Category Archives: politics

CARES Act Delivery Hampered By Old Tech, Bad Data

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Image: “FCW”

FCW

Aspects of the federal government’s economic response to the coronavirus pandemic were marred by outdated state technology software and a crushing volume of beneficiaries that overwhelmed many systems, according to a new report from the watchdog Government Accountability Office.

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“Federal officials said “the ability to easily modify data systems to incorporate new flexibilities varies among state and local agencies,” leading to numerous delays and interoperability challenges across multiple recovery programs related to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act passed in March.

Agencies like Health and Human Services reported that states had to coordinate across different data systems to serve existing beneficiaries as well as a surge of new applicants for programs like Electronic Benefit Transfer and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program payments. Meanwhile, uneven technological sophistication across different states made remote collaboration in the wake of the pandemic caused challenges while coordinating payments for the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program.

According to Department of Labor officials, many states processing unemployment claims were using “information technology systems that date as far back as the 1970s” and crashed under the load of newly laid off workers filing for benefits. The department has provided federal grants, technical assistance and guidance to help modernize those systems, but “relatively few” states conducted adequate load-testing to handle the volume of claims they have received since March.

These systems was already straining, with federal and state governments overseeing more than $2.7 billion in improper unemployment payments in 2019, and overseers worry the numbers will look even worse this year as the government has rushed to respond to the economic fallout of the virus.

“DOL’s experience with temporary UI programs following natural disasters suggests there may be an increased risk of improper payments associated with CARES Act UI programs,” auditors wrote.

A rushed response also led the IRS to send more than a million stimulus checks to citizens who were deceased. As FCW has reported, the agency emphasized speed to get relief dollars into the hands of Americans as soon as possible, leading to processing errors and opening the door to potential fraud. Auditors suggest that implementing 2018 recommendations to align their authentication practices with NIST cybersecurity guidance making better use of death data housed at the Department of Treasury and other agencies could address the problem.

Auditors noted that ” IRS has full access to the death data maintained by the Social Security Administration…but Treasury and its Bureau of the Fiscal Service, which distribute the payments, do not.”

In a response attached to the audit, IRS Chief Risk Officer Tom Brandt said employee worked “around the clock since mid-March to develop new tools and new guidance” to make handle economic impact payments but that “our work is not done yet” and the agency will consider the GAO’s recommendations further.

Information technology challenges and delays also reportedly hampered efforts by the Small Business Administration to process economic injury disaster loans, though details are scarce. The report paints a portrait of disorganized agency that at times unresponsive to oversight. While auditors asked to meet with agency officials on April 13 to get more detailed information on individual loan data and other aspects of the response, SBA didn’t agree to a meeting until June 1 and provided “primarily publicly available information in response to our inquiries” about loan data.

In a statement, House Oversight and Government Reform Chairwoman Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) said the report “provides a comprehensive and independent look at the Trump administration’s incompetent and dangerous response to the coronavirus pandemic” and pressed for more information on IRS stimulus payments to dead Americans. She also called on SBA to address transparency concerns about its loan program “immediately.”

SBA responded to a draft version of the report disputing GAO’s claims, saying they offered staff for interviews and provided 420 pages, including “information on loan numbers and loan volume, the number and type of lenders participating in [the Paycheck Protection Program], loan numbers and loan volume for each type of lender, loan numbers and volume by industry and state” and other figures.

“To be clear, SBA has never refused to provide data to GAO,” wrote William Manger, Chief of Staff for Administrator Jovita Carranza.

Federal agencies were of course not immune from technological troubles, and the audit suggests modernization efforts at the IRS, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and other agencies can better position them to process funds related to the CARES Act.

The report also posits that agencies could make better use of a number of existing contracting authorities and programs, including contracts that allow work to begin before a final agreement is reached, Other Transaction Authority (OTA) that sidestep certain federal regulations to prototype new technologies and higher spending thresholds for emergency purchases.

GAO is currently working on separate reports examining how agencies planned and managed contracts related to the pandemic, reimbursement policies for contractors who performed emergency work and the use of the Defense Product Act.”

First Time Fed Contractors With No Experience Or Competition Receive COVID-19 Supply Contracts

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Image: Getty Images

PROPUBLICA

BlackPoint Distribution is one of more than 445 first-time federal contractors awarded contracts during the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a ProPublica analysis of federal contracting data.

These new contractors have received more than $2 billion in federal spending as of June 25, often without competitive bidding or direct experience in the areas they won deals in.

