DoD Reporter’s Notebook

jared_notebook_notext“DoD Reporter’s Notebook” is a biweekly feature focused on news about the Defense Department and defense community, as gathered by Federal News Radio DoD Reporter Jared Serbu.

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Army: New Austin Futures Command was McCain’s idea

Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley speaks Aug. 24, 2018, in Austin, Texas, during activation of the Army Futures Command.

During last week’s formal activation ceremony for the Army’s new Futures Command — held, coincidentally, just 24 hours before the death of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) — Army leaders disclosed something about the command’s origins not yet publicly discussed.

The senator himself played an instrumental role in the command’s creation, starting more than two years before officials publicly announced their plans to stand it up, they said.

“None of this would be happening without someone who’s not here today, and that’s Sen. John McCain, an American hero,” Gen. Mark Milley, the Army’s chief of staff said at the Austin ceremony on Friday.

Milley went so far as to characterize the creation of AFC – which the Army calls its most significant reorganization since Vietnam – as “Senator McCain’s idea.”

Although the new four-star command took more than two years to plan and design, with deep involvement by the service’s most senior leaders, Milley recalled that the genesis was a private meeting he had with McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee,  just before his Aug. 2015 confirmation hearing to become Army chief.

“He talked to me about a lot of the problems and challenges he thought the Army had in the area of acquisition, procurement, science, technology, research, development, modernization, and all of those things,” Milley told reporters later. “And he said, ‘You really have some significant challenges here, and I want you to think about how you’re going to reform the Army.’ I wasn’t the first person he ever told that to, but I was on the eve of confirmation. I said, ‘Oh, I’d better be paying attention to this guy, because this is the guy who’s either going to confirm you or not.’”

Milley said the planning efforts for AFC included months of quiet, ongoing conversations with McCain about how the command would be structured and how the Army could solve some of its procurement challenges by moving its modernization functions “under one roof.” Those plans were eventually revealed to the public in October 2017.

There were times during the planning process when the idea of a new modernization command appeared to have ground to a halt, in part because of a lack of political appointees within the Army who could champion the idea, according to Gen. John Murray, who became AFC’s first commander on Friday.

But Ryan McCarthy received Senate confirmation as undersecretary of the Army in August 2017, and quickly got behind it. So did Mark Esper, the secretary of the Army, when he was confirmed in November.

“I really thought that it was dead,” Murray said. “We worked very hard for about a year on it, and then Gen. Milley just quit mentioning it. But sir, I think you were really waiting for the right political leadership, and I believe the right political leadership arrived. You very quickly gained the backing of Secretary Esper and then really the muscle and the horsepower of the dynamic duo: the undersecretary and [Vice Chief of Staff] Gen. [James] McConville that really drove this home. And none of it would have been possible without Senator McCain and entire congressional support.

Two senior staff members from McCain’s office also attended the ceremony, which was held just an hour after the senator’s family announced he would be discontinuing medical treatment.

John Cornyn, the senior senator from Texas, also noted McCain’s role.

“I wish he could be here, because I know that he was key,” Cornyn said. “I know he would love to be here and be pleased.”

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Senate wants new study of problems with DoD’s electronic health record

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Just a few weeks ago, Congress ordered the Defense Department to provide a written progress report on how it’s solving problems it’s found with the implementation of its new $5.5 billion electronic health record. But senators now appear to feel that some outside oversight is in order as well.

In an amendment to the “minibus” appropriations bill the Senate passed on Thursday, the chamber voted 95-0 to require the Government Accountability Office to conduct its own study of MHS Genesis. In particular, lawmakers want to know:

  • What DoD has done to improve the system since an initial report by the department’s office of Operational Test and Evaluation earlier this year found Genesis was “neither operationally effective nor operationally suitable”
  • How the system is meeting health care demands at the four Pacific Northwest sites where it’s already been deployed
  •  Any “underlying issues” that might hamper more deployments
  • GAO’s assessment of whether DoD can still meet its timeline for deploying Genesis worldwide by 2022

The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), is part of the Senate’s $854 billion funding bill for DoD and the departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Education. The appropriations language still must be reconciled with the House. If it’s enacted, GAO would have to produce a report within six months.

The study would be in addition to a separate report lawmakers ordered DoD itself to compile as part of the 2019 Defense authorization bill the president signed earlier this month. That directive also demanded answers about how DoD has solved the issues uncovered in the initial OT&E findings, and prohibited the department from rolling the system out at any more hospitals and clinics until it furnishes the report.

