The Air Force “Ultimate Close Support Battle Plane”




“The AC-130 and all its variants have been workhorses of the past 15 years of war.

The AC-130J Ghostrider is set to be the most heavily-armed gunship in history, bristling with 30mm and 105mm cannons, AGM-176A Griffin missiles, and the ability to carry Hellfire missiles and GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs.

But that’s not all.

Some day in the future, the Ghostrider could even be equipped with a high-energy laser.

That’s right. Lasers.

When it hits the battlefield in a few short years, the Ghostrider will be the most heavily armed gunship in history – a badass plane providing close-air support to U.S. troops on the ground and delivering withering firepower that will send enemies running for the hills.

Aircraft such as the F-35 and A-10 may be the focus of headlines, arguments on Capitol Hill between brass and lawmakers, and viral videos pulsing with hard rock. But despite drawing a fraction of the attention, the AC-130 and all its variants have been workhorses of the past 15 years of war.


They rained down fire on the Taliban and al-Qaida during the early days of the Afghanistan war, and fought in many more battles there over the years. They supported ground troops during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, as well as in subsequent clashes, such as the battles of Fallujah. They conducted raids on Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi’s forces during the civil war there in 2011. And as the military’s focus gradually turned to the Islamic State militant group, the AC-130’s guns were trained on ISIS fighters, vehicles and oil trucks in places such as Raqqa, Syria.


Since it first flew to war during Vietnam, the AC-130 has destroyed more than 10,000 trucks, the Air Force says. The AC-130J is the fourth generation of this model, and will eventually replace the aging U and W variants – and it’s a virtual certainty that it will be loitering above the battlefield, wherever Americans are fighting, for decades to come.


The AC-130W Stinger II has a 30mm cannon, precision-guided munitions, and the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb. The AC-130U Spooky has 25mm, 40mm and 105mm guns. And the now-retired AC-130H Spectre had 20mm, 40mm and 105mm cannons. But until now, no gunship has had this combination of multiple high-powered cannons and precision-guided munitions.

On Sept. 6, an AC-130J Ghostrider lifted off from a runway at Hurlburt Field, Florida, and flew northeast to the range at nearby Eglin Air Force Base.Sitting on the range was an old, lone tank used for target practice. The crew of the Ghostrider trained its newly added 105mm cannon – basically a Howitzer mounted in the plane’s belly – on the tank and opened fire, striking the tank several times.

The test was a success, the Air Force said, and a major milestone on the path to the AC-130J achieving initial operating capability, which is expected to come in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2017.


‘A bomb truck with guns’

The Ghostrider is a Lockheed C-130J that’s been heavily modified until it practically bristles with weaponry – so much so that Lt. Gen. Bradley Heithold, former head of Air Force Special Operations Command – famously called it “a bomb truck with guns” and “the ultimate battle plane” in 2015.

Walking through the cargo bay of the 130J, the sheer amount of firepower on display quickly becomes apparent. After leaving the cockpit, one first encounters the block 10 30mm cannon – an automatic weapon that can fire up to 200 rounds per minute, each roughly the size of a Coca-Cola bottle, out of the left side of the plane.

“Each round blows up with the equivalent [blast] of a hand grenade,” said Maj. Jarrod Beers, a weapons system officer on the AC-130J, on Sept. 7. “And there are plenty of them on the aircraft.”

The 30mm brings a lot of flexibility to the Ghostrider’s crew. Not only is it trainable, making it easier to aim at a target without having to reorient the entire plane, but its ammunition feeds in from two different chains. This can give the Ghostrider plenty more of one kind of ammo to shoot – but it can also allow airmen to quickly switch to a second kind of ammunition if they need to take out a different threat.

“It’s a very capable, and very awesome weapons system,” Beers said.

Toward the aft end of the plane, also aiming left, is the block 20 105mm cannon. The Ghostrider originally wasn’t meant to have the 105mm, which was also mounted on the older AC-130U Spooky model, but Heithold insisted on adding it, telling reporters last year, “I want two guns.”


The 105mm cannon shoots rounds that weigh 50 pounds apiece – with more than 32 pounds of explosive – and are about 2 ½ to 3 feet long, Beers said. To illustrate what kind of a boom it delivers, some of the Army’s howitzers also fire 105mm shells.

“It’s literally an artillery weapon that we decided to shoot down from the sky, instead of up from the ground,” Beers said.

But that massive boom also recoils the gun back 49 inches, with 14,000 pounds of force – easily enough to instantly kill an unfortunate crew member caught behind it. For that reason, a safety cage was built around the 105mm cannon to keep airmen away from danger.


Beers said the airframe of the AC-130J is stronger than it normally would be so that it can handle the fatiguing effect of such massive recoil. But, he said, the crew is careful not to shoot both the 30mm and 105mm at the same time, since that would double up on the stress and recoil.


But the crew feels the recoil nonetheless. For example, an AC-130U pilot with the 4th Special Operations Squadron, who asked that his name not be used, said sustained bursts of his plane’s 25mm Gatling gun – which can fire 1,800 rounds per minute – actually pushes the nose to the right.


“As pilots, we need to counteract that force to make sure the gun stays where it needs to shoot,” the Spooky pilot said. “You can definitely feel the 105 when it shoots. It’s a huge recoil from the 105, but definitely the 25mm is the most significant recoil that we feel up front.”


The AC-130J will carry 80 105mm rounds, and can fire more than 10 rounds a minute, Beers said, and the plane’s crew can also use the controls to aim it at targets.

AFSOC spokeswoman Erica Vega said in an email that the successful Sept. 6 test of the 105mm was to make sure systems worked together so the gun can safely fire.

“Future tests will look more into actual vs. expected accuracy and other system performance standards,” Vega said. “We should learn a great deal more from those tests, and that will contribute to the aircraft’s overall effectiveness, and in turn, better prepare it for IOC.”

Zoom stick and boom stick

Between the 30mm and the 105mm cannons is the MOP, or Mission Operator Pallet – two stations, one for WSOs like Beers and one for an enlisted sensor operator, each with multiple video screens and instruments controlling the array of cameras and sensors that help the crew target, and another control used to fire weapons. It uses some instruments borrowed from the F-35, which Beers said helps save money.

“This is the zoom stick, and this is the boom stick,” Beers said, gesturing first to the control on the left and then to the control on the right.


Beers demonstrated how he uses the “zoom stick” to turn the plane’s cameras 360 degrees and toggle between a standard view and infrared, switch the infrared’s polarity, and tweak the image for better resolution. He pointed it toward a light pole far off in the distance on the tarmac and zoomed in – and zoomed, and zoomed, and zoomed again, until a tiny red bulb on top of the light pole filled the screen, pixelated and shimmering beneath the thermal heat radiating up.


“That’s as good as it’s going to get right now because of the thermals,” Beers said, “That doesn’t look good on the ground, but in the air, it’s a pretty darn good picture.”

From the MOP, crew members must absorb a massive amount of information for their situational awareness – where friendly troops and aircraft are, where enemies and their vehicles are, where civilians are – using radio communications, emails, targeting data, and video beamed in from other sources, such as command headquarters.


“It’s a pretty formidable arsenal, and we haven’t even gotten to the Griffins yet,” Beers said.


The AGM-176A Griffin missiles are the centerpiece of the Ghostrider’s precision-strike package – and part of what makes it truly stand above its predecessors. The plane carries 10 Griffins, which are essentially half-scale Hellfire missiles that are laser-guided, with a fragmentation warhead and a GPS backup to ensure it lands on target. Each Griffin stands nose-up in a roughly 4-foot-tall tube mounted in its tail. When it’s time to fire, the Griffin is electrically launched out of the back of the plane, pops out its fins, and orients itself into the windstream. When it’s far enough away, its rocket motor fires and it “goes screaming off past the plane,” Beers said.


“It’s nuts, it’s the coolest thing ever,” Beers said.