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“A company created by a former Pentagon official who describes himself as a White House volunteer for Vice President Mike Pence won a $2.4 million dollar contract in May — its first federal award — to supply the Bureau of Prisons with surgical gowns.

Mathew J. Konkler, who worked in the Department of Defense during the George W. Bush administration, formed BlackPoint Distribution Company LLC in August 2019 in Indiana, state records show, but had won no federal work until May 26. The Bureau of Prisons chose the company with limited competition for a contract to supply surgical gowns to its facilities.

It is at least the second contract awarded to a company formed by an individual who had worked in or volunteered for the Trump administration; a company formed by Zach Fuentes, a former White House deputy chief of staff, won a $3 million contract just days after forming to supply face masks to the Indian Health Service. The masks did not meet FDA standards for use in health care settings, and an IHS spokesman said this week that the agency is trying to return the masks to Fuentes. Members of Congress called for investigations into the contract, and the Government Accountability Office now plans to review the deal “in the coming few months, as staff become available,” spokesman Charles Young said last week.

A lawyer for Fuentes’ company said the firm fulfilled all of its obligations to IHS under the contract.

BlackPoint Distribution’s website does not mention Konkler but describes its work as “locating, verifying and successfully delivering vital products and equipment in the midst of extremely challenging environments.” The domain name was registered on April 9, 2020. In its incorporation documents, Konkler is listed as the CEO of BlackPoint Distribution. The only contact information on the site is a web form and an email address. Emails sent to it were returned as undeliverable, and Konkler did not return multiple phone calls and messages seeking comment.

On the website for BlackPoint Creative LLC, another Indiana firm where Konkler serves as managing partner, his bio says that “since 2018, Mr. Konkler has also served as a volunteer at the White House on the staff of the Vice President, Michael R. Pence.”

In a 2018 interview with an Indiana business publication, Konkler said that another of his companies, BlackPoint Strategies was a “full-service consulting firm offering a variety of other advisory services, which focus on strategic marketing, digital marketing and crisis communications,” but also assisted Indiana companies in selling products in international markets. A search of Indiana state contracts yielded no previous or current government contracts for BlackPoint Distribution or other firms that Konkler is involved in.

A spokesman for Pence said that Konkler previously had helped coordinate some of the vice president’s travel but was not currently a volunteer.

“Mr. Konkler is not nor ever has been a member of Vice President Pence’s staff,” said Devin O’Malley in an email. “Mr. Konkler has previously helped in a volunteer capacity doing advance on trips, but has not done so since June 2019. No one in the Office of the Vice President was aware of or had any role in Mr. Konkler receiving this contract.”

Researchers at American Bridge 21st Century, a Democratic opposition research group, identified Konkler’s role.

White House volunteers are not uncommon, and typically they are involved in specific projects such as the correspondence office, which reads and answers messages sent to the administration, or in holiday decoration efforts.

Government ethics experts said that conflict of interest rules do apply to volunteers but depend on the kind of work being done. “I’m worried about conflicts of interest but also about someone who isn’t a government employee knowing the [vice president’s] travel plans,” said Scott Amey, general counsel at the Project on Government Oversight. Konkler’s online biography states that he has held a Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information security clearance.

“The Bureau of Prisons took a risk awarding a $2.5 million contract to a new company,” Amey said. “Let’s hope this ends up as a success story and not another example of a pop-up contractor trying to profit from an emergency situation.”

The contract itself was awarded under urgent circumstances. The Bureau of Prisons did not issue a request for proposals because the pandemic “resulted in the need to limit competition due to compelling urgency,” Justin Long, a spokesman for the bureau, wrote in an email. The contract originally stated June 3 as the date for gown delivery to six different federal prisons, but Long said in an email that the final shipment was delivered on June 25.

BlackPoint’s contract is the largest of all federal contracts that specifically mention “surgical gowns,” according to federal contracting data.

Records show that the agency received three offers and that the contract was awarded under what are known as “simplified acquisition procedures,” a process typically used for contracts involving smaller amounts of money. Because of the national emergency declared in response to the pandemic, the threshold for using simplified procedures was raised to $13 million when purchasing commercial items such as surgical gowns. BlackPoint Distribution’s bid was the lowest, Long said.

