Pentagon Assigns 1,200 Auditors for Unprecedented Financial Review


Pentagon Audit U.S. News dot com


“After decades of false starts, the Defense Department aims to issue its first audit report in November 2018.

The Defense Department is finally beginning an audit of its finances, following years of calls for greater transparency and failed attempts to make its accounts fully reviewable.”


“Defense Comptroller David Norquist made the announcement Thursday, saying the department’s inspector general would begin the audit in December. Starting in 2018, Norquist said, the IG will issue reports on the Pentagon’s finances annually. The first audit will be released in November of next year.

Congress has pushed for Defense to make itself audit-ready for decades, but the Pentagon has repeatedly missed deadlines for investigators to fully dive into the minutiae of its $600 billion in annual spending. For the last several years, department officials and lawmakers of all ideological backgrounds have targeted 2017 as the year to finally get Defense ready for its financial review. The Pentagon was statutorily required to be audit-ready by September, and Norquist pledged in his May confirmation hearing to release a full financial review in 2018 whether the department was ready or not.

The department will deploy 1,200 auditors to examine every corner of its finances. The IG has hired independent public accounting firms to help it analyze each military service and to produce an overarching, department-wide report.

It is important that the Congress and the American people have confidence in DOD’s management of every taxpayer dollar,” Norquist said. “With consistent feedback from auditors, we can focus on improving the processes of our day-to-day work.”

He added the annual audits also would ensure the military receives adequate supplies and equipment.

“It demonstrates our commitment to fiscal responsibility and maximizing the value of every taxpayer dollar that is entrusted to us,” said Dana White, a Pentagon spokeswoman, on Thursday.

The Government Accountability Office first put the Pentagon’s lack of audit-readiness on its “high-risk list” in 1995. Disparate systems among the department’s various branches and components, coupled with a dramatic increase in the use of contracts in recent years, have inhibited the efforts to boost oversight. Obama administration officials acknowledged their failure to make Defense audit-ready hindered officials’ ability to track the smallest of expenses and created a public confidence issue.

“The taxpayer will never be convinced if we can’t do what every public company does” and achieve full auditability, then-Defense Comptroller Robert Hale toldGovernment Executive in 2014.

Rep. Mike Conway, R-Texas, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee’s panel on oversight and investigations, commended department leadership.

“Today’s announcement is a major turning point for Department of Defense auditability,” Conway said. “The commitment to perform a full, annual audit of the DoD will provide the taxpayers the accountability they deserve, as well as present opportunities for increased efficiency within the department.”




America’s Military-Industrial Addiction

Addition to MIC

President Dwight D. Eisenhower


“If Americans generally don’t support wars or engagement in the world, why do they seem to reflexively support massive military budgets?

The military and the vast economic network it feeds presents a “complex” issue that involves millions of self-interested Americans in much the way Eisenhower predicted, but few are willing to truly forsake.”


“Polls show that Americans are tired of endless wars in faraway lands, but many cheer President Trump’s showering money on the Pentagon and its contractors, a paradox that President Eisenhower foresaw…

The Military-Industrial Complex has loomed over America ever since President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned of its growing influence during his prescient farewell address on Jan. 17, 1961. The Vietnam War followed shortly thereafter, and its bloody consequences cemented the image of the Military-Industrial Complex (MIC) as a faceless cadre of profit-seeking warmongers who’ve wrested control of the foreign policy. That was certainly borne out by the war’s utter senselessness … and by tales of profiteering by well-connected contractors like Brown & Root.

Over five decades, four major wars and a dozen-odd interventions later, we often talk about the Military-Industrial Complex as if we’re referring to a nefarious, flag-draped Death Star floating just beyond the reach of helpless Americans who’d generally prefer that war was not, as the great Gen. Smedley Darlington Butler aptly put it, little more than a money-making “racket.”

The feeling of powerlessness that the MIC engenders in “average Americans” makes a lot of sense if you just follow the money coming out of Capitol Hill. The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) tabulated all “defense-related spending” for both 2017 and 2018, and it hit nearly $1.1 trillion for each of the two years. The “defense-related” part is important because the annual National Defense Authorization Act, a.k.a. the defense budget, doesn’t fully account for all the various forms of national security spending that gets peppered around a half-dozen agencies.

It’s a phenomenon that noted Pentagon watchdog William Hartung has tracked for years. He recently dissected it into “no less than 10 categories of national security spending.” Amazingly only one of those is the actual Pentagon budget. The others include spending on wars, on homeland security, on military aid, on intelligence, on nukes, on recruitment, on veterans, on interest payments and on “other defense” — which includes “a number of flows of defense-related funding that go to agencies other than the Pentagon.”

Perhaps most amazingly, Hartung noted in TomDisptach that the inflation-adjusted “base” defense budgets of the last couple years is “higher than at the height of President Ronald Reagan’s massive buildup of the 1980s and is now nearing the post-World War II funding peak.” And that’s just the “base” budget, meaning the roughly $600 billion “defense-only” portion of the overall package. Like POGO, Hartung puts an annual price tag of nearly $1.1 trillion on the whole enchilada of military-related spending.

The MIC’s ‘Swamp Creatures’

To secure their share of this grandiloquent banquet, the defense industry’s lobbyists stampede Capitol Hill like well-heeled wildebeest, each jockeying for a plum position at the trough. This year, a robust collection of 208 defense companies spent $93,937,493 to deploy 728 “reported” lobbyists (apparently some go unreported) to feed this year’s trumped-up, $700 billion defense-only budget, according to Last year they spent $128,845,198 to secure their profitable pieces of the government pie.