Master Sgt. James Knight, left, an aerial gunner with the 18th Flight Test Squadron, performs a pre-flight inspection at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, July 29, 2015.Photo Credit: SrA Christopher Callaway/Air Force

But those missiles – being precision-guided munitions – are much more expensive than the 30mm or 105mm shells, Beers said. So they’re typically reserved for the highest-priority targets that must be hit with the greatest accuracy. The AC-130J also can carry Hellfire missiles and GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs.

All the various weapons on board allow the crew to gradually escalate the amount of force used to meet the threat.

“So, [we] take out the smaller targets with the 30, then escalate up to the 105, and even the 250-pound glide munitions [GBU-39 bombs] as we go up,” Beers said.

Frickin’ lasers


And it could get even cooler. At the Air Force Association’s conference last September, Heithold declared, “I want a high-energy laser on an AC-130J gunship by the close of this decade.”


“This isn’t Star Wars stuff, folks,” he continued. “The technology is ripe for doing this. I’ve got the space, I’ve got the weight, and I’ve got the power.”


Heithold floated the idea of first using a laser — possibly mounted in place of the 105mm gun – in a defensive capacity, to take down an enemy missile fired at the AC-130J. But eventually, Heithold said, he envisioned using it for offense, to disable enemy aircraft or other vehicles. Such a laser could have come in handy during the 1989 capture of Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, he said. During that operation, four Navy SEALs died in the process of destroying his boat and airplane to keep him from escaping.


“Wouldn’t it have been nice had we had a high-energy laser on an AC-130 that would have simply zapped some point on that airplane?” Heithold said at AFA. “Disable the aircraft and nobody knows it happened until they go to use it, because nobody heard anything and nobody saw anything. You haven’t spooked anybody, you’ve simply disabled the aircraft.”

Maj. Brian Pesta, right, 1st Special Operations Group Detachment 2 pilot, and Maj. Jason Fox, 18th Flight Test Squadron pilot, look out the left window during the delivery flight of Air Force Special Operations Command’s first AC-130J Ghostrider.Photo Credit: Senior Airman Christopher Callaway/Air Force

Beers agreed that a silent laser would be a great weapon to have at his disposal.

The laser would “give us an advantage, and be able to just take out a truck from miles away, without nobody knowing,” Beers said. “I’m looking forward to trying them out.”

Heithold has also suggested buttressing the plane’s capabilities with small drones to help it fight in heavy cloud cover. When targets are under thick clouds, he said, the 130J can’t identify and hit them. But if the plane could launch a drone from its rear tubes, instead of the usual missile, Heithold said it could fly below the clouds and target the enemy.

Beers also said a drone could help in mountainous terrain, or in areas with heavy fire that would otherwise endanger the 130J.


“So now I’m not risking myself and my crew in order to go in and prosecute that target,” he said. It would “give us an advantage over previous generation gunships at that point.”

A lighter aircraft — but at what cost?But there’s more than just its weaponry that makes the Ghostrider remarkable. It’s lighter, faster and more efficient, Beers said, and burns 25 to 30 percent less gas than legacy aircraft. It flies at a top speed of about 362 knots, or 416 miles per hour – well above the roughly 300 mph top speed of the AC-130U. The AC-130J can fly a maximum range of 3,000 miles and up to 28,000 feet in the air – about twice as far, and roughly 3,000 feet higher than the AC-130U.


A big part of what makes the Ghostrider more efficient is its six-bladed propellers, which provide more thrust and allow it to carry more ammunition or fuel.

But the increased efficiency may come at a price, however. The AC-130J was dinged by the Pentagon’s weapons testers, the Office of the Director, Operational Test and Evaluation, in a 2013 report for having lighter armor than its predecessor, the AC-130U. The report said the AC-130U’s armor protects aircrew stations, personnel, ammunition and critical systems against a 37mm high-explosive incendiary round at a range of 10,000 feet, or about 3,000 meters.


Staff Sgt. Derek Watson, a special missions aviator with the 1st Special Operations Group Detachment 2, inspects a wing of an AC-130J Ghostrider during a pre-flight inspection at Hurlburt Field, Fla., Feb. 2, 2016.Photo Credit: Senior Airman Christopher Callaway/Air Force

The AC-130J’s armor, on the other hand, protects primary crewmember positions and oxygen supplies against a 7.62mm ball projectile at 100 meters, the report said. The armor on the AC-130J also doesn’t cover the Mission Operator Pallet, which weapons testers said should be considered a primary crewmember position and protected.


When asked about the tester’s armor concerns, Vega said in an email, “The final AC-130J will have adequate defensive systems [and] features to fulfill its designed role. As the aircraft approaches IOC, all systems will be finalized and adjustments made.”

In another email, AFSOC spokesman Michael Raynor said, “Lt. Gen. [Brad] Webb [current AFSOC commander] has gone on record saying there are no trade-offs being made with security of the crews.”


In the J’s cockpit, a series of multi-function electronic displays has replaced the old analog dials that used to clutter up the view of pilots and navigators. So, instead of having, say, a physical weather radar in front of a navigator’s face, whether or not he needs it, crewmembers can call up only the most pertinent digital instruments such as radar and collision avoidance systems or hide unwanted instruments with the ease of flipping through an iPad app.


“Looking at this is crazy,” said Beers, who previously served as a navigator on older planes like the C130E/H. “This is a totally spaceship type of thing up here. The plane has a lot more ‘go,’ it’s quieter, it’s more comfortable inside, the air conditioning is better, which allows us to be better for the guys” on the ground.


And Beers is champing at the bit to put this plane into action to protect his fellow service members.

“The biggest thing for me is to make sure the guys on the ground get home OK,” he said. “That’s really what makes it worth it at the end of the day”


Pentagon Entrenches Bug Bounty Program




“Defense Department announced it will be entrenching the federal government’s first ever bug bounty program.

Awards contract to HackerOne and Synack to “create a new contract vehicle” for DoD components and service branches to launch their own bug bounty challenges aimed at incentivizing the discovery of vulnerabilities on networks.

Bug bounties are standard in private industry and many have expressed the need to adopt them in government. However, government, and to some degree, military culture, can stifle this, according to some. With no incentives to disclose discovered vulnerabilities, and in some cases, discovery leading to misinterpretation not as valuable or friendly information but threatening, this “promotes a ‘do-nothing’ culture,” two Army captains wrote in an article in the Cyber Defense Review.

Hack the Pentagon, as it was known, brought in members from the outside to find vulnerabilities on DoD computer systems for potential monetary compensation based upon the types and how many vulnerabilities they found.

The Hack the Pentagon initiative was led by the Defense Digital Service team, another technology initiative stood up by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter to bring in outside talent and replicate the tech culture of Silicon Valley firms to solve challenging problems for the department. Hack the Pentagon brought in over 1,400 registered and vetted hackers to find vulnerabilities on DoD unclassified systems, discovering 138 unique and previously undisclosed vulnerabilities in need of patching.

“This contract vehicle for a crowd-sourced security solution can also serve as a road map for other departments and agencies across the federal government to adopt and implement as well,” a release from DoD said.

Secretary Carter has worked hard to bring outside talent from the bastions of technology and innovation around the nation.

DDS, stood up last November, “brings coders in for what we call a tour of duty,” Carter has described. “They come in, you know they’re not going to make a career of it, they’re not going to join, they’re not going to be part of the government, but they come in for a year or a two, or a project, and make a contribution to us.”

Chris Lynch, who heads DDS, said the program was spun out of U.S. Digital Service, the White House team that was brought in from the private sector to bring in best practices and fix some of the biggest technology problems facing government.

“I like to say that we’re a very mission-focused organization,” he said of DDS in June at the Defense One Technology Summit. “We function a little bit more like a SWAT team … we go into things where there’s a challenge and work to help out in whatever way we can. So we’ve got some special super powers just because of how we’re positioned within the Department of Defense and we try to use our knowledge about how to build products and ship products to turn around challenge or very strategic projects that are going on.”

Carter has also pushed the Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental office, which originated with one office in Silicon Valley in 2015 to serve as a DoD outpost for outreach from the Pentagon to tech firms. Since it was first announced, there are now two additional offices in Boston and Austin with 12 contracts awarded totaling $36.3 million in the last fiscal year.

