women’s health, fitness, safety, and performance,” the authors of the report stated. “The groups capably identified best practices and recommended their adoption. But, lacking authority and accountability, few of their recommendations have been implemented.”
To remedy the situation, the health board recommends DoD establish an overarching office to approve recommendations related to women’s health, fitness safety and performance.
The office would focus on minimizing gender-associated differences in healthcare delivery, personnel, research, supply chains and policies. It would also look for traditional male-centric values within the culture that are harming health.
DHB also suggests looking into training programs.
“Basic training and ongoing fitness-for-duty evaluations have two foundational fitness components: health fitness standards that are gender-specific, and occupationally-focused fitness standards that should be gender-neutral,” the study authors state. “A ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach for health fitness contributes to training injuries in a mixed-gender population.”
DHB suggests gender-specific aerobic and strength conditioning before going into the military to reduce the risk of injury and says DoD should implement two level fitness assignments. One with gender specific standards and the other with gender-neutral occupation- and skill-specific standards.
DoD is already working on one recommendation by embedding licensed sports medicine professions within units to promote best practices for training and injury recovery.
The board also says DoD needs to buy gender-customized equipment to reduce injuries and improve readiness.
Another recommendation deals with pregnancy.
“Unintended pregnancy is approximately 50% higher for active duty women than for civilian women, and is approximately the same as the incidence of planned pregnancy among active duty women,” the authors wrote. “The occurrence of unplanned pregnancies creates significant adverse health and major mission impacts. Studies show that long-acting reversible contraception counseling and walk-in contraceptive clinics decrease unintended pregnancies.”
The board says DoD needs better contraceptive education, including a sexual education campaign for all service members, contraception decision support and promotion of long-term contraceptives.
Other recommendations include a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment and assault in the workplace, better post-partum fitness training and better mental health screening. — SM
President Trump’s selection of an official from outside the Pentagon to serve as the new acting secretary of Defense was within the law, but it also wasn’t what Congress had in mind the last time it visited the issues of DoD’s civilian leadership structure.
That’s according to Arnold Punaro, who served as staff director to Sen. Sam Nunn while he and Sen. Barry Goldwater were working to move the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act through the Senate Armed Services Committee.
In an interview, Punaro told me there’s “no question” that Congress intended for the deputy secretary of Defense to be next in line upon the secretary’s departure. Though he conceded the language of Goldwater-Nichols could have been clearer on that point.
“We wanted to enhance civilian control of the military, and we put a provision in that said in the absence of the secretary of Defense, the deputy secretary shall be the acting secretary and able to exercise all the statutory powers of the secretary, because we did not want the Vacancies Act to be used. We wanted to make sure that the person would be someone that had gone through the Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation process and be up to speed on everything that was going on,” he said. “I wish I’d been smarter when we wrote that law, because the Justice Department and White House Counsel have opined over the years that the Vacancies Act takes precedence. Unless [Congress] specifically said Title 10 takes precedence over the Vacancies Act, it does not. So the president used the Vacancy Act legally. Whether it was a good idea or not, I’ll leave that to others.”
The Vacancies Act — last updated in its modern incarnation by the Federal Vacancies Reform Act in 1998, also sets an agency’s “first assistant” — in this case the deputy secretary – as the presumed acting secretary, unless there’s an agency-specific statute saying otherwise. But it also gives the president the discretion to appoint an official from another department to be acting secretary, as long as that person has been confirmed by the Senate for their current role.
That’s what the president did a week ago, when he named Christopher Miller, the recently-confirmed director of the National Counterterrorism Center as acting secretary. Miller had previously served as deputy assistant secretary of Defense for special operations and countering terrorism.
Miller’s initial message to the DoD workforce seemed to indicate counterterrorism would remain a focus area during what’s expected to be a short tenure as acting secretary.
“We remain committed to finishing the war that Al Qaida brought to our shores in 2001. This war isn’t over. We are on the verge of defeating Al Qaida and its associates, but we must avoid our past strategic error of failing to see the fight through to the finish,” he wrote in a brief letter to the department on Thursday.
In a seemingly-contradictory passage, he added: “We are not a people of perpetual war — it is the antithesis of everything for which we stand and for which our ancestors fought. All wars must end. Ending wars requires compromise and partnership. We met the challenge; we gave it our all. Now, it’s time to come home.”
Without criticizing Miller specifically, Punaro said Congress needs to amend Title 10 — the section of U.S. Code that governs DoD — to ensure an Defense secretary appointment can’t be made from outside the normal line of succession again.
“We thought we had prohibited that. But the modern Vacancies Act passed after 1986, and we should have spotted it and gone back and amended that provision,” said Punaro, who is now chairman of the National Defense Industrial Association. “I certainly as an individual — not somebody with any authority or anything — and certainly going to be talking to the Armed Services Committee next year about fixing this.” —JS
Across the military services, officials in charge of maintenance are spending a lot of time thinking about how to buy or replicate hard-to-find parts and other materials whose original suppliers no longer exist.
But a new Defense Department instruction aims to make sure the acquisition and sustainment community isn’t facing the same problem decades from now. Going forward, new weapons systems will need to have a long-term plan to identify the potential for parts to become obsolete, and how those problems will be mitigated down the road.
The new approach – called “diminishing manufacturing sources and material shortages management” (DMSMS), in DoD parlance, tells the military services and other Defense organizations to draw up a DMSMS strategy “a soon as feasible” once a new program is authorized. The strategy needs to consider how future program managers for that system will deal with material shortages and obsolete parts across its entire lifecycle.
It’s the first time since 1974 the department has published a new policy on how to deal with parts obsolescence, according to George Mason University’s Center on Government Contracting, which notes that 70% of electronics in military systems are already obsolete by the time a system is fielded.
People may not be able to go into the office for work, but the USO is still trying to help transitioning service members find jobs.
This week the service member-support organization is providing webinars along with corporate sponsors and industry experts to help troops leaving the military put their best foot forward when searching for a new occupation.
“This is part of our larger Pathfinder Transition Program,” Christopher Plamp, senior vice president of operations, programs and entertainment at USO, told Federal News Network. “Because of COVID we’ve been doing a lot of webinars and we’re combining them together and putting them in a week of focus.”
The webinars will be hosted by people like Vincent Vargas, an Army veteran and actor, who will talk about the entertainment industry.
There will also be webinars about blogging, women empowerment and vocations like plumbing.
“Transitioning out of the military is always a difficult task,” Plamp said. “I once had a Marine who told me the hardest day in the Marine Corps was a day that he left, because his life was changing. You go through the military, and you end up coming out. You don’t necessarily have an idea of where you go. Somewhere over 60% of the people from my experience, who are getting out, want to go do something different than what they did when they were in the military.”
USO tries to teach troops resume building skills, interviewing skills and other talents that will help them succeed in life after the military.
“There’s more than 200,000 service members from the active duty force transitioning every year, about another 50,000 out of the Guard and reserves,” Plamp said. “Then there’s a very large number, in the hundreds of thousands, of military spouses who are always looking for work as they move from location to location, so this problem continues to remain forefront in a lot of people’s minds.”
Plamp said USO has about 700 to 800 people sign up for transition services a month. — SM
Service members and their families will have much easier access to resources provided by the Defense Department with a new mobile app connected to Military OneSource.
The My Military OneSource mobile app is available on Google Play and the Apple App Store and provides many services troops would usually have to use a web portal to access.
Through the app, users can get information on:
The purpose of Military OneSource is to put as many resources as possible in one place, so people have an easier time finding what they need, Erika Slaton, Defense Department associate director for military community support programs said last week. The app makes it more convenient when users are away from their computers and are only carrying a smartphone.
Military OneSource offers services to about 5.2 million users. DoD tested the app with more than 300 service members and spouses.
“To ensure the My Military OneSource mobile app continues to meet the needs of the military community, we will evaluate user feedback to help inform ongoing updates and enhancements, as well as new features,” Slaton said. — SM
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.
Welcome to the Dragon’s Lair — or, in other words, the Army’s XVIII Airborne Corps’ newest innovation challenge, which just crowned its first ever winner last week.
The Army was trying to breathe a little inventiveness into how to handles land use and ranges, so it invented the Dragon Innovation Challenge — think Shark Tank, but without Mark Cuban and with camouflage.
Maj. Evan Adams won the challenge for his application that brings together Army range management to make it run smoother.
“Ranges are managed by what we call the Range Facility Management Support System,” Adams told Federal News Network. “It’s like a centralized website that controls land and range utilization. My idea was to combine all the capabilities we have today, which are satellite imagery messaging on phones cameras we have — we have all these things in our pocket, but we don’t use them.”
The RangeFinder mobile application helps people schedule ranges, book weapons, issue emergencies and conduct other functions.
Adams beat out five other contestants in front of a panel of six judges. In total, nearly 90 ideas were submitted.
“The purpose of the thing was to have the people who are actually doing things and see the solutions at their level bring their ideas to the three-star command and corps level,” said Master Sergeant Roy Smith, one of the panelists.
Adams said he worked for hours outside of his job to develop the app.
“I had some conversations with neighbors and friends and even coworkers,” he said. “Everybody has a piece of that idea. I can’t say I did all of this myself, that would be absolutely false.”
