DoD Reporter’s Notebook

jared_notebook_notext“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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Moving more TRICARE patients to civilian care would cause ‘significant harm,’ study finds

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 new study is casting doubt on the plan to “right size” the Military Health System by moving some TRICARE beneficiaries away from Defense Department facilities for medical care.

The report, funded by the Pentagon and published in Health Services Research journal, said moving patients away from care at military treatment facilities (MTFs) could cause significant harm.

The study goes as far to say that taking 10% of the population away from MTFs could cause significantly worse mortality rates and safety for patients.

“On average, Military Health System beneficiaries treated in MTFs experienced better inpatient-quality and improved patient-safety compared to MHS beneficiaries treated in locally-available civilian hospitals,” the study states. “Simulations of proposed changes resulted in consistently worse outcomes for Military Health System patients, whether reducing MTF access by 10%, 20%, or 50% nationwide; limiting MTF access to active-duty beneficiaries; or closing MTFs with the worst performance on patient-safety.”

The current strategy would close about 50 MTFs and move approximately 200,000 patients from getting care on base to using their TRICARE insurance to get assistance from private providers.

The report is the first look into how TRICARE beneficiaries could be directly impacted by the plan.

DoD sent a report to Congress in February 2020 laid out some issues that the downsizing might create, including making some bases less desirable, forcing troops to take off work to escort family members to health services off base and possible issues in finding standardized care for women.

DoD outlined mitigation strategies in the report like providing alternative transport strategies for family members.

The Defense Health Agency said it would rethink which facilities might be downsized after COVID exposed issues in civilian medical facility capacity.

In the beginning of the pandemic the Government Accountability Office released a report stating that DHA’s original assessment of the civilian marketplaces did not consistently account for provider quality and that inaccurate information was used to calculate how far patients would have to drive to get healthcare.

“MTF officials we interviewed also expressed concerns that the assessments did not account for traffic, including bridges and tunnels that create traffic chokepoints. In other words, they believed that even providers that appeared to be within drive time standards based on mileage could actually exceed the standard depending on their location and time of day,” the report stated. — SM

Senate appropriators ding Pentagon for inadequate transparency on middle-tier, OTA programs

In 2016, Congress gave DoD two new authorities that let it bypass much of the traditional Defense acquisition bureaucracy when it’s building or buying new prototypes. The tradeoff was supposed to be detailed reporting on how the Pentagon used those new authorities, but the Senate said DoD still isn’t living up to its end of the bargain.

The Senate Appropriations Committee’s version of the 2022 Defense appropriations bill, released last week, critiques DoD on transparency grounds on its use of both middle-tier acquisitions (MTAs) and other transaction agreements (OTAs.)

On MTAs, the committee points out the military services are now using the rapid prototyping and rapid fielding avenue — sometimes called “Section 804” authority — for 74 separate weapons programs. In a report accompanying the bill, lawmakers said MTAs look like they’re becoming a “de facto” approach to buying end items.

But at least so far, DoD hasn’t complied with an existing law that requires it to send Congress detailed information on R&D funds used for MTA programs that make their way into operational use. And the committee said there’s reason to be concerned that a lack of detail on MTAs might prompt the military services to make unwise procurement planning decisions.

DoD’s existing approaches “may limit the services’ ability to successfully manage their acquisition programs in the long term by eliminating the complete understanding of full program costs up-front, unnecessarily narrowing the industrial base early in the acquisition process, and eliminating opportunities for future innovation by reducing competition over the life of the acquisition,” senators wrote. “Further, the committee is concerned that budgeting for these de facto end-items incrementally with research and development appropriations instead of fully funding them with procurement appropriations obfuscates costs and limits transparency and visibility into services’ procurement efforts.”

The Senate bill would order DoD to send Congress a list of all its acquisition programs that are using prototyping or rapid acquisition authorities, along with rationales for those decisions and cost estimates and contracting strategies for each one. Though it doesn’t mandate it, the committee report also opines that DoD needs an overarching policy on how the military services should plan and budget sustainment costs for weapons that start out as MTA projects.

Senators have similar complaints when it comes to other transaction agreements.

The same committee report laments that the Federal Procurement Data System still hasn’t been updated to capture important data on DoD’s use of OTAs, forcing the department to fall back to manual data calls to gather basic information.

“This issue is exacerbated when analyzing OTAs awarded through consortiums and provides limited visibility on the industry partners that are executing the work on behalf of the consortium,” according to the report.

The DoD inspector general raised similar concerns in a report earlier this year, noting that government spending databases contain almost no information about individual projects managed by consortiums. Under those circumstances, since the only contractual relationship is between the government and the consortium, official spending records only reflect the large, initial award to the consortium. Data on the actual tasks being done by consortium members is stored on individual spreadsheets that aren’t accessible to Congress or the public, obscuring billions of dollars in annual Defense spending.

Congress has already ordered DoD to improve its data collection and reporting on OTAs. The Senate bill would also require Defense acquisition officials to brief the Congressional defense committees on what they’re doing to improve the Federal Procurement Data System — or possibly use a different data system for OTAs altogether. —JS

Senate pumps brakes on DoD proposal to expand ‘colorless’ software appropriation

DoD’s prospects for moving more of its IT programs into a new, experimental software appropriation are looking dimmer, at least in the near term.

Last month, the House Appropriations Committee voted to allow the military services to expand the colorless money pilot to 12 programs, up from nine in 2021. In general, the approach lets managers fund an entire IT program using solely R&D funds, eliminating the distinctions between R&D, procurement and operations and maintenance funding that are largely irrelevant to modern software development.

But the Senate’s version of the 2022 Defense appropriations bill put the brakes on any expansion of the Software and Digital Technology Pilot Program. It’s not that appropriators necessarily think it’s a bad idea, they say, but they’d like to see some data on how it’s working before it gets any bigger. And DoD still hasn’t delivered information on the pilots that Congress demanded in last year’s appropriations bill.

“Objective quantitative and qualitative evidence is required to evaluate the ongoing approved pilot programs prior to considering an expansion of programs,” according to the committee report. “Reporting requirements … have not been submitted to the congressional defense committees on a timely basis, and have not yet provided a baseline for analyzing the effectiveness of the pilot programs compared to traditional appropriation practices.”

The Senate bill would order DoD to draw up an analysis of how the eight existing pilot programs are performing so far, compared against eight similar IT programs that use the traditional appropriations method. —JS

Congress starting to sweat over space acquisition

One of the biggest selling points of creating a Space Force was to consolidate the Defense Department’s space acquisition efforts.

But, nearly two years after the branch was created, some of the biggest issues around how the Pentagon will buy space assets are still unsolved and Congress is taking notice.

In the 2022 Senate defense appropriations bill, lawmakers said they are worried about how slowly DoD’s new space acquisition process is developing.

“The committee understands that multiple military services and agencies across the Department of Defense retain equities in acquisition programs tied to the space domain and that consolidation of space based acquisition programs is an ongoing endeavor,” the committee report states. “However, the committee is concerned that delaying consolidation of space based acquisition programs under the Space Force may result in inefficiencies across the Department of Defense.”

The bill asks DoD to submit a report identifying space-related development and acquisition programs.

“This report shall include a list of programs for each service or agency and the executing program office; a brief description of the capability provided; a determination of whether the program will be transferred to the Space Force; timeline for transfer; and explanation of the rationale leading to the transfer decision,” the report said.

One of the biggest issues surrounding how DoD buys space systems is the office that will lead the effort.

The creation of a Space Force, Space Development Agency and space acquisition office in the Air Force were meant to address criticisms that the Defense Department’s fragmented leadership on buying space weapons was delaying critical capabilities.

The 2020 defense authorization act requires DoD to appoint a space acquisition executive.

That position, which must be created by October 2022, would work with the Air Force service acquisition executive on space systems. The position would also be in charge of the Space Development Agency, the Space Rapid Capabilities Office and the Space and Missile Systems Center.

Space News reported that Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall is trying to speed up that nomination process by asking Congress to authorize an assistant secretary for space acquisition before that 2022 deadline.

Kendall is in talks with Congress about amending the 2022 defense authorization bill to do that.

The Air Force has already made some preparations for what the office will look like. At the beginning of the year the Air Force revamped its space acquisition shop by splitting it into three directorates.

“We have gone from an organization that was largely focused on policy and providing advice and counsel to the Air Force secretary to one that is now focused on, or will be focused on, acquisition, architecture, and then policy and integration,” Shawn Barnes, who is performing the duties of Air Force assistant secretary for space acquisition and integration, said when the Air Force undertook the initiative.

The three directorates are each run by a colonel and focus on the three areas Barnes mentioned: Acquisition, architecture, and policy and integration.

“Underlying those three key directorates,” Barnes said. “I have a number of subject matter experts that effectively work for all three of those directorates. They’re set up into different teams based on mission areas. We have a mission area related to precision navigation, timing and communications. We have a team that is focused on space control, a team that is focused on launch in space logistics, and then a team that’s focused on space control.” — SM

Punishments start for troops who refuse vaccines

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.