During a conference call with reporters late last month, Defense health officials said they had chosen the next four sites that will receive MHS Genesis. They include three California bases: Travis Air Force Base, Naval Air Station Lemoore and the Army health clinic at the Monterey presidio, plus Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho.

But they were unwilling to predict a timeline for any further deployments until the OT&E process is complete and DoD makes its next milestone decision for the overall program.

“The next wave of deployment will be the first facilities to field the standard baseline of MHS Genesis, and will benefit from the results of our optimization period as well as improvements to our training, deployment and change management strategy, all based on lessons learned,” said Stacy Cummings, the program executive officer for Defense health management systems. “We remain agile and iterative in our approach to MHS Genesis deployment, and we’re committed to identifying the right capabilities and delivering those capabilities to our customers.”

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Army’s top cyber officer pushes other disciplines, information operations

The Army has already begun to merge its cyber and electronic warfare functional areas, based on the belief that the two disciplines are so interdependent in modern warfare that they’re better-managed as one.

But that may have been only the first step. The new commander of Army Cyber Command believes that if some integration is good, more is better. He said it’s time to think seriously about absorbing other historically-distinct mission areas — or “tribes” — including information operations.

“Cyber Command was probably the appropriate term on 21 May of 2010, when Gen. [Keith] Alexander stood it up, and we stood up Army Cyber Command about a month later. But I think we’re well past that now,” said Lt. Gen. Stephen Fogarty, who assumed command of Army Cyber in May.

Adversaries already combining cyber, information ops

Fogarty told AFCEA’s TechNet conference in Augusta, Georgia, last week that he’s advocating for a rebranding along with an expanded mission set. He suggested the names “Army Information Warfare Operations Command” or “Army Information Dominance Command.”

“I think you’re going to see the same thing up at Fort Meade for U.S. Cyber Command, or at least that’s what I will advise,” he said. “Because what I’ve really tried to do is distill the lessons we’ve learned from operating in the cyber domain alongside those that are operating in the information environment. And what I’ve come to believe is that frankly, the overlap is much deeper. It’s much greater than just kind of these bumps in the night, and the next stage of this is actually bringing all of that together.”

Fogarty said his views were informed, at least in part, by the fact that existing adversaries are already combining cyber and information operations, even if they don’t have specific military doctrine or career categorizations that describe those distinctions in the way the U.S. military does.

“ISIS came on the scene very rapidly, and part of their power was their ability to hit a global audience, be able to inspire recruits, be able to make themselves look much larger than they were. And this was an instance where they use social media, they used cyber to really promote their IO message, and that was an important part of their toolkit,” he said. “What they’re able to do is actually take that narrative and as long as they can keep it alive, frankly our kinetic effects in theater will not be able to completely destroy them.”

The Army has already said that it will begin to formally integrate its electronic warfare career field (“functional area 29”) with its cyber counterpart (“functional area 17”) this year. By October, soldiers from the formerly-separate disciplines will begin training together at the same schoolhouse at the Army Cyber Center of Excellence at Fort Gordon, Georgia.

But Fogarty said the Army needs more convergence in order to quickly move through an information chain he formulates as: “Sense, Understand, Decide, Act.”

“Whoever can do this faster than their adversary will enjoy a decisive advantage. It doesn’t matter you’re the commander on an Abrams tank or an Apache helicopter or you’re a cyber defender,” he said. “I’ve got to be able to sense what’s going on in the environment, and it can’t be limited to just the cyber domain, I have to understand what’s going on in the entire information environment. Then I have to create understanding, which is very different than situational awareness: As a commander, I’ve got to understand my framework and tell you how to array your sensors.”

In that formulation, Fogarty said he doesn’t have many concerns about commanders’ ability to decide how to interpret the information they’ve received, but does worry about the Army’s ability to act quickly.

“We have become enamored with process, and I think it takes us far too long to act on what we’re seeing, what we understand, what we decide,” he said. “Right now, we’re in a race — and we’re in a race with pretty sophisticated adversaries. So this notion of speed is very important.”

By “sophisticated adversaries,” Fogarty means large nation states, including Russia and China, highlighting the need to also integrate the military’s intelligence capabilities with its cyber operations.

“How long did it take us to understand what the Russians did in 2016 to the elections? They were moving a lot faster than we were,” he said. “We were occupied on an adversary by the name of ISIS and the Russians were focused on an adversary called the United States of America. … We were much slower, I believe, to sense, understand, decide and act, and we cannot afford to place ourselves in that position in the future.”