The corps’ Dragon Innovation Program follows in the footsteps of the Air Force’s Spark Tank and Squadron Innovation Program to bring new ideas into the Army. The program gets its name from the Airborne’s mascot, which is a dragon. It is open to the 93,000 soldiers and their families affiliated with the corps.
“People out there have ideas,” said Brig Gen. Robert Ritchie, assistant commanding general of the XVIII Airborne Corps, in a statement. “They see inefficiencies in their everyday lives and they develop solutions. Unfortunately, these ideas are captive to the Army system. Let’s unchain the animal spirits of ideas and let them roam in the wild!”
The premise of the program is to put out a new challenge every three months for soldiers and their families to try to solve, since they have the most hands on experience with the problem.
“It’s an awesome platform for anybody to put out an idea, whether it be something super high tech or just a simple policy change or just a nugget of information that we can use in the future,” Adams said. Soldiers have these great ideas and a lot of times they don’t have the platform to really communicate it.”
The Army will now work with Adams to further develop the app. Adams will also get a four-day weekend as part of his prize. — SM
The military is still dealing with a pilot shortage and last time the Air Force checked they were down about 2,100 people in the cockpit.
Even though the Air Force thinks it may finally be getting a handle on the problem, it will still take years to rectify.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies released a series of recommendations last week that it thinks the Air Force should follow in order to improve pilot retention.
“I think getting people started out, increasing their agency at the beginning of their careers, helping them get on the path that they want to be on and increasing their satisfaction will gain more years of service,” said Tobias Switzer, author of the report.
Switzer first recommends empowering squadron leaders in the aviation bonus (AvB) process. Right now, some pilots are getting more than $100,000 to extend their service commitments. But it’s the broad and faceless Air Force that is making that offer.
“Squadron commanders should be at the center of retention efforts,” Switzer wrote. “The existing system, in which the Air Force makes its AvB offer via an impersonal email from a far-away program office, does not convey respect. If the message came from a trusted leader, knowledgeable about a pilot’s aspirations and skills, it would. Squadron commanders are also best positioned to change the Air Force’s culture surrounding pilot retention through public recognition of those who commit to extended service.”
Switzer thinks it will take more than just a personal touch though. He also thinks the bonus offers need to come to pilots earlier.
This suggestion would need some help from Congress, since current law restricts military services from offering contract bonuses until the pilot is one year from completing their initial commitment.
“The most advantageous time to offer an AvB retention contract would be when a pilot attains an advanced qualification, such as an instructor pilot,” Switzer wrote. “Depending on the aircraft and mission, most pilots will be able to accomplish this qualification within five to six years, marking them as safe and effective. An instructor pilot can affect broader aviation operations by teaching junior pilots and commanding multi-ship missions. Achieving these career milestones demonstrates continued and future value to the Air Force.”
The final recommendation offers a new marketplace for pilots that doesn’t marry them to one aircraft right away.
Currently, new pilots pick their aircraft and assignment locations through a preference list. The top students get the highest preference.
“At this early phase of a pilot’s career, it does not matter to the Air Force which aircraft pilots fly, or where,” Switzer wrote. “So long as the new pilot is qualified for the duty and there are sufficient junior pilots at each unit, the Air Force’s requirements are satisfied. During pilot training, the Air Force has the most flexibility to accommodate the wants of its young, undifferentiated pilots.”
Switzer offers creating an exchange where pilots can trade future service for the aircraft or location they want.
“Using a combination of merit and a pilot’s willingness to contract for additional years of service in the allocation of aircraft and basing assignments would improve long-term retention and future force stability,” Switzer wrote. “Facilitating higher agency to pilots willing to serve longer commitments increases their satisfaction.” — SM
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 military is making big investments in things like augmented reality for training, but those investments aren’t only for humans.
The Army Research Office is working on augmented reality goggles for dogs that are trained to sniff out explosives and landmines.
The hope is that the goggles will help the canines with commands to inspect specific objects without putting their handler in danger.
“Getting dogs to do very specific things, to look at them or sniff them or to go through a specific door sometimes can be complicated with verbal commands, because they’re rather nonspecific,” said Stephen Lee, an ARO senior scientist. “What we decided was let’s put a feeler out for augmented reality goggles for military working dogs. Dogs have started wearing a lot of the rec specs goggles. Can we take and put ideas like Google Glass or whatnot into the goggles and guide the dog off leash around corners in buildings when we’re not there and also call the dog back?”
A.J. Peper answered the call when he started the company Command Sight. He trained his dog to respond to a laser pointer and then outfitted the dog with goggles. The goggles project a laser dot that is controlled by a smartphone.
“We are still in the beginning research stages of applying this technology to dogs, but the results from our initial research are extremely promising,” Peper said. “Much of the research to date has been conducted with my Rottweiler, Mater. His ability to generalize from other training to working through the AR goggles has been incredible. We still have a way to go from a basic science and development perspective before it will be ready for the wear and tear our military dogs will place on the units.”
The dogs are also outfitted with headphones and cameras so they can hear commands and handlers can see what the dog sees.
“What’s very interesting if you look at the canine and how it perceives the world, it’s very differently from us and it’s heavily reliant on the human handler because the dog can’t see the horizon,” Lee said. “If you have a dog in three feet of grass, the dog sees grass, it can’t see above the grass, but yet you can so it’s often responding to your commands.”
That’s how the Army hopes the goggles will work for dogs.
“If you really want the dog in a specific spot, maybe to look at that one backpack out of five backpacks, you can tell the dog to search and it might run around the room and search,” Lee said. “However, if you really want to get to that one backpack and rest on that and look at that, you need a visual cue. The laser pointer and the visual cue can actually get you to that point, which we again we couldn’t do otherwise if we’re not in the room with the dog. This augmented reality should provide that precision control.”
The research is currently in phase two of a Small Business Innovative Research contract. — SM
A bipartisan duo of senators are trying to make the National Guard more available to states and local government to bolster cybersecurity for their critical infrastructure.
Governors can currently call up the Guard for certain missions; however, cybersecurity is limited to certain projects.
The bill introduced by Sens. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) would loosen those limitations and allow the Guard to protect the cyber assets of critical infrastructure as described by the 2001 Critical Infrastructures Protection Act.
“Cyber attacks can jeopardize our national security, shut down electrical grids, and threaten the operations of our hospitals and schools — we must ensure that the National Guard can help with these types of threats just like any other threat that states face,” said Hassan. “I’ve heard directly from Granite State leaders about how helpful our National Guard can be in increasing our cyber resiliency, and this bipartisan bill will make it easier for all states to fully use the impressive talents of National Guard members to help prevent cyberattacks before they happen.”
In the past the National Guard has provided cybersecurity assistance to states for election security, and also for state and local government networks that were hacked.
Some states have pilot Cyber Mission Assurance Teams. Their job is to assess vulnerabilities to infrastructure that supplies needs to federal assets.
“Ohio, Washington and Hawaii have teams,” former National Guard Bureau Chief Gen. Joseph Lengyel said last November. “What they do is they are able to check and mitigate cyber issues with federal installations that require assistance from critical infrastructure. A federal installation needs power and water to keep it running. This mission assurance team has been able to assess their vulnerabilities and perhaps come online and mitigate cyber attacks to assure that the federal mission of that installation can continue.” — SM
Soldiers who took out zero-interest loans with Army Emergency Relief to help make ends meet during the COVID-19 pandemic may have a nice end-of-year surprise.
The 78-year-old institution, which helps soldiers during financial struggles, is changing $1 million of its coronavirus-related loans to grants that do not need to be paid back.
“We’ve done a little over a million dollars in COVID support across the Army — about $300,000 of that was already a grant to begin with, another $700,000 of that approximately was in the form of a loan,” said Raymond Mason, AER directors. “What we do is we go back afterwards and review the case. We’re in the process of converting the vast majority of those loans into grants. We’ll let them know, ‘Hey, you don’t have to pay off the rest of this loan, we’re going to make it a grant, which of course is well received.’ The whole idea is look, families, soldiers, they’re struggling with COVID. And even though it’s a zero interest loan, we don’t want to add to their challenges and their financial hardship.”
AER is currently in a financially sound place where it doesn’t need to take in extra donations or draw deeper into investments in order to provide the grants. Part of that is because some corporate sponsors donated to AER to help with the pandemic.
In addition to the pandemic loans, AER is working on transitioning another million dollars of loans to grants, those were given to soldiers who needed emergency travel funds during hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters.
Mason said a lot of the pandemic loans went to military families where spouses lost their jobs.
“Families built their lifestyle and their monthly budget around those two incomes,” he said. “All of a sudden a lot of spouses were either laid off or the company went under during COVID. I would say the vast majority of the need we’ve seen has been for loss of spouse pay.”
Military spouses were already facing a 24% unemployment rate before the pandemic. About 17% of spouses reported losing their jobs as a result of the economic fallout, according to a new survey by Blue Star Families.
Mason said a lot of the loans went to E-5 and E-6 soldiers because those service members are moving off bases and have children and therefore have more bills to pay.
Surprisingly, AER has had less requests for loans than usual. In the spring, AER was loaning about a million dollars a month. It is now back up to its normal numbers of about $5 million a month.
AER loans about $70 million a year.
Mason said he thinks the dip in loan requests was due to soldiers being reluctant to ask for help.
