Category Archives: Global economy

Congress Seeks Pentagon Watchdog Probe of Aircraft Parts Supplier

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Trans Digm

Image: Trans Digm

“THE PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT”

“This week, a House member called on the Department of Defense Inspector General (DoD IG) to investigate an aircraft parts supplier suspected of gouging the Pentagon for many years.

TransDigm, through the dozens of US and European aircraft part manufacturers it has bought up over the years, provides parts used on nearly every commercial and military aircraft in service today.

Representative Ro Khanna (D-CA), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, sent a letter to Acting DoD IG Glenn Fine requesting a probe into “potential waste, fraud, and abuse” by TransDigm Group, a Cleveland, Ohio-based conglomerate with a massive footprint in the aviation industry.

Most of those parts are proprietary products for which TransDigm owns the design or is the sole supplier.

Khanna is concerned that TransDigm is using its market dominance to take advantage of its customers, including DoD. Recent stories in the financial press have highlighted the company’s tendency to dramatically raise the price of parts after acquiring the manufacturer. For example, Business Insider reported that TransDigm raised the price of Harco Laboratories’ cable assembly 352 percent (from $1,737 to $7,864) after it bought the company in 2011, and two years later raised the price of Aerosonic Corporation’s vibration panel 300 percent after acquiring the company. Khanna’s letter contains other examples of similar post-acquisition price hikes.

TransDigm’s pricing practices have a direct impact on taxpayers. DoD, which accounts for roughly 30 percent of TransDigm’s sales, once paid about $5.3 million more than the fair and reasonable price for some of the company’s parts, according to a 2006 DoDIG audit.

In addition, Khanna asked the IG to look into whether TransDigm “has been operating as a hidden monopolist” by using various methods to conceal from DoD contracting officers that it is a sole-source supplier. For example, TransDigm will sometimes falsely create the appearance of a competitive bid by selling parts through other companies, known as exclusive distributors. The DoD has long known about the perils of buying parts through exclusive distributors. A 2008 IG audit advised the government to avoid this type of purchasing arrangement, warning that it “adds a duplicate layer of administration and shipments to the traditional procurement process” and prevents the government from being able to negotiate fair prices and obtain best value.

Khanna also noted that 12 TransDigm subsidiaries failed to disclose the identity of their corporate parent in the System for Award Management (SAM) contractor registration database. He reminded the IG that posting misleading or inaccurate information in SAM carries serious criminal, civil, and administrative penalties. He further noted that following publication of the inaccurate disclosure, the company amended the SAM data.

Khanna’s letter should resonate with a new president who is not shy about expressing his displeasure with wasteful defense spending. In December, then President-elect Trump took to Twitter to blast the spiraling costs of Boeing’s 747 Air Force One upgrade and Lockheed Martin’s F-35 stealth fighter, both of which use TransDigm parts.

We hope the letter puts pressure on DoD to probe TransDigm’s practices and spurs DoD and Congress to make reforms to the acquisition system. Over the years, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) has repeatedly documented the problems in that system, which mainly boil down to rules and practices that hamstring the government’s ability to negotiate fair and reasonable prices and get the best deals for taxpayers.

POGO received the following comment from TransDigm:

TransDigm has been and remains committed to conducting business within the framework of the applicable laws and regulations across all areas and geographies in which we operate and we strongly disagree with recent allegations to the contrary. We remain steadfast in our commitment to supplying products that support the critical functions of our armed forces as well as commercial airplanes in use around the world.”

http://www.pogo.org/blog/2017/03/congress-seeks-pentagon-watchdog-probe-aircraft-parts-supplier-transdigm.html

Make GWACS and IDIQ Contracts Part of Your Government Contracting Strategy

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“WASHINGTON TECHNOLOGY”  By Mark Amtower

“Government Wide Acquisition and Indefinite Delivery, Indefinite Quantity Contracts (GWACs and IDIQs)  will continue to grow, with or without you.

If you don’t have a prime spot, look for a partner company that does.

As new programs and projects will be on hold for the foreseeable future, agencies will be turning to contracts that are in place. As has been noted by Bloomberg Government and my research, GWACs and other IDIQs like OASIS have experienced significant growth over the past few years.

SEWP, the NITAAC contracts (CIO-SP3, CIO-SP3 SB, CIO-CS) and Alliant and Alliant SB each had banner years in in fisal 2016, and reports from each contract shop indicate that thus far this year there is continued growth for each vehicle. OASIS is experiencing similar growth.

The apparent downside to this is if you don’t own a prime spot on one of these contracts, you may be out of luck. While those with prime positions certainly have the edge, any company offering products or services that fall within the scope of these contracts has the opportunity to partner with a prime to gain access to these contracts.

The program managers for Alliant, SEWP and NITAAC have all stated publicly that this is a viable option, indeed, an encouraged option, for those not on one of the GWACs or other IDIQs.

There is a big upside for the small contractors already on these contracts. Partnering with other companies allows them to bid on more RFQs that come though the GWAC, thereby reaching a broader audience.

We know that the large contractors have gone after smaller contracts and task orders in recent years and this trend will continue.

To counteract this, small contractors, especially those with prime spots on the GWACs, need to aggressively seek partner companies to go after more of the task orders coming through the GWACs. When smaller contractors are successful in responding to RFQs that go through the small business side of these contracts, the more likely it is that more RFQs will follow. When fewer responses occur, the small business task order pipeline dries up.

To fully leverage GWACs and other easy-to-access (from the government buyer point of view) contracts, you need to create your own advantage, not wait for someone to level the playing field.

We know the proactive outreach on the part of the contract program managers helps grow these contracts. Joanne Woytek of SEWP makes a habit of meeting with all of her contractors. I know Bridget Gauer and her staff at NITAAC and Casey Kelley of the Alliant contract pursue a similar approach.