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NDAA pushes DoD health care toward more centralization

The House and Senate’s final agreement on the 2019 Defense authorization bill does not go as far as abolishing the military services’ own medical commands, but it does push the Military Health System in the unmistakable direction of more centralization and less reliance on Army, Navy and Air Force-specific ways of delivering health care.

The legislation, which the House passed last week and the Senate is expected to adopt in the next few days, leaves the Army, Navy and Air Force’s respective health commands in place, but moves many of their responsibilities to the Defense Health Agency. It also gives the DHA director more authority over the operation of military treatment facilities and orders the agency to reorganize those hospitals and clinics into a new regional management structure.

“It continues to demonstrate Congress’ interest in being able to help move the MHS into a modernized health care system,” said Vice Adm. Raquel Bono, the current DHA director. “And I welcome the support and their interest in helping us move towards that integrated system of readiness and health that we’ve been working on for some time now.”

The bill sets up a new research and development organization within DHA, effectively moving the Army’s Medical Research and Materiel Command to the DHA director’s control. DoD could choose to migrate other service-specific medical research organizations to DHA, but it’s not explicitly required to do so.

Similarly, it moves the Army Public Health Command, the Navy-Marine Corps Public Health Command and Air Force public health programs in to a new DHA Public Health organization.

And although the Senate did not win over House colleagues with language that would have moved almost all of the rest of the military services’ medical functions to DHA, the bill leaves that possibility open, telling the Defense secretary to deliver a report next spring on the feasibility of setting up a new “Defense Health Command.”

DHA to take over 400+ service-run MTFs

In the meantime, the NDAA repeats an earlier edict that the Defense Health Agency take over the administration of the more than 400 MTFs currently run by the Army, Navy and Air Force. In its most recent progress report to Congress, DoD had requested a three-year “phased implementation” for that change, but after accusing DoD of dragging its feet, lawmakers set a new deadline of Sept. 30, 2020.

In that new administrative structure, Congress made clear that the DHA director would have absolute control of every Defense organization in the organizational chart between DHA headquarters and a military treatment facility, including the responsibility to issue performance ratings for the commanders of each hospital and clinic.

Those clinics, in turn, will be organized into three or four health “regions” — two in the continental U.S. and one or two overseas — each commanded by a one-star general or admiral.

The Senate had proposed a system of four regions in the U.S., but lawmakers acceded to DoD’s suggestion that it would make more sense to have the MTF regions aligned with the two East and West regions it uses for the contracts in its TRICARE managed care system.

“We recognize that with many of the functions that we do, particularly with health IT,  there is great value to regionalizing our functions and our support,” Bono said. “It lets us scale much more quickly and be able to provide support in a broad way as we have these regionalized areas. How that final configuration will look is yet to be determined while we’re still waiting to see if this pending legislation actually does become a statute.”

Among the other new powers granted to the DHA director by the new NDAA:

  • Determine the scope of medical care provided at each MTF to meet the military personnel readiness requirements of the senior military operational commander of the military installation
  • Determine total workforce requirements at each MTF
  • Direct joint manning at MTFs and intermediary organizations
  • Establish training and skills sustainment venues for military medical personnel
  • Address personnel staffing shortages at MTFs
  • Approve service nominations for commanders or directors of MTFs

Senate NDAA aims to eliminate administrative overhead in MHS

Besides requiring even more centralization than what conferees agreed to in the final NDAA package, the Senate’s version of the bill accused DoD of stonewalling Congress’ previous orders to eliminate administrative overhead and layers of management in the Military Health System.

“For example, [DoD’s] plan would reduce total medical headquarters personnel by only 165 full-time equivalent positions — out of 6,400 total positions — through 2023,” members of the Senate Armed Services Committee wrote.  “Clearly, the plan demonstrates that the services intend to maintain many, if not most, existing medical headquarters functions and current staffing levels while disregarding the call for innovation and efficiency included throughout the Department’s National Defense Strategy.”

The final bill omits most of the Senate’s more-incendiary language.

But in a report to Congress last month, Defense officials signaled that they agreed with at least part of the Senate’s diagnosis of the MHS’ governance problems.

“Governance continues to be based on a broad set of councils, work groups, integrated product teams and other formally-chartered working groups as well as ad hoc working groups that often require unanimous support to advance initiatives and change. These governance bodies consume a significant amount of time and personnel resources. The result is often a sclerotic decision-making process that has the effect of demoralizing staff and other stakeholders who seek to make timely improvements in MHS policy, readiness and health care delivery,” Defense officials wrote.