“It does concern me, soldiers are taught from day one, ‘You’re tough, you can stand on your own two feet, you can make it and all that’s true,” Mason said. “But it builds a little bit of an issue of ‘I don’t want to ask for help.’ And I always say, asking for help is a sign of strength.”
Mason said some soldiers fear asking for help will affect their career, he said that is simply not true. — SM
In the midst of pandemic, all available evidence shows it’s a very good idea to keep oneself away from large gatherings of other people and to avoid unnecessary travel. But if you really need to go somewhere, it’s extraordinarily unlikely that you’ll contract the virus during a plane flight.
That’s according to a just-finished study by U.S. Transportation Command and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which officials say is the largest study of airborne particles in airplanes that’s ever been conducted.
Defense officials launched the research to help determine the risks of moving service members and their families aboard contracted commercial aircraft — most commonly the Boeing 777 and 767 jets collectively dubbed the “Patriot Express.” The test estimated you’d need to be sitting on the same airplane with a COVID-infected passenger for 54 straight hours before you inhaled enough viral particles to become infected.
That’s almost entirely because there’s a whole lot more fresh air on a modern commercial jet than many people assume. According to the study, their air handlers exchange more air from the outside — and recirculate it through HEPA filters — than most hospitals and biosafety-level 3 laboratories. Researchers say it takes about six minutes to remove a single airborne particle from an airplane, compared to 104 minutes in an average American home. And aside from the volume of air movement, the ventilation systems are designed in such a way that cabin air is continually pressed downward, making it very difficult for an infected droplet to float around and settle on a surface like an armrest.
To calculate the risks, researchers seated a mannequin in more than 40 different locations on the airplanes and outfitted it to “exhale” traceable fluorescent and DNA-tagged particles that mimic the airborne droplets that carry the virus. At the same time, they set up sensors in 40 different seating zones to determine how many of those infected particles could reach another passenger.
They found the risks of infection are noticeably higher if you’re seated in the same row as an infected passenger – or the rows ahead of or behind them. But even for simulated passengers sitting right next to a simulated infected one, researchers couldn’t come up with an instance where a traveler would have inhaled the 1,000 virons assumed to be necessary to contract COVID-19.
Nonetheless, Defense researchers acknowledge the study has its limitations.
“Specifically, it only considered a single infected passenger and did not attempt to gather data reflecting passenger movement about the cabin,” said Cmdr. Joe Pope, a TRANSCOM liason for the research project. Still, he said, the results are “encouraging.” —JS
On the heels of $600 million in contracts the Defense Department awarded for 5G networks on bases, two top lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are questioning agreements’ legal underpinnings.
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) are asking the Government Accountability Office to look into the legality of DoD’s 5G operations.
In September, DoD unveiled a plan to create its own 5G network, which Pallone and Doyle think steps on the toes of other agencies.
In a letter to GAO, the two legislators are wondering whether the Pentagon “has the legal authority to construct, operate, or maintain a commercial communications network or lease its assigned electromagnetic spectrum to private entities to provide commercial communications service.”
The representatives state they do not think DoD has the authority.
“We are concerned that DoD’s recent activities ignore the National Telecommunications and Information Administration statutory role and undermine the NTIA’s ability to effectively represent the interests of other federal agencies and further national spectrum policy,” they wrote to NTIA in a separate letter. “To date, the Trump Administration’s spectrum management practices have been incoherent and erratic, which puts the nation’s 5G future at risk.”
The Pentagon and White House are moving quickly on 5G.
DoD also announced that it will help the Federal Communications Commission sell of some spectrum at the end of 2021.
The Pentagon is already building experimental networking on its bases. There are 12 bases working on 5G networks or building them. The $600 million contract will add Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington, Hill Air Force Base in Utah, Naval Base San Diego, Marine Corps Logistics Base in Georgia and Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada to that list.
GAO recently put out a report stating the Trump administration’s 5G strategy is lacking and the National Security Council and the National Economic Council convene to remediate some of the issues.
GAO enumerated six desirable characteristics that the 5G strategy should have and found the White House only partially addressed each of them.
The characteristics include things like defining problems, goals and objectives, risk management and implementation.
GAO officials stated that the strategy does not properly manage the risk facing 5G in the United States.
“Strategy does not include a risk assessment or complete information on 5G risks and does not include information on the quality (constraints or deficiencies) of the data,” the authors wrote. “The strategy narrowly focuses on cybersecurity and supply chain risks to 5G infrastructure and does not include the full breadth of 5G risks.” — SM
Despite numerous and widespread restrictions on travel this year because of COVID-19, the Army said it’s successfully moved tens of thousands of soldiers and their families from one installation to another, and is now at a point where it no longer has a backlog of permanent change of station (PCS) moves.
As of now, the Army has done 72,000 moves in 2020. Thousands of those were delayed when, in March, Defense Secretary Mark Esper imposed a near-total ban on travel. The Pentagon did not begin to ease restrictions until May. More than three dozen bases are still restricted, and soldiers can only move to or from there via exceptions to policy.
Maj. Gen. Michel Russell, the director for operations in the office of the Army’s deputy chief of staff for logistics, said the restrictions had the effect of delaying the military’s traditional peak moving season from the May-to-August timeframe to between June and November, but that demand for moves this year appears to have already crested.
“We had no issues specifically in the Army,” he told reporters as part of last week’s annual AUSA conference, held virtually this year. “And now on the back end of that surge, we’ve actually gone back down to normal numbers of people having to move. But the moving community was able to meet our requirements, and we were surprised.”
Lt. Gen. Douglas Gabram, the commander of Army Installation Management Command said the smoothness of the moving season – all things considered – was due in part to policy flexibilities the Army instituted near the beginning of the pandemic. Among them, soldiers were given more flexible 50-day windows to actually report to their new units. And new orders were drafted 120 days ahead of time to give soldiers and their families more time to plan.
But there were some challenges that were outside of the Army’s control.
“Visas and passports initially held us up. We had to get involved with the State Department and shake some things loose, because those folks were not at work – the whole country was not at work, was teleworking,” he said. “But we had some lessons learned virtually, including town halls we conducted weekly to update family members and soldiers. Microsoft Teams has been a big player in our success because I can reach more people than I could pack in a theater. So our communication, in many ways has been more accurate in this COVID environment.” —JS
The Defense Department and National Security Agency are teaming up to bring cybersecurity education to diversity serving institutions and historically black colleges and universities.
The Cybersecurity Education Diversity Initiative (CEDI) helps educational facilities that do not have cybersecurity programs to obtain consultation and educational resources from designated national centers of academic excellence in cybersecurity.
“CEDI creates an avenue to rapidly close the nation’s cybersecurity talent gaps,” Akhirah Padilla, an NSA spokesperson, said. “It does this by creating a method that every cybersecurity student attending schools participating in the study will enter the workforce equipped with the knowledge skills and training necessary to fill critical cybersecurity jobs.”
Fordham University’s Center for Cybersecurity is leading the charge to help build the cybersecurity programs. It was given a $3 million grant. Half of the grant will go to institutions with established programs to come up with innovative solutions to help minority institutions. The other half will go directly to minority institutions to build or bolster a cybersecurity program.
“We will provide them with whatever they need in terms of curriculum and we will allow other universities to share their curriculum,” Thaier Hayajneh, director of Fordham’s Center for Cybersecurity, said. “We will share faculty online or as guest lecturers. We’ll hire faculty from National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education institutions that are located, geographically at least, close to the universities.”
NSA has been investing in cybersecurity for decades. There are currently half a million cybersecurity jobs that are unfilled.
“We need all hands on deck,” said Diane Janosek, chief learning officer at NSA. “The National Security Agency was working with very mature, rigorous, well credentialed academic institutions. They were helping some of the smaller schools or maybe large schools that didn’t have a program that wanted to get into the cybersecurity education field, but they didn’t have the teachers, they may not have had the resources, the curriculum, the access to internships and the access to mentorship.” — SM
More than a hundred groups are calling on Congress to keep a provision to help low income military members with funds for basic living needs.
A provision in the House version of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act would give a basic needs allowance for service members who are not eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.
More than one third of children at Defense Department schools are eligible for free or reduced lunch during the 2018-2019 school year.
“It has also been hard to determine the extent of this problem,” Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.), who sponsored the provision, said. “Despite pushing for years to get data the Department of Defense has not shared what we need, which suggests they see no problem at all … We see military families lining up in food banks on bases across the country. This is something we have the power to change. We have already enacted many programs during COVID that have helped prevent Americans from going hungry.”
The letter, signed by the National Military Family Association and MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, urges the leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services Committee to keep the provision in the bill as lawmakers discuss it in conference.
“While [her husband] would have to deploy to places like Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Horn of Africa repeatedly, we were unsure truly how we were going to make ends meet, pay our bills and feed our family on a continuous basis,” said Bianca Strzalkowski, a former military spouse, said. “We then moved to our next duty station in North Carolina. We could not get out of this cycle of financial hardship. We leaned on payday advance loans that sometimes had interest rates of 40%.”
Under the bill, military families would have to appeal to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service for aid.
Davis stated that the provision is even more important now that COVID-19 is keeping some spouses from finding employment and some children are not going to school and receiving free lunch. — SM
The Pentagon is continuing its push to bring 5G to military installations and use them as testing grounds for new technologies.