After declaring a national emergency on March 13, the federal government relaxed procurement rules to allow federal agencies to skip competitive bidding at times in favor of a more streamlined process that could deliver personal protective equipment and other products quickly. But in doing so, it also has made deals with vendors who were unable to fulfill orders or who have provided inadequate equipment.”

https://www.propublica.org/article/a-company-run-by-a-white-house-volunteer-with-no-experience-in-medical-supplies-got-2.4-million-from-the-feds-for-medical-supplies

Pandemic And Diversity Objectives Mean Allies And Partners More Important Than Ever

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Image: “Istock

NATIONAL DEFENSE MAGAZINE

The globalized pandemic reminds Americans of their inextricable ties to the rest of the world. We do not live or operate in isolation. Strength in numbers, based on common values and amplified by shared decision-making and interoperability, ensures effective deterrence, denial and, when required, defeat of those who would oppose our way of life. 

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“Now, more than ever, engagement and interoperability help us maintain and extend competitive advantage. As much of the world turns inward to deal with the impact of the current COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. competitors and adversaries seek advantage. National security professionals must continue to look outward, to deter, deny and, when necessary, defeat potential adversaries.

Deterrence, denial and defeat are always made easier with friends. Burden sharing at any level lessens the load the United States might otherwise bear alone. Demonstrating resolve across national boundaries also pays dividends, since potential adversaries may reconsider bad actions if they believe many countries will act together to oppose those actions.

Additionally, cognitive diversity — exploring strategies and courses of action that draw from multiple cultures and experiences — can help us outthink, rather than outfight, potential adversaries.

Finally, interoperability across the spectrum of conflict ensures the combined efforts of the United States and its allies and partners can deter, deny and defeat effectively.

Many U.S. politicians decry what they see as European allies failing to shoulder an equitable resource burden to maintain NATO’s relevance and strength. While there is always room for friends to talk about how best to split the bill, all allied contributions ultimately eliminate some national security burdens that might otherwise fall solely on the United States. Since the nation’s founding, American economic success has in many ways depended on free and open trade with allies and partners across the globe.

When Europe faced ruin from an incredibly destructive world war, U.S. forces helped catalyze an ending. And when a world war came to Europe a second time, America provided equipment and eventually forces to ensure a democratic, free market future for the western world.

The United States also played a lead role in winning the war in the Pacific, establishing the conditions for significant trade and national security relationships that continue to define international engagements.

Since that Second World War, U.S. economic and military strength has been inextricably tied to the maintenance of peace in Europe and the Pacific. These security relationships enabled economic growth with no known historical counterpart. U.S. presence and engagement through military and economic partnerships serve as the best guarantor of future peace and economic prosperity across the world.

American presence and engagement help guarantee peace and prosperity because of the inherent strength in numbers. While the United States may, in good faith, argue and disagree with its allies and partners, ultimately its interests align; we all want free and open societies based on democratic values where everyone has the opportunity to work to make a good life for their families. These shared bedrock ideals buttress alliances and partnerships as we work to deter, deny and defeat state and non-state actors who would attack those ideals. Collective resolve — backed by collective action — forms the foundation of a world order that has benefited nations across the globe with economic growth and prosperity.

But allies and partners bring more than simply burden sharing and numbers; most importantly they bring cognitive diversity to U.S. strategy, operations and tactics. Academic studies, as well as practical experience, clearly demonstrate that diverse, inclusive teams make better decisions. American warriors don’t own a monopoly on insights that can provide advantage across the spectrum of conflict.

Different experiences — cultural, educational and professional — frame approaches to tough challenges. We operate more effectively when we consider a broad array of alternatives, and we benefit from partners’ insights when we include them in all facets of operations, from determining strategy, to planning operations, through execution and finally evaluating effectiveness.

My experiences in my last assignment in Japan confirmed for me that our unique network of allies and partners is a force multiplier to achieve peace, deterrence and interoperable warfighting capability. The Defense Department is reinforcing its commitment to established alliances, while also expanding and deepening relationships with new partners who share our respect for self-determination, fair and reciprocal trade, and the rule of law.

Building partnership capacity in our long-standing security alliances is the bedrock on which U.S. strategy rests. It provides a durable, asymmetric strategic advantage that no competitor or rival can match. Expanding interoperability will ensure respective defense enterprises can work together effectively during day-to-day competition, crisis and conflict.

Through focused security cooperation, information sharing agreements and regular exercises, we connect intent, resources and outcomes and build closer relationships between militaries and economies. Increasing interoperability also involves ensuring military hardware and software can integrate more easily with those of our allies, to include offering financing and sales of cutting edge U.S. defense equipment to security partners.

The National Security Strategy calls on the United States to pursue cooperation and reciprocity with allies, partners and aspiring partners; cooperation means sharing responsibilities and burdens. The United States expects its allies and partners to shoulder a fair share of the burden to protect against common threats. When we pool resources and share responsibility for our common defense, the security burden becomes lighter and more cost-effective.