DoD said DDS will work with various components within the department and external government agencies in a consultative role as to advise the execution of future bug bounty programs.”






Nominations Open for Women In Technology Leadership Awards


Image: “”


“Women in Technology is now accepting nominations for its 18th Annual Leadership Awards, which recognizes and salutes women who make a difference in the technology industry.

Nominations are due by Dec. 2.

The awards consist of nine categories, including:

  • Corporate – Large-Market Sector
  • Corporate – Mid-Market Sector
  • Corporate – Small-Market Sector
  • Government
  • Small Business/Entrepreneur
  • Technical Leadership
  • Unsung Hero
  • Rising Star
  • Women in Defense

The finalists will be announced in February 2017, and the Awards Banquet will take place on May 11, 2017.

For more information on the process, see the WIT nomination page. ”

Taxpayer-Funded Research Now Available Free at New Web Site




“Through ”,” the public can access Congressional Research Service Reports.

The public can access the same unbiased and unredacted research and analysis that Members of Congress read. As a resource, it is a great boon for journalists, students, and any taxpayer seeking insight on issues of public debate.

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) acts as an arm of the legislative branch, researching and reporting on topics of interest to Congress. Its work, funded by the taxpayers, is high quality non-partisan research and analysis, but has never been readily available to the public.

Through the site, the public can access the same unbiased and unredacted research and analysis that Members of Congress read. As a resource, it is a great boon for journalists, students, and any taxpayer seeking insight on issues of public debate. The site has over 8,200 downloadable and searchable reports, and shares its code through GitHub. By becoming open source, the site increases access to developers that can build in more features and help make CRS reports even more accessible. sorts everything into 31 subjects, and each subject has an RSS feed that will update anyone interested in following specific policy research published by the Congressional think tank.

The push to get CRS itself to release the reports isn’t over. This year, Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and John McCain (R-AZ) and Representatives Leonard Lance (R-NJ) and Mike Quigley (D-IL) introduced bipartisan bicameral legislation as the most recent Congressional effort to grant public access to these reports.

In the meantime, may send visitors on a deep dive into US relations with Venezuela or on a coding spree to help improve access and add features to the site. For the bipartisan coalition of groups that advocated for this public release and online access, it may send us into a victory dance to culminate over 20 years of advocating for free taxpayer access to CRS reports. The most important reaction, though, should be to take advantage of the same unredacted high-quality research that has been informing Members of Congress for decades.”


Cyber Security Market To Reach $167.7 Billion Worldwide By 2022




“Research and Markets in Dublin Report “Worldwide Commercial Cyber Security Market.”

The report covers types like networks, clouds, content, wireless, applications, and end points; as well as solutions, services, by end-users by regions, drivers, opportunities, and trends.

The study covers current market scenario, government initiatives, and technologies related to the market. Industries covered include aerospace and defense; retail; and health care.

The lack of consistency in security measures is one of the main factors hindering the market growth, analysts say. The rise in the cyber attacks in banking and health care is one of the key reasons for the growth of commercial cyber security market.

The report segments the cyber security market by security types, services, solutions, end-users, and regions. Security types include network security, cloud security, content security, wireless security, application security and endpoint security.

The Americas is one of the key regions for the commercial cyber security market. Key companies in the cyber security market include Argus Cyber Security; BAE Systems Intelligence & Security; Cato Networks; Check Point Software Technology; Cisco Systems; Ixtel Technologies; McAfee; Nexusguard Limited; PhishMe Inc; root9B Technologies; and Symantec.”



Defense Innovation Unit Fast Tracks Contracts to Commercial Firms




Image: “Fast Company .com


“$36.3 million in contracts in the last quarter of fiscal year 2016

The initiative, created last year, is intended to cut through bureaucratic red tape that often plagues the Pentagon’s procurement system, and fast-track contracts with high-tech commercial firms.

The Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental, known as DIUx, is headquartered in Silicon Valley, with additional outposts located in Boston and Austin. The initiative, created last year, is intended to cut through bureaucratic red tape that often plagues the Pentagon’s procurement system, and fast-track contracts with high-tech commercial firms.

“Core to our value and our approach here … is to help non-traditional vendors work with the department so we get access to their technology earlier and more directly than we normally would,” DIUx managing director Raj Shah told reporters during a conference call where he provided the first quarterly update on the initiative since the new leadership team took over.

In the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2016, which ended Sept. 30, DIUx awarded 12 contracts. The average time between solicitation response to contract award was less than 60 days, Shah noted. The $8.3 million initial spend by DIUx was augmented by $28 million that the services and other Defense Department agencies kicked in to support the initiative.

Following a leadership shakeup in May, DIUx launched the “commercial solutions opening” contracting mechanism to provide a shot in the arm to the initiative, which in its early days was criticized for being ineffective.

The mechanism “facilitates fast, flexible and collaborative work between DoD and technology companies that traditionally have not done business with the department. This enables us …  to work at the speed of business,” Shah said.

Projects funded to date include prototyping efforts in areas such as high-speed drones, autonomy, cybersecurity and wireless technologies.

An additional 13 projects are moving through the pipeline, according to a DIUx fact sheet. They include multifactor authentication for data access, cyber protection toolkits, micro-satellites and advanced analytics.

“These are things that the private sector is investing hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars towards, and for us to leverage and harness that investment will be critical to our national defense,” Shah said.

The Pentagon requested $30 million for research, development, test and evaluation for DIUx in fiscal year 2017. If Congress approves that level of spending, the office expects to combine it with funds contributed by other Defense Department organizations, he said.

For many small commercial companies, there are several impediments involved in the traditional contracting process that dissuade them from doing business with the Pentagon, he noted.

DIUx has used new authorities granted by Congress in the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act to break down some of those barriers.

“It’s not really exclusive to us but we have leveraged it to great use,” Shah said.

The commercial solutions opening mechanism has increased speed and transparency in the contracting process. Upon the success of a prototype, the process enables a “quick translation or transition” into procurement contracts that enable the services or other Defense Department organizations to scale the prototype if it meets their needs, he said.

DIUx also requires less cumbersome accounting standards, and intellectual property and data rights are negotiable on project-by-project basis, Shah noted.

He hopes that other Defense Department organizations will follow his office’s lead when it comes to using new contracting authorities.

“Whenever you try something new there has got to be someone that’s first that goes through the motions and irons out the wrinkles and makes it into a reputable process, so we’re happy to have played that role,” Shah said.

“We’re in fact spending time educating others in the department of how they might use this capability and authority, and I’m very optimistic that others in the department will follow suit,” he added.

The DIUx initiative has been Carter’s pet project. Shah said he’s confident that it will survive well past the Pentagon chief’s tenure, which is expected to end when a new administration takes office next year.

“I’m quite optimistic that … the subsequent secretary and the subsequent secretary after that will see the value of this engagement and will be pleased to have DIUx in his or her quiver of tools to achieve their mission and goals,” he said.”



So Our Grandchildren Don’t Have to Fight




“Few doubt that we are failing in our post-9/11 wars.

Those who are 4, 5 or 6 years old will be fighting the war we could not end—like those who were 4, 5 and 6 at the time of 9/11 are doing now. It’s time to adopt an approach that fits the kind of war we’re in.      

We have accomplished neither the strategic objectives set forth by the George W. Bush administration nor those of the Obama administration. Both had notable successes and achieved periodic tactical and operational progress, but no sustained strategic success.

Now the contenders for the presidency offer two visions. One is composed of more of the same, with the expectation of a different outcome. The other suggests we can defeat a revolutionary movement with military force alone, an approach that led the British to failure from 1776 to 1781. To put it mildly, both of these visions miss the mark.

How do we reset our thinking? We must first admit we have not understood the kind of war we’re in; that we’ve tried to make it something it is not and in the process, we have been at war for 15 years and have little to show for it. Then we must read our enemy’s documents and actions for what they are. From the start, al-Qaida, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and their ilk have waged a global revolutionary—and therefore, ideological—war, a form of insurgency that is initially local and regional but has global implications.