The Defense Department announced $600 million 5G contracts for five new bases: Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington, Hill Air Force Base in Utah, Naval Base San Diego, Marine Corps Logistics Base in Georgia and Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.
“Working in close concert with industry, we’re using these test sites to accelerate U.S. 5G leadership and ensure the department benefits the new applications enabled by this technology,” said Michael Kratsios, acting undersecretary of defense for research and engineering. “Moving forward, the department will continue to focus on large scale experimentation prototyping of dual use 5G technology for military and commercial purposes. The sandboxing activities on military bases harness the department’s unique authorities to pursue bold innovations in game changing technologies.”
DoD plans to begin testing at seven more bases next year.
Each base will have its own specialty. For example, Joint Base Lewis-McChord will “rapidly field a scalable, resilient, and secure 5G network to provide a test bed for experimentation with a 5G-enabled augmented reality/virtual reality capability for mission planning, distributed training, and operational use,” according to a DoD press release.
Other projects include building smart warehouses to improve naval logistics efficiency and improving command and control capabilities.
Industry partners range from AT&T and KPMG to GE Research and Booz-Allen Hamilton.
The bases will join 12 other installations where DoD is already fielding 5G.
“5G is going to be a game changer,” said Fred Moorefield, DoD deputy chief information officer for command control and communications. “One underpinning aspect of that is spectrum and how we share the airwaves with 5G and 6G and 7G what’s coming. In the department we will want more access. I think 5G will require an overarching overhaul of how we do business.”
The government is still wrapping its arms around 5G and its integration.
Back in March, the White House put out a strategy for the future of 5G in the nation. It outlined vulnerabilities and lines of effort to address risks.
However, a new report from the Government Accountability Office said the 5G strategy is lacking and that the Trump administration should have the National Security Council and the National Economic Council convene to remediate some of the issues.
GAO enumerated six desirable characteristics that the 5G strategy should have and found the White House only partially addressed each of them.
The characteristics include things like defining problems, goals and objectives, risk management and implementation.
GAO officials stated that the strategy does not properly manage the risk facing 5G in the United States.
“Strategy does not include a risk assessment or complete information on 5G risks and does not include information on the quality (constraints or deficiencies) of the data,” the authors wrote. “The strategy narrowly focuses on cybersecurity and supply chain risks to 5G infrastructure and does not include the full breadth of 5G risks.”
The report also stated that the national strategy does not discuss what the cost implementing the strategy will be or any estimates on what it will cost to achieve the goals outlined in it.— SM
U.S. Transportation Command is no stranger to complaints from service members about the process of moving to a new home.
In fact, the combatant command is in the process of completely revamping its business structure for hiring movers to truck service members’ household goods.
But until that is settled, TRANSCOM is making some customer service adjustments it hopes will make moves a little easier for troops and their families.
The first is ensuring that the Defense Department protects its employees’ personal identifying information (PII).
Since this summer, TRANSCOM has been working with Customs and Border Protection and other DoD agencies to reduce the use of PII.
“Our primary goal is to eliminate the use of customers social security numbers, and then also reduce the potential exposure of other PII outside of government controlled systems,” Col. William Schoen, transition division chief at TRANSCOM, said last week. “We’re mapping the process to pinpoint exactly where PII is required. We’re also identifying the underlying policies and/or directives that drive the use of PII, and specifically looking for ways to modify or eliminate social security numbers.”
While that may save some potential headaches, TRANSCOM is working on more direct customer support as well.
TRANSCOM is in the process of establishing joint standards for counseling, meaning helping troops prepare for a move. That will be implemented in 2021. Later this month TRANSCOM will standardize the procedures for companies to follow.
Another topic service members may be happy to hear about is that TRANSCOM is expanding its personal property call centers.
“Each service has or will soon have a dedicated call center for customers that are seeking answers to personal property related questions or issues,” Schoen said. TRANSCOM also has its own number for assistance as well. “In order to improve the customers experience, and simplify the process, our offices are working on expanding the capability and capacity of 833-MIL-MOVE by increasing the quality of first contact with the customer, and then looking to add more hours of coverage.”
Other 2021 initiatives include better communication by providing additional time and notification before a shipment is delivered.
“We’ve asked the moving companies to document two unsuccessful attempts to contact the customers before putting goods into storage,” said Col. Marshanna Gipson, deputy director for operations at TRANSCOM’s Defense Personal Property Management Office. “We’ve has situations where the family is still in transit and not able to sign off.”
TRANSCOM is requiring movers provide residential protections against property damage like putting down floor coverings. Also, if items are destroyed, lost or damaged then customers will be able to choose if they want the item replaced or repaired. They can choose just to get payment for the repair cost so they don’t have to hang on to damaged items.
“A lot of customers are holding on to things like a broken washing machine,” Gipson said.
TRANSOM is also requiring companies to put tamper-proof seals on all containers. — SM
The Defense Department has been releasing its overhaul of the 5000 acquisition series by piece mail during Pentagon procurement chief Ellen Lord’s tenure.
Now that most of it is available to the public — including the most recent broad overview, which Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist signed last month — DoD is putting out a broad policy on cybersecurity that will touch every part of defense acquisition.
“This new policy, which we expect to be signed out later this month, ensures cyber hardening is designed in at the beginning of a program, and ties in closely to our Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC),” Lord said last week.
Cybersecurity is supposed to be baked into acquisition programs and considered in all aspects of procurement and development.
The CMMC is a guideline companies must follow to work with DoD that include cybersecurity standards and supply chain requirements.
The new cybersecurity policy will be spread throughout the whole 5000 series, touching everything from major acquisitions to mid-tier acquisition to software to rapid development.
The 5000 series overhaul has six tracks, all moving at different speeds with different requirements and oversight. The hope is that each track will be tailored to the needs of each product. For example, software needs to be updated much faster than a tank and therefore the procurement process is different.
As for the future of the 5000 series, Lord said it is a work in progress.
“From the onset, the series was designed to be a living document to provide our defense acquisition system with an adaptable responsive foundation capable of satisfying emerging requirements,” Lord said. “We are focused on ensuring we provide the right tools to deliver end to end operations, operational capability and we are exploring the creation of additional acquisition pathways to address unique systems. For example, the department is working with the Space Force to determine whether there are any tools missing and is committed to developing a tailored space vehicle pathway, if needed.” — SM
By the time all is said and done, investigations and lawsuits will have set the Defense Department’s JEDI Cloud program back by more than two years. But that doesn’t mean JEDI-related work has been at a standstill this entire time.
Dana Deasy, DoD’s chief information officer told reporters last week that work on at least some of the 14 pathfinder projects the department initially targeted for JEDI has moved ahead — it’s just that they’ve had to begin their lives in alternative cloud environments, such as the Air Force’s Cloud One/Platform One.
“I’m seeing more and more evidence that the cloud is nothing more than a facilitated environment that allows us to do what really matters, and that’s going to be DevOps and agile development,” he said. “When you read about [CloudOne,] they are learning to build software in very different ways that the cloud very much enables you to do. So what are we doing right now, we are doing a lot of work with the services on getting them prepared to move their development processes and cycles to DevOps so that when JEDI finally does [move ahead], we’re not starting at day one.”
But Deasy acknowledged that starting development in a different cloud environment has the potential to create integration challenges down the road, when it’s time to move those systems and applications to JEDI. Because of that, he said his office has been prioritizing the cloud development work that reflects urgent warfighter needs, particularly in tactical environments.
“When we all got together after JEDI was put on hold, we sat down with the team and said, ‘Okay, what are some of the principles we want to live by?’ First, we said, do no harm to the warfighter, and second, find homes for [cloud applications],” he said. “And in finding homes, I used the expression: we also need to help them find their way back home. Whatever platforms we were putting them on, whatever technologies and tools they were going to use, we needed to do our darndest to try to make sure that pivoting them back — if moving them back to JEDI was the right thing — would not be a Herculean task.”
Meanwhile, some aspects of the work that will eventually be needed to transition the department’s systems and applications onto JEDI have proceeded apace, because they’re not technically part of the JEDI contract, and consequently, aren’t subject to the Court of Federal Claims’ preliminary injunction.
“There’s tools that have to be identified, there’s integration environments to be identified there’s directories that have to be set up that allow people to connect into these worlds. That’s all work that we can continue to do, because it sits inside of our ownership already,” Deasy said.
The JEDI timeline is still highly uncertain.
According to a joint status report DoD and Amazon Web Services presented to the court last month, the government and AWS would not wrap up their written legal arguments until next February, and Judge Patricia E. Campbell-Smith would need additional time to consider the evidence and decide the case.
But that schedule could be extended by weeks or months if the judge grants Amazon’s request to add more evidence to the case’s administrative record or to conduct depositions. The company has asked permission to depose President Donald Trump, Deasy, former Defense Secretary James Mattis and others to help bolster its contention that the October 2019 contract award to Microsoft was colored by improper political influence. —JS
Experts from diverse ideological perspectives are praising the Congressional Future of Defense Task Force’s findings, but actually implementing the recommendations will take serious effort and funding from multiple government institutions.
The report, which was released last week, calls for Manhattan Project levels of attention to AI, divesting from legacy systems, increased research spending and further revamps to the acquisition system.