And this reliable yearly harvest, along with the revolving doors connecting defense contractors with Capitol Hill, K Street and the Pentagon, is why so many critics blame the masters of war behind the MIC for turning war into a cash machine.

But the cash machine is not confined to the Beltway. There are ATM branches around the country. Much in the way it lavishes Congress with lobbying largesse, the defense industry works hand-in-glove with the Pentagon to spread the appropriations around the nation. This “spread the wealth” strategy may be equally as important as the “inside the Beltway” lobbying that garners so much of our attention and disdain.

Just go to U.S. Department of Defense’s contract announcement webpage on any weekday to get a good sense of the “contracts valued at $7 million or more” that are “announced each business day at 5 p.m.” A recent survey of these “awards” found the usual suspects like Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics. The MIC was well-represented. But many millions of dollars were also “won” by companies most Americans have never heard of … like this sampling from one day at the end of October:

  • Longbow LLC, Orlando Florida, got $183,474,414 for radar electronic units with the stipulation that work will be performed in Orlando, Florida.
  • Gradkell Systems Inc., Huntsville, Alabama, got $75,000,000 for systems operations and maintenance at Fort Belvoir, Virginia
  • Dawson Federal Inc., San Antonio, Texas; and A&H-Ambica JV LLC, Livonia, Michigan; and Frontier Services Inc., Kansas City, Missouri, will share a $45,000,000 for repair and alternations for land ports of entry in North Dakota and Minnesota.
  • TRAX International Corp., Las Vegas, Nevada, got a $9,203,652 contract modification for non-personal test support services that will be performed in Yuma, Arizona, and Fort Greely, Alaska,
  • Railroad Construction Co. Inc., Paterson, New Jersey, got a $9,344,963 contract modification for base operations support services to be performed in Colts Neck, New Jersey.
  • Belleville Shoe Co., Belleville, Illinois, got $63,973,889 for hot-weather combat boots that will be made in Illinois.
  • American Apparel Inc., Selma, Alabama, got $48,411,186 for combat utility uniforms that will be made in Alabama.
  • National Industries for the Blind, Alexandria, Virginia, got a $12,884,595 contract modification to make and advanced combat helmet pad suspension system. The “locations of performance” are Virginia, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

Sharing the Largesse

Clearly, the DoD is large enough, and smart enough, to award contracts to companies throughout the 50 states. Yes, it is a function of the sheer size or, more forebodingly, the utter “pervasiveness” of the military in American life. But it is also a strategy. And it’s a tactic readily apparent in a contract recently awarded to Raytheon.

On Oct. 31, 2017, they got a $29,455,672 contract modification for missions systems equipment; computing environment hardware; and software research, test and development. The modification stipulates that the work will spread around the country to “Portsmouth, Rhode Island (46 percent); Tewksbury, Massachusetts (36 percent); Marlboro, Massachusetts (6 percent); Port Hueneme, California (5 percent); San Diego, California (4 percent); and Bath, Maine (3 percent).”

Frankly, it’s a brilliant move that began in the Cold War. The more Congressional districts that got defense dollars, the more votes the defense budget was likely to receive on Capitol Hill. Over time, it evolved into its own underlying rationale for the budget.

As veteran journalist William Greider wrote in the Aug. 16, 1984 issue of Rolling Stone, “The entire political system, including liberals as well as conservatives, is held hostage by the politics of defense spending. Even the most well intentioned are captive to it. And this is a fundamental reason why the Pentagon budget is irrationally bloated and why America is mobilizing for war in a time of peace.”

The peace-time mobilization Greider referred to was the Reagan build-up that, as William Hartung noted, is currently being surpassed by America’s “War on Terror” binge. Then, as now … the US was at peace at home, meddling around the world and running up a huge bill in the process. And then, as now … the spending seems unstoppable.

And as an unnamed “arms-control lobbyist” told Grieder, “It’s a fact of life. I don’t see how you can ask members of Congress to vote against their own districts. If I were a member of Congress, I might vote that way, too.”

Essentially, members of Congress act as secondary lobbyists for the defense industry by making sure their constituents have a vested interest in seeing the defense budget is both robust and untouchable. But they are not alone. Because the states also reap what the Pentagon sows … and, in the wake of the massive post-9/11 splurge, they’ve begun quantifying the impact of defense spending on their economies. It helps them make their specific case for keeping the spigot open.

Enter the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), which notes, or touts, that the Department of Defense (DoD) “operates more than 420 military installations in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico.” Additionally, the NCSL is understandably impressed by a DoD analysis that found the department’s “$408 billion on payroll and contracts in Fiscal Year 2015” translated into “approximately 2.3 percent of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP).”

And they’ve become a clearinghouse for state governments’ economic impact studies of defense spending. Here’s a sampling of recent data compiled on the NSCL website:

  • In 2015, for example, military installations in North Carolinasupported 578,000 jobs, $34 billion in personal income and $66 billion in gross state product. This amounts to roughly 10 percent of the state’s overall economy.
  • In 2014, Coloradolawmakers appropriated $300,000 in state funds to examine the comprehensive value of military activities across the state’s seven major installations. The state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs released its study in May 2015, reporting a total economic impact of $27 billion.
  • Kentuckyhas also taken steps to measure military activity, releasing its fifth study in June 2016. The military spent approximately $12 billion in Kentucky during 2014-15. With 38,700 active duty and civilian employees, military employment exceeds the next largest state employer by more than 21,000 jobs.
  • In Michigan, for example, defense spending in Fiscal Year 2014 supported 105,000 jobs, added more than $9 billion in gross state product and created nearly $10 billion in personal income. A 2016 study sponsored by the Michigan Defense Center presents a statewide strategy to preserve Army and Air National Guard facilities following a future Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round as well as to attract new missions. 