Military service members are starting to face consequences for refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Those punishments range from a reprimand to, in the Navy’s case, removal from the armed forces and a loss of benefits.

The Navy announced Thursday that it has plans to start separating sailors who refuse to get inoculated.

The service said those who are kicked out will receive, at the highest, a general discharge under honorable conditions — paper that could disqualify them from veterans benefits.

Commanding officers must identify those refusing the vaccine, give them medical counseling and report refusing sailors within 30 days.

Service members in senior leadership roles will get a notice from the Navy to begin the vaccination process in five days or request an exemption, otherwise they will be relieved.

Additionally, commands will not allow sailors refusing the vaccine to promote, advance, reenlist or execute orders unless they are exempted.

The Navy is also retaining the authority to take away unvaccinated sailors’ warfare qualifications and other specialties.

Active duty sailors need to be vaccinated by Nov. 14 and reserve sailors need to finish the process by Dec. 14. That means that they get both shots or the single Johnson & Johnson vaccine and two weeks have elapsed from the time of the last shot

“Tragically, there have been 164 deaths within the Navy family due to COVID-19, far exceeding the combined total of all other health or mishap related injuries and deaths over the same time period,” Vice Adm. John Nowell,  chief of naval personnel, said in the orders. Almost all of those deaths were from people who were unvaccinated. There are 20 of those people whose vaccination status was not known.

To oversee the discharge process, the Navy is creating a COVID Consolidated Disposition Authority to ensure what a “fair and consistent process” for separation.

About 98% of the Navy’s active duty force is fully vaccinated or have gotten one dose.

So far, the Navy has come out with the strictest policy on those resisting the shot.

The Air Force has sent out formal reprimands to airmen who will miss their shots. The Air Force’s deadline for active duty airmen is Nov. 2, so those who have not gotten their first shot yet will not be in compliance.

The Air Force amn/nco/snco Facebook group posted a reprimand issued from the 319th Reconnaissance Wing at Grand Forks, North Dakota.

The letter, dated Oct. 3, states the airman failed to obey a lawful order.

“You failed to follow a direct order by a superior commissioned officer and by doing so have placed yourself and your fellow airmen in danger,” the reprimand reads. “I can no longer trust you to obey orders that will execute our mission. You have shown you are not committed to maintaining readiness for the Department of the Air Force.”

The reprimand directs the airman to complete a virtual or in-person transition assistance program workshop and obtain and separation history and physical examination in 14 days.

“Your conduct is unacceptable and further deviation or failure to comply may result in more severe action,” the letter reads.

About 84% of active duty airmen are fully vaccinated and 96% have at least one dose.

The military still has serious ground to make up for vaccinations.

“We continue to make progress on this,” said Pentagon spokesman John Kirby last week. “In the total force, for at least one dose we are at 80%. For fully vaccinated across the total force it’s about 65%. The defense secretary’s expectation is that commanders will try to get these troops to make the right decision based on information and education, and for somebody that refuses, they’ll be given a chance to get more context from medical service providers as well as their chain of command.”

“It’s a lawful order, so obviously if after all that effort the lawful order is disobeyed, there could be disciplinary action, but the secretary believes that there’s lots of tools available to leaders, short of using the uniform code of military justice, to get these troops to do the right thing for themselves and for their units,” Kirby continued. — SM

DoD offering booster shots at treatment facilities

The Military Health System is now offering a booster shot to people who have gotten the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine.

Military treatment facilities and Defense Department vaccination sites are offering the shots free of charge.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests people get the booster shot six months after completing their second dose of the vaccine.

Health professionals are making a distinction between booster shots and a third dose of the vaccination.

A booster dose is being recommended to increase immunity as it lowers over time. By contrast, a third shot is a full dosage over the vaccine for those with compromised immune systems who did not build up enough antibodies from the original two shots. Third shots are usually given within a month of the second dose.

The CDC says people who should get the booster now include those:

  • 65 years and older and residents in long-term care facilities
  • 18 and older in long-term care settings
  • 50-64 with underlying medical conditions
  • 18-49 with underlying medical conditions based on their individual benefits and risks
  • 18-64 who are at increased risk of COVID-19 exposure and transmission because of occupational or institutional settings such as teachers, frontline health care workers and essential workers, and those incarcerated, based on their individual benefits and risks.

Booster doses are not part of the Defense Department or federal worker mandates for vaccines.

Proof of an underlying condition or occupational risk is not necessary to get the booster.

The Food and Drug Administration is currently reviewing whether people with the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines need booster shots. — SM

New DoD R&D boss wants new positions to focus on software, sustainment

The Defense Department’s newly-sworn in undersecretary for research and engineering is planning a fairly significant restructuring of her organization, including by increasing its focus on modern software development methodologies and lowering the long-term sustainment costs of weapons systems while they’re still in their early R&D phases.

Heidi Shyu, who the Senate confirmed as undersecretary in June, said the new organizational chart is still in the works and still needs approval from Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks. But she hopes to create at least three new senior positions within DoD’s research and engineering enterprise.

One of the new positions would be Director of Processing and Software to help the department speed its adoption of commercial software practices.

“In the commercial world, software migrates so fast. In the DoD world, they’re starting to adapt some of the commercial best practices, but lagging behind the true software world,” Shyu said in an interview with Federal News Network set to air on Oct. 19. “This is where we’re going to drive the technology of the future software into what we’re doing now, instead of waiting until we develop something, and then try to glue things together.”

Meanwhile, two other new positions would be focused on building modularity and affordability into military weapons systems early in their development.

Shyu said she intends to hire a new Director of Sustainment Technologies within the R&E organization to help “canvas” the non-Defense world for technologies that can help reduce long-term sustainment costs. And a separate director would be in charge of integrating modular open systems architecture into new and forthcoming systems.

“That’s sort of the first step: if we have a modular open architecture, guess what? I can compete elements of the architecture. Anytime you’re doing competition, price goes down, price doesn’t go up, and you can get the latest technology even quicker,” she said. “From leveraging additive manufacturing to leveraging open architecture, there are so many things we can do to reduce costs in the sustainment area.” —JS

JAIC thinks AI might solve DoD’s struggles with contract writing systems

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 has been trying to move the military services and Defense agencies to a single, modernized contract writing system for a decade now. And although those efforts have seen major setbacks, DoD’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center thinks it might be possible to build one with AI, and to have something to show for it as early as next March.

Under the auspices of Tradewind, the new acquisition vehicle the JAIC established earlier this year, the center issued a Sept. 20 call for commercial technologies for a possible “AI-powered contract writing system.” The goal is to automate as much of the procurement process as possible, and maybe also prove out some new use cases where AI can be brought to bear on other DoD business systems.

“There is no Joint DoD common infrastructure and platform that would enable collaboration and execution of contracts with partners across the DoD,” according to the solicitation. “If successful, the solution will result in efficiencies in contract award lead times, regulatory processes, data analytics, performance management, and audit compliance.”

Vendors had until last week to propose their first round of ideas to solve real-world problems DoD contractors and other acquisition professionals submitted. That phase of the process, according to JAIC, is meant to determine how many vendors and AI entrepreneurs understand the problems.

Next, in phase 2, a narrowed-down group of participants will be invited to 45-minute sessions to pitch their ideas and field questions from a government panel. Then, in phase 3, an even smaller group will get $50,000 awards to build prototypes.

The JAIC wants the prototypes to be operational by March 15, and able to perform tasks like building an automated request for proposals or market research report.

Both the broader Tradewind project and the AI contract writing system use DoD’s other transaction authority, which lets the department award production contracts directly to companies who’ve already successfully competed for prototype work on the same project. The solicitation makes clear that JAIC is considering using that authority, so it’s at least theoretically possible the new solicitation could end up forming the basis for a real-world contract writing system, or at least part of one.

In recent years, the Army and Navy in particular have struggled to build or buy modern contract writing systems that suit the needs of their own services, let alone one that interoperates across the entire department.

In July, the Navy paused work on a 10-year, $222.9 million contract with CGI to build its new Electronic Procurement System (ePS), citing the vendor’s failure to meet requirements and users grading the system as an “F.”

The Army is working on a system based on the same commercial software – Momentum – and sent CGI a cure letter in 2019 to fix defects in its version, the Army Contract Writing System (ACWS). The Army confirmed to Federal News Network earlier this year that it was also looking at other potential options. —JS

White House initiative aimed at mitigating government pollution coming soon

The White House is currently drafting an executive order that will mandate greenhouse gas mitigation efforts from at least the Defense Department, if not other agencies.

The announcement comes just after 23 departments and agencies, including DoD, released their climate adaptation plans, which provided a framework for how they will operate in a world impacted by climate change.

The Pentagon’s mitigation will build on past statutes like the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and the newer version of the law from 2020.

“All of that statute sets out targets for greenhouse gas reductions which will be followed on by a new executive order from the White House,” Richard Kidd, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for environment and energy resilience, said during a Defense Writers Group event. “That will set forth our targets and I think our targets will be in line with many of the things you’ve already heard from the administration.”

