“DoD Reporter’s Notebook” is a biweekly feature focused on news about the Defense Department and defense contractors, as gathered by Federal News Network DoD Reporter Jared Serbu.
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The DoD Reporter’s Notebook is a weekly summary of personnel, acquisition, technology and management stories that may have fallen below your radar during the past week, but are nonetheless important. It’s compiled and published each Monday by Federal News Network DoD reporters Jared Serbu and Scott Maucione.
The Defense Department may never look the same when it comes to working remotely. The coronavirus opened leadership’s eyes to the possibilities of telework, and last week top officials let the public know about it.
“We really shattered the myth that you can’t do any work at DoD via a telework situation,” Lisa Hershman, DoD’s chief management officer said.
The Pentagon’s old excuse for restricting telework was that people needed access to classified information and those people need to be on secure networks to tap into it.
“What we learned very quickly was that not everyone works with classified information, and even those that do, it’s not 100% of the time,” Hershman said. “We have started to relook at what is the mix, if we look at certain positions and the position descriptions, how much of it is feasible to do in a telework situation?”
Hershman has experts on her team examining how often people need to be in the office and talking to employees to see what their prime balance of telework and in-person work entails.
“We found in some situations, especially highly transactional work, employees were more productive,” she said. “In one instance, in Washington Headquarters Services, we had an individual that was 30% more productive. When we asked why they indicated a lot fewer interruptions and a lot fewer meetings that they have to attend. We’re learning from that and capturing that information.”
Chief of Navy Personnel Vice Adm. John Nowell agreed.
“It certainly removes distractions,” he said. “Teleworking has helped us be very efficient and very productive, and I think it’s true for the entire Navy that what we look like on the tail end of this as we come out of it and how we manage and lead our workforce will be different than pre-COVID.”
Almost all of Nowell’s workforce is teleworking, more than 700 people. Before coronavirus, his office only had about 5% of employees teleworking.
Nowell said in a post-COVID world that he imagines a hybrid situation where people work from home a few days, and then come into the office for some events or for access to classified information.
He added that the money the Navy can save in office space by doing that can go into runways and harbors.
Rebecca Weirick, the executive director of the Services Acquisition Office of the deputy assistant Army secretary for procurement, said teleworking is saving money for both the Army, its employees and contractors.
She wants to entrench some of the teleworking habits.
“I’ve asked my team to write some policy ahead of necessity to allow contractors to telework into the future,” Weirick said. “We’ll see where that goes. It’s got to get through a little bit of rulemaking here in the Army to make sure that everybody’s comfortable with that. But the cost savings, the savings on commuting, the savings on employing people from all over the world really opens up a big diverse workforce opportunity for us where we’re not just employing people in the state.”
Officials said teleworking may be a recruiting tool as well. Commands can recruit people who aren’t willing to move to where headquarters are, and people may be more open to working for DoD if it can offer a more flexible working environment.
Undersecretary for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord commended Chief Information Officer Dana Deasy for keeping the bandwidth open to allow so many people to start teleworking at once during the beginning of the pandemic.
“During calls people are in their dining rooms and living rooms and home offices and we all just kind of go with the flow,” she said. — SM
We now know who will lead the Army’s newly-redesigned IT governance structure when it takes effect later this year. Well, half of it anyway.
The Pentagon has nominated Maj. Gen. John Morrison to become the “G-6” half of the Army CIO/G-6 when the Army separates the two roles this fall. Since the early 2000s, both functions have been performed by a single three-star general, but that’s changing under a restructuring officials announced last month.
Morrison is currently the chief of staff at U.S. Cyber Command; before that has was the commanding general of the Army’s Cyber Center of Excellence at Fort Gordon Ga., and has also served as commander of the Army’s Network Enterprise Technology Command at Fort Huachuca, Ariz.
Morrison’s G-6 nomination would come with a promotion to lieutenant general, the same rank held by the rest of the Army’s deputy chiefs of staff.
Morrison’s nomination was first reported by C4ISRNET.
The Army has not yet announced who will become the CIO once that role becomes an independent position, but it’s likely to be a senior civilian official. Lt. Gen. Bruce Crawford, the current and final CIO/G-6 told reporters last month that the CIO is likely to focus mainly in developing the Army’s IT budget and policy, while the G-6 will focus mainly on execution. But the changes are likely to take three to four years to fully come into effect. —JS
The Pentagon has been working on rewriting it acquisition policy for a while now, and with the help of Congress, it’s reformed a large part of how it procures systems.
However, coronavirus threw a wrench in that progress. The Defense Department was consistently putting out new guidance updating its 5000 series, the bible of procurement policy. In the past it released new guidance on buying major weapons systems, hiring services and general overarching guidelines.
Now, says Assistant Defense Secretary for Acquisition Kevin Fahey, those updates are coming to a standstill.
“Because of COVID we are traveling a lot and we don’t have big group meetings,” he said. “The 5000 series update is probably one of those areas that is not progressing as much as we’d like to this year.”
Some of the things DoD wanted to focus on were incorporating mission engineering into procurement. It also wanted better portfolio management across the department and focus on more data driven acquisition.
DoD was using the Defense Acquisition University as a way of building out some of its ideas.
DoD used DAU to flesh out questions and case studies about other transaction authorities and mid-tier acquisition. — SM
The Army has been testing out a new approach that tries to take a more holistic look at its military officers before they’re chosen for command — and it likes what it’s seen so far — so much so that officials are getting ready to expand it.
In January and February, the Army ran the first iteration of its new Battalion Commanders Assessment Program (BCAP). Instead of having selection boards pick officers for command based solely on their paper records, the Army sent 750 candidates through a more rigorous five day screening program at Fort Knox.
Each officer went through a blind interview, psychometric testing, verbal and written communication tests, and the Army’s new physical fitness tests. Out of the 436 officers picked for command through the BCAP process, 36% never would have made it under the traditional board-based system, said Maj. Gen. J.P. McGee, the director of the Army Talent Management Task Force.
“There are 150 different names of officers going into command based on this new process, and then attendant to that, we have all of this new information we were able to gather on the 750 candidates that came forward,” McGee said at an online conference hosted by AFCEA International last week. “Over time, we think that information is going to be transformative in terms of the insights we have about our officer corps, where their strengths and weakness lie, and how they can move forward.”
The Army is planning another round of BCAP in October and November, but based on the first year’s results, it’s already planning to expand the concept. In September, it will use a similar process to pick its next crop of colonels to be brigade commanders. —JS
Defense Undersecretary for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord predicted a three-month delay for major acquisition systems after the coronavirus took hold of the nation.
As it turns out, things weren’t so bad.
“We have made amazing inroads in coming back up to close to the prior productivity levels,” she said.
There are still areas where DoD is cautious though. Aircraft suppliers are taking a particularly hard hit, especially ones that dabble in both the defense and commercial sectors.
“Sometimes that’s helpful to us because they’ve been able to shift critical resources over to our programs,” Lord said. “We do have to make sure that they are right sizing because obviously we can’t adjust all the overhead costs that would go with a full up dual use operation. A lot of work is going on and tough decisions being made, but we are pushing through it.”
The Army reported at the end of May that very few of its major acquisition systems would miss initial deliver dates. Some programs will have adjustments to milestones and benchmarks.
One of the major programs that will see delays is the Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System, a command and control weapon that shows a single view of the battlespace.
“The date we promised the solider they’d have that ability has not slipped, but we will adjust within the schedule,” Futures Command leader Gen. Mike Murray said. “We just added the checks to this event coming up.” — SM
The DoD Reporter’s Notebook is a weekly summary of personnel, acquisition, technology and management stories that may have fallen below your radar during the past week, but are nonetheless important. It’s compiled and published each Monday by Federal News Network DoD reporters Jared Serbu and Scott Maucione.
The Defense Health Agency will need to figure out how to wrestle with a $14.8 billion maintenance and modernization backlog at military hospitals and clinics when it fully assumes responsibility of those facilities in 2022.
The price tag comes from a Defense Department Inspector General report published last Friday. It highlights the challenges DHA will inherit as it centralizes the Army, Navy and Air Force’s 576 military treatment facilities (MTFs) and 87 dental clinics under its umbrella.
The backlog isn’t something that DHA can ignore either. The DoD IG examined MTFs at six bases as a sample and found 760 unfunded requirements, costing more than $552 million. Those requirements were to fix safety deficiencies, unsafe working environments, building code failures and more.
“Delays in addressing more than $552 million of unfunded requirements for 60 military MTFs on the six installations reviewed could worsen the overall condition, readiness, use, functionality and services provided,” the IG wrote.
Seven of those unfunded requirements at four of the installations could cause death or major injury, according to management at the facilities.
For example, at Ft. Riley in Kansas, there is an outstanding ticket to move an emergency oxygen shutoff valve for an estimated $20,000.
The reason it needs to be moved is it is 15 feet off the ground and not readily accessible during an emergency.
At Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, there is an outstanding need to replace the fire alarm system in a hospital because it does not meet legal requirements.