There are also several things contractors should be doing, including:

  • Proactive contractors on each contract have learned how to leverage these contracts. This includes knowing which agencies prefer which contracts and focusing efforts on growing that business.
  • Contractors that do their homework and develop a deeper understanding of and relationships with targeted agencies win more business from those agencies.
  • Contractors that know when to bring senior executives and other experts to certain meetings will win more business.
  • Contractors that communicate with and leverage the relationship with the GWAC/IDIQ program office always do better than those that don’t develop that relationship.
  • Contractors that develop deeper relationships with OEMs and focus on particular technologies tend to do much better than those who will sell anything to anyone.
  • Contractors partnering with carefully selected companies to respond to RFQs will likely have a higher win rate.”

About the Author

Mark Amtower

Mark Amtower advises government contractors on all facets of business-to-government (B2G) marketing and leveraging LinkedIn. Find Mark on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/markamtower.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We Need to Audit the Pentagon

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“THE PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT (POGO)”

“In 1994 Congress passed legislation requiring every federal agency to be auditable.

Since then every agency has complied—except for the Department of Defense.

“We have known for many years that the Department’s business practices are archaic and wasteful, and its inability to pass a clean audit is a longstanding travesty,” Chairs John McCain (R-AZ) and Mac Thornberry (R-TX) of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees said recently in a joint statement. “The reason these problems persist is simple: a failure of leadership and a lack of accountability.”

The Department’s… inability to pass a clean audit is a longstanding travesty

Increasing Pentagon spending under these circumstances is the opposite of fiscal responsibility. In fact, giving the Pentagon $54 billion and finding out why later is bad budgeting.

Both the Republican and Democratic party platforms included the need to audit the Pentagon, and Congress should resist calls to give more money to an agency they know to be irresponsible with taxpayer dollars.

You can learn more about the seemingly endless saga surrounding the Pentagon’s utter failure to get a clean audit opinion here.”

http://www.pogo.org/straus/issues/defense-budget/2017/pentagon-audit-needed-oversight.html

 

 

 

 

 

NATO Agency Seeking Bids for IT Modernization Program

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Photo: NATO officials discuss future cyber initiatives at the NATO Communications and Information Agency. (NATO)

“NATIONAL DEFENSE MAGAZINE”

“The program will span at least four contracts and be worth up to $537 million, and is expected to be completed by mid-2018.

NATO’s communication and information technology arm is seeking industry partnerships as it takes on a multi-year modernization effort for its information-technology systems, according to the organization’s acquisition director.

The NATO Communications and Information Agency — which runs the information technology, communications and command and control for the multinational organization — has opportunities for defense and IT companies in various stages of the modernization program, Peter Scaruppe told National Defense in February.

“The IT modernization program is a very important one because it basically replaces all of the IT in all the NATO locations, and for all the NATO forces,” he said.

The program entails: streamlining NATO’s IT service offerings to increase efficiency and effectiveness; using a customer-funded delivery system to increase the flexibility and scalability of IT services; delivering services from a centralized set of locations; and implementing increased cyber security measures, according to the agency.

Next on the priorities list is introducing a cloud-based services enterprise design by this summer, which Scaruppe called a major part of the modernization program.

“Storage is an important issue for all current and future IT programs, because with big data and the availability of big data, it is increasingly important,” he said. “We are anxious to see what companies will provide.”

NCIA Agency also plans to develop new data centers in Mons, Belgium, and Lago Patria, Italy, by early 2018, Scaruppe said. A third site has not yet been publicly revealed, but is being considered as an option “if and when we need it,” he said.

“This is for the IT support and operational support for NATO locations and operations,” he said.

NCI Agency has made concerted efforts in recent years to work more closely with industry to beef up its cyber defense capabilities. The agency contracts out about 80 percent of its work to the defense and security industries of NATO’s 28 current member-nations, Scaruppe said.

This year, the agency will host its annual industry conference in North America for the first time since it kicked off six years ago, rather than in a European country, “to note the transatlantic alliance,” he said.

The theme of the NCIA Agency Industry Conference and AFCEA TechNet International — which will be held in late April in Ottawa, Canada — is “Sharpening NATO’s Technological Edge: Adaptive Partnerships and the Innovative Power of Alliance Industry.” The conference builds upon last year’s theme of why innovation is important to NATO’s technological needs, Scaruppe said.

“Especially in the IT and cyber world, we know that there are a lot of innovators out there … not exactly keen on working with an 800-pound gorilla like NATO,” he said. “Some are not familiar with the process, [so] we need to catch the right innovators.”

One major part of the conference is dedicated to innovation challenges where agency officials and industry will discuss pre-determined areas of study, he said. “We did this last year, very successfully, and we got lots of proposals, many more than we thought we would get.”

Conference attendees will learn of upcoming business opportunities with an overall budget of about $3.2 billion over the next two to three years, Scaruppe said.

Businesses also have the change to speak with agency experts ahead of potentially bidding on a project.

“We do this every year, but we’re dedicating a lot more time to this part than usual [this year],” he said, adding that the agency hopes to attract more U.S. and Canadian industry members as a result.

Attendance rates at previous conferences have been about 70 percent European-based, Scaruppe said.

The agency is also looking to attract more cyber experts through the conference by running a next-generation skills exercise and innovators program, he said.

“We have a lot more work than we have staff for — and the same is true with the private companies — [and] we want to find innovative ways of how to attract these people, how to retain these people and also keep us current in the cyber exercise.”

http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/blog/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?ID=2448

 

 

 

Is Small Beautiful For The Army’s Next Generation Combat Vehicle?

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“BREAKING DEFENSE”

“There’s serious lesson here which the Army’s Next Generation Combat Vehicle effort is taking to heart.