We have waged, with few exceptions, a counterterrorist war. Our first approach was expansive: going after the terrorists and the states that sponsored them. Our second approach, the one we’re still using, is minimalist and gradualist: a combination of precise targeting of key individuals and selected groups coupled with reliance on surrogate ground forces. Neither works because both approaches miscast the enemy. We are waging one kind of war; our enemies are waging another. As long as we stay in this mode, our failure is near-guaranteed.

Waging a counterrevolutionary war is complicated and difficult, but this is the task before us. We are not conceptually or organizationally prepared to wage the kind of war we’re in. To move to a better strategic position, we must first create, and then use, a real alliance.

In both the maximalist and minimalist approaches, we’ve treated coalition partners as if they were members of a posse with the U.S. as the sheriff. We called the shots; they could join or not. Perhaps this approach made sense in the immediate period following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but the strategic landscape has changed dramatically. Then, it appeared that only the U.S. was under attack. Now, it’s clear: The nations of Europe are also under attack, as are many in the Greater Middle East and as some will be in Southeast Asia Pacific. The U.S. must lead, but it cannot be the sheriff. The problem begs a true alliance.

Forming such an alliance will be difficult, but not impossible. Everyone would like a large tent in which all participate. To actually function, however, the core alliance will have to be smaller, with only those nations willing and able to commit to six actions. The initial alliance may contain only some of the NATO members: Turkey, which is key; a few of the Middle East and North Africa states; and select nations of the Asia-Pacific.

Over time, as the alliance succeeds, it will grow. Success, however, requires at least the following actions:

  • Identify a set of common goals and principles that will guide alliance actions. This first task is the most important. Right now, the potential alliance has different perspectives on the problem it faces as well as the solutions. A properly conducted diplomatic dialogue will not eliminate all differences, but it can reduce them to a point where all can commit to a set of common goals. Then the alliance must commit to a set of guiding principles. The legitimacy of the alliance’s transnational actions will derive from these goals and principles. Internationally, nations still live in a somewhat Hobbesian world. We have some international structures, laws and conventions, but no international government. The reality is that the United Nations is unlikely to sanction transnational actions against the revolutionary enemy we face. That leaves action up to individual nations—the alliance. Unilateral action, although sometimes justified, is an insufficient foundation upon which to wage the war we’re in. In fact, the problem itself defies any unilateral solution. An alliance, committed to a set of positive goals and guiding principles, will provide both the legitimacy and the resources necessary to succeed against a common enemy.
  • Create the structures to make decisions, coordinate execution, and adapt as the war unfolds. Collective action requires organizational capacity. The heads of government of at least core alliance members must set the strategic agenda and approve goals as well as the associated military and nonmilitary strategies, policies and campaigns necessary to achieve those goals. Further, they must meet frequently enough to provide continual strategic guidance. The alliance then needs an execution capacity—staff and line—that assures coherent action and timely adaptation as the war unfolds. Using existing bureaucracies to wage war is a very risky endeavor. One need only read Robert Komer’s Vietnam-era monograph, Bureaucracy Does Its Thing, to understand these risks.

Bureaucracies do “same” very well; they do “fast and continually dynamic” not very well. War is, by its nature, fast and continually dynamic.

  • Protect the commons that connect alliance members. Our enemies use the open transportation, information, fiscal and commercial commons to their advantage. They create followers. They move leaders and operatives. They raise and distribute money. They buy and distribute arms and ammunition, and they supply themselves—all using the global commons. Alliance members must close the commons to our enemies with minimal disruption to normal social and economic life. Closing the commons will require primarily a mix of information-sharing and coordinated law enforcement actions. And it will probably require adopting some new laws and conventions as well as taking some combined military action.
  • Prevent the fall of a state to the revolutionary enemies. Part of our revolutionary enemy’s strategy is to depose what they call apostate governments and replace them with fundamentalist regimes that even most Muslims do not support. The alliance must help to prevent states from collapsing. Such action is not solely related to building security forces—military and police—in at-risk countries. At times, alliance military or police actions, taken in conjunction with local forces but not reliant solely upon them, may be necessary to reduce the already present revolutionary presence within a threatened state. This reduction cannot be merely using remote means, for such action does not create durable effects. Reduction operations must be taken in conjunction with correspondingly necessary changes to social, political, security and economic policies that the revolutionary enemies use to their advantage. Such changes need not be aimed at creating democracies. Rather, they should increase the legitimacy of the government from the perspective of its citizens, whatever type it is. Without these changes—which will likely become the main effort in the overall prevention campaign—the revolutionary fervor is likely to remain, even spread.

Some might believe that these kinds of changes are impossible. They will be hard, that’s for sure, but these changes can be made incrementally. Committing to change and starting to change is what’s important. Further, absent this commitment, real progress in the war we’re in will remain elusive. One need only read Ken Pollack’s A Path Out of the Desert to see the essential connection between success in the war we’re in and a reform agenda.

It’s already too late for Syria. It has collapsed. There’s no resurrecting the Bashar al-Assad government, and no allowing a radical, jihadi revolutionary group to take over. So Syria becomes a special case, an important and hard nut to crack. This special case, however, should not be an obstacle to actions and progress in other areas. In fact, reducing the already present threat, improving legitimacy in other states—within and bordering on the alliance—and closing the commons will all contribute to creating an environment in Syria from which a potential solution may emerge.

  • Eliminate safe havens that threaten alliance members. Safe havens are breeding grounds for enemies. No good can come from allowing them to continue to operate. The alliance’s air, special operations and ground forces—again, in conjunction with local forces—may be necessary to clear and initially hold these areas before turning them over to local security forces. Once more, eliminating safe havens means more than conducting security operations that achieve only temporary effects. Such operations must be followed by improved governance packages; otherwise, bad guys just return. Experience over the last 15 years shows how hard coordinated security and governance actions can be. But difficulty does not erase need. If alliance nations don’t figure this out, our future will merely repeat our past.
  • Reduce the attractiveness of the revolutionary narrative. Alliance domestic actions are as important as any other in this kind of war. Alliance members themselves must commit to social, political, security and economic policies that do not make it easy for our enemies to recruit, motivate or radicalize within their borders. Reducing the attractiveness of the revolutionary narrative is not just an information or spin campaign. It is a campaign of the civil and military actions described previously that first, makes real the values and principles the alliance stands for and seeks to engender more broadly and second, demonstrates the fallacies in the revolutionary narrative. An aggressive counternarrative campaign begins at home but doesn’t end there. The campaign most likely to succeed is one that uses government-private organization partnerships. The ultimate aim is to influence the audiences the revolutionary seeks to encourage to remain on the sidelines.

Creating a real alliance that is able to take these six civil-military actions, and others, is a tall order. Sustaining it over time is harder still, but what’s the alternative? Strategic leadership is about getting the right people together to understand the problem at hand, setting in place and sustaining the right processes to act and adapt, and maintaining the focus through to success. This is what waging war, rather than just fighting it, is all about.

The revolutionaries waging war against us aren’t going away; the problem isn’t going to solve itself. The solutions of the past have not worked, and those now on the table show little promise. More of the same will merely get us to where we already are. Applying a solely military solution absent a broader strategic context won’t work, either. “

Plutonium Disposal Plant 41 Yrs Behind Schedule – Over Budget & Pointless



                                         The MOX Facility in South Carolina. Photo via Google Earth


“The Army Corps of Engineers stated that MOX won’t be finished and ready for operations until 2048 — putting it 41 years behind schedule.

Latest completion cost estimate went from  $1.6 billion to a staggering $17 billion .

It is now pointless after Russia pulled out of a major nuke treaty.

 Imagine you have a contractor working on your house. They quoted you a price and told you the project would be done in no time. Sure, you realize costs will probably go up some and the schedule will slip due to an unexpected problem or two.

But months turn into years, years turn into a decade, and now, 14 years later, you find that they’ve already spent five times their original estimate and they aren’t even halfway done!

That’s the situation the Department of Energy is facing with the contractor building a nuclear fuel facility in South Carolina.

The Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, known as MOX, is a multi-billion dollar boondoggle that is behind schedule, over budget and will never be able to complete its mission.