“The report’s recommendations align with many in the think tank community that also focus on building a force for great power conflicts,” Mark Cancian, senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“Just like the wedding rhyme, in this report you can find ‘something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue,’” said Thomas Spoehr, director of national defense at the Heritage Foundation. “Some ideas, like establishing a Manhattan Project for Artificial Intelligence, or a global treaty on the use of AI, are old. There are some new items proposed, like a National Supply Chain Intelligence Center and ‘exponentially’ expanding the size of the State Department’s budget.”
Kea Matory, legislative director at the National Defense Industrial Association, said the report “combines what many experts have said in various arenas into a cohesive overview. Many of these topics are being looked at from a strategic standpoint by the DoD, intelligence agencies, and think tanks, but this was a bipartisan deep dive by Congress and we applaud their efforts.”
One looming question is how the Defense Department will divest from legacy systems. It has already started looking at what it can cut and reinvest. DoD is in the process of a defense-wide review and the Army conducts it’s night court process yearly. The other military services are also looking at their programs.
“What are ‘legacy’ systems?” Cancian said. “There is disagreement about that definition. Strategists argue that aircraft carriers, manned aircraft, and armored vehicles are legacy and that the military services should move towards unmanned, distributed, and long-range precision strike systems.”
But Cancian said the definition changes depending who you are asking.
“The military services see legacy systems as old systems and would replace them with new versions of this same kind,” he said. “Thus, the Air Force would retire A-10s, F-16s, and F-15s and buy more F 35s. Strategists would reduce the number of F 35s and invest in unmanned platforms and long-range missiles. This report hints at the strategists’ definition, specifically questioning aircraft carriers, but never fully comes out and says what legacy systems are. Instead, it punts the question to a future study.”
Another question is how DoD will pay for some of the reports recommendations. Task Force Co-Chair Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) admitted the report would be expensive when talking about creating an AI Manhattan Project.
“That’s a lot of money,” he said. “That’s a big shift. That’s saying that we need to dramatically change course of the Department of Defense with the structure and the amount in our budget.”
While freeing up funds from legacy systems would pay for some of it, Matory said DoD may need more money.
“The feasibility of many of the recommendations will be highly dependent on appropriations,” she said. “The flattening of the topline budget for defense does not support the modernization needed for the National Defense Strategy which was cited by Gen. Joseph Dunford, while serving as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as a 3% to 5% base budget growth above inflation from 2019 to 2023.”
That kind of increase is seeming unlikely as Congress looks to invest more in the recovery from coronavirus.
The analysts said the report was mostly comprehensive, however, some areas were left out.
Spoehr said the “report does not provide many findings on DoD equipment or force or strategy. I would have liked to see more discussion on the sufficiency of the U.S. armed forces to counter threats such as China and Russia. Are our forces sized correctly? Should the U.S. devote more resources to defense funding? Questions like those are largely left largely unanswered.”
Matory was concerned by the lack of focus on foreign hardware being used by the military and its impact on business.
“The report did not mention the concern of Huawei and ZTE that led to Sec. 889 of the 2019 [National] Defense Authorization Act, which bans Huawei/ZTE and other covered equipment from government and contractor use,” she said. “Given the extent this impacts industry it is surprising it was not detailed in the report as it has been cited as necessary for national security.” — SM
The Pentagon still shows no signs of changing course on its position that it can’t reimburse contractors for their COVID-related workforce expenses until it gets billions of dollars in new funding from Congress.
Section 3610 of the CARES Act gave DoD the authority to pay any costs vendors incurred to “maintain a ready workforce” when their employees couldn’t do their jobs because of worksite closures. The biggest expense most companies faced — and that would be reimbursable — is the unexpected paid leave costs they incurred.
DoD has created a process to aggregate those bills and pay each company a lump sum for costs they incurred between March 15 and Sept. 30. But Ellen Lord, the undersecretary of Defense for acquisition and sustainment, indicated that no payments have gone out yet, and the department doesn’t intend to make them until Congress appropriates specific dollars for that purpose.
“If we move forward right now we would be taking dollars directly out of programs, which would instantaneously affect readiness, and then shortly affect modernization,” she told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday. “We are going to break programs and affect national security if we do those reimbursements out of programs.”
Some lawmakers have previously balked at DoD’s assertion that it can only make the payments if it’s given specific additional appropriations. Rep. Adam Smith, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said in June that believed the department could find ways to fund the reimbursements out of its existing budget.
“We don’t need to give them any more money,” Smith said at the time. “Gosh, everybody, every state, every locality, every federal agency, certainly every business has had to adjust in light of COVID-19 and the impact that it has had. I have yet to see evidence that DoD cannot adjust within their existing budget string.”
In Thursday’s hearing, Lord also suggested the department would use the funds to reimburse companies for COVID-related costs that weren’t directly connected to paid employee leave, such as reconfiguring their own workspaces to allow for social distancing. —JS
The military has been using other transaction authorities as a way of attracting new businesses to the Defense Department and to move fast on innovative projects, but a new study says the way the Army isn’t paying attention to what works when it uses the contracting method.
The Government Accountability Office said Army Futures Command, which is in charge of modernizing the service, lacked “consistent, coordinated practices to identify and share lessons learned from entering into alternative agreements or executing alternative approaches.”
While the Army has this new other transaction authority (OTA) tool that allows it to circumvent the Federal Acquisition Regulations, it seems to be reinventing the wheel every time it uses one. Not only that, but it may be keeping the Army from using OTAs in a way that is most effective for attracting new, innovative businesses to the service.
“The use of consistent, coordinated lessons learned practices for alternative agreements can improve the processes leading up to an agreement by including more diverse perspectives and ensuring that lessons learned are not confined to a subset of organizations or officials involved in decision-making,” the authors of the study state. “Improvements to the lessons learned practices used for the Army’s alternative approaches would provide its personnel with increased access to what has worked well and what has not when interacting with industry and academia.”
The Army and other military service say they want to act more like Silicon Valley companies when it comes to failing fast and using best practices, however, GAO states that leading practices emphasize the type of analysis the Army is skipping.
GAO is recommending Futures Command regularly analyze information on the use of OTAs. It also wants Army Contracting Command to establish consistent practices to collect, archive and share lessons learned on OTAs and other alternative methods. — SM
COVID-19 is scary enough for adults. Imagine being a child and seeing the pandemic unfold.
No other show on earth, except perhaps “Mister Roger’s Neighborhood” could calm children and help them understand health impacts quite like “Sesame Street,” and that’s exactly what the show is trying to do.
“Sesame Street” teamed up with the Defense Health Agency this year to help children of service members understand the importance of health care and to destigmatize doctors for those feeling scared especially during a relocation.
“These resources help service members before they even relocate how to plan and maintain that transition with a health care provider, especially meeting new dentists and doctors and nurses, as well as during the move as and then after you actually make the move,” Jeanette Betancourt, senior vice president for U.S. social impact at Sesame Street told Federal News Network.
The new program helps families teach children what to expect from doctors, not just during coronavirus, but any time.
“My last doctor had a tremendous fish tank, and I used to love to watch the fishy,” Rosita, a teal, 5-year-old Muppet said. “Now, I’m wondering what the new doctor’s stuff is going look like. But, you know what? I do feel nervous. I do a few things that help me to go through that and the most important one is my mommy or daddy tell me what is going to happen. They tell me before I go to a doctor or a dentist, you know what to expect, like ‘Today, they’re probably going to listen to your heart and look into your ears and eyes and my breath, your belly, and you’re going have to open your mouth like a lion.”
The online program offers many resources for military parents like articles for parents and a visiting the doctor game with videos, coloring pages and activity sheets.
“We definitely listen to the experts when developing the materials, particularly those in military life,” Betancourt said. “We held an advisory where we had experts in child development, pediatricians and other types of health care providers who work with military families. Those people hear their sort of needs and what they hope to hear from a from a family making a visit to their office and their children, and also encouraging well child visit.” — SM
The executive order President Donald Trump signed last week to ban certain types of diversity training carries enormous potential penalties for federal contractors. But at least for the time being, the vendor community appears to be holding its breath while it figures out exactly what the EO means.
Starting Nov. 21, with few exceptions, every federal contract will include a clause that bars companies from conducting training that runs afoul of a list of criteria the White House objects to (see below for the list). Companies who are deemed to have violated the restrictions also face cancellation of all their existing contracts, plus suspension or debarment from future awards. Similar restrictions apply to federal grantees.
Firms who do business with the government will also have to impose the same training restrictions on their subcontractors, and the rules apply whether a company has thousands of government contracts or it’s filling a single order. To spot violators, the EO also orders the Labor Department to set up a special hotline to gather complaints and investigate companies with suspect training programs.
Three large industry associations Federal News Network contacted for this story declined to comment or did not respond. The Aerospace Industries Association said it was still studying the issue.
The one association that has weighed in, the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI), issued a strong denunciation of the order last week, mostly on policy grounds.
But even ITI says it’s impossible, for now, to know the extent to which the prohibitions laid out in the EO will have an impact on companies’ training programs in the real world, considering the way the order was drafted.
“And that’s part of the reason that we’ve raised concerns about this executive order. It could be the case that hundreds of thousands of federal government contractors will have to submit their training and education programs to the federal government for review,” Jason Oxman, ITI’s president and CEO said in an interview. “What we have here is an executive order that imposes — without any congressional input, without any input from agencies, without any rulemaking processes or procedures — a brand new requirement on all federal contracts that says you have to do a training program in a particular way. And if you do a training program in a different way, you’re going to lose your federal contracts. That’s unheard of.”