Automation, by replacing bulky humans with compact electronics, can make for smaller combat vehicles that are not only cheaper and more fuel-efficient, but harder to hit.

The robotic war machines of the future are strangely cute. Here at the Association of the US Army winter conference, BAE Systems is showing off a 12-ton robot mini-tank that looks like a baby M1 Abrams.

Video “BAE Systems”

“The key to survival on the battlefield is not being seen,” said David Johnson, a leading scholar and former top advisor to the Chief of Army Staff. “If you saw the BAE autonomous tank… it is radically smaller than anything we have now, and smaller for a vehicle on the battlefield is a good thing.”

You don’t have to replace the entire crew to benefit, either. The Russians have long been obsessed with smaller tanks, to the point of having height limits for tank crewmen, and starting with their T-64 in the 1960s, they replaced the main gun’s human loader with a mechanical one, allowing for a smaller turret. (The M1’s designers didn’t do this because Cold War autoloaders were not only unreliable but slower than a well-trained human). Today, Russia’s new T-14 Armata tank has a completely automated turret, with the entire three-man crew in the heavily armored hull. The US Army tried a similar configuration with its cancelled Future Combat Systems, a program to build much lighter armored vehicles. BAE’s Armed Robotic Combat Vehicle mini-tank was also originally built for FCS.

Smaller vehicles have advantages for mobility as well as for survivability: They’re easier to transport to the battlefield by ship, plane, or rail, and they’re easier to keep supplied. That’s in stark contrast to the M1 Abrams, which for all its virtues gets three gallons to the mile. During the seizure of Baghdad in 2003, some M1s had to shut down their engines until a fuel convoy could push through, taking casualties on the way. The Army’s concepts for future Multi-Domain Battle envision widely dispersed units, constantly on the move to evade detection and destruction, and able to live off infrequent resupply — something that would be difficult for current heavy forces.

The Next Generation Combat Vehicle, set to enter service by 2035, would be designed to carry out those concepts, said Col. William Nuckols, director of mounted (i.e. vehicle) requirements at Fort Benning’s Maneuver Center. “This is not just about a vehicle, this is about a concept and a formation,” he said at AUSA, “the formation that we need to be able to fight the way that’s prescribed in the Army Functional Concept for Movement and Maneuver.”

“Many of the things in the Movement and Maneuver concept do a great job of making the case for new-start combat platforms that make different trade-offs,” said Maj. Gen. David Bassett, Program Executive Officer for Ground Combat Systems. For instance, the Army has upgraded the M1 and M2 engines, he told me at the conference, and there’s more promising tech in the works — but the engine compartments on those vehicles will stay the same size they were when designed in the 1970s, putting a strict physical limit on what upgrades are possible. If you want to dramatically change fuel consumption, speed, firepower, or any other performance characteristic, you need to design a new vehicle.

So how do you build a vehicle to burn less fuel? “Fuel consumption is driven in no small way by overall vehicle weight,” Bassett said. Weight, in turn, is mainly driven by armor. Since no one’s about to develop any new magical armor material that lets us get the same protection for less weight, if you want to reduce weight, you have two choices: accept less protection — fine with unmanned vehicles, not so with humans at risk — or shrink the “volume under armor” you have to protect. Shrinking volume also makes the vehicle a smaller target.

“We are certainly keeping our aperture wide open” about what size and shape the NGCV could be, Nuckols said. In fact, he said, “we’re not certain” if NGCV will replace the M1 Abrams tank, the M2 Bradley Infantry Fighting vehicle, “or potentially both. It could be a family of vehicles.”

For a potential Bradley replacement, Nuckols said, the Army is studying both reducing the crew and reducing the number of infantry passengers. The Bradley today has a three-man crew: a driver in the hull, a commander and a gunner in the turret (its 25 mm ammunition is small enough it doesn’t need a dedicated loader). The commander’s role is to keep a 360 lookout for threats, targets, and terrain so he can direct the gunner and driver, who focus more narrowly on a given target or path. With enough assistance from sensors and artificial intelligence, however — for example, Nuckols said, “automated target acquisition” to serve as a virtual gunner — you could get down to two crew. You could also put both of them in the hull, which would allow for a smaller, cheaper turret that’s harder to hit and, if it is hit, the likely ammunition explosion doesn’t kill anyone.

To really reduce the size of the hull, however, you need to make peace with carrying fewer infantrymen. That’s painful because the raison d’être of an Infantry Fighting Vehicle is to carry infantry. The Bradley nominally carries seven, but that was with the smaller equipment loads — and smaller soldiers — of the 1980s, and even then one man had to cram into the charmingly named “hell hole.” In practice, Bradleys today manage from four to six depending on the mission.

The Army’s standard infantry squad, however, is nine men, a number the service’s analysts and tacticians swear by. The eight-wheel-drive Stryker can carry a full squad, but it’s both large and lightly armored. The cancelled Ground Combat Vehicle would also have carried nine, but putting heavy armor around that many men — plus a manned turret — pushed the vehicle’s weight north of 60 tons. So, while the Army won’t give up the nine-man squad, it’s considering splitting that squad between two (or even three) smaller vehicles.

However big they are, the manned Next Gen Combat Vehicles could well operate with completely robotic “wingmen” similar to BAE’s mini-tank, which is designed to keep up with full-sized armored vehicles. The autonomy software would have to improve. Currently, the BAE Armed Robotic Combat Vehicle can navigate from waypoint to waypoint, using its LIDAR sensors and object recognition to avoid hitting obstacles and running people over, BAE’s Jim Miller told me. For precise driving, like bringing it into the AUSA exhibit space, however, a human takes over by remote control. A human also has to remote-control the gun — no Terminators here. In fact, the ARCV’s robot brain currently doesn’t have the capacity to realize it’s under attack.