Electoral Impact

But that’s not all. According to the DoD study cited above, the biggest recipients of DoD dollars are (in order): Virginia, California, Texas, Maryland and Florida. And among the top 18 host states for military bases, electorally important states like California, Florida and Texas lead the nation.

And that’s the real rub … this has an electoral impact. Because the constituency for defense spending isn’t just the 1 percent percent of Americans who actively serve in the military or 7 percent of Americans who’ve served sometime in their lives, but it is also the millions of Americans who directly or indirectly make a living off of the “defense-related” largesse that passes through the Pentagon like grass through a goose.

It’s a dirty little secret that Donald Trump exploited throughout the 2016 presidential campaign. Somehow, he was able to criticize wasting money on foreign wars and the neoconservative interventionism of the Bushes, the neoliberal interventionism of Hillary Clinton, and, at the same time, moan endlessly about the “depleted” military despite “years of record-high spending.” He went on to promise a massive increase in the defense budget, a massive increase in naval construction and a huge nuclear arsenal.

And, much to the approval of many Americans, he’s delivered. A Morning Consult/Politico poll showed increased defense spending was the most popular among a variety of spending priorities presented to voters … even as voters express trepidation about the coming of another war. A pair of NBC News/Survey Monkey polls found that 76 percent of Americans are “worried” the United States “will become engaged in a major war in the next four years” and only 25 percent want America to become “more active” in world affairs.

More to the point, only 20 percent of Americans wanted to increase the troop level in Afghanistan after Trump’s stay-the-course speech in August, but Gallup’s three decade-long tracking poll found that the belief the U.S. spends “too little” on defense is at its highest point (37 percent) since it spiked after 9/11 (41 percent). The previous highpoint was 51 percent in 1981 when Ronald Reagan was elected in no small part on the promise of a major build-up.

He says it when he lords over the sale of weapon systems to foreign powers or he visits a naval shipyard or goes to one of his post-election rallies to proclaim to “We’re building up our military like never before.” Frankly, he’s giving the people what they want. Although they may be war-weary, they’ve not tired of the dispersal system that Greider wrote about during Reagan’s big spree.”




How Ellen Lord Plans to Reduce Pentagon Acquisition Time By 50 Percent


Cut Pentagon Aquisition time 50%


“The Pentagon’s top acquisition official plans to cut the time for early lead procurement by 50 percent.

A future goal of compressing the timeline of request for proposals to contract on major defense acquisition programs from two and a half years down to about 12 months.”


“Much of the strategy revolves around things the department can do, right now, to try and speed up the front-end of the acquisition timeline, Ellen Lord told a Thursday hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

For instance, Lord’s plan starts with two moves that she believes the department can do with existing authorities: “Incentivizing contractors to submit responsive proposals in 60 days or less,” and “implementing an electronic departmentwide acquisition streamlining tool.”

Similarly, she pointed to two examples of pilot programs where she believes AT&L has the authority to draw down the lead time for programs. Those examples – the C-130J retrofit kits, and the Japanese Global Hawk foreign military sale requirement – could prove a way forward for the department as a whole.

The goal of those two programs is to prove the Pentagon can get those on contract in 280 days or less of the request for proposals, with the eventual goal of getting it down to 180 days from RFP to contract award.

“If we were granted the statutory authority, on sole source procurements, it would allow us to use our judgment to reduce the amount of cost and pricing data we would require when we have cost transparency with the companies with which we do business,” Lord told the SASC.

Lord is also looking at ways to specifically speed up the FMS process, which she raised as an issue during her time in industry. As a result, she said DoD is looking at “prepositioning production contracts” for yet-to-be-determined FMS requirements.

Those would essentially be prepared contracts with language where the department can almost “fill in the blanks” with the details, Lord said, which would reduce the timeline – yet another step to speed up the start of the acquisition process.

Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., appeared pleased to hear Lord’s ideas, interjecting several times during Lord’s opening statement to ask for clarification on specific points and offering broad support to the idea that DoD needs to take chances to speed up the process.

“You need to take more risk [and] we recognize Congress can make that more difficult,” McCain said, before emphasizing that Lord and the rest of the Pentagon acquisition network needs to keep in touch with Congress to explain the work they are doing.

“We would rather have a small failure that teaches us something [in the] acquisition process than deal with a multibillion dollar program that becomes ‘too big to fail,’” the chairman said, to which Lord responded: “We’re going to work with you and your teams to demonstrate how we do it and we’re going to come back to you [if we need] new authorities.”






Defense Acquisition Head: Accountability And Perhaps Firings On The Way

Pentagon Accountability

Ellen Lord, Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, speaks at the 2017 Dubai Air Show for the USA Partnership Pavilion Ribbon Cutting Ceremony on Nov 12. (U.S. Marine Corps/Sgt. Conner Robbins)


“That attitude should endear Lord to Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who chairs the SASC.