“We have to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to zero and we have to do it — before 2050,” he added. “If we want to have the most pronounced effects of climate change. Using the federal government are expected to contribute to that objective within our mission set and parameters. We’re going to be part of that effort.”

If DoD were a country, it would be the 55th largest polluter, beating out 140 nations.

Kidd said DoD will not be completely independent of fossil fuels. Part of the climate adaptation plan is a focus on resiliency. That includes a plan that will build microgrids on bases, so that those installations can run self-sufficiently. At times, that will require the use of nonrenewable energy sources.

Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks said last week that DoD is planning to give climate change its own category in the budget so that funds going to mitigating or remediating environmental issues can be tracked easier.

The Pentagon will also need cooperation from its contractors to cut back on emissions. DoD’s climate adaptation plan says the department “will use its position as the single largest buyer of goods and services to drive transparency within and across its supply chain; expecting major suppliers to fully disclose greenhouse gas emissions and broader environmental, social and governance performance.”

Kidd said that won’t necessarily come in the form of requirements.

“Most smart companies [are] recognizing gas closure is the reality in the future,” he said. “There’s a tremendous set of initiatives in the private sector already to look at greenhouse gas emissions, we’re just going to get in line with that momentum. A number of companies are publishing greenhouse gas emissions information. We frequently meet with the highest levels when these companies come in and talk to us and we are asking what their greenhouse gas emissions profile is like and what their climate commitments are.”

DoD’s climate adaptation plan makes drastic changes to the way it operates in a world affected by extreme weather.

“Climate change will continue to amplify operational demands on the force, degrade installations and infrastructure, increase health risks to our service members, and could require modifications to existing and planned equipment,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin wrote in the plan. “Extreme weather events are already costing the Department billions of dollars and are degrading mission capabilities.” — SM

Does DoD need such a big budget? CBO report finds alternatives to high defense spending

The more liberal wing of the Democratic Party has found traction recently in reducing military spending. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), for example, created considerable debate with his amendment to last year’s defense authorization act that would have reduced defense spending by 10%, and put that money toward infrastructure, schools and hospitals.

With the United States now withdrawn from the War in Afghanistan, many are questioning what kind of funding the Defense Department needs.

A new study from the Congressional Budget Office lays out three options for reducing the military budget by $1 trillion, or 14%, over the next 10 years. That comes from DoD estimates that it will need $7.3 trillion in budgeting for the next 10 years.

The study outlines three options that will protect the nation, while also costing taxpayers less.

The first option is a proportional reduction in military size by moving the United States away from the National Defense Strategy and more toward the strategy it used before 2018. The force would be 19% smaller than it currently is and would assume that the United States take a less interventionist role in global politics.

“The expectation that U.S. forces should have overmatch against all opponents can be traced to post–Cold War conflicts like the Gulf War in 1990, operations in Bosnia in 1992 and Kosovo in 1998,” the CBO authors wrote. “Those demonstrated successes against lesser adversaries might not be possible against adversaries in the future regardless of the size of the U.S. defense budget. Changes in technology and tactics make it less likely the United States can achieve overmatch in military confrontations with adversaries.”

CBO said DoD could even achieve overmatch by focusing on building strength in specific areas and cooperating with allies.

Under the first option the Navy would reduce its ship size to 238, older aircraft would be retired and the Army’s brigade combat teams would lessen from 31 to 25.

The second option is similar to how the United States handled the U.S.S.R. by focusing more on alliances.

“The United States would plan to promptly counterattack an aggressor’s military forces and follow up with military, economic, and diplomatic actions designed to force the aggressor to change its behavior,” the authors wrote. “The objective would be to increase the cost of aggression rather than to mount a full-scale defense or immediate counterattack.”

Under that option the United States would focus on building up allies and put its money toward long-range weapons and naval power. The Navy would have a fleet of about 370 and the Marine Corps would prioritize the development of new capabilities of that team with partners.

The Air Force would trim tactical and airlift squadrons and the Army would retain its ability to maintain large-scale operations while using smaller units and assisting allies on long-range strikes.

The final option would focus on protecting the United States’ economic and commerce priorities and convene with allies to create more of a military coalition.

“If an enemy attacked an ally, the United States could use its command of the commons to restrict the enemy’s movement and trade while providing direct material support to U.S. allies who were under attack,” the authors wrote.

This option would increase the Navy to 340 ships and significantly reduce the Army’s funding. The Air Force would increase airlift, fueling capacities and bombers.

Some of these options have been proposed, at least in part, by more moderate Democrats as well. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has repeatedly said the National Defense Strategy stretches the United States too thin.

Many taxpayer advocacy groups are praising the report.

“The CBO report enriches the debate about the real costs and opportunities of unaffordable Pentagon spending. There are numerous ways to protect our national security interests for significantly less than three-quarters of a trillion dollars,” said Mandy Smithberger, director for the center for defense information at the Project on Government Oversight. “It is critical that Congress hold hearings on CBO’s findings and seriously consider its proposals for Pentagon and nuclear savings.”

William Hartung, co-director of the Sustainable Defense Task Force, said the CBO report is a useful, if not conservative, framework for Congress.

“The CBO was able to find multiple pathways to saving $1 trillion over ten years even under the current overly muscular National Defense Strategy developed during the Trump administration, which relies on military force to the detriment of other more effective solutions,” he said.

Some on the Republican-side of the aisle and supporters of the National Defense Strategy are sticking to a model increasing the defense budget by 3% to 5% per year. Congress is possibly going to be adding funds to the president’s 2022 budget to achieve that framework.— SM

Appropriators worried about DoD’s ability to fill key technical vacancies

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.

Congress is taking a particular interest in helping the Defense Department plug deficiencies in hard-to-fill positions, especially as near-peer competition with rivals like China and Russia continues to heat up.

The House Appropriations Committee’s 2022 defense bill reflects concern with DoD’s recruitment and retention challenges, especially when it comes to career and technical education (CTE) and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) issues.

“The committee is concerned that Department of Defense recruiting and retention programs are not as effective as they could be to employ personnel for the challenging types of vacancies the department and the services have,” lawmakers wrote in a report accompanying the bill.

The legislation will direct a handful of reports and plans in order to address hiring shortages.

Perhaps one of the more notable provisions would require DoD to establish a Defense CTE and STEM Education and Workforce Pipeline Strategy after it delivers to Congress a report that delineates the programs and funding levels related to the programs.

“The report should clearly identify any programs and funding that promotes advancement for females, minorities, individuals with disabilities, military students, or veterans,” the lawmakers wrote. “For each program, the report should include the award recipients’ funding amount, use, and the effectiveness of the program to recruit students into CTE or STEM programs or careers in the Department, Services, or defense industry.”

The report would also include how modernization strategies may impact needs for hard-to-fill positions over the next decade.

Congress also wants DoD to coordinate with the Education and Labor Departments and the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Office of Science and Technology Policy on building the strategy.

“The strategy should also provide recommendations on creating and/or modifying all levels of current CTE and STEM programs and funding to develop a comprehensive group of programs to address current and possible future defense workforce gaps in this arena. Within the recommendations, particular emphasis should be placed on programs that encourage women, minorities, individuals with disabilities, and veterans to pursue CTE and STEM careers,” appropriators wrote.

The committee is particularly interested in how DoD can vary hiring authorities. For example, Congress gave the military the authority to conduct spot promotions in the 2019 defense authorization bill, which can move lower-ranking officers into important positions they may not have the grade for.

In a separate provision, the committee wants to keep a closer eye on how DoD is actually keeping up with the need to fill its positions.

Congress wants a report on enlisted and officer recruitment incentives, education and workforce development programs, retention incentives and manpower requirements.

“The report should include an annual survey to ensure requirements are matched to goals to fill these positions. The report should include desired educational and technical skills, retention incentives, education or workforce development programs and enrollment, and recruitment incentives for hard-to-fill positions,” lawmakers wrote. “The report should identify all relevant entities, an overview of their responsibilities, and a formal means of evaluation between entities. The report should address how each service will utilize the survey to incorporate its modernization priorities into each of the listed constructs. Finally, the report should include an overview of modernization-related changes to these incentives and programs and their estimated costs.”

The prompting for new information comes as a slew of reports from the RAND Corporation and others show that sexual assault and harassment are causing thousands of women to leave the military each year.

“We use lose nearly 16,000 man hours every single year because of early retention loss to sexual harassment and assault,” said Kayla Williams, who is part of the Independent Review Commission of Sexual Assault in the Military.

A recent report from the DoD Inspector General also found that the Pentagon is bungling the way it tracks cyber positions, often leading to an inability to understand what the military’s needs are.

The report found that DoD was not properly coding filled and unfilled cyber positions — one of the occupations the department is having the most trouble filling.