Given rapid advances in automation, however, those should be solvable problems. The Army is very interested in autonomous vehicles that could scout ahead of the manned machines or provide supporting fire alongside them. Ideally, these machines wouldn’t require one human remote operator per unmanned vehicle, but would be smart enough that a single human could supervise a whole pack of robots.

The question of control is critical. “One of the problems we have with robotics right now, Sydney, is the fact that we can’t have assured control,” Nuckols said. “Until we have that assured control… we’re going to be hesitant to replace any of our current formation capabilities with a robotic platform.”

If that’s solved, however, it opens up some radical possibilities. “There’s no guarantee that the Abrams will be replaced by a future tank,” Nuckols said. “It could conceptually be replaced by an autonomous vehicle with the lethality of an Abrams.” Equally lethal, but probably smaller — and perhaps cuter.”

http://breakingdefense.com/2017/03/is-small-beautiful-for-the-armys-next-generation-combat-vehicle/

 

 

De-Complicating Federal Cyber Security

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Decompliating Cyber Security(Photo Credit: U.S. Army)

“FIFTH DOMAIN CYBER” – By Keith Lowry

When it comes down to it we’re dealing primarily with a people problem before a technical problem. People use technology to become cybersecurity and insider threats.

They also use low-tech tactics like social engineering and dumpster diving, too. Until the government realizes these concepts are connected, and that it can’t just purchase tools to address their vulnerabilities, it will always lag behind the threat.

“The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help.’” ~President Ronald Reagan

It might seem like hyperbole to claim that anything the government does hinders, and doesn’t help, progress. I’d like to think differently, but my experience gives President Reagan’s statement a certain level of credibility. Too many times, government agencies are convinced that doing things on a large scale will solve individual problems or issues. This attitude leads to massive delays and a lack of attention to the small but important details.

Making Simple Things Complex

During my tenure at the Pentagon, it was almost impossible to develop, coordinate, authorize and publish any policy within two years. Even if a proposed policy was extremely important, it just took too long to implement. If the Department of Defense has such issues in developing policy, then consider how difficult it must be to develop and publish policies that span across the entire spectrum of the government.

Governments inherently make simple things complex, and complicate obviously simple tasks. Because of this, I inherently question any program driven by a government agency or organization that claims it is “here to help.”

Large scale government programs are often initiated to create cost effectiveness, but what is the cost if the program takes years to develop and implement? Even worse, the fast-paced cycle of technological advances makes measuring program development in terms of years a huge problem. The opportunity costs coming from a breach or system downtime far outweigh any fiscal savings. Add in the fact that many government agencies will fight for ownership of a large program because of the concomitant funding, and you’ll see why relatively simple matters can spiral out of control very easily.

That’s not to say there isn’t a benefit in government ownership. There are potential cost savings tied to having overarching policies executed by a single entity, but the coordination and time lapse in enacting anything of value is suspect. It takes too long to enact and follow through, especially when most agencies have their own congressionally driven budget and appropriations process to consider.

A Multi-faceted Issue

Over the years, I have heard many agencies state that they cannot consider creating an insider threat program or cybersecurity program because they don’t have the budget, or that they are waiting for a parent agency to come up with a plan and associated instructions. The problem with this thought process is multi-faceted. First, no two federal organizations are alike. They all have differing processes, serve diverse populations, and also possess assorted and sundry critical value data.

Second, each of these variables means that one insider threat or cybersecurity solution doesn’t fit another organization’s needs. Finally, the budgetary and appropriations cycles are controlled by Congress, subjecting them to political realities and consequences.

In these circumstances, when I hear that the government is telling agencies what they must do while controlling the budget from afar, it’s creating a difficult problem for the agencies to solve. Furthermore, when I hear that one agency is dependent upon another to proceed in developing insider threat programs or cybersecurity solutions, it rings of the “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help,” idiom. In other words, no action will be taken in sufficient time to counter any threat.

Solving at the Highest Level

My solution for this might sound a bit controversial.

Cybersecurity threats are comingled with insider threats. At a fundamental level, too many people believe that technology alone is the answer to cybersecurity concerns. I’ve mentioned it before, it’s not just about technology. Yet that’s the first thing people think of when considering cybersecurity or insider threats. Maybe it’s thanks to Hollywood’s portrayal of the industry and the capabilities of high-powered computers connected to, well, everything.

Solving at the Highest Level

My solution for this might sound a bit controversial.

Cybersecurity threats are comingled with insider threats. At a fundamental level, too many people believe that technology alone is the answer to cybersecurity concerns. I’ve mentioned it before, it’s not just about technology. Yet that’s the first thing people think of when considering cybersecurity or insider threats. Maybe it’s thanks to Hollywood’s portrayal of the industry and the capabilities of high-powered computers connected to, well, everything.

Tactically, the government should elevate decision making for the cybersecurity/insider threat problem to a Cabinet-level position, which would signify the importance of the issue. Additionally, the Cybersecurity Cabinet person should adhere to the mantra of centralized administration, de-centralized execution. Making each agency responsible for executing its own cybersecurity and insider threat program will encourage much faster implementation countering these threats. Of course, Congress would have to be included in any solution to ensure success.

This may not be the best fiscal option, but it would certainly be the best method for quick implementation and execution required to protect government-held and controlled critical value data. Rather than one agency doing everything, make each agency responsible for creating, implementing, and running individual programs, and hold them accountable at the highest level possible.

http://fifthdomain.com/2017/03/08/de-complicating-cybersecurity-at-the-federal-level-commentary/

About the Author

Keith Lowry

Keith Lowry is the senior vice president of Nuix USG and Nuix’s Business Threat Intelligence and Analysis division. He served as chief of staff to the deputy undersecretary of defense for human intelligence, counterintelligence and security at the Pentagon, as well as an information security consultant in the private sector

 

Science Offers Peace-building Mechanism in South China Sea Dispute

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“GEOPOLITICAL MONITOR”

“Territorial claims among China, Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei in the South China Sea remain a serious threat to the political and ecological security of Southeast Asia.