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Faced with dearth of replacement part suppliers, Air Force aims to make itself more self-sufficient

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The Air Force’s aircraft fleet is getting on in years. One problem with that is that replacement parts are becoming more expensive and more difficult to find, since many of the original manufacturers don’t even exist anymore. But the service is launching a two-year pilot project that may help solve the problem.

As a general matter, the vast majority of the dollars the military spends on large weapons systems has nothing to do with their upfront procurement costs: 70 percent of a program’s lifecycle expenses are connected to long-term sustainment, including spare parts and maintenance-related labor.

But in the Air Force’s case, those costs are growing even larger as its aircraft fleets get older. Take, for instance, the B-52: the last new airframe of that type rolled off the assembly line in the early 1960s. And companies that are willing or capable of making replacement parts are becoming more and more scarce.

“Just in the first quarter of this year, we had 10,000 requests for parts where there wasn’t even a single bidder,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said at an event hosted by the Washington Post last week. “Sometimes that’s because the company’s no longer in business — and there’s no business case for building one part.”

But there’s a vital mission case for building them. As an example, she held up a rudder trim wheel for the 60-year-old KC-135 refueling tanker, 3D-printed by airmen.

“If you don’t have it, you can’t fly, and the company that makes them is no longer in business,” she said. “It cost us about $55, including all of the engineering and everything else. If I had to go out and have [the acquisition community] set up the traditional way to do it, it would be over $700.”

Air Force to stand up Rapid Sustainment Office

The Air Force wants to find out just how regularly it can repeat success stories like that, so last week, it announced the creation of what it calls the Rapid Sustainment Office. The service says it will focus on topics like predictive maintenance and agile manufacturing.

That includes 3D printing, but also cold spray repair technologies, robotics and automation, corrosion detection and repair, nondestructive inspection, and advanced composite repair technologies. The office will start out on a two-year trial basis, but the Air Force will transition it into a permanent organization if it proves successful.

But even though the Air Force is slowly increasing its capability to make its own spare parts, the process is not always as quick or easy as it could be.

That’s because for at least some systems, the government doesn’t own the technical data rights that would tell it exactly how to manufacture parts for the systems it owns, meaning airmen have to reverse-engineer them from scratch.

“We need better laws with respect to intellectual property, because it’s a lot like the ink in an inkjet printer,” said Lt. Gen. Lee Levy, the commander of the Air Force Sustainment Center. “You can get an inkjet printer for not a whole lot of money, but you’re going to have to buy the ink year over year over year. Our procurement strategies haven’t adapted to that. And when we say intellectual property, some people believe that it’s an all or nothing proposition. We don’t want all of the intellectual property to sell it on the open market. What we really want is enough of the intellectual property that we can take care of what the nation has asked us to take care of.”

Levy said that’s especially critical when there is no commercial market to provide replacement parts for a particular weapons platform.

“Quite frankly, a lot of companies lose interest in taking care of some of these weapons systems over time,” he told a recent hearing of the House Armed Services Committee. “We collectively worry about companies who don’t want to take care of those platforms: B-52, KC-135, B-1, we could go on and on. But having that intellectual property gives us the ability to do these kinds of things without having to reverse engineer it.”

Levy acknowledged that up until this point, the Air Force has been slower than it could have been to adopt advanced technologies like additive manufacturing. That level of caution is partly because of the military’s concerns over cybersecurity, and the need to make sure the parts it prints are genuinely airworthy.

“Because ultimately,  I don’t want to print this at one of my air logistics complexes.  I want to send these ones and zeros downrange to Guam, where I’ve got continuous bomber presence, and I want my folks to be able to print it out right there,” he said. “And so when we develop our technical data packages, we need to do it in a way that we can ensure a cyber pedigree. If I send you those ones and zeroes, you and I both need know that the ones and zeros I sent you were the ones you got, and when you print this out,  it’s exactly what you expected it to be. This is not an area where we need to be arbitrary or capricious.”

Air Force doesn’t want to pay premiums for parts

In a statement, Wilson said the Air Force is standing up the new Rapid Sustainment Office because it doesn’t want to pay premiums for parts that it could otherwise manufacture on its own.

But even if money were no object, officials think they’re going to have to become more and more reliant on their own organic industrial base to make replacement parts.

The B-52, after all, is expected to stay in the air for several more decades. And Levy said the supply chain for older platforms like that one is getting “extraordinarily brittle.”