MOX was originally conceived as part of an agreement between the United States and Russia in which each country pledged to dispose of weapons grade plutonium. But that was back in 2000.

As cost overruns and technical failures have become clear, the Department of Energy asked Congress to cancel the program in 2016. The South Carolina delegation, defending jobs in their districts, pushed back and claimed doing so would violate the agreement.

Last week, Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin announced he would be withdrawingfrom the agreement. Without Russia being party to the agreement, the last remaining pretense for this boondoggle is shattered.

Congress will soon be reviewing the budget for fiscal year 2018 and should ensure that funding for this project is ended once and for all.

The new independent cost estimate shows that finishing the construction of the MOX facility has gone from $1.6 billion to a staggering $17 billion — more than 10 times the original projection.

And while the facility was supposed to be fully constructed in 2007, the Army Corps of Engineers stated that MOX won’t be finished and ready for operations until 2048 — putting it 41 years behind schedule.

But even if Congress decides to accept spending $17 billion in taxpayer dollars and waiting 41 extra years for the facility, the project will never work.

MOX technology dates back to the 1960s and has caused experts to raise concerns about the technical viability of the U.S. facility should it ever be completed and become operational. In 2014, Energy Department experts concluded that U.S. implementation of MOX technology still remains a “significant risk.”

Moreover, even if the facility were to work perfectly and produce the mixed oxide fuel as intended, there aren’t any commercial nuclear reactor companies interested in purchasing it. In 2008, the project lost its only potential customer and hasn’t been able to find a single replacement.

What is even more unbelievable is that $17 billion isn’t even the bottom line for this monstrosity. Other independent estimates have found that over the facility’s lifetime, which includes the costs of operating the plant for 20 years on top of construction costs, MOX will cost taxpayers $110 billion.

The fact that these cost estimates come from independent sources is important. For the last several years the contractor in charge of the MOX project, CB&I AREVA MOX Services, has been spreading misleading facts and figures about the project’s true costs.

These contractor statements have been proven wrong time and time again by the Department of Energy, independent sources and reality. The new Army Corps analysis exposes just how the contractors’ optimistic estimates border on delusional.

For example, the contractors stated earlier this year that finishing the job will cost $3 billion; the Army Corps found the contractors’ estimate should have come closer to $10 billion. The contractors’ calculation, they found, had serious problems which led to the inaccuracies.

“The MOX Services estimate-at-completion is not credible because it was developed using unrealistic production and productivity rates, artificially low escalation, inappropriate allocation of management reserves and contingency that is not time phased across the project duration, and lack of escalation applied to these reserves,” the Army Corps’ report stated.

Based on its calculations the MOX project is only 28 percent complete, not 48 percent as the contractor has asserted.

What CB&I AREVA MOX Services also seem to conveniently forget in its calculations is that the project is running on at least a 25 percent rework rate, meaning approximately a quarter of the work already done will have to be re-done — the project takes one step back for every four steps forward.

This includes everything from walls that were installed incorrectly to piping that was ordered but didn’t meet specifications.

These kinds of mistakes led to CB&I AREVA MOX Services receiving only half of its possible contract award fee in 2015. “Overall performance is below the level needed for successful project completion, as culminated in cost overruns and schedule delays,” the government documents stated.

They cited the contractor’s poor management of the project and failure to adequately perform random drug testing. Still, CB&I AREVA MOX Services received $4.33 million of the possible $8.86 million in bonuses for that year.

It may seem remarkable that CB&I AREVA MOX Services has managed to retain the contract after so many missteps, but it could be the result of a very successful lobbying effort.

The two companies that make up CB&I AREVA MOX Services, Chicago Bridge & Iron Works (CB&I) and AREVA, spent a total of $2.4 million lobbying the government in 2015 on various issues including the MOX project. In the first two quarters of 2016 alone the groups have spent $1.4 million.

That amount doubles when including other organizations, like the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, that listed MOX as a lobbying objective.

The contractor has effectively lined up several senators and representatives who have made sure that taxpayer dollars continue to flow to the MOX project, and thus to CB&I AREVA MOX Services.

Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Tim Scott (R-SC), and Reps. Joe Wilson (R-SC), James Clyburn (D-SC) and Rick Allen (R-GA) have done their best to support MOX. During the budget process this year, Wilson wrote a letter to the House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development urging them to continue funding the MOX program. Clyburn and Allen also signed the letter.

It comes as no surprise that Reps. Wilson and Clyburn as well as Sen. Scott are among the AREVA Group’s top recipients for campaign donations. Also on the list are Reps. Mike Simpson (R-ID) and Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, which determines annual funding for MOX.

At this point the MOX project is nothing more than pork barrel politics.

“We are confident [the MOX project] is not feasible in this environment. We are going down a road spending money on something that will never happen. Unfortunately, that seems to us to be a very large waste of taxpayer money,’’ DOE Associate Deputy Secretary John MacWilliams told The State reporter Sammy Fretwell on a tour of the construction site.

MOX is unaffordable, 41 years behind schedule, and will never work.

And now that Russia has withdrawn from the agreement, the United States would be the only country trying to uphold it. Congress’s decision to continue funding this disaster was based on grossly inaccurate information about both the cost and performance of this project.

But they have time to revisit this decision with unbiased facts and analysis before the next budget decisions need to be made. There are cheaper and faster ways to dispose of the plutonium, methods that the Energy Department is already exploring.

There is no reason Congress should continue forcing taxpayers to fund such an obvious boondoggle.”

Industry-Paid Fellowships Infiltrate Congress




“The U.S. Congress allows Members to staff their offices with Fellows who are paid by corporations, foundations, universities, non-profits, and other outside private entities.

Fellowship program far too often flies under the conflict of interest radar.


Require disclosure in the House of Representatives

The House Rules committee should introduce language into the Code of Official Conduct that would require Representatives to report when their office employs an individual who is compensated by any source outside of the United States Government. Such a report should include the identity of the source of the compensation and the amount or rate of compensation.

More oversight in the Senate

Senate reporting of Fellows who are paid by corporations, foundations, universities, non-profits, and other outside private entities is falling short.  The Senate Ethics Committee needs to increase its oversight over the Congressional Fellows reporting requirements, actively checking with Member offices to make sure they don’t have any Fellows employed for years they don’t report any. The Senate Ethics Committee should also increase training for Member offices on what they are required to report, at the start of each Congress it should hold a series of trainings for all Member offices.

Both Chambers should require electronic filing of these disclosures, in a publically accessible format

The Senate, and House as it begins to require reporting on Fellows, should transition to an electronic filing system that can be accessed by the public. This will allow for more uniform participation by Member offices and more public oversight over the Congressional Fellowship programs.

In January 2001, Peter Winokur began working as a Fellow in Senator Harry Reid’s (D-NV) office. He would ultimately spend almost four years there, specializing in energy policy and eventually becoming the Senator’s Energy & Transportation Advisor. He wrote legislation, offered advice, wrote memos for the Senator, met with lobbyists and public interest groups, and attended meetings on press and policy strategy, according to reports on his work. He was, for all intents and purposes, a Senate staffer. There was one major distinction: his $120,000-per-year salary was paid by the IEEE-USA, an industry group that is an “organizational unit” of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and whose stated goal is to “recommend policies and implement programs specifically intended to serve and benefit the members.”

Many of Winokur’s long hours in the Senate were spent working on the Energy Policy Act of 2002. It was a big bill, combining policy on energy efficiency, alternative energy sources, energy production, and even some amendments to state programs. “My basic workday is from 8:00 AM to 6:30 PM. Throw in 2 hours on the Metro where I read as much as I can, and it’s a 7:00 AM to 7:30 PM day. Then I get home to read my Sandia and IEEE e-mail,” he wrote on his time in the Senate.

Winokur felt he would fit in well at Senator Reid’s office because Reid was the Ranking Member of the Environment and Public Works Committee and the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee. Winokur stated, “The Senator is committed to making renewable energy technologies a priority. And so am I.” And so is IEEE-USA. Their policy position statements on Energy and Environment from the time are not so different from some of the text of the Energy Policy Act of 2002 introduced in the Senate. Winokur’s Energy Department bio states, “As Energy and Transportation Advisor, crafted energy policy that included tax legislation for renewable energy, resulting in billions in economic development and the creation of tens of thousands of jobs.” This work for the Senate while being paid by industry gives the appearance of—and the incentive structure for—a conflict of interest.