Science diplomacy is not a completely new approach to international relations, and, at the moment, has raised two important questions in efforts to successfully settle the South China Sea dispute, namely: Should we do it? And will it work?  The answer to both is, “yes.”

Protecting marine environments and ensuring the ocean’s sustainability is a global issue that is vital for all life, and nowhere is this more important than in the South China Sea.As such, environmental degradation remains at the center of South China Sea scientific policy conversations, and for an increasing number of policy shapers and scientists, there’s an urgent need to address acidification, biodiversity loss, regional impacts of climate change, coral reef destruction, and fishery collapses.

Enter science diplomacy. Defined by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) as science being used to inform foreign policy decisions, promote international scientific collaborations, and establish scientific cooperation to ease tensions between nations, science diplomacy is a widely accepted method that environmental policy planners use to contribute to conflict resolutions and, for several decades, has been adopted as a diplomatic tool for peace-building by many countries. During the Cold War divide, scientific cooperation was used to build bridges of cooperation and trust.

Science diplomacy helps directly and indirectly promote confidence-building among the parties involved in the South China Sea dispute, offering a much-needed strategic pause in rising regional tensions. The probability that science diplomacy can successfully manage the South China Sea dispute is quite high because of timing, creditability, and the potential for support from major powers. It offers more advantages than not in terms of economics, politics, social responsibility, and beyond. Most importantly, there’s already a rising tide of cooperation in the exchange of data and information, consensus on the value of marine protected areas, and an increase in joint research expeditions.

There are strong ties among scientists across Southeast Asia and China, partly due to a series of international scientific projects, conferences, and training workshops, such as those associated with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s South China Sea Fisheries Development and Coordination Program from the mid 1970s to the mid-1980s. Informal “Track 2” working groups and associated fieldwork throughout the 1990s and up to the early 2000s included many regional scientists and their projects aimed at promoting peaceful joint resource management in the South China Sea. The UNEP and Global Environment Facility sponsored a South China Sea environmental analysis and management project from 2002 to 2009, and efforts are underway to initiate a follow up project. Other such confidence-building activities are under discussion.

These proposed science collaborative measures are essential in the face of the rampant overfishing and coral reef degradation that has occurred across the South China Sea, in part because the conflicting territorial claims have made ecological analyses and management actions difficult. There are strong indications of impending collapses of fisheries and potential species extinctions. Given the fact that the South China Sea hosts a large proportion of known marine species, including threatened giant clams, sea turtles, and marine mammals, there is no time to waste.

The prospect of a fisheries apocalypse in the South China Sea should weigh heavily on all claimant nations, all of which rely on fish protein to feed a burgeoning population of roughly 1.9 billion people. Challenges around food security and renewable fish resources are fast becoming a hardscrabble reality for more than fishermen. In 2014, the Center for Biological Diversity warned that it could be a scary future indeed, with as many as 30 to 50 percent of all species possibly headed towards extinction by mid-century.

Nevertheless, it’s encouraging that Chinese scientists have been engaged in science diplomacy in polar regimes for the past three years. This includes cooperative fishing regulations research and especially their participation multilateral diplomacy efforts in the central Arctic Ocean. Although Beijing’s role is still limited, they are preparing to play a substantial role in good governance in the Arctic.

Despite the intractable SCS sovereignty issues, and difficulties in securing permissions for environmental field work, even in non-disputed areas, a focus among regional scientists on environmental protection and fishery issues may prove far less difficult than problems in the Arctic.

Science diplomacy seems quite affordable for all claimant countries. In fact, while it is hard to draw an exact comparison of the expenditures a government provides for other ways of solving the South China Sea dispute, science diplomacy would prove very cost effective. Because military and economic initiatives, especially the transformation of reefs into military outposts, unlike scientific ones, are often seen as the actions of one country protecting its sovereignty and is directly related to national defense, any non-state actor’s involvements are inevitably sensitive subjects and considered inappropriate.

The key is to encourage international scientific cooperation. Through joint marine research surveys, the region’s scientists can provide policymakers with the data and information they need to make informed and responsible decisions in the South China Sea.

Science initiatives are more widely accepted as efforts to solve global issues that require contributions from all players in the international relations arena. This not only makes science diplomacy-related initiatives financially possible, but also leads to broader dissemination of results and enhances their impacts on policy decision-making and capacity-building on the regional level.

Most SCS states have adopted marine protected areas to address present and future environmental issues, and there are plans to include areas that fall within disputed waters. Existing MPAs play important roles in the development of the marine economy; they improve the livelihoods of coastal fishing communities and also serve as an excellent directed science policy model. If sovereignty concerns could be set aside in treaties implementing freezes on claims and claim-supportive activities, as has been done in the Antarctic, these and other natural resource management tools could be used far more effectively to secure fisheries and biodiversity, and also to promote sustainable tourism.

Secondly, science diplomacy is a safe and neutral approach to international relations for all governments. While economic or military cooperation requires strong consideration for signs of foreign policy direction, scientific cooperation is much more neutral, even in conflict-torn countries, since they can cooperate with each other in scientific projects “to affirm and to improve human life” without worrying about misleading the international community about their foreign policy orientation or invoking domestic anger because of shaking hands with the “wrong partners.”

Finally, science diplomacy serves essential needs in the lives of human beings. While other types of diplomacy tend to only solve issues at the state level, like sovereignty or territorial integrity, the science research cooperation in the South China Sea aims at a more “down-to-sea” approach, namely ensuring that fishers can fish safely, marine products for human beings are unpolluted, and marine resources are protected correctly.