“The DoD components we reviewed did not always comply with work role coding requirements because the DoD components did not have a quality assurance process that ensured compliance with the DoD coding guide,” the DoD IG wrote.  “The DoD may be unable to properly target its recruitment and retention efforts without completely and accurately coding all of its civilian cyber positions. Until the DoD components’ application of work role codes is complete and accurate, the DoD may not have the information needed to identify and target the recruitment and retention programs to meet its greatest cyber workforce needs.” — SM

COVID prompts Navy to ask: How much office space do we really need?

The military services have long said they have more real property than they actually need. And in case that wasn’t clear prior to the pandemic, the dramatic changes COVID-19 brought to DoD’s willingness and ability to telework added an exclamation point.

So much so that the Navy has started to rethink how it uses its facilities, including how much office space it needs and how that space is used. The reassessment is looking at the degree to which information technology platforms have supplanted the need to work in the office, what types of jobs require in-person attendance, and how facilities should be designed in the future.

“We have more infrastructure than we can afford to maintain. That’s a fact,” Rear Adm. John Korka, the commander of Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) said last week during the Navy League’s annual Sea Air Space symposium in National Harbor, Md. “The focus is on generating readiness and lethality, and so we have to divest of infrastructure.”

Starting with a prototype project at the Washington Navy Yard, the Navy is trying to assess how much real estate it truly needs for each employee.

“We have set up design criteria based on the individual and how often that person may need to be in a building,” Korka said. “You could look at it as hoteling – you may just need a locker to put your stuff. You need a place to come in and connect. We looked at its collaboration spaces, so instead of 100 offices, you may only need five, and then three conference rooms. So we have actually set up the DoD criteria based on the requirements for what you may need.”

And if the Navy’s able to “compress” its actual requirements for office space, it may also be able to stop using leased offices.

Korka said the H.R.-focused assessments involving what types of positions require in-person attendance and how often employees need to be in the office are still ongoing, but in the meantime, NAVFAC is also examining how offices are designed to make them safer during situations like the COVID pandemic.

“We’ve looked at the components of the building, including the HVAC and the sensoring,” he said. “How do you open doors? How do you close doors? Where do you need stations? And so we have established that.”

If the effort yields meaningful reductions in the Navy’s facility footprint, it could help ameliorate the deteriorating conditions in many of its older facilities: like the other military services, the Navy has knowingly underinvested in facility sustainment, restoration and modernization (FSRM) for years.

And the 2022 budget proposal is no different. The service has requested only enough funding to meet about 80 percent of the maintenance requirements for the facilities it currently owns – well short of the 90 percent goal in DoD’s own facility sustainment model.

As of now, the Navy has a backlog of $17.1 billion in uncompleted facility maintenance, according to budget documents. —JS

DoD is lagging on human trafficking enforcement in contracting

The Defense Department has a zero tolerance policy for companies dealing in human trafficking, however a new report finds that the Pentagon is not fulfilling its duties in vetting contractors for violations.

The Government Accountability Office found some DoD components had limited oversight of contractors regarding human trafficking and that 12 of 14 Army and Navy contracting officers GAO spoke with were not aware of their responsibilities on the issue.

Even the Defense Department Inspector General’s Office was lacking. DoD IG failed to report all trafficking violations and investigations in contracts from 2015 to 2020.

“GAO also found that two investigations led to DoD taking action against the contractors, but the Army contracting officers did not report them as trafficking violations in a federal database, as required,” the authors of the report wrote. “DoD guidance and federal regulations have different requirements for who is responsible for this reporting, and the Army has not developed clarifying guidance. Without accurate reporting of actions taken against contractors in this database, contracting officers will lack complete information when making future award decisions involving contractors that engaged in trafficking.”

Since the 1990s, there has been allegations of abuse of foreign workings on U.S. government contracts overseas, according to GAO.

“Previous GAO and DoD IG reports on overseas U.S. military operations have highlighted the persistence of human trafficking among foreign workers employed on contracts,” the authors wrote. “We have reported that many of these individuals come from developing countries, and income disparities between their countries of origin and countries of destination, coupled with exploitative recruiting methods, often make these workers vulnerable to labor abuses.”

In 2017, the Army banned a subcontractor from federal work for almost three years after violating Kuwaiti laws and engaging in trafficking, including withholding payment for work.

GAO is making six recommendations on this issue. They include issuing guidance to reinforce trafficking responsibilities and clarifying which offices should be involved in receiving and reporting trafficking events. — SM


Service members in remote areas missing out on transition benefits

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.

Small bases and installations in remote areas are having trouble providing important transition benefits to service members leaving the military.

Compounding the problem is issues related to COVID-19, where even more programs are delayed or congested, according to the Government Accountability Office.

The Transition Assistance Program (TAP) is a cohesive, modular, outcome-based program that bolsters and standardizes the opportunities, services and training that service members receive to better prepare them to pursue their post-military career goals, according to the Defense Department website. It’s considered an essential benefit for many service members who only know professional life within the military.

GAO found that small and remote bases had limited local employment opportunities for transitioning service members.

“Officials whom we interviewed at six installations said that employment opportunities in the local area are limited, which can affect the networking opportunities service members have when searching for post-military employment,” the GAO investigators wrote.

The nature of living on a small base was also found to be a hindrance, GAO stated that at times bases could not hold in-person classes because they did not have enough service members for a minimum class size.

“As a result, the class has to be cancelled or postponed and the service member has to wait for the next offering or take the class at another installation or virtually, depending on their transition timeline,” the authors wrote. “An official at one of the Navy installations in our review said that the installation faced the same issue with virtual classes during the pandemic.”

Even the remoteness of the bases can be an issue. Officials at two mountain-based bases said that at times TAP instructors could not reach the base because of topography or inclement weather.

COVID made things worse.

“Officials at six of the installations in our review said that the VA did not offer live virtual instruction for the veterans benefits briefing after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the authors wrote. “Therefore, the only way for service members to complete the VA benefits requirement was through self-paced virtual learning.”

GAO noted that the number of service members using TAP services virtually resulted in challenges with platform licenses.

The Air Force said that it saw a slight decrease in TAP compliance at the start of the pandemic.

Remote bases are installations 50 miles or more from a city of 50,000 and small bases are ones with 10,000 service members or less.

GAO is not making any recommendations for improvement at this point. — SM

Worldwide military experiments show AI capabilities for global integration

The military combatant commands and NORAD finished their third set of experiments aimed at using artificial intelligence to warn decision makers of threats earlier.

The experiment was conducted in conjunction with the Defense Department’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC) in what the military is calling a series of risk-reduction experiments.

“The Global Information Dominance Experiment 3 (GIDE 3) showcased how the software tools designed for cross-combatant command collaboration, assessment, and decision-making can be used to enable more effective global logistics coordination, intelligence sharing and operations planning,” Gen. Glen VanHerck, the commander of NORAD and U.S. Northern Command said in a statement. “By integrating more information from a global network of sensors and sources, using the power of AI and machine-learning techniques to identify the important trends within the data, and making both current and predictive information available to commanders, NORAD and NORTHCOM are giving leaders around the globe more time to make decisions and choose the best options available, whether in competition, crisis or conflict.”

The system is just one way DoD is making an effort to inject AI measures into almost every facet of its future capabilities.

“Integrated deterrence is about using the right mix of technology, operational concepts, and capabilities — all woven together in a networked way that is so credible, flexible and formidable that it will give any adversary pause,” said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

GIDE 3 showed JAIC’s Matchmaker capability of recognizing crisis deterrence and defense options and presenting them to decision makers across the globe so they could make integrated decisions.

The previous experiments set up more early-warning and processing capabilities for AI systems to take in.

Stage one focused on cost-effective data solutions to increase decision space through earlier indications and warnings. Stage two evaluated the ability to respond to contested logistics and demonstrated global collaboration to rapidly create deterrence options and dynamic contested logistics planning, according to the Air Force.

“Our nearly two-year experimentation partnership with NORAD and U.S. Northern Command on three of our five events has yielded tremendous progress in designing and evaluating and the technical architectures that enable our joint warfighters,” said Preston Dunlap, the Air and Space Forces’ chief architect. “We’re grateful to have willing and motivated partners like NORAD and NORTHCOM who are eager to get after the difficult decision superiority for strategic leadership challenges, all the way down to agile, distributed decision superiority at the edge problem sets that we tackled in GIDE 3.” — SM


National Guard readies severe budget measures to cover this year’s Capitol security costs

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.

Best listening experience is on Chrome, Firefox or Safari. Subscribe to Federal Drive’s daily audio interviews on Apple Podcasts or PodcastOne.

The National Guard is preparing to take drastic measures to keep its accounts solvent for the remainder of this fiscal year, saying there’s still no indication Congress will come up with the emergency funding it would need to reimburse it for the extra expenses it incurred to secure the nation’s capital.

Leaders of the individual state National Guards said they will be forced to cancel drills for August and September, cancel training events and furlough civilians to keep the Guard afloat.

“This funding shortfall will have significant impacts that this funding shortfall will have lots of these funds will have major impact on our readiness, both for our federal missions and for state emergencies,” Maj. Gen. Richard Neely, the adjutant general of the Illinois National Guard, told reporters Friday. “Most of these soldiers and airmen would lose two months of drill pay, which many of these troops and their families depend on. Troops and their families will incur debt to the government, because life insurance and TRICARE health insurance come out of these service members’ military pay. National Guard members have deductions, such as for the military Blended Retirement Systems as well. All these payments would fail for two months, creating significant debt that would have to be recouped later.”