Other unfunded requirements keep hospitals from properly treating patients.
At Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, a hospital is waiting to convert administrative offices into a procedure room to ensure pain management providers can give care to patients.
The money for those requirements has not come down from the medical commands or simply isn’t available. Needless to say, the DoD IG recommends DHA uniformly prioritize the unfunded requirements and fix them. The military services had varied ways of prioritizing work orders.
“Air Force Medical Support Agency officials would review the requirements data from facility management personnel to determine the final risk assessment priority,” the authors wrote.
However, U.S. Army Medical Command and Navy Medicine “officials prioritized the requirements based on the estimated value of the unfunded requirements and reviewed the criticality code, requirement code, to determine whether to fund projects.”
DHA said to prioritize orders, it worked with the military services to create a new standardized set of requirement codes, which the military branches started using in late 2019.
It’s not just the unfunded projects that DHA has to deal with, though.
DoD IG found the data of reported maintenance issues is flawed.
“Unless facilities data quality is improved, the DHA may rely on less than accurate information related to future maintenance requirements when planning for short-term and long-term requirements,” according to the report.
The two systems the hospitals have been using to track building issues were plagued by inconsistencies.
For example, at Ft. Campbell in Kentucky, the two reporting systems and physical inspections did not match up.
“At the four facilities visited and for the 35 facility component systems reviewed, we identified 23 inconsistencies between the [two systems’] open requirements and physical observations of facility component conditions,” the authors of the report wrote. “At the Blanchfield Army Community Hospital, one database did not include a requirement to replace the infant abduction system, but another database did include the requirement.”
The DoD IG told DHA it will need to standardize and update those systems.
DHA said it released guidance for better reporting to the database; however, not all hospitals are even able to access the system.
DHA said software updates to the databases will help with the efforts.
All of these unfunded requirements and database issues further convolute DoD and Congress’ effort to change military healthcare.
Congress thought centralizing military hospitals under DHA would make for a more efficient system with better patient access.
DoD decided to look at all of its hospitals, group them into 21 marketplaces and then consolidate by closing or reducing services at some facilities.
That process has caused a fair amount of drama. Closing clinics and “rightsizing” the medical infrastructure, as DHA calls it, would also translate to an estimated 200,000 military family members and retirees losing their ability to get health care through MTFs. Those patients would be moved to private healthcare providers in the community.
Then there are reservations from the military services. At the end of 2019, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy wanted to slow the transition of MTFs to DHA.
In an internal Army memo, obtained by Federal News Network, McCarthy stated he was “concerned about the lack of performance and planning of both the DHA and Defense Department Health Affairs with respect to the MTFs transition.”
“Like all mergers it’s about pacing,” McCarthy later said. “You are bringing thousands of people and functions to one organization. Like all mergers and acquisitions there are cultural dynamics, there are synergies you try to achieve and if you do it too fast you’re going to make a mess. This is the healthcare of our soldiers and their families.”
Congress is taking these concerns into account. The transition was originally supposed to be completed in 2021, but it was pushed off to the fall of 2022.
Now Congress is considering lengthening the transition even more.
The 2021 version of the House defense authorization bill pushes it back to 2023 and asks for an implementation plan from DoD.
“On a bipartisan basis there was great concern over the rigor of the analysis that had gone on to make the justification for the downscoping of the military treatment facilities,” a House Armed Services Committee aide said.
The Government Accountability Office also had concerns about DHA’s MTF consolidation.
“We found that often they used incomplete or inaccurate information — sometimes both,” Brenda Farrell, GAO’s director for Defense capabilities and management said in an interview with Federal News Network. “We had three areas where we found some incomplete and inaccurate information. One dealt with the quality of civilian providers; there was missing information there. The number of available civilian providers was also questionable — we thought it might be understated. And the third one dealt with the standardized time that DoD sets for a patient to drive to their provider.”
For now, DHA is moving ahead with its plan.
Last month, Thomas McCaffery, assistant defense secretary for health affairs, said DoD planned to push forward on its plan to “right size” the treatment facilities and to start that work by September.
“There are certain communities where there is either not a private sector network or it’s insufficient, and in that case, we are not making any changes. Again, it’s all very conditions-based,” McCaffery said. “The focus from Congress, which we share, is that the primary purpose of these facilities is to meet military requirements.” — SM
Defense appropriators in the House believe the time has finally come to eliminate the Defense Department’s overseas contingency operations (OCO) accounts.
That message is delivered in a report the Defense appropriations subcommittee approved in a closed-door markup session last week, and that is set to go before the full committee on Tuesday. It is part of a fairly scathing section on DoD’s spending and reprogramming practices in recent years.
As to the OCO accounts, the committee points out that Congress and DoD have routinely used them to circumvent the spending caps in the Budget Control Act, and says that it’s time not only to end that practice — but to eliminate the OCO accounts altogether.
“The OCO experiment has been an abject failure and has given the department a budgetary relief valve that has allowed it to avoid making difficult decisions,” according to a draft version of the report obtained by Bloomberg Government. “The committee believes that the department should cease requesting funding for the OCO accounts following this fiscal year.”
In its 2021 budget request, DoD requested $69 billion in OCO funding, but acknowledged that $16 billion of those dollars were actually for base budget requirements that had nothing to do with wartime operations in Afghanistan or elsewhere. In the committee’s view, 2022 is the perfect time to stop using OCO as a workaround to budget caps, since troops are drawing down from Afghanistan and the caps are expiring anyway.
Appropriators also used the occasion to criticize what they said was a serious decline in budget transparency and a deteriorating “partnership” between DoD and the committee on allocating Defense funding.
The latest evidence of that, they said, was the department’s reprogramming of $3.8 billion in weapons system spending toward border wall construction earlier this year. That type of transfer has historically only happened with the approval of the four Congressional defense committees, but in this case, DoD reprogrammed the funds without consulting lawmakers. That action followed a similar $6.1 billion transfer toward border wall construction in 2019.
“Department leadership has claimed that 3-to-5% annual real growth in the defense budget is necessary to support the National Defense Strategy while transferring nearly $10 billion for non-defense activities not enumerated within the National Defense Strategy,” members wrote. “The committee condemns these decisions, as well as repeated requests for more flexibility within the budget structure and reprogramming authorities … The granting of additional budget flexibility to the department is based on the presumption that a state of trust and comity exists between the legislative and executive branches regarding the proper use of appropriated funds. This presumption presently is false.” —JS
The Defense Department said Friday it’s approved another round of spending under the Defense Production Act to help prop up parts of its industrial base that have been hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic.
The contracts — all issued under Title III of the DPA — total $84 million. They’re targeted toward three different types of commercial companies the department says it depends on, but whose commercial business has taken a major hit because of COVID-19.
In the small unmanned aerial vehicle market, $13 million will go to five different companies: AirMap, ModalAI, Skydio, Graffiti Enterprises, and Obsidian Sensors. The department said those contracts would save 14 jobs and create 20 more, while also producing new military capabilities. All of the companies entered the Defense space via the Defense Innovation Unit’s Commercial Solutions Opening process.
Another $15 million will go to LeoLabs, which DoD said is the only domestic company that can deliver the technology it needs to surveil satellites in low-Earth orbit. The department said the money will “offset direct workforce and financial distress” the company has faced because of the pandemic.
And the department awarded $56 million to ArcelorMittal Inc., one of the world’s largest steel and mining companies, with $71 billion in revenue in 2019. Despite the company’s size, DoD said the funds were needed to expand the company’s capacity to build alloy steel plates for Navy shipbuilding at its facility in Coatesville, Pennsylvania.
The spending will “protect jobs in a region hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure critical capabilities are retained in support of U.S. Navy operational readiness,” officials said in a release. —JS
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.
U.S. Transportation Command has provided new details to support the highly-unusual decision it made last week when it re-awarded its $7.2 billion Global Household Goods contract (GHC) to the same vendor — just two weeks after had it pledged to take corrective action on the contested procurement.
In short, U.S. Transportation Command’s explanation is that the problem that first led it to pull the contract back — which also prompted the Government Accountability Office to dismiss two pending bid protests — was just a misunderstanding, caused by a clerical error on the part of the winning bidder, American Roll-On Roll-Off Carrier Group (ARC).
But TRANSCOM’s account is extremely difficult to reconcile against publicly-available documents.
In a statement, the command said its initial reason for pulling the contract back was that it looked as though ARC had failed to disclose a 2016 price fixing conviction on the part of its parent company for which it paid a nearly $100 million fine — an issue first raised in one of the GAO protests.
But according to TRANSCOM, that’s only because ARC officials mistakenly selected the wrong parent company from a dropdown menu when they registered their firm in the government’s System for Award Management (SAM). Instead of choosing Wallenius Wilhelmsen ASA (WWASA), ARC’s actual parent company, they selected Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics AS (WWLAS) — the company convicted in 2016.
Defense officials characterized the latter firm as merely “a separate company with a similar name.”