Looking at science diplomacy from a broader perspective, it provides collateral benefits to resolving the South China Sea dispute. Last year, Fidel V. Ramos, the former president of the Philippines (1992-1998), and a member of the ASEAN Eminent Persons Group stated that environmental cooperation could promise to bring about “mutually beneficial efforts to improve tourism and encourage trade and investment, and to promote exchanges among think tanks and academic institutions on relevant issues.”

Science diplomacy offers a peace-building mechanism for South China Sea scientific advisors to demonstrate their roles as “resource analysts, trend spotters, science communicators, and applied-policy advisors.”

With natural resource politics steering the South China Sea narrative, science diplomacy offers the dual hope of protecting coral cathedrals, marine habitats, and fish species, and it can serve as a peace-building model for similar environmental conflicts elsewhere.”

https://www.geopoliticalmonitor.com/science-offers-peace-building-mechanism-in-south-china-sea-dispute/

 

 

 

What Mark Thompson Has Learned Covering the Military for 40 Years

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Image:  “Otherwords.org”

“Scant public interest yields ceaseless wars to nowhere”

 

“Straus Military Reform Project – Center for Defense Information at POGO”

“It turns out that my spending four years on an amusement-park midway trying to separate marks from their money was basic training for the nearly 40 years I spent reporting on the U.S. military.

Both involve suckers and suckees. One just costs a lot more money, and could risk the future of United States instead of a teddy bear.

But after 15 years of covering U.S. defense for daily newspapers in Washington, and 23 more for Time magazine until last December, it’s time to share what I’ve learned. I’m gratified that the good folks at the nonpartisan Project On Government Oversight, through their Straus Military Reform Project, are providing me this weekly soapbox to comment on what I’ve come to see as the military-industrial circus.

As ringmaster, I can only say: Boy, are we being taken to the cleaners. And it’s not so much about money as it is about value. Too much of today’s U.S. fighting forces look like it came from Tiffany’s, with Walmart accounting for much of the rest. There’s too little Costco, or Amazon Prime.

There was a chance, however slight, that President Trump would blaze a new trail on U.S. national security. Instead, he has simply doubled down.

We have let the Pentagon become the engine of its own status quo.

For too long, the two political parties have had Pavlovian responses when it comes to funding the U.S. military (and make no mistake about it: military funding has trumped military strategy for decades). Democrats have long favored shrinking military spending as a share of the federal budget, while Republicans yearn for the days when it accounted for a huge chunk of U.S. government spending. Neither is the right approach. Instead of seeing the Pentagon as the way to defend against all threats, there needs to be a fresh, long-overdue accounting of what the real threats are, and which of those are best addressed by military means.

The Defense Department’s Quadrennial Defense Review, which is supposed to do just that every four years, has become an engine of the status quo. The Pentagon today is little more than a self-licking ice cream cone, dedicated in large measure to its growth and preservation. Congress is a willing accomplice, refusing to shutter unneeded military bases due to the job losses they’d mean back home. The nuclear triad remains a persistent Cold War relic (even former defense secretary Bill Perry wants to scrap it), with backers of subs, bombers and ICBMs embracing one another against their real threat: a hard-nosed calculus on the continuing wisdom of maintaining thousands of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert.

Unfortunately, it’s getting worse as partisan enmity grows. It’s quaint to recall the early congressional hearings I covered (Where have you gone, Barry Goldwater?), when lawmakers would solemnly declare that “politics stops at the water’s edge.” The political opposition’s reactions to Jimmy Carter’s failed raid to rescue U.S. hostages held in Iran in 1980 that killed eight U.S. troops, and to the loss of 241 U.S. troops on Ronald Reagan’s peacekeeping mission in Beirut in 1983, was tempered.

But such grim events have been replaced Hillary Clinton’s Benghazi and Donald Trump’s Jan. 29 special-ops raid in Yemen. Rancid rancor by both sides cheapens the sacrifice of the five Americans who died. It only adds a confusing welter of new rules designed to ensure they aren’t repeated. Yet mistakes are a part of every military operation, and an unwillingness to acknowledge that fact, and act accordingly, leads to pol-mil paralysis. It’s amazing that the deaths of Glen Doherty, William “Ryan” Owens, Sean Smith, Chris Stevens and Tyrone Woods seem to have generated more acrimony and second-guessing than the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, in which 6,908 U.S. troops have died.

There is today a fundamental disconnect between the nation and its wars. We saw it in President Obama’s persistent leeriness when it came to the use of military force, and his successor’s preoccupation with spending and symbolism instead of strategy. In his speech to Congress Feb. 28, Trump mentioned the heroism of Navy SEAL Owens, but didn’t say where he died (Yemen). Nor did he mention Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria, where nearly 15,000 U.S. troops are fighting what Trump boldly declared is “radical Islamic terrorism.”

But he did declare he is seeking “one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history.” His $54 billion boost would represent a 10% hike, and push the Pentagon spending, already well beyond the Cold War average used to keep the now-defunct Soviet Union at bay—even higher.

“We are going to have very soon the finest equipment in the world,” Trump said from the deck of the yet-to-be-commissioned carrier Gerald R. Ford on Thursday in Hampton, Va. “We’re going to start winning again.” What’s surprising is Trump’s apparent ignorance that the U.S. military has had, pound-for-pound, the world’s finest weapons since World War II. What’s stunning is his apparent belief that better weapons lead inevitably to victory. There is a long list of foes that knows better.

It’s long past time for a tough look at what U.S. taxpayers are getting for the $2 billion they spend on their military and veterans every day. It would have been great if Trump had been willing to scrub the Pentagon budget and reshape it for the 21st Century. But the U.S. has been unwilling to do that ever since the Cold War ended more than 25 years ago. Instead, it simply shrunk its existing military, then turned on a cash gusher following 9/11.