The National Guard endured about $521 million in unexpected costs this year because of its mission to secure the Capitol following the Jan. 6 insurrection.

“Without reimbursement funding, there is significant impact on National Guard readiness if we’re not able to resolve this in a timely manner,” Army General Daniel R. Hokanson, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, said in a statement to Federal News Network.

The shortfall would affect 54 states and territories, plus Washington, D.C.

Defense One reported late last week that Hokanson sent a memo to the heads of the Air and Army National Guards, ordering them to pull back all unspent federal funds from the states.

The National Guard Bureau “has not received assurance of reimbursement and therefore must take fiscally responsible steps to retain solvency,” Gen. Daniel Hokanson, the chief of the National Guard Bureau wrote to the directors of the Army and Air National Guards, according to the publication. “I am directing you to pull back unexecuted federal funds from the states, territories and District of Columbia beginning 1 August 2021.”

The bureau did not respond specifically to Federal News Network’s requests to confirm the memo’s contents.

There have been a handful of attempts to reimburse the National Guard since the Capitol mission ended. Democrats put forward a larger emergency spending bill based on the future protection of the Capitol, which passed the House, but never made it to the floor of the Senate.

And Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the chairman of the appropriations committee, proposed a $3.7 billion plan to fund Capitol security that would also have reimbursed National Guard. However, it’s unlikely that plan will make it to a vote before the August recess.

Reps. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) and Steve Womack (R-Ark.) also introduced a standalone bill that would reimburse the National Guard.

The Defense Department also has a contingency plan to reprogram funds from other existing accounts to replenish the Guard accounts, Womack said. It would require the consent of Congressional leaders, and he said it should be rejected, because such a reallocation would mean robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Instead, he said, both houses of Congress should pass a “clean” bill to cover the Guard’s costs.

“During the months-long Capitol security mission, they’ve always embodied the National Guard motto of ‘Always Ready, Always There.’ And it is unconscionable that their accounts would be hit in such a way that these cuts would have to take place,” Womack said, adding that the training cancellations that could take place this year might have long-lasting financial impacts on Guard members.

“If you cancel drill, you just simply lose that money, but those 15 days are also pretty important to getting a qualified year for retirement purposes,” he said. “We don’t need to put our guardsmen in this position, we just simply need to take care of them without creating a food fight in the Pentagon to take the money from some account. This is our responsibility.” — SM

Biden administration taps Andrew Hunter to lead Air Force acquisition

The Biden administration has picked a widely-respected defense procurement veteran to head-up the Air Force’s acquisition bureaucracy. But the late date of his nomination makes it look increasingly likely that the Pentagon still won’t have any Senate-confirmed acquisition officials in place until after the August congressional recess.

The White House said on Friday that the president plans to nominate Andrew Hunter to be the next assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics. Hunter is currently a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, where he’s an expert on the complex interplay between DoD and its industrial base.

His nomination makes eminent sense, not just for his knowledge of the Defense acquisition system, but also his prior experience as chief of staff to Frank Kendall during the Obama Administration. Kendall, at that time, was DoD’s top acquisition official, and is now awaiting confirmation as Air Force secretary.

But “awaiting” is a key word here — and it’s a reminder of how thin the crop of the current administration’s Senate-confirmed DoD officials really is, especially in the acquisition space.

As of now, the Army, Navy and Air Force all have their top acquisition leadership slots filled by career officials on an acting basis.

James Geurts, who served in the top acquisition role for the Navy during the Trump administration, is still toiling away in government. But that’s because he’s now reverted to his previous status as a career civil servant, and has stayed on, somewhat paradoxically, to take a more senior temporary job than the one he had when he was Senate-confirmed: Acting undersecretary of the Navy. Technically, for aficionados of the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, he is “performing the duties” of the undersecretary.

But the rest of DoD’s acquisition bureaucracy is completely devoid of political leadership — a fact that’s not likely to change soon, considering the Congressional calendar.

Last week, Michael Brown, Biden’s nominee to be the undersecretary of Defense for acquisition and sustainment withdrew from the confirmation process amid an ongoing inspector general investigation into his current organization, the Defense Innovation Unit. Brown maintained he had nothing improper, but said his withdrawal was prompted by his understanding that that the IG investigation would likely drag out for another year. He remains the director of DIU.

The administration has not yet announced a replacement nominee, but last week, Politico reported that Stacy Cummings, the career acquisition professional who has been acting in the A&S role since January will soon leave DoD soon in order to take a new job with the National Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The other half of the Pentagon’s acquisition apparatus — the undersecretariat for research and engineering — does have a nominee still in the works: Heidi Shyu, who last served as the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology during the Obama administration.

But even though Shyu’s nomination sailed through the Senate Armed Services Committee without controversy in May, it has been stuck on the Senate floor for more than a month. —JS

Sesame Street tackling race with military families

One of the most famous children’s shows in history is unveiling its newest effort to support military families by tackling some of the race and diversity questions that spread across the nation over the last year.

Sesame Workshop is releasing a series of videos, online games, worksheets and other resources to help children and their parents understand some of the complex issues surrounding race that are being raised in American culture.

“The military community has specific needs, and part of it is because the community is exposed to a lot of diversity,” Maria del Rocio Galarza, vice president of educational content for U.S. social impact at Sesame Workshop, told Federal News Network. “Military families travel so much and see so much. And within the military families, there’s also a lot of diversity because we know that military families come from really different backgrounds.”

Galarza said the resources stemmed from the nation-wide protests following the death of George Floyd. Sesame Workshop is using the term “upstanders” for people who help themselves and others in unfair situations caused by race or language.

“We have a range of materials to help children and parents deal with these situations,” Galarza said. “For example, one of them is an interactive, where you see children of with different backgrounds and they’re doing their self portraits. As part of this exercise, they are exposed to different ways of describing oneself. And, and they also get to explore how they would describe themselves in a self-portrait. In addition to this, we have videos where we encourage families to have a conversation around skin color, and what race means.”

There are also strategies for being an upstander.

Like all Sesame Workshop materials, the resources went through a vigorous process of being developed and vetted by advisors, experts and child psychologists. Sesame Workshop also works with parents to see what resources they need to talk to their children. — SM

DoD, DHS still don’t have formal plans to implement their latest cyber cooperation agreement

The question of the Defense Department’s precise role in defending the U.S. from cyber attacks has always been a somewhat complicated one, depending on precisely which systems are meant to be defended, and who owns them. A big part of the answer has always been that it would depend on cooperation between DoD and the Department of Homeland Security.

But according to the initial results of a joint audit conducted by DoD and DHS’ inspectors general, the two departments haven’t followed through on a major portion of their latest collaboration plans — at least not formally.

The most recent joint agreement — signed in 2018 — set up a joint steering committee, let by DoD and DHS cyber officials. That committee, in turn, was supposed to produce an implementation plan that addressed the six specific lines of effort that the committee agreed to collaborate on. But the plan still does not exist, according to a redacted version of the audit findings DoD’s IG published last week.

“The lack of an implementation plan could result in DoD officials not providing the level of assistance to the DHS needed for the DoD and the DHS to conduct joint operations to protect critical infrastructure; support state, local, tribal, and territorial governments; and jointly defend military and civilian networks from cyber threats,” auditors wrote.

In response to a draft version of the report, Defense officials said they would work with DHS to draw up plans of action and milestones to address the specific areas the two departments agreed to work on in the 2018 memo, but only when they don’t duplicate ongoing “incident response efforts” or “operational planning” directed by the national security council.

DoD officials also told the IG that the 2018 agreement was really only meant to “promote engagement” and “define areas of common interest,” suggesting the departments have found ways to combine efforts outside the formal structure of the steering committee — such as defending election systems from foreign intervention during the 2020 presidential campaign.

But auditors worry that those efforts — while undoubtedly helpful — might miss some critical national vulnerabilities if there’s no documented structure that lays out each department’s roles and responsibilities for the six lines of effort they’ve agreed on for national cyber defense.”

“If differences arise between the [steering group] co-chairs or as the membership changes, the lack of an implementation plan could hinder the level or timeliness of assistance requested and provided,” according to the report. “In 2020, multiple federal agencies and the private sector were compromised by malicious actors using a trusted source, SolarWinds Orion. Although the SolarWinds Orion compromise was not related to the lack of an implementation plan, the compromise continues to show the  importance and criticality of the DoD’s and DHS’s ability to respond to any and all cyber threats, which would be significantly improved by implementing a plan to accomplish shared goals in the 2018 joint memorandum.”  —JS

Congress wondering if Space Force is worth it

Congress is wondering where some of the benefits promised by the Space Force are as the newest military branch hits its 18th month in existence.

Members of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee released the report for the 2022 defense spending bill and in it the committee criticized the progress of the Space Force.