“We’ve tended to believe that the Defense industrial base is sort of this arsenal of democracy, and that’s  simply not the case anymore, particularly for sustainment,” he said. “A large number of the vendors that we buy from are single-source vendors, and in some cases we have no vendors. These are small companies with 10, 15, 20 employees, and when there’s irregular or inadequate funding, it radiates uncertainty to those small businesses, and they make decisions. When they do, there’s no 1-800 number I can call for B-52 parts.  When we can’t get someone to build or make the part for us, we sometimes end up doing it ourselves, and that sometimes takes longer.”

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DoD: Transferring GI Bill benefits to your family is ‘not an entitlement’

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GI BillIf there’s one message that rings through in the Defense Department’s decision to clamp down on service members’ ability to transfer their education benefits to their children or spouses, it’s this: Even if the GI Bill itself is an entitlement, the aspect of the program that lets service members pass the benefit along to their dependents is not.

In a policy change late last week that caught military and veterans’ advocates by surprise, the Pentagon announced that military members will lose their ability to transfer their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to their dependents if they’ve already served at least 16 years in uniform. The change takes effect a year from now.

Previously, the benefit, which covers the full costs of tuition plus room and board at an in-state public university, was transferable at any time, as long as the service member was willing to commit to at least four more years of military service.

And other sections of the policy make clear how serious DoD is that that commitment be carried out. For example, troops who are on limited duty, or whose fitness is being examined by a medical evaluation board aren’t even eligible to apply until those processes are completed.

In its revisions to the formal instruction outlining the rules for GI Bill eligibility, DoD added numerous clauses emphasizing that service members have no right to transfer their benefits. They can request it, but approval is entirely up to Defense officials.

“Transferability is neither an entitlement nor a transition or readjustment benefit,” according to some of the updated language.  “The military departments will not automatically approve a service member’s request to elect to transfer benefits.  Before approving an individual’s request to elect to transfer benefits, the secretary concerned must determine whether the service member is eligible for retention under the military department or service retention policies (e.g., high-year tenure) and is not precluded by either DoD, military department, service policy, or statute from being retained for four additional years from the date of election.”

In a statement, Defense officials said the new 16-year rule was directly connected to retention,  which they said was the “intended purpose” of the portion of the GI Bill that allows the transfer of benefits. They did not offer a detailed explanation for how the change would enhance recruiting or retention, or how they were harmed by the previous rules.

“After a thorough review of the policy, we saw a need to focus on retention in a time of increased growth of the Armed Forces,” said Stephanie Miller, DoD’s director of accessions policy. “This change continues to allow career service members that earned this benefit to share it with their family members while they continue to serve. This change is an important step to preserve the distinction of transferability as a retention incentive.”

One possible rationale is the theory that military members who have already served 16 years in uniform don’t need G.I. Bill transferability as an incentive to remain in military service. Those members already have a strong incentive to stay for four more years, since they generally become eligible for lifelong retirement pensions and health coverage after 20 years of service.

But military and veterans advocates groups said they were not certain of DoD’s reasoning for the change, which came as a surprise.

“We hadn’t been reached out to, and I don’t know anybody else that’s been reached out to,” said Thomas Porter, the legislative director for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, which lobbied aggressively for the Post-9/11 GI Bill’s initial passage. “We’re very strong defenders of this really transformative benefit, and we’re going to oppose any efforts to erode it.”

Porter added that the transferability feature of the GI Bill is widely seen in military circles as a central component of the program, and is, itself, an “earned benefit.”

“It’s certainly something that’s always been communicated that way, and that’s the way a good number of military members understand it to be,” he said in an interview.

Porter said his group was eager to hear justifications from DoD about exactly how the policy changes could help with retention, but that he had heard none so far.

“We don’t see it that way. We’re in a situation where the military is trying to increase end strength. I don’t know how you do that if you’re going to erode a benefit,” he said. “Why do that unnecessarily?”

Dana Atkins, the president of the Military Officers Association of America, said DoD’s changes represented the first attempt since the Post 9/11 GI Bill’s passage to  restrict eligibility for the benefit. MOAA has said it was also not consulted about the change.

“At its inception, lawmakers insisted upon the ability to transfer GI Bill benefits as a way to recruit and retain America’s best and brightest. Transferability, coupled with an additional service requirement, became one of the cornerstones of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The option to transfer benefits is particularly valuable for military officers, many of whom already have collegiate and advanced degrees,” Atkins said in a written statement to Federal News Radio. “MOAA believes the unilateral change to cut off transferability will likely have a compounding, negative effect on recruiting and retention over time. As military families continue to serve during the longest period of sustained conflict in American history, we question the timing of this change and will seek to learn the VA’s role and the interest level of Congress.”

The change comes less than a year after Congress moved to make the Post-9/11 GI Bill more generous.