Winokur had the kind of access most industry professionals can only dream about. He found that “people have a tendency to return phone calls from a Senate office, whether it’s the Attorney General of a state, the chief counsel of the FCC, or the COO of a California utility,” Winokur wrote in his report.

Regardless of whether there was an identifiable legislative outcome from Winokur’s position (the Energy Policy Act of 2002 never made it out of conference to become a law), it’s fairly easy to see how beneficial it could be for IEEE-USA, or any industry, to have someone on their payroll in a Congressional office, with the ear of a powerful Senator, every day. And the fellowship proved beneficial to Winokur as well. The Project On Government Oversight’s (POGO) review of this and hundreds of other similar fellowships found that most fellowship positions last only a year, and most fellows earned far less than permanent staffers. But Winokur was there for almost four, making $120,000 a year–which was close to the maximum amountSenate staff could be paid at the time.

This kind of arrangement, with fellows working in Congress but paid by an outside source, is legal, and more common than one might think. But are the Members of Congress and their staffs actually following the rules that are supposed to keep a check on conflicts of interest? And how often do fellowship programs end up furthering industry goals over Congressional priorities?

Fellowships Bring Congress and Industry Closer Together

The Fellows are required to abide by all the laws, rules, and standards governing permanent Congressional staff members. Indeed, they are often indistinguishable from permanent staff members. They work on writing legislation and Floor speeches, and represent the Member in meetings with other offices and constituents.

There are additional rules governing fellows. Congressional offices must make sure that fellows have no conflicts of interest and that the arrangement gives no undue advantage to special interest groups. “The participant may not work on issues related to the interest of the individual company or industry providing such funding. Conflicts of interest and the appearance of conflicts between the participant’s duties to the Senate and his or her responsibilities to the private sponsor must be avoided,” the Senate Ethics Manual states. It is the duty of the Senator to monitor the activities of the fellow to ensure that no potential conflict of interest arises during the course of their work. A similar statement can be found in the House Ethics Manual: “an intern or fellow should not be assigned duties that will result in any direct or indirect benefit to the sponsoring organization or anyone else with which the individual is affiliated (including the employer or fellow), other than broadening the individual’s knowledge.”

On the Senate side, the supervisor of the fellow is required by a Senate rule to report to the Ethics Committee “the identity of the source of the compensation received by such individual and the amount or rate of compensation paid by such source.” The House does not have a similar rule and does not require fellows or their supervisors to disclose their compensation details.

This program is often used for the educational benefit of these fellows and is generally intended to be a temporary placement before the fellows return to their organization. On the House side, “A Member or House office may accept the temporary services of an intern participating in a program … which is primarily of educational benefit to the participant. … Similarly, a Member or House office may accept the temporary services of a fellow participating in a mid-career education program … while the individual receives compensation from his or her employer,” the Ethics Manual states. Many of the organizations sponsoring these fellowships tout how valuable it is for their participants to learn about Congress and the legislative process while Congress benefits from knowledgeable experts. “The objective of the David A. Winston Health Policy Fellowship is to provide a unique opportunity to learn about the political system through direct exposure to public and private sector roles in health policy development,” one brochure states.

Congressional Fellows are in significant demand. They come to an office looking like a year’s worth of free work from some very competent people.

“Approximately 50% of Fellows begin or return to careers in academia following the Fellowship, with strengthened credentials in policy-relevant research and an ability to teach students about the complex issues involved in bridging science and policy,” the Society for Research in Child Development writes about their fellowship. For Congressional Members, it’s understandable why they would look for outside support. “While federal spending and the executive branch have ballooned, Congress has downsized its research and analytical support staff by about one-third over the past 40 years,” former Congressional Research Service analyst Kevin Kosar wrote for National Affairs. Another study by the Sunlight Foundation pointed to low pay and turnover as undermining Congress’s ability to attract and retain talented staff.

Or as one fellow put it, “Congressional Fellows are in significant demand. They come to an office looking like a year’s worth of free work from some very competent people.” These fellowships, funded by outside entities, offer the opportunity for access to experts these offices might not otherwise be able to afford.

Of course the intended purpose of these fellowship programs makes good sense and can be beneficial to all parties, but using these experts could pose a problem.

POGO reviewed 2,014 publicly available reports on Senate fellows and found several examples of the appearance of a conflict of interest, and that Senators did not consistently disclose fellows whose salary was paid by a third party. The House does not maintain records on Congressional Fellows at all.

On the Senate side, fellows and their supervisors are required to file reports detailing when they began their fellowship, how much money they’re making, what entity is paying their salary, and how many hours they’ve worked. Senate rules mandate that new fellows file their “Agreement to Comply with the Senate Code of Official Conduct,” known as form 41.4, at the beginning of their fellowship, at the end of each calendar quarter, and at the end of the fellowship. The fellow’s supervisor must file a “Report on Individuals Who Perform Senate Services,” known as form 41.6, which is often signed by the Senator. While these forms are available to the public, they are not electronically available and anyone interested in seeing them must visit the Senate Office of Public Records during business hours.

While these forms offer fascinating insight into which industries and Senators are utilizing the fellowship program, they also demonstrate how much we don’t know. POGO examined all of the 2,014 publicly available forms on file at the Senate Office of Public Records as of April 22, 2016, to determine the extent of compliance with the law. In our review, we found that approximately 27 percent were missing data on the source of the fellow’s compensation, and approximately 24 percent were missing data on how much the fellow was being paid. We also discovered instances where Senators employed fellows but failed to file the appropriate forms.

On the House side, there was no disclosure at all and no records to be reviewed. According to the House Ethics Manual, the fellows are required to comply with the Code of Official Conduct, but there are no rules requiring reporting and no forms collected by the House Office of the Clerk. The ethics manual also states: “[W]hile internship and fellowship programs are often sponsored by educational institutions, other public or private organizations may act as sponsors, provided the arrangement does not give undue advantage to special interests.” How the House ensures compliance with this requirement is a mystery.

The Appearance of a Conflict of Interest

The rules governing the Senate program are fairly simple: Both the Senator and the Fellow must avoid all conflicts of interest, including the appearance of a conflict. But in POGO’s review, we were able to find several examples of Fellows working on projects that were directly related to the industry paying their salaries. Below are just a few of those examples.

Department of Energy’s National Laboratories

The Department of Energy is responsible for a network of 17 National Laboratories conducting all kinds of scientific research. Three of these labs, Sandia National Laboratories, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and the Los Alamos National Laboratory, have multi-billion dollar budgets and focus on ensuring the US nuclear stockpile is safe, secure, and reliable. The DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration manages the labs by hiring contractors to run them—contractors who have a large financial stake in ensuring their work continues and have long worked to influence Congress in any way possible. In recent years they have focused on gaining support for a $1 trillion nuclear modernization effort. “A White House official … described the labs to me as being among ‘the biggest rogue elements in the U.S. government,’” former Energy Department senior policy advisorRobert Alvarez wrote.

Stephanie Teich-McGoldrick was a 2015-2016 Congressional Fellow from Sandia National Laboratories, working on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Sandia is one of the largest national labs in the United States and works mainly to ensure the safety and reliability of U.S. nuclear weapons. Sandia Corporation, a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin, manages and operates the lab with an annual budget of $2.9 billion. The Energy and Natural Resources Committee has authorizing jurisdiction over the Department of Energy Labs, which means it has jurisdiction for any policy changes impacting the labs. According to the Congressional record, Teich-McGoldrick worked on legislation directly affecting the labs while receiving a salary of $124,000 paid by Sandia. In April 2016, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) thanked Teich-McGoldrick by name for her work on the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016. This bill, which was re-named the North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act of 2016, passed both the House and the Senate, and includes several references to work done by the national labs. Though neither the House nor Senate versions of the bill mention Sandia National Lab specifically, it’s clear the legislation would affect its work. Indeed, both versions include language on modernizing and increasing the security of the U.S. power grid, an area in which Sandia describes itself as playing “a key role.” It’s impossible for the public to know if Teich-McGoldrick worked on parts of the legislation that would have affected the labs—it is a huge bill and she may well have steered clear of anything to do with Sandia’s work. But there’s no doubt that her position gives the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Fellows in the House are not required to disclose their information.