One of the main selling points of the new service was that it would centralize space system acquisitions, however the lawmakers said they haven’t seen the progress they hoped for.

“The committee remains concerned that the Air Force has not taken more aggressive action in addressing longstanding space acquisition issues and has made little progress in defining what the Space Force will be doing that is fundamentally different than when it was a component of the Air Force,” the members of the committee wrote. “The Space Force lacks a clear plan which defines its future space architecture and lacks a strategy for how this architecture will be acquired.”

One of the committee’s main concerns revolves around Space Systems Command, which is in charge of the acquisition and fielding of space equipment.

“The plans for establishing the new acquisition unit, Space Systems Command, consist primarily of renaming the Space and Missile Systems Center and incorporating existing space launch units,” the lawmakers wrote. “The plan does not resolve the fundamental issues of overlap and duplication in roles, responsibilities, and authorities among the various other space acquisition units in the Department of the Air Force.”

The lawmakers are pushing the Air Force to find a space acquisition professional to serve as the assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisition and integration as soon as possible and to move authority to that position.

The law requires that the position be created and filled by October 2022. However, there are still questions over what the role would look like.

“A big part of what we’re doing now is preparing ourselves and posturing ourselves for that new responsibility that will be coming,” Shawn Barnes, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisition and integration said earlier this year. “We’re working very closely with Air Force acquisition to determine what sorts of capability and capacity that this office will need in terms of people, in terms of facilities and networks and clearances and all those kinds of things, so that we can do that service acquisition executive job once that responsibility moves over.” — SM


Report raises questions about commanders’ ability to handle legal decisions

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.

Best listening experience is on Chrome, Firefox or Safari. Subscribe to Federal Drive’s daily audio interviews on Apple Podcasts or PodcastOne.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DoD waiving online grocery shopping fees until further notice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


New Pentagon strategy for overseas cloud appears to back away from JEDI vision

The DoD Reporter’s Notebook is a weekly summary of personnel, acquisition, technology and management stories that may have fallen below your radar during the past week, but are nonetheless important. It’s compiled and published each Monday by Federal News Network DoD reporters Jared Serbu and Scott Maucione.

When it comes to getting to commercial cloud computing capabilities to users in overseas and tactical environments, the Defense Department still thinks the cloud needs to be managed as a central enterprise. But its latest vision involves many different commercial clouds working in tandem, even at the tactical edge.

Those are some of the messages in the DoD chief information officer’s newly-published OCONUS (outside the continental United States) cloud strategy. The first-of-its-kind document updates the department’s 2019 cloud strategy, a broader document that took a more global view toward cloud, to acknowledge some of the unique problems overseas users face.

Previously, the department’s IT leadership has seen its controversial JEDI Cloud project as central to enabling cloud connectivity at the tactical edge: The 2019 strategy said the use of other “fit-for-purpose” clouds would only be allowed by exception.

In marked contrast, the new OCONUS-specific strategy makes no mention of JEDI, or even of a single enterprise cloud. Instead, it envisions service members needing to “traverse” several different future cloud environments to get access to the data they need.

“A warfighter carrying out a mission requires persistent access to information hosted by various cloud providers, in different environments, and at multiple classification levels,” the new strategy reads. “This information ecosystem must include data to and from various tactical devices and mission partner environments that enable information sharing with coalition partners. Mission owner and warfighter access to information must not be tethered to a specific cloud solution or data center. They must be available regardless of geographical location or coalition partnership.”

However, that doesn’t mean the DoD CIO is eager to see the military services and combatant commands develop their own siloed cloud solutions. The new strategy also places a premium on centralized governance and management over whatever future clouds end up serving OCONUS users, partly to make sure new cloud services get approved as quickly as possible.

“This is particularly relevant for security accreditation and parity of cloud services between the enterprise and OCONUS,” the strategy’s authors wrote. “Data needs to be processed close to its source and staged as close to the warfighter as possible to enable data-driven decisions … users must have access to deployable cloud computing, high performance computing, and edge computing capabilities as they become available. This includes innovative cloud services that enable agile software development, robust collaboration, and powerful analytics such as Al/ML. Individually approving and implementing these capabilities at the point of need results in duplicative efforts and sub-optimal use of capacity.”

The 10-page document covers a range of goals the department thinks it will need to achieve before it can deliver effective cloud services to the field, ranging from bandwidth upgrades to new approaches to training, developing and assigning members of a cloud-savvy workforce.

But a central theme is the CIO office’s observation that, as of now, OCONUS users don’t generally have access to the sorts of innovations and enterprise capabilities the department has made progress in developing for its U.S.-based workforce.

“Delivering cloud innovation to the tactical edge requires modernization within all layers of the infrastructure. This modernization must meet the needs of a range of user-profiles in theater, from the warfighter operating outside the wire to the mission planner or IT administrator operating within an established base perimeter or U.S.-led humanitarian efforts,” the authors wrote.

Among the objectives is to give overseas IT developers and customers access to the sorts of DevSecOps and continuous delivery capabilities DoD has advanced state-side through projects like the Air Force’s CloudOne and PlatformOne.

And DoD plans to add some specifics along those particular lines with a new software modernization strategy. That forthcoming document is also meant to serve as an update to the department’s 2019 cloud strategy, said Danielle Metz, the deputy DoD CIO for information enterprise.

“It is a wholesale look at the technical enablers and the business processes we need to be able to transform everything — to optimize us for speed and get quality capability into the hands of the warfighter at the speed of relevance,” Metz said in an interview with Federal News Network. “A lot of our current processes — hold us back from that, and we know that. So working in partnership with the military services and other DoD components, we are taking a wholesale look on how we can optimize each of these processes to be able to deliver capability.”

The role of the JEDI contract — a cloud procurement DoD had once valued at up to $10 billion — remains ambiguous in the department’s current cloud plans. That’s perhaps to be expected, since the award to Microsoft has been stuck in litigation for the past year-and-a-half.

Earlier, the department had signaled it might walk away from the JEDI procurement entirely if a federal judge did not dismiss a part of Amazon Web Services’ lawsuit that alleged improper political influence on the procurement. But the court declined to order that proposed dismissal last month, keeping AWS’ lawsuit intact, and DoD has decided to proceed with the litigation anyway.

On Friday, Amazon submitted its latest request for additional evidence in the case. Those documents were filed with the Court of Federal Claims under seal, so it is not yet clear whether the company is still seeking the litigation-prolonging steps the department had been most concerned about, including it previously-sought court-ordered depositions of former president Donald Trump and other government officials. —JS

Service members will soon be able to file claims for medical malpractice

Starting in mid-July, military service members will have the option to file claims against the Defense Department for medical malpractice.

The new policy, which was required in the 2020 defense authorization act, gives new recourse to service members who feel their medical cases were mishandled by military professionals.

The policy does not, however, take the traditional route of suing for compensation. Instead, the claims will be handled by DoD through an administrative procedure where service members can request funds. The law, which is subject to various prerequisites and limitations authorizes DoD to “allow, settle, and pay a claim against the United States for personal injury or death incident to the service of a member of the uniformed services that was caused by the medical malpractice of a DoD health care provider.”

At last known count in February, 227 troops filed malpractice claims that could equal a payout of $2.2 billion. They have yet to be reviewed by the Pentagon.

The policy states that substantiated claims under $100,000 will be paid directly to a service member of their estate.

“The Treasury Department will review and pay claims that the secretary of defense values at more than $100,000. Service members must present a claim that is received by DoD within two years after the claim accrues,” the Federal Register interim final rule posting on the issue states.

The policy makes it clear that the new process is separate from the Military Health System Healthcare Resolutions Program. That entity is an independent, confidential system that “promotes full disclosure of factual clinical information involving adverse events and outcomes, and mediation of clinical conflicts. The program is part of the Military Health System’s commitment to transparency, which also includes a patient’s right to be heard as part of any quality assurance review,” the posting states.

The law, which took DoD a year and a half to actually put into effect, scoots around the Feres doctrine — a Supreme Court decision that active duty personnel may not sue the government for personal injuries suffered while on service

Instead of going through the process of judicial review, DoD decides who gets payouts. While there is an appeals process, there is no recourse for troops who want to take their malpractice claims through a court process. — SM

DoD requests Congress give military services their medical arms back

The Defense Department is making overtures to Congress to allow the individual military services to keep their own medical research wings.

In a list of legislative proposals for the 2022 defense authorization bill, the Pentagon is requesting that Congress repeal the requirement that the Defense Health Agency establish a subordinate entity called Defense Health Agency Research to absorb Army Medical Research and Materiel Command and other medical research organizations.

“This proposal is necessary to ensure that the secretaries of the military departments are capable of continued performance of those functions that are in direct support of operating forces to execute the U.S. national security and defense strategies,” DoD officials wrote in the proposal. “It is essential to military readiness that these programs are synchronized and integrated with other warfighting functions to ensure that proper combat casualty care and military medical readiness supports the Army’s lethality in a timely and efficient manner”

In other words, the Pentagon thinks the services will be better able to direct research to cater to their needs than DHA.