Among other changes, the Forever GI Bill, signed into law last August, lets former military members use their education benefits at any point in their life, eliminating the previous requirement that they do so within 15 years of leaving the military.

The Veterans Affairs Department administers and funds the education benefit, although the program’s eligibility rules are set by DoD. The House Veterans Affairs Committee is set to hold a hearing on the implementation of the new law on Wednesday.

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In pursuit of innovative technologies, DoD creates another pathway around traditional acquisition rules

Amid the hype over its growing use of Other Transaction Agreements, the Defense Department is taking yet another step into unorthodox contracting methods as it pursues more participation from non-traditional vendors.

As part of a four-year pilot program, the Pentagon has just issued new rules that will let its contracting officers move though streamlined acquisition processes when they’re buying “innovative” commercial goods and services. Much like the department’s burgeoning use of OTAs, they’ll allow DoD to make purchases without issuing traditional requests for proposal and conducting formal competitions. But unlike OTAs, those purchases won’t be restricted mainly to prototypes.

And the term “innovative” is fairly broad, under the June 26 guidance DoD published, known as a class deviation.

It sweeps up any commercial “technology, process, or method, including research and development, that is new as of the date of submission of a proposal, or any application that is new as of the date of submission of a proposal of a technology, process, or method.”

Congress first granted DoD the new authority in December 2016 as part of the annual Defense authorization bill, but the department hasn’t implemented it until now.

Under the pilot, acquisition officials will issue “general solicitations” to industry, instead of specific requests for proposals that describe precisely what the department wants to buy. And instead of the rigorous technical and price analyses that usually go into deciding a winner in a traditional procurement, officials will make a selection based on a “peer review” process involving subject matter experts.

“Written evaluation reports on individual proposals are required, but proposals need not be evaluated against each other since they are not submitted in response to a common performance work statement or statement of work,” Shay Assad, DoD’s procurement policy chief wrote in the guidance.

Military services and agencies will be allowed to use the process for procurements of up to $100 million — or even more than that, as long as they notify Congress and get permission from the Pentagon’s undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment.

The process is loosely modeled on the Commercial Solutions Opening: a process the Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental (DIUx) pioneered to award OTAs to nontraditional vendors.

But unlike OTAs, there’s no requirement for the new pilot program to focus on nontraditional vendors: the awards can go to anyone, as long as DoD deems them to be for “innovative” technology, and as long as it can “reasonably” anticipate that multiple companies will offer up different scientific or technological approaches. Also unlike OTAs, the awards have to be made as firm, fixed-price contracts.

Congress allowed similar authority to the General Services Administration and the Homeland Security Department as part of the same law, but pegged their use of the pilot program at $10 million per-award instead of $100 million. Thus far, neither GSA nor DHS has issued its own class deviations to take lawmakers up on the offer.

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Deasy takes control of JEDI, but fate of DoD’s cloud steering group is up in the air

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The Pentagon on Monday added some clarity to what it meant by a vague statement it issued a week earlier announcing that its new chief information officer would assume responsibility for the Defense Department’s “cloud initiative.” But a significant portion of the department’s cloud planning effort remains up in the air.

In a memo DoD provided to Federal News Radio, the department made explicit that the new CIO, Dana Deasy, is now in charge of the upcoming multi-billion dollar Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract. The memo, signed by Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, orders the program management office conducting the JEDI procurement to be transferred to Deasy’s “authority, direction and control.”

Previously, the JEDI effort — and DoD’s broader cloud strategy — had been overseen by the Cloud Executive Steering Group (CESG), a cross-functional leadership team Shanahan assembled last September and then restructured in January. While the latest iteration gave the CIO’s office a vote, the group was chaired by John Gibson, DoD’s chief management officer, and the Defense Digital Service had direct responsibility for conducting the JEDI acquisition.

In the memo, Shanahan said it’s also his “intent” that Deasy serve as the lead for the department’s overall cloud initiative. But in response to questions about whether the CESG still exists and what responsibilities it still has, the department said the answers are yet to be determined.

“As a part of designating CIO as lead for cloud, the department is reviewing existing governance structures and reporting chains and will take deliberate steps to realign authorities as necessary,” Heather Babb, a Defense spokeswoman said in a statement. “This process is expected to occur over the coming weeks.”

Under the CESG’s initial charter, the JEDI acquisition was to be only the first phase of Shanahan’s multi-step plan to “accelerate” DoD’s move to commercial cloud services, an initiative he had dubbed “a department priority.”