McCain often [asks] witnesses at his hearings if they know of anyone who had been fired for famously over-budget programs like the F-35 joint strike fighter of the Army’s WIN-T tactical IT network.”


“Ellen Lord, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, told the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday that she intends to demand a higher level of accountability from program managers if their acquisition program goes away.

“We as a team are working very closely together to look at functions and individuals in [the Office of the Secretary of Defense] and in the services, the duties they are required to perform, and are determining whether or not we have the right people in the right slots,” Lord said, before saying she did not want to “talk about individuals” in a public forum but would brief the SASC in a future closed hearing if they required more details.

“I will take action if there are issues, no question about it,” Lord told reporters after the hearing. “There are constraints when you come into a government job — you cannot move anybody for 120 days. And if you check on my 120 days, it was just very recently.”

Asked if that meant the department should expect personnel movements related to accountability, Lord stated “I think you should expect to see some movements.”

However, at Thursday’s hearing, McCain seemed skeptical of Lord’s promise to “hold people responsible,” as well as her desire to talk about it in a future closed session as opposed to out in the open.

“Who is it that’s been fired? Any answer?” McCain asked the panel, before answering his own question: “No.”

Lord is currently doing a broader review of the AT&L structure, ahead of the Feb. 1 split of the organization into two new offices, the undersecretaries of Research and Engineering and Acquisition and Sustainment.

Part of that involves pushing authorities down to the services, which James Geurts, the Navy’s assistant secretary of research, development and acquisition, said would help increase accountability.

“It’s harder to hold somebody accountable when they don’t have the authority to actually make those decisions, so pushing that authority down is a key element,” Geurts, who took office three days before the hearing, told senators.

He added that workforce training is also key, because “if we haven’t done the efforts to train them, certify them and make sure they are capable, then it’s hard to hold them accountable. That’s our fault, if we haven’t given them the skills to actually be successful.”




Number of Homeless Veterans Rises For First Time In 7 years

Homeless Vets

Homeless tents are dwarfed by skyscrapers on Dec. 1, 2017, in Los Angeles. (Jae C. Hong/AP)


“The number of homeless veterans across America increased in 2017 for the first time in seven years, when government officials began their nationwide push to help impoverished former service members.

The estimated number of homeless veterans dropped from more than 74,000 individuals in 2010 to fewer than 40,000 in 2016. But in June, VA Secretary David Shulkin said he no longer saw the previous goal of zero homeless veterans as a realistic target for his department.”


“The increase reflects estimates from last January, before President Donald Trump took office and any of his new housing policies were put in place. The annual point-in-time count from Housing and Urban Development officials found roughly 40,000 homeless veterans at that time, an increase of nearly 600 individuals from the same mark in 2016.

It’s the first setback for efforts to help homeless veterans since 2010, when then-President Barack Obama made a public pledge to “end veterans’ homelessness.”

The effort was paired with big boosts in funding for community intervention programs at both VA and HUD and saw some immediate results. The estimated number of homeless veterans dropped from more than 74,000 individuals in 2010 to fewer than 40,000 in 2016.

“I think what we learned in this situation is that being able to reach zero is not necessarily the right number,” Shulkin told Military Times. “There is going to be a functional zero, essentially somewhere around 12,000 to 15,000 that despite being offered options for housing and getting them off the street, there are a number of reasons why people may not choose to do that.”

The slight increase in veterans’ homelessness matches national trends. HUD officials said that for the first time since 2010, the overall homeless population increased in America, up about 1 percent from 2016 levels to nearly 554,000 homeless people.

And, similar to the national numbers, most of the increases in the veterans homeless population came from the West Coast. California and Oregon combined saw a rise of nearly 2,500 new homeless veterans.

Meanwhile, the southeast of the country — Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida — saw a decrease of almost 800 homeless veterans.

Of the 40,000 homeless veterans, almost 25,000 of them are living in temporary facilities. But that leaves more than 15,000 without any reliable shelter.

The impact of Trump administration policies on those numbers won’t be seen until late next year, when details of the January 2018 HUD point-in-time count are released.

But in recent months, homeless advocates have expressed concerns with VA plans to convert funds dedicated to outreach and assistance efforts to general purpose money, with broader authority for regional directors over how to use it.

In a letter to Shulkin in October, officials from the National Coalition of Homeless Veterans said they objected to “any conversion of special purpose homeless program funding for any purpose,” calling it potentially “catastrophic” to progress made in recent years by siphoning money away from homeless priorities.

But VA spokesman Curt Cashour said the goal of that move is designed to give local officials more flexibility.

“VA intends to realign funding from a number of programs, including our permanent supportive housing program (grants),” he said. “These programs are currently managed at VA central office in Washington, D.C., and this move gives control and management of resources to local VA facilities.”

“We have heard from many of our facility directors that they know their communities and the veterans they serve better than anyone else, and we agree.”


Q&A Reference Library On Small Business Government Contracting And The Military Industrial Complex


Quora Questions with Answers by Ken that have undergone 677,000 Views on Small Business Government Contracting and the U.S. Military Industrial Complex Ken Larson Reference Library on Quora


US Wasted Millions on Gear to Curb Drug Trafficking in Afghanistan

Wasted Drug Gear opium-afghanistan-1800

An Afghan and coalition security force seized more than 40 pounds of opium during an operation to capture a Taliban commander in Panjwa’i district, Kandahar province, Afghanistan July 4, 2012. (Department of Defense photo/U.S. Army Spc. Pedro Amador)


“Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said the total cost to the U.S. since 2006 “to procure, operate, maintain, and train Afghan government officials in the use of the equipment” was between $59 million and almost $63 million.