Teich-McGoldrick is only one of many Sandia-sponsored Congressional Fellows. In 2009 another former Sandia Congressional Fellow named Matthew Allen wrote a report on his time in the House Committee on Homeland Security called Working at Congress: A Sandian’s Experience in which he details what Fellows do. The report also serves to demonstrate how valuable the experience can be, not just for the Fellow but for Sandia as well. One of the reasons Sandia sends people to Congress, Allen wrote, was “the benefit the lab receives in having an employee that can translate the political landscape into opportunities for the lab.” There is, of course, no public record of Allen’s time on the Hill, as Fellows in the House are not required to disclose their information.

Sandia Lab has placed two dozen Fellows over the last 25 years. According to Sandia Lab spokesman Jim Danneskiold, the Lab only sponsors fellows at the request of congressional committees or members of Congress. “Fellows provide unbiased technical assistance, but they never work on specific programs or issues that affect the labs and follow strict requirements that prevent conflicts of interest. Sandia does not seek out Congressional Fellow positions, and only responds when requested,” he told POGO. The other two labs, Livermore National Lab and Los Alamos National Lab, are also no strangers to the Congressional Fellowship program. For example, Kory Sylvester was a 2007-2008 Fellow for Pete Domenici (R-NM) then-Ranking Member on the Senate Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee. Sylvester’s Fellowship was sponsored by Los Alamos National Security, the managing and operating contractor of the lab and a consortium of big-name contractors including Bechtel, Babcock & Wilcox Technical Services, and URS Energy and Construction. Senator Domenici was known as “Saint Pete” by the nuclear labs for all the money he brought to them. At that time the Los Alamos Lab’s annual budget was $2.7 billion. While Sylvester was working on the committee that decides and appropriates funds for the lab, he was paid $127,000 by the contractor running it. According to Iowa State University’s College of Engineering, Sylvester also completed another Congressional Fellowship at the House Committee on Homeland Security.

A Congressional Fellow sponsored by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory shows how even when the Fellowship forms are filled out, they may not tell the whole story. Robert Perret was a 1996-1999 Fellow in Senator Harry Reid’s (D-NV) office. Perret’s paperwork indicates his salary was paid by the University of California Regents, a governing board for the University of California network. However, in a September 2000 statement, Senator Reid thanks Perret for his “exceptional work,” stating he actually came from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Livermore lab was managed by the University of California at the time and the address on Perret’s forms is a post office box from Livermore, CA.

It’s not just the National Nuclear Security Administration laboratories that take advantage of this program. POGO found the managing contractor of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, UT-Battelle, has sponsored at least six Congressional Fellows. Since 2006 they have had at least one Fellow in Senator Alexander’s (R-TN) office every year, some Fellowships lasting longer than a year. This is an advantageous move for the company since in 2011 Senator Alexander became Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee, which decides how much money will go to Oak Ridge National Lab every year. In 2015 he became the Chairman.

These committees decide a lot more than just annual funding. In 2014, Congress passed a bipartisan law called the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA). Lawmakers were concerned when industry experts found that approximately $20 billion is misused or wasted on duplicative information technology (IT) projects every year. FITARA was meant to increase transparency on how IT funds are spent across the federal government. But the Energy Department laboratories didn’t like this added oversight and accountability, and in 2015 they launched a campaign to secure an exemption from its requirements.

It was Senator Alexander who led the charge in getting the labs the exemption they so desperately wanted. Despite the fact that IT experts across the government as well as the Government Accountability Office were strongly against the exemption, it was included in the appropriations bill crafted by the Energy and Water Development Subcommittee. John Rivard was the UT-Battelle Fellow in Senator Alexander’s office at the time, with an annual salary of $168,000. According to Rivard’s LinkedIn profile, which indicates he’s still working in Senator Alexander’s office, he “co-writes legislation, speeches, and op-eds regarding science, energy, competitiveness, and space policy.” Rivard’s place in Senator Alexander’s office and his stated activities give the appearance of a real conflict of interest, and a potential violation of Senate ethics rules.


IEEE-USA also has a long history of placing Fellows in Congressional offices (as well as in executive branch offices). The organization has been placing Fellows in Congressional offices since 1974 and keeps a publicly available record of fellowship alumni.

If a Fellow is working on legislation that will directly fund their industry or the company that’s paying their salary, there’s a clear conflict of interest.

One recent IEEE-USA Fellow demonstrates exactly how these Fellows can use their positions to influence policy to be beneficial toward their industry. Robert Bartolo was a 2014-2015 IEEE-USA Fellow in Senator Robert Casey’s (D-PA) office. When Bartolo became a Fellow in September 2014, he had already earned his Ph.D. and worked at the University of Maryland and the Naval Research Laboratory for several years. “One motivation for applying for the Fellowship was out of a concern for the serious implications of climate change and the current lack of a workable and effective plan to actually minimize carbon emissions in the years ahead. This was a policy topic I definitely wanted to work on,” Bartolo wrote in a report about his placement in Senator Casey’s office.

Bartolo got his wish and was able to work on several energy and environment policies, some of which were directly in line with IEEE-USA’s policy goals. In Bartolo’s report, he describes several projects he was personally involved in. During Bartolo’s Fellowship, Senator Casey introduced legislation to promote the development of clean energy fueling infrastructure called the Clean Vehicles Corridors Act (CVC Act). The bill established clean vehicle areas along interstate highways where the infrastructure necessary to refuel clean vehicles, including electric charging and biofuels, would be made available. In his final report to IEEE-USA, Bartolo said he worked with the Environment and Public Works Committee to incorporate aspects of the CVC Act into the Drive Act, a highway reauthorization bill, but the Drive Act didn’t make it out of Committee during Bartolo’s time in Congress. Bartolo stated, “I expended some effort to try and introduce aspects of the CVC Act that would be germane to [the Energy and Natural Resources Committee]. For instance encouraging the Department of Energy (DOE) to provide grants on a cost sharing basis for clean fueling infrastructure.”

This work was directly in line with IEEE-USA’s publicly stated policy goals for this time period. IEEE-USA’s 2014 National Energy Policy Recommendations includes a section on “Transforming Transportation by Diversifying Energy Sources.” These recommendations are remarkably similar to the legislation developed and introduced by Senator Casey. For example, IEEE-USA recommends, “Promoting the development of battery charging infrastructure, and its development by cities, states, and businesses, and along the interstate highway system with the support of the federal government.” IEEE-USA further recommends the development of alternative transportation fuels including, “promoting the use of biofuels.”

Indeed, Bartolo makes no effort to hide that he directly worked on issues related to the interests of IEEE-USA. On his LinkedIn profile, Bartolo lists the issue areas he worked on during his Congressional Fellowship, including Energy and Climate Policy, Renewable Energy Tax Policy, Zero Emission Vehicles, and Energy Efficiency, all of which coincide with information and recommendations in IEEE-USA’s 2014 National Energy Policy Recommendations.

Senator Casey’s office maintains that potential conflicts of interest are strictly monitored. “The vast majority of our office’s congressional fellows were detailed from other government agencies, and any fellow detailed from an organization outside of government was prohibited from working on any issue that could conflict with the organization,” the Senator’s Communications Director, John Rizzo, told POGO.

But Bartolo’s Fellowship seemed to violate Senate rules that require Congressional Fellows to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest. It also raises questions about whether Bartolo’s Fellowship was primarily for his educational benefit.

To make matters worse, there is no official record of Bartolo’s time in the Senator’s office, as they never filed the required forms with the Senate Office of Public Records. Senator Casey did file forms for three other Fellows in 2008 and 2009, indicating that at that time his office is familiar with the rule requiring the filing. Yet the only record of Bartolo’s time in the Senator’s office are his reports on the IEEE-USA alumni list and his own LinkedIn page, which circumvents the transparency and accountability purposes of the rule.