The second phase was supposed to have been led by the department’s Strategic Capabilities Office, which Shanahan had assigned the task of deciding which DoD systems should be migrated to the new cloud environment first and “operationaliz[ing] the mission using the security, software and machine learning technologies that cloud technology provides.”

The Defense Department had previously told vendors and lawmakers that it would release a final JEDI request for proposals by May. But those predictions were made before Deasy was sworn in as CIO, and before he took over responsibility for JEDI.

On Monday, DoD declined to offer an updated prediction for when an RFP might be released, but denied that Deasy had directed any significant changes.

“There has been no change to the JEDI Cloud acquisition, and DoD is continuing to review the final RFP before it is released. I do not have an exact date at this time,” Babb said.

To date, the aspect of the JEDI acquisition that has generated the most criticism from Congress and industry groups  has been the department’s decision to make the multi-billion dollar award to a single cloud technology vendor, or perhaps a single team of vendors. Among other factors, critics contend a single-award approach would deprive the military of much of the innovation that’s certain to take place over the next several years in the dynamic, competitive commercial marketplace for cloud services.

In a May report to Congress, the department justified that decision by saying its plans for rapidly moving Defense applications to the cloud would be delayed if it were to issue a multiple-award contract, because it would have to conduct separate competitions each time it issued a task order.

“That pace could prevent DoD from rapidly delivering new capabilities and improved effectiveness to the warfighter that enterprise-level cloud computing can enable,” officials wrote.

Defense officials have not indicated whether that stance has changed since Deasy’s arrival, nor have they given any hints as to what’s behind the delay of the final RFP.

Deasy himself has made few public remarks since he became CIO in May, though he spoke in general terms about his vision for the job, including cloud computing, during remarks at AFCEA’s defensive cyber operations symposium in Baltimore about a week after taking office.

“Cloud is one of the most iterative things I’ve ever been involved with in 36-plus years,” he said. “First of all, there’s not a singular thing that cloud is. There’s a lot of different things to what makes up a cloud, and so one of the things I find you have to do early on to get clear what conversation you’re in … and to understand this is not a case of trying to lift out of your old world and suddenly trying to drop into a new world. But this is the most phenomenal opportunity I think we’ve ever experienced, to be able to look at your legacy estate and re-engineer.”

Read more of the DoD Reporter’s Notebook.

Navy signs OTA for up to $100 million in information warfare prototypes

Judging just by dollars spent, the Navy has been slower than the other military services to join the Defense Department’s current craze over other transaction agreements. But in what may be a turning of the tide, the service is putting $100 million toward a new OTA vehicle over the next three years, just for information warfare.

The Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) signed an agreement last week with Advanced Technology International, one of six companies that bid to operate the new OTA consortium, called the Information Warfare Research Project (IWRP). ATI, which already manages more than a dozen other consortia for companies interested in OTA work, already has an IWRP website up and running, urging firms and academic institutions to sign up, and touting the low barriers to entry involved with the OTA process.

SPAWAR could start delivering work to those entities as soon as August, officials said. As has been the case with other Defense OTAs, the emphasis is on garnering prototype proposals from firms that would not normally be willing to jump through the necessary hoops to perform government work.

“We are truly doing something different and unique here,” Chris Miller, the executive director of SPAWAR’s Systems Center-Atlantic, said in a statement. “The IWRP will allow us to take advantage of commercially developed capabilities that are keeping pace with emerging technologies, technologies and innovation that we cannot take advantage of in a FAR-based contract environment.”

Until now, the Navy has been more reluctant than the Army and Air Force to allocate its R&D dollars toward OTAs, despite a 2015 Congressional decision to significantly expand DoD’s authority to use the non-contract agreements. According to data compiled by Bloomberg Government, the Navy spent just $42 million on OTAs last year, compared to the Army’s $1.2 billion and the Air Force’s $236 million.

SPAWAR’s IWRP process is fairly typical of other IT-focused DoD OTAs: It will notify members of the consoritium whenever it has a particular technology need it wants them to fill, then ask for brief white papers describing what companies and other institutions think they can do to address the challenge. Firms can also submit unsolicited white papers if they believe they have a particularly innovative technology the government doesn’t know about.

The Navy plans to use the new OTA for 14 different “technology areas:”

  • Cyber warfare
  • Cloud computing
  • Data science and analytic technologies
  • Assured communications
  • Enterprise resource tools
  • Collaboration and social networking
  • Autonomy
  • Mobility
  • Assured command and control
  • Integrated fires
  • Model-based systems engineering
  • On-demand manufacturing
  • Embedded systems in the “internet of things (IoT).”