Drive-through scanners and other gear provided by the U.S. to Afghanistan in an effort to curb drug and arms trafficking has never been used or fallen into disrepair.”



“The Non-Intrusive Inspection, or NII, equipment was installed at the Kabul airport and at least four other locations but inspections last spring found the program paid for by U.S. Central Command and managed by the Department of Homeland Security was mostly broken or never used.

“In March and April 2017, SIGAR found that only one location, the Kabul airport, had any functional Central Command-purchased NII equipment that was being used for its intended purpose. None of the equipment, valued at $9.48 million, at any of the other four locations was operational,” the SIGAR report said.

“Our inspections showed that, outside of Kabul, the equipment became inoperable nearly as soon as [U.S] Border Management Task Force mentors left the border locations and the equipment was turned over to the Afghan government,” the report said.

The drive-through scanners were intended “to assist in the interdiction of illicit narcotics, precursor chemicals, and other illicit goods at border locations throughout Afghanistan and at the Kabul airport,” the report said.

“Without the use of the NII equipment, there is little to prevent the rampant commercial smuggling and cross-border narcotics trade that has continually plagued Afghan borders,” the report said.

The program began in 2006 deteriorated in 2014, when the U.S. ended its combat mission and began withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, the report said.

“While Afghan officials at most locations stated that they or their staff received training on the use of the equipment, at one location an official noted that they had not been trained to maintain or troubleshoot even minor problems,” the report said.

“Unfortunately, at this point, it appears that the Afghan government has been unable or unwilling to sustain” the initial U.S. investment, the report said.

“Worse, without the use of the [inspection] equipment, there is little to prevent the rampant commercial smuggling and cross-border narcotics trade that has continually plagued Afghanistan,” SIGAR said.

In its response to the SIGAR report, CentCom blamed the problems on the lack of oversight caused by the U.S. troop withdrawals, and also took a swipe at the Kabul government.

The program could have been successful and “would likely have continued to develop and professionalize the Afghan customs and border security institutions” if U.S. policy had not directed withdrawal in 2014, the command said in a statement.

The command also charged that the SIGAR report reflected “the lack of Afghan government will or capacity to sustain the program.”

Commenting on the SIGAR report, Ahmad Reshad Popal, director of customs at the Afghan Finance Ministry, said, “A number of these scanners are damaged, and recently we have been trying to contract a company to repair the scanners and to re-use them,” Afghanistan’s Tolo News reported.

The Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries [ACCI] suggested the scanners were deactivated to stop corruption at the border crossings from being exposed.

“At a number of the custom posts, the equipment has been intentionally deactivated to prevent corruption from being revealed,” Khan Jan Alokozay, deputy chief of ACCI, told Tolo News.

At the Torkham post in the Khyber Pass on the Pakistan border, “there was a scanner which was working properly and our problems were solved. But after a month it was deactivated and has still not been reactivated,” Alokozay said.

The SIGAR report underlined the problems ahead for the on-again, off-again efforts of the U.S. and its coalition partners in the course of the 16-year-old war to curb Afghanistan’s flourishing poppy trade that funds the Taliban and provides much of the world’s heroin.

The U.S. has from time to time funded crop substitution programs for Afghan farmers, but the programs have struggled against the fact that there is more money to be made from growing poppies.

In a “profoundly alarming” report last month on Afghanistan’s booming drug trade, the United Nations Office On Drug And Crime (UNODC) said a record poppy harvest this year had resulted in an 87 percent increase in the cultivation and production of opium compared to 2016.

“It is high time for the international community and Afghanistan to reprioritize drug control, and to acknowledge that every nation has a shared responsibility for this global problem,” UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov said in releasing the report.

In a sign of the urgency of combating the drug trade, Army Gen. John Nicholson, commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan and the NATO Resolute Support mission, last month used a B-52 bomber and an F-22 Raptoradvanced fighter normally assigned to the Iraq/Syria theaters to bomb suspected drug havens in Afghanistan.

The bombing of drug traffickers was an indication of the waning conventional strength of the Taliban, Nicholson said in a briefing from Kabul to the Pentagon last week.

Nicholson said the Taliban had given up on trying to seize provincial capitals and was now focused on guerilla warfare at the district level. He said that shift “represented a lowering of ambition by the enemy.”

“Increasingly, they are principally interested in making money” from the drug trade, Nicholson. “They are fighting to protect their revenue stream” and have essentially transformed from a jihadi movement into a ‘narco-terrorist’ drug cartel,” he said.”

Pentagon Building Wish List for New Technology Spending


Pentagon Technology Wish List


“The Pentagon’s top weapons buyer is drafting a list of desired technologies as part of a new effort to coordinate the Defense Department’s research and development, including at U.S. laboratories and government-funded research centers.

“We think that we have to make choices and focus in a limited number of areas and put our funding on it,” Ellen Lord, undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, told reporters at the Reagan National Defense Forum, an annual gathering of defense industry and government leaders here.”


“The goal of the new “modernization strategy” is to “make sure that we are aligned across the services, across all of OSD [the Office of Secretary of Defense] on a strategy that gives us greater overmatch against our adversaries,” Lord said. “In order to do that — particularly with constrained budgets — we need to have a very tight strategy that makes choices and makes sure we are taking all of our resources, all of our funding, and aligning those.”