“After extensive independent review, TRANSCOM determined that the corporate misconduct was not affiliated with ARC nor its parent company,” officials said in the statement. “It appeared to the protester that ARC failed to meet [Federal Acquisition Regulation] disclosure requirements when, in actuality, the true parent company was misidentified. Minor errors in SAM are not grounds for disqualification. Since neither ARC, nor its parent company WWASA have a record of misconduct, TRANSCOM substantiated its original award to ARC because its proposal provided the best service for the best value for service members, DoD civilians and their families.”
But that explanation doesn’t comport with other publicly-available evidence about Wallenius Wilhelmsen’s actual corporate structure.
The similarity between the two companies’ names isn’t just an odd coincidence: WWASA — ARC’s Norwegian-Swedish parent company — is also the parent to WWLAS, the company that was convicted. In 2016, WWASA was a 50% owner in each of the companies; following a 2017 merger with the other partial shareholder, both business units are now wholly-owned subsidiaries of WWASA, according to a Federal News Network review of the firm’s annual reports and other public documents.
For the 2016 case, WWLAS paid a $98 million fine after reaching a plea agreement with the Justice Department. The company admitted that it conspired with other roll-on roll-off shipping companies in an antitrust conspiracy to rig bids and fix prices on various ocean shipping routes to and from the U.S.
In a Baltimore courtroom, on Sept. 12, 2016, the official who plead guilty on WWLAS’s behalf was Hakan Larson.
Today, Larson is the chairman of the board of WWASA, the parent company for both WWLAS and ARC.
WWASA also disclosed the WWLAS conviction to its investors at the time, and assured them it had already planned for the payment of fines that had yet to be determined on its previous year’s balance sheets.
Those documents show that WWASA had set aside $200 million to handle settlements with U.S. and European prosecutors who had antitrust cases pending against WWLAS.
Neither TRANSCOM nor ARC answered questions from Federal News Network about how they could have concluded the two Wallenius Wilhelmsen companies are meaningfully distinct from one another for the purposes of federal disclosure rules, or how they could credibly claim that WWASA “does not have a record of misconduct.”
“As part of its corrective action process related to the GHC bid, TRANSCOM conducted a thorough independent investigation of the facts,” Charles Diorio, an ARC spokesman said in an email. “In its July 1 release, TRANSCOM detailed the findings of that investigation. I refer you to that release and our previous statements.”
In addition to the U.S. criminal case, WWLAS — now called “Wallenius Wilhelmsen Ocean,” following the 2017 reorganization — is awaiting sentencing in an Australian federal court after having pled guilty last month to “cartel” behavior involving transportation between countries in the Western Pacific. Authorities in Japan and South Africa have also investigated and fined the company in their own anti-trust cases.
And in 2018, WWLAS paid a €207 million settlement to the European Commission after investigators accused that firm and several others of anti-competitive behavior. In that case, the commission had no trouble assigning liability to several different Wallenius Wilhelmsen operating units — and their ultimate parent — despite the corporation’s complex organizational structure, partly because WWASA admitted it was liable for the actions of its subsidiaries.
A statement the company issued at the time also left little ambiguity about whether ARC, WWLAS and WWASA are connected with one another.
“The company brings together the shipping and logistic businesses of EUKOR Car Carriers, WWLAS and American RoRo Carriers,” the firm said in a legally-required disclosure.
Wallenius Wilhelmsen’s 2019 annual report is also fairly unambiguous — as are previous years’ editions.
“The scope of this report includes vessels, ocean services and land based services owned or controlled by the Wallenius Wilhelmsen group, which includes Wallenius Wilhelmsen Ocean [WWL’s successor company after the 2017 reorganization], Wallenius Wilhelmsen Solutions, EUKOR and American Roll-on Roll-off Carrier (ARC),” the report reads in part.
TRANSCOM hopes to use the GHC contract to transform the military moving system, transitioning it away from move-by-move agreements between DoD and individual moving companies to a single managed service provider that can establish long-term relationships with those firms, and hold poor-performing ones accountable.
Officials have said they believe the new contract structure will increase competition in the moving industry, but it remains unclear how heavily source selection authorities weighted that objective, and how strongly they accounted for ARC’s parent companies’ history of convictions for anticompetitive behavior in that calculus.
All three of the bidders in the GHC contract have had varying degrees of prior legal difficulties.
One bidder, Homesafe Alliance, is a joint venture led by Kellogg Brown & Root, a firm with an extensive history of civil and criminal judgements in which the government has been the plaintiff. And in 2012, a sister company of Crowley Technical Services — the parent company of another bidder, Connected Global Solutions, paid a $17 million fine for its part in a price fixing scheme involving freight shipments to Puerto Rico.
But as to ARC, legal and contracting experts said the primary issues are whether the company had properly disclosed its history, and whether TRANSCOM’s contracting officials had done sufficient due diligence to determine that ARC was “presently responsible” before they decided to award a more than $7 billion multi-year contract to the company.
Considering that TRANSCOM’s publicly-expressed understanding of the company’s structure appears to be at odds with numerous publicly-available documents, there is reason to question how rigorous that examination has been. —JS
The Air Force’s innovation hub, AFWERX, is hosting its first virtual TeamUp event in the middle of the month. The Air Force is hoping to award $10 million in contracts over 90 days. Some of those awards will go toward Air Force Acquisition, Technology and Logistics chief Will Roper’s flying car pet project called Agility Prime.
“Leveraging unique testing resources and revenue generating government use cases for distributed logistics and disaster response, the government plans to mitigate current commercial market and regulatory risks,” the project’s website states. “Agility Prime also aims to bring together industry, investor, and government communities to establish safety and security standards while accelerating commercialization of this revolutionary technology.”
The Air Force hopes to have operational flying cars by 2023.
Other parts of the TeamUp event will focus on hearing what industry can offer the Air Force in any category.
“The Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Open Topic is yet another way the Air Force is determined to be the preferred partner for small business, providing non-dilutive seed funding to them and their research partners, including universities and nonprofit institutions,” said Maj. Jared Evans, AFWERX STTR Open Topic program manager and technology transfer lead at the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. “The STTR program is a critical part of our broader investment in our small business and research communities.” — SM
Outgoing Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said now is the time to strike for digital engineering and data architecture. After years of budget growth, the coronavirus pandemic, plus more fiscal responsibility is most likely going to leave the Defense Department with a flat or declining budget in coming years.
“You got to do it. You’ve got to invest in it,” Goldfein said during a Brookings Institution event last week. “Google didn’t become an AI company before they got their digital architecture right. They didn’t become an AI company until they first got common access to data.”
Goldfein said now is the time to get the foundational set right.
“Everything that follows will connect to open mission systems,” Goldfien said. “I need resilient pathways to communicate and to change the cost curve. Right now it is so much more expensive to defend than to attack. We need to flip that curve. Industry is ahead of us and they can help us get where we need to go. Now is the time to do it, especially with tough budgets ahead.” — SM
The Trump administration is permanently exempting TRICARE providers from abiding by the Labor Department’s Office of Federal Compliance Programs’ nondiscrimination policies for employees. The conclusion to the years-long battle involving the OFFCP’s authority over TRICARE contractors means less regulation for health facilities treating military dependents, retirees and others, but possible risks for employees working for them.
“OFCCP has determined that special circumstances in the national interest justify granting the exemption as it would improve uniformed service members’ and veterans’ access to medical care, more efficiently allocate OFCCP’s limited resources for enforcement activities, and provide greater uniformity, certainty, and notice for health care providers participating in TRICARE,” a posting in the Federal Register states.
OFCCP ensures federal contractors are abiding by certain regulations, in this case ones pertaining to discrimination in the workplace.
Proponents of the rule state that a section in the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act exempts TRICARE providers from OFCCP’s oversight. OFCCP agreed with that opinion in the past, saying that it does not have authority over TRICARE providers.
The law states DoD should maintain adequate networks of providers and in doing so “a TRICARE managed care support contract that includes the requirement to establish, manage, or maintain a network of providers may not be considered to be a contract for the performance of health care services or supplies on the basis of such requirement.”
Opponents of the rule say it is a blow to civil rights.
“The rule proposes categorically carving out TRICARE providers from OFCCP’s civil rights enforcement jurisdiction and represents a retrenchment that would strip critical civil rights from employees without adequate justification,” a letter from the National Women’s Law Center says. “OFCCP proactively identifies and addresses discrimination by bringing systemic investigations,
conducting compliance reviews of selected contractors, and providing guidance to contractors on affirmatively promoting equal opportunity in the workplace and complying with the laws under its
OFCCP will still regulate providers that hold other federal contracts and TRICARE contracts at the same time. There was previously a five-year moratorium on OFCCP enforcement of TRICARE providers that was going to expire on 2021. — SM
The House version of the NDAA may help pregnant service members get uniforms for free.
A provision inserted by Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) creates a “rent the camo” pilot program that would let service members who are expecting or have recently delivered a child borrow maternity uniforms instead of having to buy them out-of-pocket.