These examples are just a small handful of those that clearly demonstrate a failure to comply with the conflict of interest terms of the rule. Some might ask why this is important. After all, why have a Fellow with a wealth of knowledge if they can’t work on developing policy for that field? But conflicts of interest tend to result in policy that benefits powerful special interests at the expense of taxpayers’ interests. That is why the Senate ethics manual requires each Fellowship to be “analyzed on a case-by-case” basis. If a Fellow is working on legislation that will directly fund their industry or the company that’s paying their salary, there’s a clear conflict of interest.

That’s not to say that Congressional offices shouldn’t have Fellows or that the program should be abolished. It’s a valuable resource for both Members of Congress and industry professionals who want to understand the legislative process better. But more scrutiny of potential conflicts of interests is necessary.

It’s important to note that the public only knows about these conflicts because in most cases the Senators and their Fellows followed the rules and filed their agreement and reporting forms as required. They made an effort to be transparent. POGO’s review of this Fellowship program found evidence to suggest that lack of standardized reporting, or in some cases of reporting at all, is a widespread problem.

A Lack of Compliance

The Senate rule was created to provide important transparency of how this Fellowship program is used both by industry and by the Senators themselves. Lack of compliance with the rule significantly undermines its intent. Despite the fact that the reporting forms are required to be filed every quarter, POGO found Fellows or their sponsors frequently failed to comply. As a result it is difficult to know just how many Senate offices are using this program without disclosure. The total lack of disclosure on the House side makes it impossible to know how those Fellowships are being used.

“We’re concerned about both real and perceived conflicts of interest. We think that’s really important…because it impacts the integrity of the fellowship programs.”

One way of getting an idea of how many Fellows have flown under the radar is to analyze the publicly available Fellowship alumni records posted by some sponsoring organizations. These alumni records provide an excellent glimpse into how many Senators have had Fellows but never had them file forms with the Senate Office of Public Records. As noted above, IEEE-USA has a publicly available list of their 87 Congressional Fellowship alumni dating back to 1974. A little under 50 percent of the listed Fellows were in Senate offices, and of those, 76 percent did not file any documentation with the Senate Office of Public Records.

POGO conducted a similar analysis of the Brookings Institution’s Legis Congressional Fellowship, which provides government and corporate applicants the opportunity to work in Congress. But they’re not required to disclose to the public which government or corporate entity they come from. This Fellowship is intended to provide a comprehensive understanding of how Congress works and to help Fellows create a network of contacts on the Hill. One past Legis Fellow states, “I’m not a lawyer, but I fit in very well. I wrote legislation. I wrote speeches. I wrote floor statements. I analyzed bills. Legis makes us better at what we do.” While Brookings does not have a publicly available list of Fellowship alumni, there is an abbreviated list of some of the Congressional and Committee offices where the Institution has successfully placed Fellows in the past. Of the 17 Senators listed, 7 did not have any kind of records for any Fellows filed with the Senate Office of Public Records.

In addition to a total lack of filing, there are several examples of Senators with gaps in their record keeping or no records before a certain date. For example, Senator Ron Wyden’s (D-OR) office filed 82 forms from 1997 until 2000. But between 2001 and 2011 there’s a gap without records for a single Fellow. Through Fellowship alumni lists, like those kept by the American Psychological Association (APA), it’s clear that Senator Wyden’s office was familiar with rule at one time and did have Fellows during this period, despite the lack of records. Kenneth Lutz was an IEEE-USA Fellow in Senator Wyden’s office in 2009. Although there are no records for Lutz’s time there, he stated in a report about his time as a Fellow in Wyden’s office: “Senator Wyden’s office has had many Fellows, and the staff knows how to ease Fellows into legislative work. I was given quite a lot of responsibility by the legislative staff member with whom I worked.”

Similarly, some Senators do not have records for older dates, perhaps indicating they weren’t aware of the requirement at the time. One example of this may be Amanda Clinton, the 2014-2015 APA’s Congressional Fellow in Senator Chris Murphy’s (D-CT) office. While forms were never filed for Clinton’s Fellowship, it appears Murphy filed for other Fellows beginning in early 2016.

There is also a clear lack of standardization in how the forms are filled out. For example, The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) facilitates Fellowships from a number of different Fellowship sponsors including the American Chemical Society, APA, IEEE-USA, and the AAAS themselves. These organizations are responsible for recruiting, choosing, and sponsoring their fellows while AAAS helps them find placements in Congressional offices. Cynthia Robinson, Director of the AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships, told POGO that potential conflicts of interest are taken very seriously. “They have to be free agents and the sponsoring organizations can’t take any role in dictating what they do throughout the year,” Robinson said. “We’re concerned about both real and perceived conflicts of interest. We think that’s really important…because it impacts the integrity of the fellowship programs.”

But it’s up to the fellows and their supervisors to decide how they disclosure their sponsors on the Senate disclosure forms. Some Fellows cite the AAAS as the source of compensation, while others cite the underlying sponsoring organization. For example, John Cederquist was an IEEE-USA Fellow in Senator Jon Tester’s (D-MT) office from 2010-2011. On his forms he listed AAAS as the source of compensation though the Fellowship was technically sponsored by IEEE-USA. And, as we mentioned above, Senator Reid’s Fellow Robert Perret listed the University of California Regents instead of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory as his sponsor. While these simple misrepresentations may not seem relevant, they serve to make analysis of the records more difficult and can undercut the transparency intent of the rule.

A lack of strict compliance with the Senate rule abounds and would appear to indicate a lack of education about what, exactly, is required. For instance, former Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI) filed records for four Fellows from 1989 to 2012. Yet the source of compensation for each is listed as Senator Kohl, indicating either that all the forms spanning 20 years were filled out incorrectly or Senator Kohl was asking all Fellows to fill out disclosure forms, even if they weren’t being paid by a third party. It appears that at least two of the employees listed as Fellows, Arlene Branca and Theodore Bronstein, were full-time staff and would not have been required to fill out the forms.

Senator Michael Bennet’s (D-CO) Fellowship records show a similar pattern. According to records from the Senate Office of Public Records, Jonathan Davidson was a Fellow in the Senator’s office from 2011-2016, though his source of compensation is listed as “Michael Bennet.” A press release from Bennet’s office states Davidson was named Senator Bennet’s Chief of Staff in January 2011, which indicates there was no need for him to file these disclosure forms at all.

Senator Bennet’s records also feature several Fellows with listed compensation as executive branch government offices, including the Department of Defense, Department of Energy, and the State Department. Fellows from the executive branch, or detailees, are not required to file out the same form as the Congressional Fellows. While they are required to file an agreement to comply with the Senate Code of Official Conduct, the form is called a 41.3 and is not available for public viewing. Detailees are also prohibited from working on projects that may be considered a conflict of interest. Over 60 of the 2,014 records reviewed by POGO—forms 41.4 and 41.6—list executive branch offices as the source of compensation.

These kinds of gaps, misfilings, and inconsistencies seem to be the result of a lack of education about exactly what this rule requires. Although the Senate Ethics Committee requires all new Senate personnel to complete a training program on the Code of Official Conduct, neither this rule nor its requirements are directly mentioned in the training documents. Though the Senate Ethics staff told POGO that Senators and their staff would be familiar with the requirement as it would be covered in training on the Ethics Manual, it appears that a more direct inclusion of the rule and its requirements should be adopted to increase compliance. It’s important to consider the fact that while some Members will provide more than enough information to be safe, as is the case with Senators Kohl and Bennet, it seems just as likely that the opposite will happen.

This Fellowship program can be a valuable resource for both Congress and non-government professionals across disciplines. But too often the program is misused. Fellows remain in offices for years, their salaries are often much higher than the typical staffer, and far too often they’re in a position to affect legislative changes that can directly benefit the industry paying their salary. The kind of access this Fellowship program provides is invaluable for these industries. It is yet another way that corporations, foundations, and other outside entities affect the legislative process.”