The strategy is expected to be finished in 2018, Lord said.

One technology that will likely make the investment list is hypersonics, which use air-breathing engines to drive missiles six times the speed of sound. “We have a series of programs, some at DARPA, some within OSD, and those are moving along well,” Lord said.

The new plan would coordinate projects funded by the individual military service laboratories, federally-funded research-and-development centers, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense, she said.

“I think we can align all of these different efforts and by aligning them really make even more strides,” Lord said. “So I’m very bullish about it.”


Defense Contractors Holding the Pentagon Hostage with Service Contracts


Contractor Holds Pentagon Hostage


“Defense contractors are creating complicated support systems for the increasingly complex weapon systems the Pentagon buys, which allows the contractors to secure long-term contracts for which they have no competition from other companies.

The Pentagon, with the apparent consent of Congress, has allowed Lockheed Martin to retain control of a [F-35] system vital to the day-to-day operations of what is supposed to be the aircraft at the center of the fleet of three Services.

Sustainment costs are expected to top $1.2 trillion through 2060, the expected lifespan of the program.”


“A new Government Accountability Office report, released in October 2017, details problems the services are having keeping the F-35 fleet ready for combat. One problem it highlighted was that, at a time when the Pentagon is desperate to ramp up production of new aircraft, the services have to wait an average of 172 days—nearly six months—to repair components for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), when it should only take between 60 and 90 days. While this aspect of the report garnered most of the headlines, the report reveals a much more fundamental and systemic problem involving most of the latest high-tech weapon systems: Defense contractors are creating complicated support systems for the increasingly complex weapon systems the Pentagon buys, which allows the contractors to secure long-term contracts for which they have no competition from other companies.

The F-35 serves as the ultimate example of this arrangement. Under the current plans, the American people will spend $406.5 billion for research, development, and procurement for a fleet of 2,456 F-35s. That is a staggering figure, but it pales in comparison to the costs to sustain the program. These costs are expected to top $1.2 trillion through 2060, the expected lifespan of the program. That is about $30 billion per year. While the sustainment-to-acquisition cost ratio for the F-35 program is roughly equivalent to the historic average of 70:30, the way in which the Pentagon and the contractors reach the 70 percent figure adds more than simple financial costs to the program.

Sustainment Challenges

It takes a great deal of effort to keep a complicated aircraft like the F-35 flying. To get a sense of just how much support is required, you only have to look at the latest bid solicitation documents. The support contract for the JSF program is being run though the Naval Air Systems Command, which opened the bid process in March. But this was nothing more than a formality since it was always intended as a sole source contract for Lockheed Martin.

According to the documents, Lockheed Martin will provide a number of services to support all of the currently fielded F-35s. Under the terms of the contract, the contractor will produce spare parts, support equipment, training materials, and infrastructure, and manage the Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS), among a great deal else. The full list shows exactly how much the Pentagon depends on the contractors to keep its weapons and vehicles working properly. And because these contracts are so valuable, the companies have very little incentive to design themselves out of their products by building a system that can be maintained by uniform personnel without the need to depend upon contractors.

The F-35 program is off to a bad start maintenance-wise. According to the GAO report, during the first nine months of 2017, 20 percent of the F-35 fleet was unable to fly because the spare parts they needed were unavailable. Nearly 20 percent of the F-35’s replacement parts require at least two years to be delivered. Lockheed Martin is also late in delivering details on how to perform the necessary maintenance procedures to the services, which makes it difficult for the maintainers at the unit level to properly troubleshoot problems with the aircraft. One squadron reported maintenance staff pulling parts from the aircraft in the mistaken belief they were broken and ordering new ones from the contractor. An official at one of the depot maintenance facilities that handles major repairs reported that 68 percent of the parts received at their shop did not actually need to be repaired. The process of testing each of these parts at the depots takes nearly 10 hours, so even a single falsely identified broken component contributes to wasted time. When more than two-thirds of all components coming through the system aren’t really broken, the GAO rather understates the matter by saying it is “both inefficient and can add to repair backlogs.”

The consequences of issues like this are significant. The GAO did not provide exact figures, but they reported the F-35s experience failures resulting in the loss of a mission-critical function at “more than twice the rate expected across all variants.”

The Field Service Representative Problem

The military’s dependence on contractors for basic functions incurs costs far beyond the mere financial. All American service members who have deployed to a combat zone during the War on Terrorism have seen the vast numbers of contractors working behind the scenes to support the war effort. In 2007, at the very height of “The Surge,” civilian contractors outnumbered combat troops. By 2016, contractors outnumbered troops by a 3 to 1 margin.

Military officials like to say that contractors actually cut costs and take care of the support functions, allowing the troops to focus on winning the war. Whether or not a contractor really “frees a Marine to fight” is debatable. Using contractors does provide a convenient means by which Administrations can mask the size of our military commitments to these places by adhering to caps on the official numbers of troops deployed in the strict sense of the actual number of uniformed military personnel deployed. These force caps rarely include contractor personnel. And contractors are hardly more economical. A 2011 Project On Government Oversight study found contractors can cost the government more than twice the amount of an equivalent government employee.

The financial costs are just part of the problem, however.