“They’re only pregnant for nine months, and we just felt this was a logical program that would support our active duty service women , so they can have successful careers in our armed forces,” Haaland told Federal News Network. “We have talked about the fact that there are not enough women in the higher ranks many times. This is one way that we can support our women and help them to be successful.”
The legislation authorizes $10 million for a bank of different sized maternity clothes. The bank would be under the jurisdiction of the Defense Logistics Agency.
The uniforms will also be free of permethrin, a chemical used to treat scabies and lice. — SM
The Pentagon said Friday it had picked Dave Spirk as its new chief data officer, making him the first person to hold the job since a 2019 law overhauled the department’s data management functions.
Spirk will join the Pentagon from his previous job at U.S. Special Operations Command, where he also served as CDO.
“Effective data management is the central component of the department’s Digital Modernization Strategy,” Dana Deasy, DoD’s chief information officer said in a statement. “Dave brings extensive experience and a thorough understanding of how data empowers joint, all-domain operations. I look forward to working with Dave as we create a strong data culture across the department.”
Spirk is only the second person to hold the title of DoD CDO. The first was Michael Conlin, when the department created the data management position within the office of the Chief Management Officer in 2018.
But as part of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress moved the CDO job to the CIO’s office. Within weeks of its passage, Deasy announced he was launching a job search to hire a new chief data officer and stand up a data management operation within his office.
The same bill also ordered the CIO and CDO to work together on a number of issues, including developing a comprehensive strategy and implementation instructions for moving applications to the cloud and “optimizing” the department’s IT budget and cyber investments.
The NDAA also gave the CDO the responsibility for making the DoD’s data available and usable across the department, and created a legal mandate for DoD components to share their data with the CDO. —JS
The 88-page report the Navy published on Friday detailing its investigation into the coronavirus outbreak on the USS Theodore Roosevelt will evidently not be the final word on the matter.
The House Armed Services Committee, apparently unimpressed with the Navy’s conclusions, will launch its own independent investigation, the committee’s chairman, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said Friday afternoon.
In its detailed review, the Navy found Capt. Brett Crozier, the Roosevelt’s commanding officer, deserved to be relieved because he didn’t do nearly enough to ensure the safety of his crew after the virus began spreading. But Adm. Michael Gilday, the chief of naval operations, said the letter in which Crozier pleaded for help — and which served as the initial basis for his dismissal — should not have been treated as a firing offense in and of itself.
In a statement, Smith suggested the Navy’s investigation did not go far enough to assign accountability beyond the ship’s leadership team.
“Everyone up and down the chain of command had a role to play in the inadequate response — including then-Acting Secretary of the Navy Modly. The department’s civilian leadership portrayed Capt. Crozier’s decision-making aboard the Roosevelt as the critical weakness in the Navy’s response, but the truth is that civilian leadership was also to blame,” he said. “The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over. The Navy and DoD will continue to grapple with the challenges presented by the pandemic for months to come. Civilian leadership at the Department of the Defense is crucial to our national security, and as such they must be held accountable as we move forward.” —JS
About half of the Defense Department’s suppliers for space needs say they are moderately hurting or worse from cash flow and workforce issues resulting from the coronavirus epidemic.
Shawn Barnes, acting assistant Air Force secretary for space acquisition and integration, said it’s no surprise considering how impactful the epidemic was.
“About half have adjusted their business strategies for the next couple of years,” Barnes said during an online discussion hosted by the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies. “More than a third have had schedule impacts, over half have seen supply chain workforce impacts, less than a third have seen supply chain materiel impacts.”
The poll surveyed members of the Space Enterprise Consortium — a group of 388 space-focused companies working with the Pentagon. Others polled include nonprofit organizations and research and development centers.
The industrial base problems are an issue for the fledgling Space Force, which is set to continue growing into a full military service over the next few years. —SM
The Office of Naval Research is using some of its tech savvy to provide personnel protection equipment to reduce the risk of coronavirus infection. ONR is working with multiple partners to develop prototypes of 3D printable PPE that can be used with tactical gear. The masks use a filter and form a seal around the nose and mouth. The prototypes will be used at Camp Humphreys in South Korea.
“This is a good test of how we can respond to the needs of the fleet in an emergency,” said Ross Wilhelm, principal technologist for Naval Undersea Warfare Center – Keyport Maintenance Division’s engineering and industrial operations department. “How many masks can we produce and how fast? We hope this serves as a model for Department of Defense commands worldwide.”
South Korea emerged as one of the first hot spots of coronavirus, and the first service member infected with COVID-19 was stationed there. Due to the fast demand for PPE in the area ONR started reaching out and thinking of ways to beef up its supply chain.
“These masks can play a key role in strengthening our medical infrastructure of preparedness,” Wilhelm said. “That way, people won’t be scrambling for supplies at the beginning of another pandemic.” —SM
The 2021 NDAA bill House lawmakers will begin marking up this week includes language that Congressional officials say is meant to strengthen DoD’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC).
The provisions are part of the NDAA subpackage scheduled to be voted on today by the House Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on intelligence, emerging threats and capabilities.
For starters, the legislation would move the JAIC’s director up a rung in DoD’s organizational chart: he or she would report directly to the deputy secretary of Defense. Currently, the AI center is part of the DoD CIO’s office.
Secondly, the bill would create a somewhat unique oversight and advisory structure – at least by DoD historical standards. A JAIC “board of directors,” made up of DoD officials and industry AI experts, would be something of a hybrid between a traditional federal advisory committee and an in-house technical panel. It would both conduct long-range studies on the military use and ethics of AI, and help the JAIC write strategic guidance on hardware, supply chain and other technical issues.
“The concept is to marry senior-level DoD decision makers with a perspective from the outside,” said a Congressional aide involved in drafting the legislation. “We’ll have representations of civilian, senior military, as well as non-governmental from academia or private industry. It’s to bring them together to afford the director of the JAIC a resource that they can turn to for longer term strategic level direction and guidance.” —JS
The National Security Agency’s cybersecurity directorate was stood up late last year, but it’s already working on a pilot that will help defense companies.
Secure DNS is a commercially managed service provider that gives companies a secure domain name system.
Anne Neuberger, head of the cybersecurity directorate, said NSA hoped the program would “jumpstart security, particularly for smaller and medium sized companies that may not have the ability to invest in the resources or the right skilled personnel.”
“Our analysis highlighted that using Secure DNS would reduce the ability for 92% of malware attacks, both from command and control perspective and deploying malware on a given network,” Neuberger said at the Defense One Tech Summit last week.
She said the next steps will be to document and standardize what a secure DNS service looks like, and then allow companies within the defense industrial base to adopt it. —SM
Two senators want to give TRICARE beneficiaries monetary relief during crises like the coronavirus pandemic. Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Nev.) introduced a proposal that would eliminate prescription drug co-payments during a national or public health emergency. The proposal would help beneficiaries who are unable to get to a military treatment facility, where prescriptions can be filled for free.
Drug co-payments increased this year by a range of $3 to $7 depending on the drug and method of delivery. Tricare co-pays range from $10 to $60 if it’s a generic drug versus a brand-name formulary drug.
“In the wake of a widespread disaster like a hurricane or global pandemic, our military service members, veterans, and their families should not have to worry about how they will continue to afford lifesaving treatments,” Wicker said in a statement. “The TRICARE Prescription Relief Act would give our defense leaders the flexibility they need to waive cost-sharing requirements for TRICARE beneficiaries through the duration of a crisis.”
The bill comes at a time when many groups are calling for decreased defense spending after the United States funded unprecedented stimulus bills to reinvigorate the economy as the coronavirus pandemic continues. —SM
Kenneth Braithwaite took the oath of office to become the 77th secretary of the Navy on Friday, ending a long stretch during which the Navy Departments top job has been vacant, and at times, mired in turmoil.
Braithwaite is the first Senate-confirmed Navy secretary since last November, when the Trump Administration fired Richard Spencer. In a message to sailors and Marines on Friday, the former U.S. ambassador to Norway called the latest appointment “the honor of my life,” but also a significant challenge.
“Our nation is up against perhaps the greatest test of our commitment to the ideals we hold dear than at any time in our history … surely since the end of World War II,” Braithwaite wrote. “We must recognize this challenge for all it is and all it presents, lurking in the shadows of deceit or the depths of dishonesty. However, our Navy and Marine Corps have faced tough times before. Each time we have prevailed and we will persevere again.”
Braithwaite didn’t elaborate on what he meant by “deceit” or “dishonesty.”
But he’d also alluded to major leadership challenges for the Navy during his Senate confirmation hearing. His testimony came just a month after Thomas Modly, the undersecretary who was also acting Navy secretary, was also forced to resign over his handling of the aftermath of a coronavirus outbreak aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt.
“It saddens me to say that the Department of the Navy is in rough waters due to many factors, but primarily the failure of leadership,” Braithwaite testified. “Whether Glenn Marine Defense, the ship collisions in 2017, judicial missteps, or the crisis recently aboard USS Roosevelt, they’re all indicative of a breakdown in the trust of those leading the service.” —JS
Just a few weeks after the Defense Business Board issued a scathing report that concluded the Pentagon’s chief management officer (CMO) has largely failed in its mission of enterprise-wide business transformation, the CMO’s office is turning to industry for help. A lot of help.