The globalized pandemic reminds Americans of their inextricable ties to the rest of the world. We do not live or operate in isolation. Strength in numbers, based on common values and amplified by shared decision-making and interoperability, ensures effective deterrence, denial and, when required, defeat of those who would oppose our way of life. “

https://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/articles/2020/5/26/allies-partners-more-important-than-ever

Cool It With the ‘America In Decline’ Talk

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Image: AP/ Rich Pedroncelli

DEFENSE ONE

The bottom line: the notion that the United States is shrinking to a shell of its former glory or somehow withering in the face of challenges from its strategic competitors leaves out all nuance and simplifies a highly complicated world into clickbait.

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“With more than 40 million Americans out of work, demonstrations rocking cities coast-to-coast, and projections for a dire economic picture this summer, you can be forgiven for believing the United States is on a rapid decline. 

The conventional wisdom now emerging is one of a distracted, bumbling, and fumbling America ceding the international playing field to strategic competitors and outright adversaries. In the words of a featured June 2 report in the New York Times: “with the United States looking inward, preoccupied by the fear of more viral waves, unemployment soaring over 20 percent and nationwide protests ignited by deadly police brutality, its competitors are moving to fill the vacuum, and quickly.”

While this “U.S. is in decline” narrative is exceedingly popular today, it also happens to be inaccurate — and dangerous. If it becomes widely accepted as fact that Washington is “retreating” and leaving adversaries to “fill the vacuum,” then U.S. policymakers responsible for formulating and executing foreign policy will be increasingly susceptible to making bad policy.

We need to clear the record: discussions about the United States losing its luster, or on its way to meeting the same fate as the Roman Empire, are vastly overblown. To continue making these arguments is to wipe away all context and ignore recent history.

Much has already been written about China’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea, perhaps the world’s most important shipping lane and an area where multiple countries have set out competing sovereignty claims. This year alone, the People’s Liberation Army-Navy has sunk a Vietnamese fishing vessel in disputed waters off the Paracel Islands and engaged in a month-long standoff with a Malaysian oil exploration ship in waters claimed by China, Malaysia, and Vietnam. Beijing has become noticeably more confrontational with Taiwan, dropping the word “peaceful” from its reunification plans and reportedly preparing a military drill simulating the seizure of Taiwanese-held Pratas Island. And as Beijing´s move on Hong Kong last week shows, the Chinese Communist Party is getting bolder and asserting itself on issues it has long considered as vitally important to its national security, despite universal international condemnation. 

We are led to believe that China’s recent activity in the South China Sea is some direct product of a U.S. seemingly incapable of maintaining a global leadership role. This, however, discounts the fact that Beijing has long viewed the waterway as its exclusive domain and has in fact spent the last 25 years coercing, cajoling, and otherwise chipping away at its neighbors’ competing claims through various military maneuvers. To chalk up China’s activity in the Pacific to a lack of U.S. resolve or leadership is to overstate Washington’s ability to deter Chinese behavior in this domain. If this mistaken premise is accepted outright, it will almost certainly convince Washington that a more intensive U.S. military response would be deter future Chinese assertiveness.

It’s important to note that China has continued to improve its posture in the South and East China Seas despite an uptick in U.S. freedom-of-navigation operations and B-1 bomber flights in international airspace. 

Nor does the present narrative explain the recent spate of Russian interceptions of U.S. aircraft in international airspace, which are not exactly a new phenomenon either. On May 26, Russian Su-35 aircraft challenged a U.S. Navy P-8A flying in the eastern Mediterranean in what the U.S. Navy called an “unsafe and unprofessional” operation. Five weeks earlier, a similar Russian aircraft intercepted another U.S. surveillance plane in the same area. The U.S. Air Force has reciprocated; on April 9, U.S. F-22s escorted two Russian maritime surveillance aircraft after they entered the Alaskan Air Identification Zone. Such encounters are likely to continuee, which is precisely why it is urgent for U.S. and Russian officials to establish far more durable channels of communication in order to deescalate the situation and ensure these types of relatively regular incidents don´t result in a miscalculation or mid-air collision. 

Over the previous week, U.S. officials have suggested Russia is making a power-play in North Africa and establishing its own strategic base in Libya. According to U.S. Africa Command, more than a dozen Russian warplanes recently flew to Eastern Libya purportedly to assist its partner in the civil war, renegade Libyan general Khalifa Haftar, after a series of humiliating setbacks on the battlefield. Russian investment in Libya´s conflict, however, hasn´t exactly panned out the way the Kremlin anticipated. 