The order doesn’t offer any indication as to whether the Trump administration believes the “race and sex stereotyping” training it objects to is widespread among government contractors. It’s also not clear whether the White House has gathered any data on the subject thus far; indeed, the EO includes a provision telling the Office of Management and Budget to send vendors a request for information on their diversity and inclusion training within the next 30 days.
Oxman said it’s too early to predict whether industry groups will launch a lobbying effort to block the new requirements in Congress or challenge them in court. But he said the order presented serious legal and constitutional questions.
In a note to clients on Friday, the law firm Venable also said the order could violate companies’ First Amendment rights and create “tension” with existing federal laws that encourage diverse workforces among federal contractors.
“The EO is no doubt a reaction by the administration to quell perceived anxieties over various training and communication/discussion programs implemented by many companies and organizations as a result of recent social and racial justice concerns sweeping the country,” attorneys Dismas Locaria and Krista A. Nunez wrote. “The legal underpinnings of the EO raise serious questions and may be subject to challenge, but, as implemented in its current form, it imposes broad restrictions with dire consequences on how companies and organizations conduct themselves in relation to these important issues, even with their own private funding.”
But Larry Allen, the president of Allen Federal Business Partners, said he believes the overall impact of the executive order will be fairly minor.
“I think the executive order points out that in the United States we have a slew of anti-discrimination rules — you’re not allowed to discriminate against somebody’s race or gender — and to the extent you have training materials that are inconsistent with those protections, they’re going to have to be modified,” he said. “But I don’t believe that’s a real significant number.”
Indeed, the order frames the training the White House finds objectionable in anti-discrimination language — alleging that “many people” are advocating a “pernicious and false belief that America is an irredeemably racist and sexist country; that some people, simply on account of their race or sex, are oppressors.” It adds that no training materials should cause people to “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex.”
For contractors, it forbids training that “inculcates” in their employees the concepts that:
And although the administration has not yet provided examples of contractor training programs that it believes would violate those rules, they’re written broadly enough that they could be interpreted to apply to a wide variety of existing programs in and outside the government, said Lynne Bernabei, an employment discrimination and civil rights attorney with the firm Bernabei & Kabat.
“They’re forbidding certain kinds of training that have been used to eradicate discrimination in the federal government, and that’s largely discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity and gender. What they’re saying here is that you can’t do that anymore,” she said. “You have to assume everybody’s equal, and we’re going to withdraw federal contracts or punish you if you try train people on how not to discriminate. Basically they’re saying the assumption is nobody ever discriminates, and if you have any training that tries to teach people that there are ways, overt and subtle, in which people discriminate … then you’re going to get your federal funds or your grants or job taken away.”
Allen’s interpretation was much narrower.
“This is probably going to affect only a handful of companies, but now that they know what the rules are, I think they’re going to have an opportunity to amend their training,” he said. “It doesn’t say you can’t teach diversity training — you can still do that. I’m sure most companies will do some due diligence and review their training materials and their slides, but I’m not sure this going to cause a wave of updates of things. I think it’s going to be at the margins.”
But whether the impact is marginal or implicates hundreds of thousands of firms, as Oxman fears, the ways in which the order attempts to regulate private businesses by executive fiat is a major cause for concern in and of itself, he said.
“We have an executive order that essentially says you probably shouldn’t do any training that addresses racial disparities and a history of oppression of minorities in the United States. We don’t want you to do that training, and if you do, we will suspend or debar you in 60 days. And the question is, is that something as a matter of policy and process that should be done in an executive order? Our answer is definitively no,” Oxman said. “That’s not to say that government can’t coerce behavior by companies through the contracting process. It can. But that’s not something that’s ever done by executive order, it’s not something the law would allow to be done by executive order, and why we’re raising some concerns here.” —JS
Thirteen senators and representatives are calling on the Congressional armed services committees to reconsider getting rid of the Defense Department’s third highest position.
In a letter signed by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), the legislators make the case that the Pentagon’s chief management officer position deserves a second shot.
“Alarmingly, both the House-and Senate-passed 2021 defense authorization bills would abruptly terminate the CMO position and transfer those responsibilities back to the deputy secretary of defense. We already tried that in 2007. It did not work,” the lawmakers wrote. “The fundamental problem plaguing the CMO position is a lack of authority and resources. Rather than further eroding the limited authority that currently exists, we should come together to demonstrate the broad, bipartisan support that exists for this important position.”
The senators noted the current CMO, Lisa Hershman, has only been in the job since last December and that a Government Accountability Office report suggested a tenure of five to seven years.
The CMO is tasked with saving the department money and helping streamline practices to help DoD run better.
“Let us at least give Ms. Hershman a fighting chance, and come together to adopt the changes needed to make this position work. The U.S. taxpayers that we represent deserve that,” they wrote.
Congress started considering getting rid of the CMO position back in May when a Defense Business Board report found the CMO didn’t deliver on its mission of business transformation, not because of the failings of any of its leaders but because it lacked the authority to drive change.
The Air Force is starting to design its future aircraft with digital engineering, a process that uses digital models instead of prototypes to save money. But what about satellites?
The Air Force and Space Force are heavily invested in technology orbiting the Earth. Air Force acquisition chief Will Roper said the service is embarking on two classified programs that may be the first digitally designed satellites.
However, they won’t follow the same trajectory as aircraft.
“It’s going to take a little longer than where we are with aviation, because it’s just at the beginning,” Roper told reporters last week. “What I encountered with digital engineering is a lot of people saying ‘We’re already doing it.’ But, using a computer to design something and equating it to digital engineering and the magic I’ve seen from it would be like presuming that all sculptures that are made with hammers and chisels would all turn out to be Michelangelos.”
Roper said there are a number of barriers keeping e-satellites from getting in the air as fast as e-planes.
“The supply base isn’t there,” Roper said. When you go to digital engineering, I have wonderful models that integrate design and assembly, and even operations. If my supply base doesn’t build parts that align with those models, especially their tolerances, then I actually don’t have a digital thread, because I cut it at the beginning. Step one is programs building up their digital thread and then working with vendors to tighten up their supply base to meet those tolerances.”
Roper said that process will take a couple of years.
From there, the Air Force and Space Force need to change the way they look at design. Roper said the point of a digital thread moving through the process is to fundamentally change how satellites are built and how they operate.
Roper is asking his e-satellite programs to cut out difficult and expensive processes.
“Let’s get rid of the high tolerance cleanrooms the expensive tooling, the highly experienced workforce, the rigging and harnessing the things that makes satellites expensive,” Roper said. “Let’s see if we can design them out and get something that’s more like a Toyota SAP.”
Toyota SAP is the data platform the car company uses to share information and analyze data. — SM
The Air Force’s innovation hub, AFWERX, is getting a promotion and will be reporting directly to the service’s leadership at the Pentagon, much like a program executive office.
“Given the daunting challenges we face against peer competitors, the operative question is: ‘What are we doing to tip the scales?’” Air Force acquisition chief Will Roper wrote a Sept. 1 memo. “One answer is relaunching AFWERX with expanded authority. “With so much of the battlefield — over 80% — in commercial markets having a frontline organization bridge back to our PEOs, research labs and major commands can lower our fence line, multiply our partnerships and provide a plain-speaking menu for defense work where the first course isn’t acronym soup.”
The memo breaks AFWERX into three different branches: AFVentures, Spark and Prime.
AFVentures will focus on courting commercial markets to solve military problems by partnering with startups and increasing the service’s awareness of technologies in the private sector.
“The fact that the AFVEntures process connects to the big ‘A’ acquisition system is what’s making private investors continue to raise their hands and want to determine how they bring more companies through it,” Roper told reporters last week. “I do more engagements with venture capitalists and private investors than any other group. I cannot fill my calendar up enough with it because they all want to understand how they tap this emerging market for them that a market that’s been here a long time that has a very different ruleset.”
The Spark branch is focused on empowering innovation at the operational edge.
“Spark connects amazing airmen and space professionals to commercial innovators using virtual collaboration, immersive training and networking opportunities that inspire ideas and cultivate creative forces,” the memo states. “By connecting operators closer to acquisition, Spark provides both a voice and conduit to turn powerful ideas into powerful operational realities.”
The branch will also continue to run AFWERX’s Spark Cells, Tanks and Challenges, which challenge airmen to innovation and offer prizes.
The Prime branch will leverage other unique government resources by working with other agencies, programs and emerging markets. The Air Force’s Agility Prime program, which is trying to develop flying cars, falls under this branch.
Roper said Prime will have another project by the end of the year.
In the memo, Roper also left room for more branches as AFWERX grows. — SM
The Defense Department is planning on publishing new joint requirements for data next year that will allow the Pentagon to manage it from a top capabilities and attributes level.
Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Hyten said DoD wants to change the way it manages data so that by 2030 the loads of information the Pentagon collects will be easily digestible.
The requirements will come from the Joint Requirements Oversight Council and be pushed down to the services.
“They’re not going to be the traditional requirements and capability description documents and capability production documents that you’ve looked at for years,” Hyten said. “They’re going to be capability attributes that programs have to have. If you don’t meet those, you don’t meet the job requirements, and therefore you don’t get through the gate and you don’t get money.”