In a new sources sought notice, the CMO shop says it’s contemplating a new support services contract that’s likely to be worth anywhere between $250 million and $1 billion over the next five years. The list of potential services in the forthcoming indefinite-delivery/indefinite quantity (ID/IQ) contract is voluminous, but they’re focused in three major categories to support business reform:
The CMO’s office is still in the market research stage and hasn’t announced when it might issue a formal request for proposals. As of now, it’s hoping for participation from both large and small businesses, including 8(a) firms, HUBZone and other economically disadvantaged small businesses.
And although the contract would be a multiple-award ID/IQ, companies wouldn’t be able to stay on the contract vehicle forever unless they show they’re helping. Firms who pass up two task order requests in a row without offering a bid would be “off-ramped.” Companies whose technical approach is rated “marginal” at least twice would get the same treatment.
The overall goal, officials wrote, is to help develop “transformational solutions” to DoD’s business reform challenges.
“This will be accomplished through seven objectives: Deliver performance at the speed of relevance; organize for innovation; drive budget discipline and affordability; streamline rapid, iterative approaches from development to fielding; contract management; contract efficiency assessment, and harness and protect the National Security Innovation Base, officials wrote.” —JS
The Navy is trying to figure out what the “new normal” will look like for its sailors and civilians when they start returning to their physical work locations. The Naval District Washington Recovery Working Group is developing plans for when health regulations loosen.
“We’ve had a reversal of the norm,” said Jeff Sanford, NDW recovery working group chair. “Before the pandemic, NDW on average probably had 10% of its workforce teleworking every day. “But because of COVID-19, we probably have over 90% of our personnel teleworking. Finding a way to get those people back into the office is now the big challenge.”
The group is trying to decide how it will bring people back onto installations and how many to bring back at one time. One concern is the amount of supplies that will be needed like face masks, hand sanitizer and cleaning material.
According to Defense Department guidelines, installations can’t change health restrictions until there is a 14-day decline of coronavirus cases in the area. — SM
A month ago, House Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee Chairwoman Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) and three other lawmakers asked the Defense Department to reconsider its legislative proposal to weaken lobbying laws. The Defense Department is back with a response and it’s sticking to its guns for now.
The legislative proposal would change some of the wording around the existing lobbying law. It would restrict “lobbying contacts” a loosely defined term, instead of “lobbying activities,” which is currently in the law.
DoD General Counsel Paul Ney wrote that lobbying activities prohibits some “behind-the-scenes assistance” while contacts does not.
“With the exception of the President’s Ethics Pledge, which applies to former senior and non-senior political appointees, no other post-government employment restriction prohibits former senior officials from participating in behind-the-scenes assistance,” Ney wrote.
The proposal would also lessen the two-year cooling off period from when high ranking military officers leave the service and when they can join a defense company.
“DoD’s proposed changes align section 1045 with the criminal statute without changing the existing two-year ‘cooling-off’ period for general of flag officers and their civilian equivalents,” Ney wrote. — SM
The Army is thinking differently about how biology will fit into the way the military operates. Army Futures Command leader Gen. Mike Murray says after seeing the effects of COVID-19 it is preparing differently for the decades to come.
“What we are working on now is really four alternative futures,” Murray said. “The further out you go the wider it gets and then we can begin to work our way back. Part of Futures Command is medical research and I’ve got some really smart people.”
Those “smart people” told Murray something that stuck with him when thinking about pandemics.
“Over a 60 year period we had two new coronaviruses and in the last 16 years we’ve had five new coronaviruses emerge in the world,” Murray said. “I absolutely think this type of event has to be a part of how we look into the future.” — SM
When it comes to companies’ liability for their employees becoming sick with coronavirus as people return to work, the consensus among legal experts is that employers are on fairly safe ground if they follow reasonable standards of care, like CDC guidelines and local public health orders.
Even those measures aren’t a complete safe harbor, and things are more complicated for companies doing business in the Defense industry, since the Pentagon has designated them as “critical infrastructure” since the start of the pandemic.
According to the National Defense Industrial Association, questions about COVID liability issues are still a concern for many of its members.
“If you follow the CDC guidelines and you follow the PPE guidelines for the government entity you’re working for and somebody does get sick, where is the liability, and how do companies cover that? Much of our industry is really concerned about this,” he said Friday during a panel hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “The bigger companies probably have a better capability to cover that, but some of our small businesses might not. This is some of the under-the-radar stuff that people are really starting to wrestle with as we go forward.”
In a survey earlier this month, one of the concerns companies expressed to NDIA was how much liability they could face once their government customers transition back to normal office conditions. For instance, if one of their workers becomes infected at a federal worksite, is the contractor liable, or is the government? —JS
The Space Force debuted its first recruiting ad late last week. One thing that stands out: There are a lot of women in the ad. Women astronauts, cyber warriors and commanders all make an appearance. A woman also narrates the ad. It elucidates the military’s push for more diversity in its ranks.
However, as we reported last week, the military isn’t exactly winning the battle when it comes to recruiting and retaining women. The Government Accountability Office released a study that found the proportion of women in the military only went up from 15.1% to 16.5% over a 15 year period.
Women were also 28% more likely to leave the service than men.
The Space Force ad certainly seems like it’s making a push to change that, but GAO says the military needs more than just recruiting ads.
“Without DoD guidance and service plans with goals, performance measures, and timeframes to monitor female recruitment and retention efforts, DoD may continue to miss opportunities to recruit and retain a valuable segment for its active-duty force,” the report authors stated. — SM
DoD’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center is supposed to be one of the first adopters of the Pentagon’s JEDI Cloud platform. But since there’s no telling when the JEDI matter will finally emerge from litigation, the JAIC has had to move on to a plan B, at least for the time being.
Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan, the JAIC director, said his organization has decided to start using the Air Force’s Cloud One environment for its AI work for the foreseeable future. Time is of the essence, he said, since the U.S. military only has about five years before it’s decided whether the United States or China will be the dominant force in AI.
“The lack of an enterprise cloud solution has slowed us down, there’s no question about that,” Shanahan said during a webinar hosted by AFCEA’s D.C. chapter. “We had to do a lot of background work to make sure [Cloud One] could handle our DevSecOps, tools, plans, platforms, but it looks very promising right now.”
The JAIC plans to take advantage of the Air Force’s Platform One – a component of Cloud One that offers a DevSecOps environment to DoD customers as a managed service, and uses both Microsoft and Amazon’s existing, already-approved cloud offerings to quickly spin up new “software factories.”
“We’re kind of covering our bases with Azure and AWS,” Shanahan said. “I’ll never get into a company discussion — I’m agnostic, I just need an enterprise-class solution. If we want elastic compute, if we want to make worldwide updates to all these algorithms in the space of minutes, not in the space of months while we’re running around with gold discs, we’ve got to have an enterprise-class solution.” —JS
Figuring out how to efficiently adapt commercial mobile devices to the military’s security needs has been something of a holy grail for the Defense Department for almost as long as there have been smartphones. But DoD’s latest move in that direction may involve a solution that doesn’t require any changes to those mobile devices at all.
The Air Force and the Defense Information Systems Agency are about to pilot an approach that might be able to secure smartphones to DoD’s satisfaction without touching their underlying hardware or software. Users would put their phones into a specialized case — just a little bigger than the ones most people use to keep devices from getting scratched up — but with some security-enhancing features.
For example, when it’s switched on, the case blocks the phone’s camera and emits white noise into its microphones, so that even if the phone were to be hacked, it couldn’t be used for eavesdropping. It also contains its own GPS chip and secure communications capabilities.
“The idea is basically, okay, I want to be able to track the phone, but I don’t want anybody else to know that I’m tracking the phone, and I don’t want the phone itself to be emanating,” Frank Konieczny, the Air Force’s chief technology officer said during an event hosted by AFCEA and George Mason University last week. “There’s several ways to do that, but the case is the easiest way, because I don’t have to mess with the phone.”
One ramification is that DoD users would be able to take commercial phones into classified spaces instead of leaving them outside the door. The Air Force and DISA plan to pilot that idea at the Pentagon once the COVID-19 pandemic is over. The case could also let military users safely use “burner” phones when they’re traveling overseas.
“Eventually, we think we can also have a continuous biometric authentication capability on the case itself,” Konieczny said. “We will know who it is by them walking or by using eye contact – we can get that biometric authentication information dynamically from the case. It’s going to be another way of looking at how to secure something which is really just a public phone.”
The technology is based on a product called SafeCase, developed by the mobile security firm Privaro. The Air Force signed a Small Business Innovative Research agreement with the company last year. —JS
No promises — but there’s at least a possibility that the Pentagon will lift the travel restrictions it’s imposed on servicemembers and civilian workers earlier than June 30, when they’re currently set to expire.