Also like most other OTA consortia, IWRP membership is open to both traditional and non-traditional Defense contractors.

For non-traditionals, ATI paints the process as fairly straightforward, at least in terms of the government procedures they’ll need to comply with in order to join. They’ll need to establish themselves as a government vendor by registering with the System for Award Management, get a DUNS number if they don’t already have one, and sign a military-critical technical data agreement in order to get potentially-sensitive unclassified information connected with the OTA projects.

Because of the latter requirement, IWRP is only open to U.S.-based companies.

Read more of the DoD Reporter’s Notebook.

Senate’s NDAA admonishes DoD for failure to obey prior health reform mandates

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The $717 billion Defense policy bill overwhelmingly approved by the Senate Monday night includes several provisions that are designed to prod the Pentagon into implementing management reforms Congress passed in the 2017 version of the annual legislation, indicating that the Senate believes DoD is dragging its feet in at least a few areas of serious concern on Capitol Hill.

Among them: Senators accused the department of effectively stonewalling a congressional directive to reorganize the military’s health system. They now think it’s time to get much more prescriptive.

The 2017 bill ordered DoD to consolidate the administration of the more than 400 hospitals and clinics currently run by the Army, Navy and Air Force into a centralized management structure within the Defense Health Agency.

But in subsequent reports to Congress on how it’s complying with the law, DoD said it intended to set up a “compenent model” in which the military treatment facilities would ultimately report to the DHA director, but only through intermediary organizations that would still be controlled by the military services.

Lawmakers interpreted that plan as a thinly-veiled attempt to preserve the status quo, which they believe contains too many layers of management and makes the overall military health system difficult to coordinate.

“The department has again failed to provide a credible, detailed plan” to implement the 2017 law, members of the Senate Armed Services Committee wrote in a report accompanying their version of the 2019 NDAA. “In the committee’s view, the plan fails to maximize interoperability as it does not fully integrate the medical capabilities of the services to enhance joint medical operations. The plan maintains the services’ medical departments and establishes new, stove-piped service commands whose responsibilities would be to oversee medical force readiness and to provide administrative support to military medical personnel, a function that could otherwise be effectively provided by other units reporting directly to the services’ line commanders.”

In response, the Senate bill would completely eliminate the top-level health care administrative organizations within the military departments — the Army Medical Command, the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery and the Air Force Medical Service — and transfer all of their personnel to the Defense Health Agency.

From there, the bill would direct DoD to start organizing its medical system by geographic areas instead of by military service. It would create three joint “health readiness regions” in the continental U.S. and two more overseas.

The commanders of those regions, who would report directly to the DHA director, would need to create “regional hubs” at major military treatment facilities “to provide complex, specialized medical services.”

The bill would leave the positions of the military services’ surgeons general intact, but it would significantly roll back their responsibilities. It would restrict the military services’ medical role mostly to recruiting and training medical staff, ensuring that medical teams are ready to deploy to military operations, and providing logistics support for medical deployments.

The Senate in particular has had a long interest in consolidating military health management within DHA.

A provision in that chamber’s 2017 NDAA would have stripped the military services of their medical responsibilities almost entirely, but in a final compromise with the House, Senators agreed to only consolidate the management of brick-and-mortar military treatment facilities.

But language in this year’s bill makes clear that lawmakers do not believe DoD has given serious attention to even that more-limited mandate.

“The [department’s] plan would not fully eliminate duplicative activities carried out by the Defense Health Agency and the services’ medical departments,” Senators wrote. “For example, the plan would reduce total medical headquarters personnel by only 165 full-time equivalent positions — out of 6,400 total positions — through 2023. Clearly, the plan demonstrates that the services intend to maintain many, if not most, existing medical headquarters functions and current staffing levels while disregarding the call for innovation and efficiency included throughout the Department’s National Defense Strategy.”

In a separate section of the bill, lawmakers outline specific duties they want the DHA director to perform under the reorganized health apparatus, including:

  • Direct, control, and serve as the primary rater of the performance of commanders or directors of MTFs
  • Direct and control any intermediary organizations between the Defense Health Agency and MTFs
  • Determine the scope of medical care provided at each MTF to meet the military personnel readiness requirements of the senior military operational commander of the military installation
  • Determine total workforce requirements at each MTF
  • Direct joint manning at MTFs and intermediary organizations
  • Establish training and skills sustainment venues for military medical personnel
  • Address personnel staffing shortages at MTFs
  • Approve service nominations for commanders or directors of MTFs

Read more of the DoD Reporter’s Notebook.

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