Mark Esper said as much when he was holding the position of Army secretary in 2018.

“My concern with that provision is it might not enable us to do what we need to do with readiness on the battlefield and training,” Esper said. “My preference would be to keep that, the medical research, because I want to be thinking about what I need on the future battlefield. It’s a readiness issue for me.

In 2020, then-Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy wrote a memo stating the same thing.

“Moving Army Medical Research and Materiel Command from Army management to agency management will specifically produce inefficiencies for the Army that are contrary to best practices described by the Government Accountability Office and others,” the memo reads. “As conditions during war may change rapidly, medical research and development is essential to respond quickly and effectively to support warfighter capabilities and survivability.”

Congress has been mostly mum on the issue of medical research. DoD and DHA have had some growing pains in other areas where DHA is taking over.

Coronavirus put a pause on the DHA takeover of military treatment facilities and forced the agency to rethink how some private providers could step in to pick up patients in some markets.

The leaders of the military services called for a halt in the transition during the middle of the pandemic. However, Congress has encouraged DoD to keep up with the process.

“More than four years after the law required the department to transform the Military Health System, the services are trying to further delay change and are using the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason to delay,” the aide said in response to the letter. “The transformation process, which is already more than a year into execution, should continue to move forward. The DoD’s medical response to the pandemic has provided lessons, which should be used to inform the plan moving forward, not grind implementation to a halt.” — SM

Calls grow for free National Guard health care

Last month, the leader of the National Guard said his first priority is ensuring free health care for all National Guard members. Now the military component’s largest advocacy group is joining the fight.

The National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS) is calling on Congress and President Biden to support the Healthcare for Our Troops bill, which would give health care to guardsmen.

“Most Americans would probably be shocked to learn that we sent soldiers and airmen to the front lines of the worst public health crisis in a century without health insurance,” J. Roy Robinson, president of NGAUS, wrote in a letter to the president. “We did the same during civil disturbances last summer and when responding to hurricanes and wildfires. The problem is, nearly one in five Guard members has no private health insurance and they are usually not entitled to government-provided coverage when mobilized for domestic missions.”

Robinson continued to say that private, employer-provided health insurance is picking up the table for treatment of injuries and ailments from Guard service.

National Guard chief Gen. Daniel Hokanson said in May that lack of access to mental health services may be causing increases in suicides and that guardsmen need insurance from the government.

“We want the service member and their family to know if anything happens, if they’re sick, before or after duty, they’re going to get the care they need to continue their civilian or military employment,” Hokanson told the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee.

The National Guard has more than 400,000 troops. There is no estimate as to what it might cost to provide health care.

The Healthcare for Our Troops bill seems to try to offset some costs by requiring a study on eliminating annual physicals during drill and replacing them with forms to be completed by civilian providers to assess medical readiness. The bill claims that could save more than $162 million annually in contracted medical assessments. — SM



What’s taking so long for the Army to update its on-base lodging?

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 has been dealing with the aftermath of privatizing its military housing, now a government watchdog thinks the Army should step up its oversight of temporary lodging as well.

The Army began privatizing its lodging in 2009 to save money, but a Government Accountability Office report found improvements are taking longer than anticipated, development plans have changed and there is a lack of data to actually determine if the program is achieving its intended objectives.

“The Army determined in 2003 that over 80% of its lodging facilities were in need of either replacement or renovation at a cost estimate of over one billion dollars,” the authors wrote. “In addition, the vast majority of the facilities did not meet Army adequacy standards. Many of the lodging facilities had cinder-block walls, exterior corridors, linoleum floors, and lacked standardized in-room temperature control units, while others had deficiencies in the life-safety systems, such as fire alarms and sprinkler systems.”

The Army said it has seen increases in guest satisfaction rates. It also extended its renovation plans out to 2029 — years longer than originally intended — and changed development plans to be more renovation-centric, as opposed to building new lodging.

“The Pentagon has not included information on the Army’s revised timeframe or development plans in its reports to Congress,” the authors wrote. “If DoD were to provide this additional information, Congress and other decision makers would be better able to determine whether the lodging program is achieving its intended objectives.”

GAO also suspected that the Army’s reported cost savings from the program are overblown.

“The Army estimated a cost avoidance of approximately $606 million for official travel lodging costs from fiscal years 2009 through 2019, using a baseline that is higher than what the Defense Travel Management Office uses and what off-base commercial preferred hotels may charge,” the GAO analysts wrote. “However, the Army has not evaluated whether the calculation it uses or an alternative is the most accurate representation of the cost avoidance achieved.”

GAO said DoD is being negligent in the way it collects data on the lodging as well. There are issues with how standardized the data is, leading to compliance reports that are not easily comparable year by year or installation to installation.

The watchdog is making four recommendations. One is that the Army provide key information about the lodging privatization program so that Congress can get a handle on the status of facilities and the timeframe for completing improvements.

GAO also wants DoD to look at how the Army is coming up with its cost avoidance numbers and calculate them against other scenarios.

DoD should create standardized methodologies for the data it collects on lodging and finally it should look into why some service members and civilians are inappropriately using off-base lodging for official travel.

DoD saw that issues with data collection and deferments on improvements ended up being huge issues for military families living in privatized housing.

The Pentagon and the military services repeatedly said they took their “eye off the ball” when it came to improving old houses with lead paint and to getting maintenance issues fixed for families.

The GAO report has some similarities, particularly in terms of oversight issues, to the 2006 report that warned about future problems with military housing — those issues came to a head starting in 2019.

TRANSCOM will work with Air Force on Rocket Cargo project

U.S. Transportation Command said it will partner with the Air Force in the service’s journey to use terrestrial rockets to deliver cargo and possibly humans anywhere in the world in short timeframes.

The combatant command announced last week that it will work with the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), the Air Force and the Space Force to explore commercial capabilities in the field of space travel for global logistics.

AFRL will be leading the effort and TRANSCOM will provide a supporting role.

“DoD has explored space transportation in the past,” Navy Lt. Cmdr. Andrew Moore, who is managing the partnerships, said. “Today, multiple factors are at play and it is the convergence of favorable costs, capacity, speed and access that makes commercial space mobility and logistics increasingly attractive.”

The Air Force is relying heavily on private industry to build the capability.

“Since industry bears the bulk of development costs, the government is in an opportune position to influence designs and be postured to utilize future capabilities,” said Moore. The strategy aligns with the 2020 National Space Policy to develop government systems only when no suitable or cost-effective service is available.

According to Moore, it is similar to how the DoD works with commercial aircraft engineers to ensure compatible defense features such as the 463L pallet system, which is a common size platform for bundling and moving air cargo, and serves as the primary air cargo pallet for the U.S. Air Force, other air forces, and many civilian cargo transport aircraft.

The Air Force announced the vanguard program on June 4.

“Rocket cargo is envisioned as a Defense Department interface with commercial capabilities, where we deliver up to 100 tons of cargo anywhere on the planet on tactical timelines,” Maj. Gen. Heather Pringle, AFRL commander, said. “This newest vanguard has the support of the entire Department of the Air Force, and if successful, will be partnered with the right team to transition this to warfighters.”

As the private sector works, AFRL and the Space and Missile Center are planning prototypes and experiments to ensure cargo will be ready for terrestrial rocket travel.

That includes looking at ways to pre-certify cargo and containers to quicken the packing process, finding ways to quicken the logistics of packing and unpacking cargo and even entertaining the possibility of using the rockets to rapidly deploy troops.

The Air Force is working under the assumption that companies will develop landing pads around the world, but the service would also like to look into landing the rockets in austere environments that could deliver capabilities to nearly anywhere on the planet.

“People always wonder why are we looking at this idea again. This idea [has] been around since the dawn of spaceflight, it’s always been an intriguing idea. We look at it about every 10 years and it’s never really made sense in the past,” Greg Spanjers, Rocket Cargo program manager said. “What has changed is a major emergence on the commercial side with much higher capability rockets at a much lower cost point than we’re used to seeing.”

At this point, companies are using their own money for reentry systems and DoD does not have to do the initial investment.

Air Force will turn its tankers into flying hotspots in first deployment of ABMS

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 Advanced Battle Management System, the Air Force’s main contribution to DoD’s Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) vision of interconnected military systems has graduated from blueprint status and into an “operational phase,” officials said on Friday.

The decision means the service is ready to take what’s been a concept and architectural development process for the better part of two years into the real world, buying actual hardware and software to install on aircraft.

The first physical manifestation of ABMS will be aboard the KC-46, the Air Force’s new, often delayed, aerial refueling tanker. Officials say they plan to turn some of the first KC-46s they’ve received into flying “hotspots” that can offload new data to F-22 and F-35 fighters at the same time they’re receiving fuel.

“Nearly two years of rigorous development and experimentation have shown beyond doubt the promise of ABMS,” Gen. CQ Brown, the Air Force chief of staff said in a statement. “We’ve demonstrated that our ABMS efforts can collect vast amounts of data from air, land, sea, space and cyber domains, process that information and share it in a way that allows for faster and better decisions. This ability gives us a clear advantage, and it’s time to move ABMS forward so we can realize and ultimately use the power and capability it will provide.”