The requirements will not just be for data, they will also reach to software, contested logistics, all domain command and control and joint fires.
Hyten said this is different from how JROC acts now.
“The way that process has worked is a service develops a capability, it comes up through the various coordination boards, eventually getting to the JROC,” he said. “We validate a service concept and make sure it meets the joint interoperability requirements.”
Hyten said the hardest part of creating the top down approach will be wording the requirements to ensure they hold up and achieve the goals DoD is working on for the next 10 years. — SM
The White House is raising new opposition to Senate-passed legislation that aims to add transparency and due process to the government’s security clearance process.
In a letter, the Trump administration said it “strongly objects” to a portion of the 2021 intelligence authorization bill that would, among other things, give federal employees and contractors new appeal rights when an agency denies them a clearance.
The provision would require each agency to set up a review panel to let clearance seekers challenge a government decision to deny a clearance — including when agencies deny requests for reciprocity for people who already have a clearance. As part of that process, agencies would have to turn over all the documents they used to make their decision, and clearance seekers would have the right to be represented by attorneys and to cross-examine witnesses.
The White House said the provision risks exposing sensitive information and making the clearance adjudication process more cumbersome and time consuming.
“The security clearance appeals process is already well-established, understood, and practiced across the executive branch, and its elements are readily available to the public via various mechanisms,” Russell Vaught, the director of the Office of Management and Budget wrote in a letter last week. “This provision would require significant changes to current processes, as it includes trial-like provisions that may be difficult or inappropriate for agencies to implement and that would place the protection of sensitive or classified information at unnecessary risk.”
Senators seemed to recognize there would be cases when the appeals process could risk exposing classified information. The legislation does allow agency heads to refuse to allow appeals in “exceptional” cases where an appeal could create national security risks.
But agencies would also have to disclose how often they’re using that waiver provision, and notify Congress within 30 days of refusing to allow an appeal. The government’s Security Executive Agent would also have to publish annual reports detailing how often agencies are denying clearances, and the results of their appeals.
The Senate passed the legislation in July as a single package alongside its version of the Defense authorization bill. The overall package is now being negotiated in a House-Senate conference committee. —JS
Hurricanes have been battering the Gulf Coast this year, wildfires are ravishing the west and superstorms seem to be a new norm in natural disasters. With climate change likely to affect the world’s weather patterns more in the future, the Army is taking precautions to protect its installations.
Last week, the service issued a directive to prepare against disasters resulting from climate change that requires planners and managers to establish resilience measures to safeguard valuable assets and minimize readiness impacts.
“Climate change has already had a big impact on Army installation infrastructure and threatens to degrade mission readiness. I think it’s going to continue to have an increasingly large impact going forward,” said Stephen Dornbos, science and technology policy fellow in the office of the assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and environment said in a release last week. “There are a lot of concerns about wildfires in California and energy supply being threatened. There are adaptation strategies that installations could use to better prepare themselves.”
Effective immediately, commanders of installations “will assess, plan for and adapt to the projected impacts of changing climate and extreme weather by adding related plans, policies and procedures,” the memo, signed by Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, states.
“This practice will enhance installation readiness and safety because it informs the installation master planning process and facility design requirements,” said Alex Beehler, assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and environment. “In the event of a climate-related event, our Army installations will be better prepared to provide the critical capabilities essential to the Army’s ability to deploy, fight and win our nation’s wars.”
The Army will use a web-based Army Climate Assessment Tool to give installations the ability to assess exposure to weather-related threats and projections.
Last month, the Army released its Climate Resistance Handbook. The 69-page document addresses risk-informed planning and choosing climate preparedness and resilience measures.
The changes stem from House Armed Services Emerging Threats Subcommittee Chairman Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) who pushed a provision a few years ago to assess climate change in the military.
“The loss from climate change is not only in dollar terms, but in lost training or lost capabilities. If a base is underwater or out of commission there are readiness costs to that, and preparedness costs as well as physical costs,” Langevin told Federal News Network last year. “I want us to be realistic, as well as cognizant, of the threats and challenges we face and then do our best to protect against those losses.” — SM
It’s no surprise that the intelligence community hasn’t quite achieved the level of work-from-home capabilities that much of the rest of the government has during the COVID-19 pandemic. But even the three-letter agencies that deal with some of the government’s most sensitive information are finding ways to let at least some of their employees telework.
One example is in the development of new software capabilities at the National Security Agency. Even before the pandemic, NSA realized it would be more efficient to do as much development work as possible in unclassified cloud environments, said Greg Smithberger, the director of the agency’s capabilities directorate and its CIO.
“For the last three or four years, we’ve been thinking very hard about the unique development we do for our classified environment, and we’ve determined that a lot of those foundational technologies can actually be started in a highly protected unclassified environment,” he said at an annual conference hosted by the Intelligence and National Security Alliance and AFCEA. “They can then be pushed up to the high side and finished with those very exotic bits of classified technology, and then rolled into our classified environment.”
But even if it’s possible for NSA’s own employees to do some types of unclassified work at home, NSA quickly discovered a problem when the pandemic struck: its contractors couldn’t.
“In many cases we found that we needed to modify our contracts, because although some of the work was allowed to be done in an unclassified space, it was specified to be done on a network that was certified and accredited by NSA, and we explicitly prohibited telework,” Smithberger said. “We really regretted that, so we quickly scrambled to modify some contracts to allow also our contractors to participate with us in these protected low-side environments that were built for these specific needs.”
Doug Cossa, the deputy CIO at the Defense Intelligence Agency said DIA is even looking at ways to conduct actual intelligence analysis work in a telework environment – provided that analysts are working only on unclassified open-source intelligence (OSINT).
“The preponderance of our collection and analysis is going to remain on the top secret fabric. But with OSINT, we’ve certainly accelerated the concept and have developed pilot to look at what functions we could do at home in a telework state,” he said. “So while it’s not an operational implementation, we have pilots out to look at what is the art of the possible – which we’d never done before COVID existed.”
And like many other agencies, DIA realized it needed to move quickly once the pandemic hit to improve its VPN infrastructure so that at least its employees who deal with only unclassified information could work from home.
“In the past, we made separate investments in really stovepiped capabilities for email, voice, video, etcetera. What we discovered on the unclassified environment is we were able to partner with industry and other entities to quite quickly stand up an unclassified integrated environment of all those capabilities,” he said. “When we first started this, our email architecture was designed to support really only a couple hundred users concurrently. Within a matter of days, we were up to multi-thousand more people connecting into email concurrently, which we were not designed for at all. Luckily, we were successful. I think under normal circumstances, that would have probably been a multi-month or multi-year endeavor. For us, it was a matter of days. —JS
The Air Force is rethinking race in the wake of a summer filled with tension. Air Force Recruiting Service will begin working toward monthly diversity targets in hopes of bringing in the best and the brightest from all areas.
Air Recruiting Service Commander Maj. Gen. Edward Thomas said last week that the service needs to look past its traditional recruiting demographics, including geographic areas.
The targets will begin in 2021, Thomas did not speculate on what the targets may be. He stated the new monthly standards are not quotas, but rather targets to work toward.
The Army has already started working on widening its aperture for recruiting a couple years ago after it fell short of meeting its recruitment goals in 2018.
The Army changed its tactics by reaching out to 22 cities that traditionally didn’t bring in a lot of recruits like Boston and Seattle.
The Air Force, like the other military services, has been looking at its policy through a racial lens since the death of George Floyd.
Former Chief Master Sgt. Kaleth Wright announced in June that the Air Force will conduct a full, independent review of its military justice system.
However, the Air Force’s history with race is complicated. In May, documents surfaced alleging that the Air Force did not address issues and recommendations about racial disparities highlighted in reports from the organization and from the Government Accountability Office. — SM
A rash of high profile sexual assault incidents in the Army have led to congressional inquiries, internal reviews and now new legislation that will completely revamp the way the military handles sexual assault and harassment.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a bill last week that would take prosecution decisions on sexual assault and harassment cases outside the chain of command to an office of the chief prosecutor within each military service.
The move is one sexual assault victim organizations have been pushing for years.
“In the regular justice system a victim would go to the police, the police would investigate, that investigation would be turned over to a prosecutor, and they would make the decision based on the laws and facts whether or not to pursue that case,” Protect Our Defenders President Don Christensen told Federal News Network earlier this year.
In the military, the service does the investigation.
“The investigation is turned over to a commander who knows the accused,” Christensen said. “The commander makes the decision whether or not to go forward. Then the higher-up commander will make the decision if it goes to trial. None of those commanders are attorneys. They might be a pilot, an artillery officer or a surface warfare officer and they are making very complex legal decisions.”
A 2014 military report by the Response Systems to Adult Sexual Assault Crimes Panel advocated for keeping prosecutorial authority in the chain of command.
“Commanders must retain convening authority to remain credible leaders with the ability to administer justice and enforce values,” members of the panel stated in the report. “Commanders need prosecutorial discretion in order to create a command environment in which victims feel comfortable reporting crimes.”
More than 100 Democrats and Republicans in the House sponsor the bill. It also establishes a process where service members can make claims for negligence and seek compensatory damages against the Defense Department in the case of sexual assault or harassment.
DoD saw sexual assault in the military rise from nearly 15,000 in 2016, to 20,500 service members in 2018.