As of now, the rules ban DoD components from onboarding any civilian employees unless they’re within their local commuting area. Military members are barred from taking leave outside their local areas, and individual permanent change of station moves can only happen with the approval of senior defense officials.
But Pentagon officials are actively developing recommendations for Defense Secretary Mark Esper on whether to lift the restrictions early, or at least modify them, said Matthew Donovan, the undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness.
One option might be to move to a more geographically-based set of stop-move orders, rather than a single set of rules that apply to all DoD personnel worldwide.
“We’re an enterprise of almost three million people that’s spread across all 50 states, three territories, the District of Columbia and 145 or so countries,” he said. “So that’s one of the things that we’re looking at: Can we do a conditions-based, phased approach on lifting the travel restrictions? So we’ll be bringing those recommendations to the secretary and then he’ll take a look at it.”
Some military moves have been allowed during the COVID-19 pandemic, but each one requires approval from at least a one-star military officer or Senior Executive Service member. As of now, there are no plans to move that waiver authority to a lower level of the chain of command.
“I don’t think we’ve seen a demand to move it down,” said Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman. “I think the services have worked with that standard pretty well. We’ve continued to move people around the world as needed, so the standard that we have right now seems to work. We are, of course, interested in getting back to the normal process as soon as we can.” —JS
The Defense Department and military services have been saying for years that they want more women in the military, but the leadership for that goal may not be there. The Government Accountability Office looked at the military’s efforts to recruit and retain women from 2004 to 2018 and the progress isn’t very promising. GAO’s main critique is DoD and each of the services still haven’t developed clear objectives, performance measures and time frames to guide their efforts.
“Without DoD guidance and service plans with goals, performance measures, and timeframes to monitor female recruitment and retention efforts, DoD may continue to miss opportunities to recruit and retain a valuable segment for its active-duty force,” the report authors stated.
Over the 15 year period GAO studied, it found the proportion of women in the military only went up from 15.1% to 16.5%. Women were 28% more likely to leave the service than men. It wasn’t all bad news: Promotion rates were higher for female officers, though slightly lower for enlisted. — SM
It won’t be until early next year that the Defense Department settles on a new home for the new U.S. Space Command, but even once the decision is made, SPACECOM won’t be leaving its current location anytime soon.
Officials said Friday that DoD’s newest combatant command will stay at its temporary home in Colorado Springs for the next six years; it’s expected to take about that long for a new basing decision to be made and new facilities to be built.
“I am thrilled that Colorado Springs has been chosen as the provisional location for U.S. Space Command,” Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), who represents the area, said in a statement. “We have the personnel, infrastructure, and talent pool already in place, and our space warfighters and industry partners are in our community conducting national security operations 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”
Also on Friday, Defense officials outlined a new set of criteria they’ll use to pick SPACECOM’s permanent home.
In a letter to governors, John Henderson, the assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations said the new location would need to be within commuting distance of one of the nation’s biggest 150 metropolitan areas, within 25 miles of a military base, and have a score of at least 50 out of 100 on AARP’s “Livability Index.” —JS
Every year the Government Accountability Office picks out recommendations it’s made that are extremely important, but have yet to be completed. This year, GAO pointed out 91 priority recommendations that the Defense Department is lagging on. The areas range from acquisition management to readiness to healthcare and sexual harassment.
“Priority open recommendations are GAO recommendations that warrant priority attention from heads of key departments or agencies because their implementation could save large amounts of money; improve congressional and/or executive branch decision making on major issues; eliminate mismanagement, fraud, and abuse; or ensure that programs comply with laws and funds are legally spent, among other benefits,” according to the new report.
This year’s list includes:
DoD is making progress in addressing at least some of GAO’s longstanding concerns. Last year’s list included 91 priority recommendations. Since then, DoD officials have addressed 27 of them, but GAO added 17 new ones to this year’s list. — SM
The Defense Department may have left its check engine light on when it comes to military health system. A new report from the Project on Government Oversight makes the case that DoD prioritized funding procurement programs as it let its health system languish. The result is the possibility for longer wait times for patients. It also means DoD has to lean more heavily on the civilian medical community in times of crisis.
“The public show of military doctors aiding in the coronavirus response belies the fact that the military health system lacks the ability to handle even the routine health needs of the services during normal conditions,” Dan Grazier, POGO’s military fellow, wrote.
The report suggests beefing up military health funding to keep the military prepared for future worst-case scenarios.
“The current proposals to shift military health care to civilian providers, which have been temporarily halted in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, should be reevaluated once the crisis passes,” Grazier wrote. ”Plans that make sense for normal peacetime operations are not the standard for which the military prepares itself.” — SM
Federal law already requires U.S. high schools and colleges to turn over their students’ contact information to military recruiters if they want to keep receiving federal funding. But the Defense Department says the kinds of information it’s getting isn’t particularly helpful in the 21st century.
So one of DoD’s requests for the upcoming 2021 Defense authorization bill is to change the law to require schools to hand over students’ email addresses and cell phone numbers. The current statute only requires them to provide mailing addresses and “telephone listings.” The department suggested many schools have interpreted that to mean home landline numbers.
“Many people prefer to communicate by email and text message; further, many people no longer have a landline phone number. The statutes as currently written only allow for the collection of outdated communication information,” Defense officials wrote to lawmakers in the legislative proposal. “Half of today’s youth admit that they know little to nothing about the military. Our goal is to inform the target youth market about all the options available to them. We need the youth market and their influencers to understand the military, what the military does, and what service the country can do for them.”
For high school students, the proposal would let parents opt-out from having schools send their kids’ contact information from DoD. For college students, the proposal would also add a new requirement for colleges and universities to send DoD lists of students who’ve recently dropped out. —JS
The Defense Department Inspector General’s Office is setting up a handful of investigations into the Pentagon’s response to COVID-19. DoD IG has 10 planned reports ranging from looking into screening and quarantine procedures to the impact of coronavirus on basic training.
The work will also oversee how DoD spends the more than $10.5 billion afforded to it through the coronavirus relief package. DoD IG was given $20 million in that appropriation for oversight.
DoD IG is already looking into six coronavirus related issues including contracts for equipment and supplies in support of relief, an audit of entitlements and allowances for mobilized reserve services members and an evaluation of the Navy’s plans and response to the virus’ outbreak aboard ships.
Other planned work includes a look into DoD’s cybersecurity in the COVID-19 telework environment and an assessment of the combatant commands’ response to the virus. — SM
The Navy Department is taking another step toward accelerating its 5G wireless deployments — or at least getting rid of one policy barrier that may have been slowing things down.
Navy and Marine Corps base commanders now have the authority to move ahead with commercial 5G buildouts without conducting an electromagnetic interference (EMI) study first. The Navy says an increase in commercial wireless deployments on its bases has created a backlog of studies waiting to be done.
According to a memo Aaron Weis, the Navy Department’s chief information officer signed earlier this month, commanders can instead issue an “interim authority to radiate” to let local projects move forward while they’re waiting for those EMI studies.
It’s not a blank check to avoid safety precautions though. The new procedure is only allowed if a base has already gone through several other studies of the new wireless service’s impact, including a Hazards of Electromagnetic Radiation to Personnel (HERP) and Hazards of Electromagnetic Radiation to Fuel (HERF) study. If the new wireless tower is expected to be anywhere near where bombs or bullets are kept, they’ll also need to go through a Hazards of Electromagnetic Radiation to Ordnance (HERO) study. —JS
The Space Force now has its own flag. The leaders of the Air Force and Space Force met with the president in the Oval Office on Friday to unveil the new addition to vexillology. The flag looks similar to the Space Force logo, which has a gray Star Trek insignia-type shape overtop of a representation of earth. The Roman numerals for 2019 are below the logo. A satellite circles the logo and behind it is a field of stars.
“We’re proud of this flag, we’re proud to have an opportunity to present it to you here for display in the White House,” Gen. Jay Raymond, chief of space operations said.
The Space Force has still yet to come up with a name for what it will call its service members and music fans are still waiting on what the song for the newest military service will be. — SM
A new Congressionally-mandated independent assessment by the Defense Business Board found the Defense Department’s chief management officer is “nearly unanimously” viewed by leaders in and out of the Pentagon as ineffective — partly because the CMO was never set up for success.
The DBB based its conclusions on interviews with 90 people, most of whom are current or former senior Defense officials. Among the findings are that the CMO position, and the deputy CMO one that came before it, have been handicapped by acting leadership. Since 2008, it’s had a Senate-confirmed leader only 45% of the time.
The board found the CMO has not delivered on its mission of business transformation, mostly not because of the failings of any of its leaders, but because it’s lacked the authority to drive change. The authors noted that unlike the CMOs of the military services — the undersecretaries — the DoD CMO doesn’t control people, budgets or data. Without that, “DoD culture ‘ignores’ or ‘waits out’ transformational or budgetary changes,” they wrote.