It’s not yet clear when the Air Force will start fielding the new data “pods” aboard the KC-46, but officials said late last year that Air Mobility Command had already signaled their interest in being an early adopter of ABMS.

“They are ready to go put [ABMS capabilities] on mobility platforms so they can act as data relays,” Dr. Will Roper, the then-Air Force acquisition chief said in November. “We’ve got tankers that top you up with gas, the vision of topping you up with data makes a lot of sense: You’re going to be there anyway to get fuel. And then that tanker standing off also can act as a battlefield relay and a network node. So they’ve got the right thinking.”

The KC-46 project is known as “Capability Release 1,” and the initial work is part of $170 million the Air Force has allocated for ABMS this year.

Meanwhile, the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office, the newly-designated lead organization for ABMS will start making “major investments” in digital infrastructure to support a broader rollout of the interconnected weapons network, said Randy Walden, the RCO’s director.

“To build ABMS, you must first build the digital structures and pathways over which critical data is stored, computed, and moved. The Department of the Air Force needs a smart, fast and resilient ‘system of systems’ to establish information and decision superiority, and ABMS will be that solution,” he said. —JS

SOCOM working on common data fabric to connect future weapons

U.S. Special Operations Command is in the nascent stages of creating a common data fabric that it hopes will enmesh data with everyday operations, and help nest Joint All Domain Command and Control within low intensity combat missions.

“A working, federated special forces data fabric is critical,” said Lisa Costa, SOCOM’s chief information officer during a speech at a National Defense Industrial Association event. “We no longer can afford to put our data into mission silos. That data has to be discoverable to everyone at the security classification that it resides. We are working that on every classification system.”

SOCOM is working closely with its chief data officer to define its data and data catalog.

“Once we do that, we’ll establish use cases and those mission roles on how we build out this SOCOM data fabric,” said Chief Warrant Officer Robert Byrd, the chief enterprise engineer at SOCOM. “We’ll also be working with our component and the services on where do we need to have interoperability and a common data fabric that scales across the services?”

The data fabric is part of a larger plea by Costa to industry for technologies that can “break glass.”

“I want you to rethink your business models,” she said. “Think about not necessarily always proposing a full stack solution, but instead focusing on providing infrastructure-as-a-service, data-as-a-service, algorithms-as-a-service, and keeping those separate so that we can mix and match them for the next unknown mission.”

SOCOM’s data journey is in line with DoD’s broader goal of incorporating data into nearly everything it does.

Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks recently put out a memo creating five data decrees and strengthening the Defense Department CDO office.

Hicks wrote that the changes are “critical to improving performance and creating decision advantage at all echelons from the battlespace to the board room, ensuring U.S. competitive advantage. To accelerate the department’s efforts, leaders must ensure all DoD data is visible, accessible, understandable, linked, trustworthy, interoperable, and secure.”

The decrees state that the Pentagon will maximize data sharing and rights for data use, publish data assets in a federated catalog, and make data useable by artificial intelligence and machines. DoD will also store data in a safe manner that is uncoupled from hardware and software and implement best practices to secure authentication, access management, encryption and protection of data.

Under the new guidance, DoD’s chief data officer will be responsible for issuing policy and guidance regarding the Pentagon’s data ecosystem, sharing, architecture, lifecycle management and data-ready workforce. The office will also work closely with DoD’s Joint Staff and Joint Artificial Intelligence Center. — SM

Reed joins call to remove commanders from sexual assault prosecutions

Advocates for reforming the military’s prosecution of sexual assault cases gained a powerful new ally this weekend. Sen Jack Reed, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said he favors a measure that would remove those cases from the military chain of command.

In a statement, Reed (D-R.I.) called for “comprehensive action to halt sexual violence, hold violators accountable, and support survivors.”

And his support is not merely rhetorical. His office also announced that language removing commanders from prosecution decisions would be included in the “chairman’s mark,” the first draft of the National Defense Authorization Act that serves as the foundation for the Senate’s version of the annual NDAA. That means the reforms are very likely to be in chamber’s version of the bill unless opponents mount a successful campaign to remove them either in the committee or on the Senate floor.

Reed said the language would mirror recommendations from the Independent Review Commission (IRC) on Sexual Assault in the Military, a panel Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin commissioned shortly after taking office.

Last month, the panel concluded the military services should create separate civilian special victims prosecutorial offices to decide both whether to charge servicemembers with sexual offenses, and whether to bring their cases to court martial. It also recommended investigations be done outside of the chain of command.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), long a champion of removing sexual assault cases from commanders’ discretion, introduced similar reform legislation last month. The Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act has already gained a Senate supermajority of cosponsors: 62 so far, including 19 Republicans.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Reed’s Republican counterpart of the committee is not among them.

“I agree with Chairman Reed that this important issue deserves robust debate as we consider this year’s National Defense Authorization Act.  I also would like to acknowledge Sen. Gillibrand for her leadership on this issue,” he said. “While I can’t support removing commanders from the decision-making process, I appreciate Chairman Reed’s commitment to ensuring this issue is debated and voted on during the full committee markup of the NDAA.” —JS

DoD lacking in response to domestic abuse

As the need for a change to the military’s response to sexual assault and harassment comes to a head with new legislation, studies and high-profile deaths, a government watchdog said the Defense Department needs to pay attention to another violence issue as well.

A new Government Accountability Office report states that DoD needs to better its response, prevention and oversight of domestic abuse within the military.

DoD reported 40,000 domestic abuse incidents from 2015 to 2019, 74% of which were physical abuse. Domestic violence has been an indicator of people who commit future violent crimes.

“Domestic abuse can result in devastating personal consequences and societal costs, and according to DoD, is incompatible with military values and reduces mission readiness. In 2019, the military services recorded 8,055 incidents that met DoD’s criteria for domestic abuse,” according to the report.

GAO said it sampled training on 20 installations and found that they did not consistently cover all of the required topics around domestic abuse and the services have not provided guidance to ensure that the training addresses DoD’s requirements.

Because of those issues, abuse survivors reported that commands and chaplains did not take action in some situations or felt that they were discouraged from taking further action.

“One survivor said the commander tried to justify the abuser’s behavior, and another said the chain of command was on the abuser’s side,” the authors wrote.

DoD’s abuse issues aren’t just with training. The Pentagon is not collecting comprehensive data on abuse allegations, despite legal requirements. Improving the collection of data could enhance DoD’s visibility of actions taken by commanders.

DoD could also not ensure that all domestic abuse allegations were screened according to policy.

GAO made 32 different recommendations to improve the domestic abuse training, prevention and response. Those included developing quality control processes for reporting accurate abuse data and developing a process to monitor how abuse incidents are screened. — SM

Air Force putting more emphasis on repairing facilities 

The Air Force said it expects to start budgeting more aggressively to tackle its facilities maintenance backlog, which tops more than $30 billion, for 2022 and out.

The increase in funding is part of the service’s infrastructure investment strategy, which was released in mid-2019. Now, almost two years later, the Air Force said it will finally start chipping away at its poor or failing facilities. At last count, 35% of Air Force facilities fell into those categories.

“I will tell you comparing to 2021 to 2022, there is a significant change of what you will see coming in into the program,” Brig. Gen. William Kale, director of Air Force Civil Engineers, said last week. The Biden administration is expected to release details of the budget next week.

“We are managing the risk in our infrastructure portfolio and we are fighting a bow wave of a lot of older facilities and we are trying to get after these facilities mainly through our operations and maintenance portfolio with facilities sustainment, restoration and modernization (FSRM) dollars,” Kale told the House Appropriations Military Construction Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Subcommittee. “We really paid attention to facility condition I will say over the past several years. We have made tremendous effort building databases, which enable us to track the conditions of these facilities. Ultimately, we want to get a place where we can be more proactive in the maintenance of these facilities but that’s going to take time.”

Kale reiterated the Air Force’s plan to get to a budget of 2% of replacement value and then push that up to 2.3%.

The installation investment plan calls for further increases as time goes on; increasing by about 2%, or a billion dollars a year.

“A key component of this strategy is sufficient and stable funding,” Richard Hartley, Air Force principal deputy assistant secretary for installations, environment and energy, told Federal News Network when the plan was released. “We are asking for an increase from what we’ve spent over the past few years, and that is a 2% floor we are going to try to put in place in the budget. That essentially gets us more money than we had in the recent past, and I would say that’s critical seed money to make this strategy successful. If we can’t secure enough funding to initiate this effort we will still be in the situation where we can’t change the proverbial oil. If we can’t change the oil; we are going to be in a situation where we are forced to change the engines that break.”

Part of that funding will come from divesting in facilities that are not worth repairing or are obsolete.

It’s hard to pin down exactly how much the Air Force spent on facilities in 2021, because it is spread across multiple accounts. However, the service budgeted about $5 billion for FSRM and $1.4 billion for military construction. — SM

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