I know many veterans who are angered that their sacrifice, and that of buddies no longer around, have been squandered in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I recall flying secretly into Baghdad in December 2003 with then-defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The bantam SecDef declared on that trip that the U.S. military had taken the “right approach” in training Iraqi troops, and that they were fighting “well and professionally.” Last month, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, the fifth man to hold that job since Rumsfeld, declared in Baghdad that the U.S. training of the Iraqi military is “developing very well.” His visit, like Rumsfeld’s 14 years earlier, wasn’t announced in advance.

Even as Army Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser, tries to chart a path forward in Iraq, it’s worth remembering that he earned his spurs 26 years ago as a captain in a tank battle with Iraqi forces.

If we’re going to spend—few would call it an investment—$5 trillion fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan (and Syria, and Yemen), don’t we, as Americans, deserve a better return?

The problem is that the disconnect between the nation and its wars (and war-fighters) also includes us:

  • Our representatives in Congress prefer not to get their hands bloodied in combat, so they avoid declaring war. They prefer to subcontract it out to the White House, and we let them get away with it.
  • Through the Pentagon, we have subcontracted combat out to an all-volunteer force. Only about 1% of the nation has fought in its wars since 9/11. We praise their courage even as we thank God we have no real skin in the game.
  • In turn, the uniformed military services have hired half their fighting forces from the ranks of private, for-profit contractors, who handle the critical support missions that used to be done by soldiers. The ruse conveniently lets the White House keep an artificially-low ceiling on the number of troops in harm’s way. We like those lower numbers.
  • Finally, we have contracted out paying for much of the wars’ costs to our children, and grandchildren. We are using their money to fight our wars. They’ll be thanking us in 2050, for sure.

Until and unless Americans take responsibility for the wars being waged in their name, and the weapons being bought to wage them, this slow bleeding of U.S. blood and treasure will continue. “We have met the enemy,” another Pogo once said, “and he is us.”

http://www.pogo.org/blog/2017/03/military-industrial-circus-national-security-column.html

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2By: Mark Thompson, National Security Analyst

Mark Thompson Profile

Mark Thompson writes for the Center for Defense Information at POGO.

 

Defense Acquisition Requires Simplicity, Collaboration

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Image: “Media.licd.com”

“NATIONAL DEFENSE MAGAZINE’

“The organization and function of the Defense Department is so antiquated that it may well prove unable to deliver the changes that the nation needs.

So, even as it focuses on potentially existential threats to the nation, somebody must address the conversion of the “horse and buggy,” which is the present-day Pentagon, to make it perform like a modern turbocharged vehicle.

The challenges are many, but if there is focus on simplicity the department could be improved while dramatically reducing the problems faced by small contractors. The payoff for even modest improvement could be felt most by the smaller contractors, as they are most at risk under the current system. The focus should be to enlarge and modernize commercial interaction done by the department to make it less adversarial, more collaborative, transparent, accountable and sensitive to business cash flow needs.

There is a remarkable asymmetry between the government and industry with respect to fundamental contractual and administrative execution.

The first problem is one of predictable communication and consistent government performance. As an example, when processing a government contract for a simple procurement action inexplicably takes nine months versus the three months promised, the impact at the company level is complex and potentially devastating. This problem is exacerbated when the contracting entity does not provide any communication regarding revised performance timelines. Delays such as these put small businesses in a no-win position. Many businesses live in a world without adequate cash flow and little to no backlog. So, in this situation, waiting until contract award means that long-long lead production items from the manufacturing base will not be on hand when work should start. Production lines that go dormant do not come back to life easily or quickly. Workers trained and available today can’t be stored on dry ice for the six month delay; they are either laid off or employed elsewhere.

So, for many small firms in this situation, there is no choice but to take risk and begin committing precious resources on an un-awarded contract. This in turn intensifies the dependency of the small contractor on the government who now truly controls their fate.

The government must establish and live with reasonable performance standards and timelines. When it fails to do so, it should pay compensation promptly, just as the contractor is now required to pay “consideration” when he/she fails to meet government performance standards.

When both sides have leverage on the other it will drive improved communication and partnership. Presently the burden is entirely one-sided and gives the department unfair power.

In the current calculus people don’t count — either inside or outside of government. The Defense Department should institute modern relationship metrics to measure how individual teams align to their respective missions.

Major consulting firms with international portfolios such as Gallup and Korn-Ferry assist Fortune 500 firms in executing individual employee surveys measuring internal engagement, leadership and performance annually. The first year results of such a survey done on the department’s corporate structure — to distinguish it from the operational force — would probably stun its leaders. They would be given the opportunity to confront the reality that organizational alignment, leadership, teamwork, sharing and collaboration are all capable of major improvement when compared with global norms for like-sized entities. Gathering these results on an annual basis will afford defense leaders the opportunity to evaluate leadership development programs, workforce business processes, software and a host of other factors directly relevant to improving performance. Probably as important as anything, leaders who cannot accept candid feedback on issues will be forced to confront the reality that they must either embrace the input or leave.

In a parallel initiative, there needs to be lateral entry from business to government service at the mid-tier levels. This would bring an infusion of additional talent to a limited entry profession and augment the experience and knowledge base in the bureaucracy.

In addition to internal feedback, there must be measurement of relationships with contractors. The contracting process has to be made more collaborative and timely. A lot can be learned by comparing the business experience of two recent contracting processes. One was a standard government request for proposals to make a $80,000 piece of utility equipment for delivery over a 10-year period. The other was a commercial RFP for a similarly priced comparable item for multiple-year performance. Both were competitive contract awards with multiple competitors. The differences between the two processes could not have been more obvious. The defense-related RFP was 70 pages; the commercial RFP was 27 pages. The commercial RFP was readable and straightforward; the other was complex and contained endless references to additional government standards. The commercial RFP encouraged innovation by outlining desired characteristics and inviting new approaches, the other set specific standards for performance.