“[Military service and agency] leaders often choose to not fully comply with transformative efforts, as the CMO has no leverage to compel their compliance or sometimes even their participation,” according to a summary of the report. “Only the deputy secretary of Defense can create compliance in reform for considerations elsewhere.”
So what to do? The board offered three different options for a new position that it believes should replace the CMO, and could drive real business reform:
The Defense Department was expecting flatter budgets in the future, but with trillions of dollars going to coronavirus relief, future budgets are looking tighter than previously expected.
DoD estimated it would need about 3% growth to continue with its goals of modernizing the force, continuing innovation and countering near-peer competitors.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said last week that the Pentagon would look “in due course” at what program modernizations would need to be deferred in the case of a flat budget.
DoD’s top priority right now is modernizing its nuclear deterrent.
“My inclination is to not risk any of the modernization programs, it’s to go back and pull out more of the legacy programs,” Esper said. “We need to move away from the legacy and we need to invest those dollars into the future. We have a lot of legacy programs out there.”
The question is how much can be saved? The military services are already going through night court processes, where they cut unneeded systems. At some point the returns will not be as high. — SM
Thanks to public court filings over the last two years, the public has gotten some regular sense of where things stand with DoD’s massive JEDI Cloud procurement. But now that a federal court has remanded the contract award back to the department for corrective action, JEDI has gone dark.
We only learned that DoD had issued its amended contract solicitation (Amazon and Microsoft are the only ones who’ve seen it) when the two companies issued dueling blog postings last week accusing each other of seeking a “do-over” in the revived competition and commenting on Amazon’s latest agency-level protest.
The department itself is saying nothing about the newly-reopened procurement — not even the sorts of mundane, timeline-based details were used to knowing in public procurements.
When did DoD actually issue the revised solicitation? “Shortly after” the court approved DoD’s request to remand the case, the department said in response to our written questions.
When’s the due date for AWS and Microsoft to submit their revised bids, and when does DoD expect to make a new award decision? “Per the Court’s Order of the Voluntary Remand, the government has 120 days from that order to issue a new award decision. The government will not comment on specific milestones within that 120-day time period.”
But even that reference to the 120-day timeframe doesn’t tell us much, because the court’s order makes clear that judicial proceedings could restart earlier if the department makes a new award before that, and that the 120 days could also be extended if DoD needs more time.
These certainly aren’t the most important facts about the JEDI procurement, but they’re not particularly controversial ones either.
Understanding the sensitivities of this procurement, it’s disappointing that DoD is taking such an extreme approach to withholding information. We’ve asked DoD to articulate a reason why sharing basic calendar information — including the dates of things that have already happened — could possibly harm the procurement, and will update this space if we get a response. — JS
The Defense Department has taken a lot of valid criticism for living conditions in its privatized military housing program. But a newly-issued DoD inspector general report is a good reminder of why the Military Housing Privatization Initiative was launched in the 1990s to begin with: the military services aren’t perfect landlords either.
Most of the family housing units DoD still operates itself are overseas. OIG investigators visited eight of the installations that still have them, trying to evaluate how local officials are managing hazards like lead, asbestos, and electrical and building safety problems.
They found deficiencies at all eight of them. At seven of the bases, there were not even records showing which housing units might contain lead-based paint. That was also true for asbestos at five of the bases.
Even in the absence of detailed records, installation officials know those hazards exist in their government-owned housing to some degree. At Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, for example, officials “presume” all painted surfaces to contain lead-based paint. When auditors visited, they found chipped paint that appeared to be lead-based at each of the 11 family housing units they saw.
“The deficiencies in the management of health and safety hazards at the eight military installations we visited occurred because the DoD’s housing policies do not define minimum standards for health and safety hazard management in GO‑GC military family housing,” auditors wrote. “Moreover, the DoD’s Unified Facilities Criteria for family housing only applies to new construction or renovation projects and does not address the management of health and safety hazards in existing military family housing.”
The IG told the department it should update its policies to address the hazards, and make sure the military services adopt them. Defense officials have agreed with the recommendation, but haven’t yet laid out specific plans or an implementation timeline, according to the inspector general. — JS
Researchers working with the Air Force are looking deep into the coronavirus’ genetic code on an answer on how to develop a vaccine. The Air Force Genetics Center of Excellence is sequencing the virus strain that causes COVID-19. Sequencing of one viral genome takes between six and 12 hours, but many genomes need to be analyzed to give researchers an idea of how the virus will change over time. To date, scientists around the world have shared more than 10,000 genome sequences of the coronavirus. One genome is made up of 29,000 to 30,000 letters representing nucleotides. By comparison, the human genome contains more than 3 billion letters.
“The key will be in deciphering the differences between the novel coronavirus and closely related viruses, as it appears that small changes to its genomic sequence have made it more lethal and contagious,” said Air Force Maj. Mauricio De Castro, the director of the molecular genetics laboratory at the genetics genter. — SM
The Defense Department is easing requirements for students whose parents died while serving in the military or died after retiring. The Pentagon announced it will change some of the rules to the survivor benefit plan, which certifies those using the subsidies are actually students.
Students will now be able to self-certify school attendance, instead of having to provide DoD with signatures from school officials and provide transcripts to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service. Self-certification will be required once a year, lessening the burden of providing the information every semester.
“The previous process has been particularly challenging during the current COVID-19 crisis when school campuses are closed while school continues remotely,” a DoD statement reads. “This updated form and streamlined process will improve the timeliness and efficiency of this important program and ensure these survivors continue receiving this valuable benefit.”
The form that needs to be submitted is also shorter and simpler and focuses on future school plans. It can also be uploaded mobily. — SM
With the release of Netflix’s “Space Force” trailer last week, Chief of Space Operations Gen. Jay Raymond and Air Force Secretary Barbra Barrett weighed in.
Raymond’s advice for Steve Carell, who is playing the leader of the Space Force in the comedy, is to get a haircut if he wants to be true to form. That may be more of a dig at himself than at Carell’s likeness to someone in the military. Raymond keeps his head completely bald.
Both Barrett and Raymond said the program goes to show there is a lot of excitement about space, even if the show is made to poke fun at the whole Space Force concept. Barrett also said “we’re all into” the song “Kokomo” by the Beach Boys, which seems to be Carell’s character’s mantra for when he needs to calm down in stressful situations. — SM
Just over a month ago, the Pentagon told its contracting officers and contract administrators to boost the amount of money it pays vendors in the form of progress payments as one way to increase their cash flow amidst a sagging economy. And the dollars have indeed started flowing.
As of last week, DoD had made $1.2 billion in additional progress payments because of the higher rates — which rose from 80% to 90% of the total contract value for large companies, and from 90% to 95% in the case of small firms. Ellen Lord, the undersecretary of Defense for acquisition and sustainment told reporters she expected the figure to rise to $3 billion in “the next week or two.”
For context, the department’s outlays for contracts are about $25 billion in total during an average month, making the $3 billion in accelerated payments a not-insubstantial sum. Lord said the added progress payments happened across 1,400 separate contracts, mostly because of a mass-modification the Defense Contract Management Agency processed to boost payment rates.
However, one open question — in the case of large contracts — is how quickly bigger firms are passing the advance payments down through their supply chains. Those figures, Lord said, are more difficult to track.
“I believe that the major primes are flowing down. They’ve committed, but I always like to trust yet verify,” she said. “I encourage all of those companies to be as transparent and forthcoming as they can be because we have a responsibility to the taxpayer, as well as to the mid-tiers and the small companies, to make sure actions we take at the prime level do go down all the way through the chain. However, I need to rely on CEOs of major primes to come forth with that data.”
But Lord said the department’s very biggest contractors have all submitted plans to flow those payments down to smaller sub-suppliers. She praised Lockheed Martin in particular, which has committed to prioritizing $450 million of the payments it’s received toward its most distressed subcontractors. — JS
The Navy and Marine Corps are trying to keep small businesses working during the coronavirus pandemic. The services announced $30 million in rapid-funding opportunities to attract new partners.
“During this national emergency, the Naval Research Enterprise must engage all activities to ensure we accomplish our current workload, make sure vital naval partners survive current economic conditions, and bring in new partners,” said Department of the Navy Small Business Innovative Research and Small Business Technology Transfer Research Director Bob Smith.
The services sent out a broad agency announcement last week, which will be open until the end of May. The Navy are Marine Corps are looking for scalable technologies for maintenance and repair of military assets, digital security analysis, rapid manufacturing and resilient communications.
The $30 million is part of a broader effort to award more than $250 million in funding over the next 90 days to sustain the industrial base. — SM
Even though fever isn’t a perfect indicator of whether someone’s been infected with coronavirus, body temperature is still one of the key tools the military has been using to screen personnel entering its facilities. And the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force believes it’s just made that job a lot easier.
The REF says it was able to test and quickly deploy new thermal imaging sensors that can get a good
read on someone’s body temperature from a distance of 6-8 feet, and within just a few seconds. The devices are especially useful for entry points that handle a lot of volume, like the Pentagon’s visitor entrance, where the equipment has already been deployed on a trial basis.