DoD’s 2019 annual report shows an overall increase of 3% in the number of reports filed by or about military members during 2019. That percentage is much smaller than the previous year’s jump of 13%, according to The Associated Press.
Part of the push for change has come from the death of Army Specialist Vanessa Guillen, whose body was found outside Fort Hood, Texas. Before she was killed she was a victim of sexual harassment. Since then lawmakers have been investigating sexual assault and harassment, and questioning the culture of Ft. Hood.
In July, the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee held a hearing on sexual harassment in Ft. Hood.
Command Inspector General Col. Patrick Wempe said soldiers told the office they trusted senior leaders to take sexual harassment seriously, but “the junior leaders may not have the life experience or the military experience to deal with the situation as it was presented to them.”
Most of the $4 billion to $5 billion the Defense Department gives to corporations each year to subsidize their research is not used in ways that work toward the Pentagon’s goals, a report from the Government Accountability Office found.
The study may be further ammo for DoD’s previous effort to have more control over the way corporations use their independent research and development (IRAD) money; something the companies have strongly fought against.
“DoD does not know how contractors’ IRAD projects fit into the department’s technology goals,” the authors of the report wrote. “As a result, DoD risks making decisions about its multi-billion dollar science and tech investments that could duplicate work or miss opportunities to fill in gaps that the contributions of private industry do not cover.”
In 2018, only 38% of corporations’ IRAD money went to the 10 topics DoD has outlined as its most important modernization priorities like cyber, artificial intelligence, microelectronics and biotechnology.
Corporations spent about 80% of their IRAD month on short-term investments intended to maintain near-term profitability, according to the report. Only 20% went to long-range research investments meant to disrupt current technologies. Those longer-term investments are the ones DoD has been telegraphing a need for since the middle of the Obama administration when the Pentagon shifted its focus to near-peer competitors like China and Russia. One of the first big pushes for renewed radical innovation came from the Third Offset Strategy, headed by former Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work, which sought to keep the United States technologically superior to its adversaries.
“The unique business environment in which many defense contractors operate — DoD is often their primary or only customer — incentivizes them to pursue IRAD projects that they anticipate will be of interest to DoD and offer potential future business opportunities,” according to the report. “This dynamic contributes to a natural feedback loop that exists between DoD and the defense industry regarding IRAD. Essentially, contractors rely on DoD to communicate its modernization needs as a key input to the IRAD projects they choose to undertake, and DoD relies on contractors to share information about these projects to inform DOD of industry’s progress in advancing technology.”
However, according to Dan Grazier, a fellow at the government watchdog group Project on Government Oversight, the IRAD process has been disjointed for years.
“IRAD has long been a way for the defense industry to get the government to pay them to develop products that aren’t likely needed,” he told Federal News Network. “If the contractors can convince someone in the government to sign off on a program, they will get paid again to develop the product further before selling the product through a cost-plus program.”
Grazier also cast doubt on the concept as a whole.
“The services should already have a solid operational concept. In other words, they should know how to fight. Based on that knowledge, service leaders should develop the necessary requirements for a particular weapon or piece of equipment then approach industry to build them the simplest possible tools to carry out their missions. IRAD, as this report shows, is used to conduct expensive technological fishing expeditions that rarely produce more than marginal improvements to existing products.”
GAO found that DoD did not do itself any favors in trying to get insight into companies’ research to Grazier’s point.
“DoD acknowledged in a 2010 memorandum that it lacked sufficient insight into industry IR&D projects and the extent to which these reimbursements have helped DoD improve its military capabilities,” the GAO authors wrote. “Such information gaps bring into question the benefits DoD has obtained from the tens of billions of dollars it has reimbursed defense contractors over the past decade for expenses incurred for IRAD.”
In 2014, DoD changed its policy on IRAD by lowering its oversight of the programs. The 2014 policy makes no mention of considering the work and accomplishments of contractor IR&D programs when planning, programming, and budgeting for research and development.
It also removed requirements to review summary reports on contractor IRAD efforts including research goals, progress, results, and actual and planned expenditures from projects conducted as IRAD.
Nevertheless, defense contractor representatives contend IRAD brings value to the military.
“From advanced composite structures to tactical electronic counter-countermeasures communications capabilities, the technology generated through IRAD has strengthened our nation’s ability to deter, detect, and respond to threats,” John Luddy, vice president for national security policy at the Aerospace Industries Association, told Federal News Network. “Existing IR&D policies provide sufficient incentive for the aerospace and defense industry to align their investments in support of current DoD modernization priorities, while advancing long-term American technological leadership.”
Luddy said he does not think DoD does enough to leverage private investments like IRAD through developing technology roadmaps or program requirements.
The National Defense Industrial Association and the Professional Services Council were also contacted for this story, but did not chose to comment.
GAO suggested that DoD review projects annually as part of its strategic planning process for IRAD, however the report may give the Pentagon more fuel to revisit an IRAD rule change it proposed in 2016.
The rule would require companies to describe in detail the nature and value of prospective IRAD projects on which the company would rely to perform a contract.
The rule stemmed from DoD’s concern that companies were using IRAD money when calculating a bid for a contract to make it look like the they could do a job for less. Basically, using IRAD to subsidize their contract rather than using it to explore innovations.
Defense industry groups fought against the rule and it eventually faded away. Now DoD can turn to the GAO study to show that IRAD funds are not being used in the way the Pentagon hoped they would. — SM
The Defense Department is still fending off court challenges from two major instances in which it decided to take a winner-take-all approach to information technology contracting. But that evidently hasn’t deterred officials from continuing to structure high-dollar-value contracts as single-award.
In the first, the Defense Health Agency is preparing a final solicitation for a single integrator to manage what it calls the Enterprise IT Services Environment. The EITSI blanket purchase agreement, which DHA plans to issue under GSA’s IT Schedule 70, will last up to 10 years; it’s estimated to be worth $662 million over that timeframe.
DHA said the EITSI contractor will handle overarching tasks like general IT management and service management, while specific functions like cloud hosting and end user hardware will be handled by other contractors, which the EITSI vendor will help oversee.
“This strategy optimizes centralized control by awarding coordination, integration, and management activities to a contractor that specializes in these capabilities,” officials wrote in a draft performance of work statement issued Friday. “It enables reduction of site-specific solutions and increases in centrally managed IT services because separate contracts … can be awarded for new or modernized services while the [EITSI contractor] provides continuity.”
But to award the EITSI BPA, DHA will have to bundle together six of its existing contracts – four of which are with small businesses.
“Currently, several tools purchased by the government are being utilized at a fraction of their potential due to ineffective and fragmented deployment of the tools across the six separate contractors,” officials wrote in a legally-required bundling justification document earlier this year. “Having one contractor properly deploy the tools across the enterprise with the integrated staffing necessary to use all of the tools’ capabilities will bring those efficiencies and resultant cost savings to fruition. Additionally, bundling the six into one contract will eliminate the duplication of administrative management efforts on the government side.”
DHA estimates consolidating those contracts into one will save $162 million over the 10 year period. The agency says it’s also a necessary part of its new responsibilities to manage the IT for the military’s entire network of hospitals and clinics, and that it fits in with DoD’s Fourth Estate Network Optimization (4ENO) initiative.
And that brings us to our next big single-award contract. Under 4ENO, the Defense Information Systems Agency is supposed to take over “common use” IT for 22 Defense agencies, while the agencies themselves continue to deliver mission-specific IT services.
To build and maintain that common-use network, DISA is planning an even bigger single-award indefinite-delivery/indefinite quantity contract, called Defense Enclave Services. The agency expects it to be worth $11.7 billion over 10 years.
According to a draft RFP DISA issued earlier this month, the contractor is expected to use the “DoDNET” architecture DISA is already building for 4ENO as the technical baseline, and migrate 11 DoD agencies to the new common network by 2025; nine more are expected to follow in 2026.
“DES will provide all required transition, infrastructure, network operations and management engineering and innovation, cybersecurity, and technical refresh support services for a [single service provider] network environment with all 4th Estate users,” officials wrote in the draft solicitation. “DES will also support the legacy operations and sustainment requirements of Defense Agency and Field Activities mission partners as separate task orders until such time that the DAFA is ready to fully implement standardized DES operations and management.”
Like DHA, DISA said one of the primary goals of the single-award approach is to reduce the costs and complexity of multiple contracts managing its enterprise IT environment.
In this month’s draft solicitation, the agency said it wants to “provid[e] singular Command and Control focus across DAFAs for Common Use IT operations, decreasing redundant costs and enhancing cybersecurity,” “reduce contract overhead through the consolidation of multiple support contracts,” and “generate and identify opportunities for new technology insertion to enhance the cybersecurity posture of DISA and its mission partners.” —JS
The Pentagon on Friday announced selections for two of the most important positions in its IT leadership structure.
Maj. Gen. Robert Skinner has been nominated to be the next director of the Defense Information Systems Agency, the department said. Skinner is currently the chief information officer/J6 at U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. He’ll replace Vice Adm. Nancy Norton.
It’s unclear exactly when the leadership transition will happen, but February would be a reasonable estimate: the position is a three-year tour, and Norton assumed the post in Feb. 2018.
On the same day, DoD announced the nomination of Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Michael Groen to lead the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center. He would be the second director of the organization DoD created in 2018 to synchronize AI activities across the military services.