Perverse Incentives

What good is a weapon system if it doesn’t work when the troops need it the most? Every penny of the taxpayers money spent on it will have been wasted if at the moment of crisis, it stands idle because it is down for maintenance. As a result, the prime contractor has a perverse incentive to build itself into the final product to the greatest extent possible.

Understanding how a weapon system works is key to properly maintaining it, and for a system that is heavily reliant on software and computing power this means the maintenance personnel would need access to all of the system’s technical information. But manufacturers don’t want to hand over the data to anyone, citing intellectual property rights. By withholding this information, the prime contractor makes itself the only outfit capable of providing the necessary support services. No other company can compete for even one of the support contracts because the government is unable to specify the required needs.

Under this system, the original prime contractor has very little incentive to keep its prices reasonable because it will have no competition.  This is good for the contractors’ long-term business plans, but not so good for the taxpayers.

And it’s definitely not good for the men and women who depend on these systems in combat.

Looking at the Problem Properly

As important as it is, figuring out who should perform the maintenance and logistics functions is secondary to the problem we should be trying to solve: reducing maintenance and logistics burdens to the absolute minimum. This has always been one of the biggest criticisms of complex systems like the F-35.

Every time a gadget is bolted onto a weapon or vehicle, another potential maintenance burden is added. It becomes one more thing that can break and then take the entire system out of the fight. That is the part of the problem most people probably think about. To borrow a quote: “amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study logistics.” For every gadget added, the force must carry spares for it. These will get added to the ever-growing logistics tail that gets dragged behind the combat forces.

It used to be that these gadgets would be maintained by either the troops actually operating the system or by the support troops in their unit. That is the right way to do business. Weapons and equipment will ideally be designed in such a way that in the rare event they do break down, they can be repaired quickly and easily in the field by the users. Weapons and vehicles develop cult followings in large part because of how easy they are to maintain. The reason you still see Jeeps driving the streets of the United States is because the troops driving them during World War II grew to love them in no small part because of their ruggedness and ease of maintenance

In 2007, at the very height of “The Surge,” civilian contractors outnumbered combat troops. By 2016, contractors outnumbered troops by a 3 to 1 margin.

It is vitally important for the services to carefully consider each piece of equipment, and each gadget added to each piece of equipment for the real value it adds for the troop in the field. It is also vitally important to test a new system against the one it is meant to replace. The testing of the new system needs to show that not only is the benefit on the battlefield worth the monetary cost, but also that it is worth the maintenance and logistical burden that comes with the new system. Is the (often marginal) improvement in performance worth the extra personnel that may need to be brought along in the logistics trains? Is it worth the extra costs associated with transporting the new spare components? Computerized systems often require specialized diagnostic equipment to identify maintenance problems. These sometimes require their own vehicles to transport. Does the extra performance justify that?

Consider the $600,000 F-35 helmet. It works as part of the Distributed Aperture System (DAS). The system includes a series of cameras in the skin of the aircraft facing out. The images from the cameras are processed together and then projected into a visor in the pilot’s helmet. This allows the pilot to see “through” the jet’s skin so when the pilot looks down at the floor, he or she sees instead what is under the jet.

That sounds quite advanced, but just because something is advanced doesn’t mean it’s needed. To figure out if this incredibly complicated system is warranted, it is important to consider a question that is not often asked: what problem is the DAS attempting to solve? It has long been understood that fighter pilots need to be able to look around and see what is going on in the sky around them. For generations, people have understood that the pilot who spots the enemy first has the distinct advantage in combat. That is why the best fighter planes have bubble canopies with the pilot sitting high inside the fuselage to give them the most unobstructed view possible. That is a relatively simple engineering solution to make the maximum use of the pilot’s own eyeballs, still the most effective visual instruments in existence.

In this case, it’s not clear whether the DAS actually provides a performance advantage. Test pilots have reported that the projected images in the visor lag behind the movement of their heads. F-35 pilots have had to “learn” how to move their heads properly—they can’t turn too quickly. Moreover, the images DAS produces are less clear than what pilots see with their own eyes. One F-35 pilot has said, “to be honest with you I don’t really use it all that often, the reason being is that if I really want to see what is underneath me I will just look outside, I will just roll up. It doesn’t take that much longer for me to just bank up there airplane and look… Because I can see it with greater clarity… It’s just an added benefit. That is not the primary function of those cameras.”

The taxpayers are already paying for a cockpit in the F-35 with the additional cost of including the DAS. Had the services and the contractor just positioned the pilot higher in the aircraft and provided a better view through the canopy, then the taxpayers wouldn’t have to spend $600,000 for each helmet system, the troubled F-35 would have one less thing that can break, and the services wouldn’t need to carry around as many spare parts. They also wouldn’t have to send each pilot to have his or her delicate helmet custom-fitted—a process that takes two days and is something the manufacturer, Rockwell Collins, actually brags about:

Infographic: F-35 Gen III HMDS by the numbers

Graphic: Rockwell Collins

Because weapons manufacturers won’t hand over the technical data for the systems the Pentagon buys, the Services are dependent on the contractor for all support. It is reasonable for a company to prevent its competition from gaining an unfair advantage, but one can’t help but think the real motivation behind withholding the technical data is that sharing it with the Services might allow the Services to develop maintenance procedures that would not require contractor support, thus eliminating a massive, lucrative revenue stream. Companies need to make a profit to survive, but they should not be allowed to do so by making it more difficult for the military to accomplish its mission.