At that distance, the sensors aren’t as sensitive as a medical thermometer. But Army officials say it’s easy enough to give a “secondary screening” with a forehead thermometer once someone shows elevated temperature levels on the camera-based system.
The Pentagon Force Protection Agency is looking to deploy the new camera-type sensors to other building entrances with heavy foot traffic, like the staff entrance that connects the building to the Washington Metro rail system. — JS
The Army Emergency Relief (AER) is expanding eligibility to National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers who have been activated to assist with the COVID-19 response and are experiencing financial hardship.
Starting last week, any soldier called up under title 10 or title 32, approximately 28,000 to date, can receive benefits. Assistance will be available for basic living conditions and transportation, including: Rent, mortgage, utilities, food, car payments, insurance, gas, and more.
The soldiers will be eligible for assistance during the duration of their activation up to 30 days afterward.
AER provides about $70 million in grants and no-interest loans to soldiers and retired soldiers each year. — SM
Shoppers at some military commissaries need to start limiting their meat purchases. Starting last Friday, the Defense Commissary Agency began limiting how much beef, pork and poultry people can buy in response to shortages in the supply chain. That’s because some meat packing plants have had to close due to COVID-19.
“There may be some shortages of fresh protein products in the coming weeks,” Robert J. Bianchi, DoD special assistant for commissary operations said in an April 30 statement. “Enacting this policy now will help ensure that all of our customers have an opportunity to purchase these products on an equitable basis.”
Shoppers will be limited to two items each of beef, pork, chicken and turkey per visit. Commissaries can also further limit those restrictions or increase the number depending on the supply.
“Our overseas supply chain remains strong,” Bianchi said. “We continue to prioritize quantities for our overseas shipments, so we should be able to support the demand. If we experience any unexpected major hiccups in the pipeline, we will look at expanding shopping limits to other locations.” — SM
The Defense Department is getting ready to hire a new managed care provider to take care if its troops’ dental needs through 2029.
The Defense Health Agency says it expects to release a final request for proposals by next week for the next round of its TRICARE dental services contract, called Active Duty Dental Program 3. The program mainly covers the costs of civilian dental care when military dentists refer their troops to specialists, and is separate from the premium-based insurance program DHA offers to active duty family members and retirees.
The contract is nowhere near as large as the TRICARE contracts DHA uses for primary medical care, but the value of the current contract – which United Concordia won in 2014 – is nearly $1.2 billion. The next contractor is expected to start delivering services in February of next year. — JS
The Defense Department is still trying to keep the pedal to the metal on innovation, even as the coronavirus slows the economy. The Pentagon announced the selection of six collaborative teams as winners of a program to “stimulate competitive research.”
Each team will receive up to $600,000 over three years to pursue science and engineering research in areas relevant to the National Defense Strategy. The competition was available to tenured and tenure-track academics with appointments in 37 states and territories.
“Every state has a vital role to play in America’s research competitiveness, and every state has researchers capable of important contributions to the Department of Defense’s scientific and technological advancement,” said JihFen Lei, the acting director of defense research and engineering for research and technology. “It is crucial that we build a Department of Defense research community that leaves no state behind and takes advantage of each state’s unique research strength.”
Winning teams will work on projects like storing supercapacitors on manned and unmanned surface vessels. — SM
The Coast Guard appointed a new judge advocate general and chief legal counsel on Friday. Rear Adm. Melissa Bert is the first woman to hold that position in the service’s 230-year history.
Until her new assignment, Bert had led the Coast Guard’s external affairs operation, overseeing its communications with Congress, the press and other government agencies. Prior to that posting, however, she had an extensive legal background, including as the chief of the Maritime and International Law Office.
Bert, a former national security fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School, has also taught law students at George Washington University and the University of Miami Law School. — JS
Of all the restrictions the Defense Department has imposed to protect its personnel from coronavirus, some of the most stringent — and the earliest — were in South Korea.
There, Gen. Robert Abrams, the commander of U.S. Forces Korea, declared a public health emergency on March 25 after noting that some contractors, civilian employees and DoD retirees there weren’t abiding by guidance the command had already issued, along with a promise that future violations would be met by two-year bans from U.S. bases on the peninsula.
It’s turned out not to be an empty threat. USFK said seven civilians have been barred from bases since then. Among the most recent: A DoD Education Activity employee who violated rules by dining at an off-base restaurant on Apr. 5, and an Army civilian who did the same on Apr. 11.
Earlier, a contractor at Camp Humphreys had also been issued a two-year ban by returning to the base — reportedly to go shopping — after having been ordered to self-quarantine at home because he had been exposed to the virus. — JS
New data from George Mason University shows federal acquisition system truly can work quickly, especially when agency missions absolutely require it to.
The analysis by GMU’s Center for Government Contracting shows that after President Donald Trump’s March 13 disaster declaration, non-Defense contract dollars obligated just toward COVID-19 efforts jumped to an average of $300 million per day for the remainder of the month. By comparison, those same agencies normally obligate about $500 million per day on all of their contracts. Defense contracts aren’t included in the data, because DoD reports its spending with a three-month lag.
GMU’s analysis also shows agencies were able to get those COVID dollars quickly on contract mostly by using procedures that already exist in the much-maligned Federal Acquisition Regulation. It’s true that the emergency triggered some flexibilities, like an increase in the simplified acquisition threshold to $750,000.
But the data also shows agencies made major shifts toward the simplified procedures the FAR already allows for commercial items. Forty-five percent of their COVID-related contracts used standard commercial item procedures, and another 15 percent used an emergency provision in the FAR that allows those processes to buy a product or service for recovery from an “attack.”
As GMU points out, commercial item procedures usually only make up about 30 percent of those same agencies’ contract spending. — JS
Last week we reported on the American Enterprise Institute’s attempt to keep up with Defense Production Act contracts being awarded to companies all over the nation. While AEI is trying to keep up with all the contracts, holding a watchful eye on the rapid spending of $1 billion is not easy.
Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) wants some more official means of oversight. She wrote a letter to the White House Director of Trade and Manufacturing Policy Peter Navarro asking for “a full list of DPA contracts issued in response to the pandemic, including award date, quantity, per-unit cost, and other information.”
Porter also wants to know how much money remains in the DPA fund to pay for the contracts. Porter said she wanted the numbers by last Friday. — SM
President Trump said on Friday that he plans to nominate Shon Manasco as the Air Force’s number-two civilian official.
Manasco would replace Matthew Donovan, the former Air Force undersecretary who the Trump Administration picked to be undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. Manasco is already serving as the undersecretary on an acting basis, and the Senate confirmed him in 2017 as the assistant secretary of the Air Force for manpower and reserve affairs.
Manasco is a former Army officer who last served in uniform in 1997. He’d worked mainly in the banking and energy sectors for 20 years until he returned to DoD, including most recently as the chief administrative officer at USAA, a bank and insurance firm that mainly serves military members and retirees. — JS
The Air Force is trying to find its best video game players to go head-to-head with civilian gamers at the esports 2020 Evolution Championship Series in Las Vegas. The tournament is an annual fighting game competition that includes games like Street Fighter V: Champion Edition, Tekken 7 and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
The military has found that esports are an effective tool for recruiting members of Generation Z into the military. The Army has a robust esports program for recruiting and often sets up booths and gaming events.
Airmen selected for the Air Force Esports Team will attend a virtual trial and selection camp from May 26 to June 5 and a training camp from July 20-29. The tournament runs from July 21 to Aug. 2. — SM
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) apparently saw the viral video of marines at Camp Pendleton standing close together waiting for haircuts. Raskin sent a letter to Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger asking him to cut Marines some slack on grooming standards in the time of coronavirus.
“Temporarily relaxed grooming standards would reduce unnecessary close contact between Marines and barbers who are both putting themselves and their families and communities at risk by working in such close proximity to potentially infected individuals everyday,” Raskin wrote.
Reporters brought up the issue to Defense Secretary Mark Esper on April 14. Esper said it was one of the small parts of possibly-needed guidance involving COVID-19 he would have never thought of. The Defense Department has yet to release any new policy on grooming. — SM
A contingency of peace-minded organizations say Congress and the White House need to rethink how they are requesting and appropriating with the pandemic relief funds. Organizations like Common Defense, Ploughshares Fund, Public Citizen and Veterans for Peace want to know why the Defense Department is getting more money when it isn’t using its existing resources.
“The Trump administration has been able to find Pentagon resources for non-Pentagon spending when it wanted. By the end of this fiscal year, it will have redirected at least $13.3 billion toward the President’s wasteful, dangerous, and politically motivated border wall,” the organizations wrote.
The organizations states DoD is likely to save money due to the drop in oil prices and could save even more by reforming its contracting and IT processes.
“Appropriating a dollar more to the Pentagon in 2020 would be throwing good money after bad,” the organizations wrote. “We urge you to focus your attention on the national pandemic response and economic relief for people across the United States rather than providing more money for the Pentagon’s already overflowing coffers.” — SM