The commercial process encouraged continuous dialogue and explanation of performance priorities while the DoD process was terse and regulated by legalistic formality. The dialogue with the commercial partner enabled the prospective partner to educate its customer on new and evolving technology and materials. The government’s enforced silence did nothing to generate shared understanding. But most importantly, the commercial process timeline from initiating contracting action through prototype production was 10 months whereas the government’s was two years.

In a world where collaboration and speed are essential to success, the antiquated government process is increasingly costly and inefficient.

The process of transforming major enterprises and complex relationships requires courage and persistence. The difficulty of implementing change in an organization as large as the Defense Department should not be the argument for failing to start. It is already one or two decades behind leading-edge commercial businesses and is falling further behind.

Nothing recommended above is new, revolutionary or suspect — it’s just good practice.”

http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/archive/2017/March/Pages/DefenseAcquisitionRequiresSimplicityCollaboration.aspx

These College Students Invent Things for the Pentagon And Maybe Find a Business

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“WASHINGTON POST”

“After a test run at Stanford University last spring, the accelerator is starting similar courses at least a dozen universities.

A Pentagon-funded unit called the MD5 National Security Technology Accelerator, gives students a modest budget to try to solve military problems using off-the-shelf products.

The Defense Department’s Hacking for Defense program (which, despite its H4D handle, does not focus on cybersecurity) is a graduate school course designed to let students invent new products for the military. Students without security clearances — including some foreign nationals — are put to work on unclassified versions of real-world problems faced by military and intelligence agencies.

The University of Pittsburgh, University of California at San Diego, James Madison University and Georgetown University are among those trying to replicate Stanford’s success.

To spearhead its effort, Georgetown hired a former Special Operations Marine with a deep Rolodex and a long history of doing business with the Pentagon.

Chris Taylor’s first career had him jumping out of airplanes and serving on hostage rescue teams as part of the Marine Force Recon unit, an elite intelligence-gathering team tasked with “deep reconnaissance” missions in dangerous combat zones.

He became an instructor in the unit’s amphibious reconnaissance school, where he taught enlisted Marines skills such as how to covertly approach military installations from the sea and survive undetected in the wilderness.

“He’s been good at teaching, leading and just selling ideas for a long time,” said Bob Fawcett, a retired Marine who worked with Taylor at the Force Recon training program.

Taylor spent evenings studying accounting as he worked toward a college degree, the first step in a lucrative career on the business side of the Bush administration’s military buildup.

He became a top executive at Blackwater Worldwide, the private security firm that was at the forefront of a booming mercenary industry working in Iraq and Afghanistan, until its reputation took a turn for the worse over a deadly shooting involving its employees that launched a congressional inquiry and was eventually ruled a criminal offense.

He served at private security firm DynCorp and founded a small but profitable company called Novitas Group, which handled job placement for Veterans.

His next challenge: helping Georgetown’s students navigate the Pentagon.

One team of students in Taylor’s class is working for the Army Asymmetric Warfare Group, a Pentagon sub-agency, to find new ways to track social unrest in crowded foreign cities by mining Twitter and Facebook. Another group of students is trying to combine augmented reality technology with advanced facial recognition software, hoping to build something that would allow U.S. forces to constantly scan crowds for individuals known to be a threat. Another team is looking for ways to counter the off-the-shelf drone fleets that the Islamic State claims to employ.

“This is like the greatest educational experience you could possibly have if you’re interested in national security,” Taylor said.

The program’s managers in the government say the main point is to familiarize techies with the Pentagon’s mission, but their trial run at Stanford also showed a degree of success in spinning off businesses.

In Stanford’s trial run, four out of eight student teams raised additional money, either from the government or from private investors, to continue their work beyond the course.

One is a satellite imaging company called Capella Space. The company’s founders had initially hoped to sell satellite imaging services to government space agencies, but pivoted toward the private sector after interviewing more than 150 industry experts as part of Stanford’s course.

“We realized that if you really want to work with the government in what you’re doing, they want you to be a commercial company — with commercial revenue — and they want to be a subscriber to your service,” said company founder Payam Banazadeh.

Capella Space has a satellite launch planned for the end of year, which it hopes will be the first step in sending 36 ­shoebox-size satellites into space. The company is funding it with an undisclosed amount of venture capital raised from Silicon Valley Venture investors including Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang.

It remains to be seen whether efforts at other universities will have the same success.

Even before Georgetown’s class launched, for example, the university’s strengths and limitations were already on display. Georgetown is known for deep connections to the Washington establishment but is overshadowed by other elite universities in certain technical disciplines. It does not have an engineering school, for instance.

One of the problem sets that the government sent for Georgetown students to work on would be on an unclassified basis for the National Security Agency, following in a Stanford team’s footsteps.

Taylor touted the opportunity to work with the NSA in seminars advertising the course, but couldn’t find a group of students that he thought had enough technical knowledge to take on the challenge.

But those who did join Taylor’s course are making early progress. Just a few weeks into the program, students looking for a way to track terrorists using social media had come up with a prototype that they coded on their own.

The group spent the class working through ways of quickly translating posts from Arabic and more easily geo-locating individual tweets and Facebook posts. Taylor wondered aloud whether the system might be enhanced if they paid social-media users small sums of money for what details they knew about the posts.

Next, he wants to open the course to other Washington-area universities, poaching engineering students from rival colleges around the region.

“Imagine what we can achieve when [national capital region] universities band together with a unity of effort toward national security problem solving,” he said in an email.

“It. will. be. awesome.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/amphtml/business/capitalbusiness/these-college-students-invent-things-for-the-pentagon-and-maybe-find-a-business/2017/02/19/558ac8f0-ea25-11e6-80c2-30e57e57e05d_story.html