There’s Something About ALIS

Lockheed Martin accomplished perhaps its greatest acquisition coup by convincing the Pentagon and Congress that it would be a good idea to surrender control of the network at the very heart of the F-35’s maintenance process. The entire F-35 program depends upon a complex network called the Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) to keep the jets flying. ALIS plays a central role in the maintenance of the aircraft. It connects the plane’s on-board failure diagnostics with the program’s maintenance management and the logistics supply chain. ALIS is supposed to work by identifying a broken part on the F-35, automatically ordering a replacement part, and then guiding the maintenance crews through the repairs.

ALIS also manages the critical Mission Data Loads, which are large software files with information about target and threat locations, the specifics about electronic and/or infrared signatures, and all relevant mapping data. The jets need these files to properly locate targets and evade or defeat threats. These files need to be constantly updated with data gathered during missions. This information travels through the ALIS network.

According to the Lockheed Martin website, “ALIS serves as the information infrastructure for the F-35, transmitting aircraft health and maintenance action information to the appropriate users on a globally-distributed network to technicians worldwide.”

The wisdom of trusting so much functionality to a single networked system is questionable. The network is vulnerable to hacking, as the program office demonstrated by canceling a November 2015 cyber test to the network (which would have involved contracted hackers attempting to penetrate the network’s security) out of fear the tests would disrupt F-35 flight operations. Concerns about the security of the network are so great on Capitol Hill that lawmakers added language to the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act ordering the Pentagon to review the F-35 program’s vulnerabilities to cyber-attack. Congress gave the Pentagon six months to submit a report detailing potential threats and the plan to address them.

The Pentagon, with the apparent consent of Congress, has allowed Lockheed Martin to retain control of a system vital to the day-to-day operations of what is supposed to be the aircraft at the center of the fleet of three Services.

Of more immediate concern is the simple fact that the prime contractor has created a situation in which they have total control of this this part of the program. ALIS “resides on the backbone network of Lockheed Martin,” according to the Pentagon’s acting testing director, David Duma. The Pentagon, with the apparent consent of Congress, has allowed Lockheed Martin to retain control of a system vital to the day-to-day operations of what is supposed to be the aircraft at the center of the fleet of three Services.  And management of this system does not come cheap. The Department of Defense has estimated the total cost to purchase and operate ALIS will be $16.7 billion over the program’s expected 56-year lifespan, but a Pentagon-commissioned report concluded that these costs could rise to $100 billion due to schedule slips and functionality problems.


Carl von Clausewitz articulated the concept of friction in war nearly two centuries ago. Friction is the accumulation of little problems and difficulties that make the accomplishment of any mission in war difficult. No amount of effort can eliminate friction entirely for the military, but civilian and military leaders can make decisions during times of peace that can greatly reduce sources of friction in war. Buying overly complex weapon systems that require thousands of civilians to support in war is not the way to do that.

The Pentagon needs to stop buying (and Congress needs to stop authorizing) weapon systems that operate with only a single contractor’s support. The government should never sign a contract for a program that does not include receiving full data rights for the system. Anything less is a betrayal of the men and women who will have to trust their lives to it, and a betrayal of the American taxpayers. A weapon system can’t simply be judged by the expected combat performance. Decision-makers must also consider the costs in terms of the financial and logistical burdens involved to achieve that performance. Any expected combat performance must outweigh total costs involved. As a general rule, any weapon system should be kept as simple as possible and still get the job done.”


Photo of Dan Grazier

 Dan Grazier, Jack Shanahan Military Fellow

Mr. Grazier, a former Marine Corps captain, served tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan during the War on Terror. His various assignments in uniform included tours with 2nd Tank Battalion in Camp Lejeune, NC, and 1st Tank Battalion in Twentynine Palms,CA.   He has written extensively and lectured on matters of military reform and Manœuvre Warfare. His work has appeared in the Marine Corps Gazette, Fires Bulletin, and Small Wars Journal.

He is a 2000 graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University and a 2012 graduate of the Marine Corps Expeditionary Warfare School.Dan Grazier is the Jack Shanahan Military Fellow at the Project On Government Oversight



Congressional Delays Cause Missed Deadline for Contract to Integrate VA and Military Records



EDITOR’S NOTE:  More than $1 billion has been invested in Military Services to Veterans Administration medical record interoperability in recent years but with mixed results. At issue is the seamless medical transition of active-duty troops and reservists to VA care. Veterans have long lamented missing records, repeated exams and frustrating inefficiencies with the dueling department systems.  For further background please see:


“The Department of Veterans Affairs is waiting on lawmakers for the OK to sign a multibillion-dollar contract with Cerner for a new electronic heath records system, replacing the agency’s aging, homegrown Vista software.

The VA had a self-imposed November deadline to get the deal out the door, according to court documents that were part of a lawsuit opposing the VA’s decision to make a sole-source award for a new system.”


“The snag is that VA needs the approval of the House and Senate Appropriations committees to make an initial transfer of $374 million of existing funding between accounts. The VA has made formal requests for the transfer, but so far has not received the go-ahead, according to VA and Capitol Hill sources.

According to a VA official, the contract is finished and can be signed as soon as the money is in the right accounts.

It’s not clear what is holding up the approval. Lawmakers are busy with an end-of-year scramble to pass an appropriations package or a continuing resolution to keep the government open past the Dec. 8 funding deadline, not to mention a host of other measures. A VA official told FCW that the decision to award the contract on a sole-source basis to Cerner was not at issue. ”