Haftar has turned out to be an unreliable, mercurial, stubborn wannabe strongman whose  with other armed, tribal factions is fueled by little more than contempt for the U.N.-recognized government in Tripoli. Russian President Vladimir Putin was publicly embarrassed last December, when Haftar walked out of a Kremlin-orchestrated peace conference. Negotiations remain practically nonexistent, which suggests Russia will soon face an unenviable choice between doubling down on a war that shows no signs of abating or disengaging and looking feckless.

As for Russia´s presence in Syria, this too has become an albatross around Moscow´s neck. While Russian air support in 2015 turned the war around and saved Bashar al-Assad from death or exile, Moscow´s investment in Syria since the conflict erupted more than nine years ago has yet to translate into concrete security benefits for the Kremlin. Notwithstanding the establishment of a few Russian airbases and friendly lease terms for the warm-port in Tartus, Moscow´s so-called victory in Syria consists of nothing more than a broken country led by a government that is corrupt, largely isolated from the West, and woefully incompetent in delivering basic services. Syria´s economy is in utter shambles as a result of the war, a rash of international economic sanctions, and outright mismanagement. Assad, the man the Kremlin has backed despite significant harm to its reputation, remains intransigent on even the slightest compromise with his opponents—leading Russia itself to question whether its support of the Syrian dictator was worth the cost.  

Developing a foreign policy that meets U.S. interests requires working from accurate assessments and the world as it really is. Relying on a black-and-white view of international affairs is risky business and could very well produce policies that will truly weaken the United States.”

https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2020/06/cool-it-america-decline-talk/165913/

Marine Veteran Recalls 1971 Anti-War Protests In Washington D.C.

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Image: International Center
on Nonviolent Conflict

MARINE TIMESBy David Nelson

(Courtesy of David Nelson)

The caption under the photograph of the solitary Marine guarding the Treasury Building indicates that Treasury was the farthest point of Marine control in Washington.

Wow! How difficult is it to imagine a portion of our nation’s capital being under “Marine control”? Have we not progressed much in 49 years in learning to peacefully resolve our nation’s issues?

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Marines stand guard on a bridge in Washington in 1971. (Courtesy of David Nelson)

“During the first six months of 1971, I was consumed with making it through Marine Corps officer training at The Basic School in Quantico, Virginia. I was not particularly aware of Vietnam anti-war protests going on around the country and close by in Washington, D.C. When I did think of the protests, I resented the demonstrators since I was a firm believer in law and order. Also, some of the demonstrations were aimed at our military personnel who were serving, or had served, in Vietnam. That sentiment was particularly hurtful to me, as I had lost a childhood friend and fellow Marine, Lee Herron, who had died heroically in Vietnam in 1969.

Why should any of our nation’s volunteers or draftees be looked down upon for having gone where our country’s leadership had sent them? It was a dark period in our country, much as today is. Why should any ethnicity or group of people in our nation be looked down upon today?

Especially since I had come from Houston, the spring of 1971 seemed to be an extremely cold one that lasted until early June. Going from doing indoor work in Houston to doing pushups in the snow at Quantico seemed like a surreal experience.

As I arrived at the school in Quantico, Virginia, one morning in early May, my class of young officers was told that the field exercises for the next day or so had been canceled. A number of the instructors had been sent to Washington, D.C., to guard a number of government installations in the city, and to keep the major bridges open. The troops also took with them various items of equipment, including a number of the Vietnam-era radios, the so-called PRC-25 radios.

Since those PRC-25 radios were critical to our TBS-planned field exercises, the loss of them to the troops guarding D.C. meant that our missions were “scrubbed” until a later date. But most of my class members and I were pleased at the turn of events, as we got to spend a couple of extremely cold days indoors.

The Quantico Sentry newspaper caption reads: “Marines queried newsmen and demonstrators alike at approaches to George Mason Memorial Bridge. All pedestrians were closely screened before crossing bridges.” (Courtesy of David Nelson)
The Quantico Sentry newspaper caption reads: “Marines queried newsmen and demonstrators alike at approaches to George Mason Memorial Bridge. All pedestrians were closely screened before crossing bridges.” (Courtesy of David Nelson)

I did not keep many articles and photos from the local Quantico Sentry newspaper during that spring, but I did keep several photos and the main article that showed and described the anti-war protests going on in Washington, D.C. The photo that stood out to me more than any other one depicts some Marines screening a long-haired young man and a newsman, as they approached the George Mason Memorial Bridge. I found the contrast quite striking.

On the one hand, there are the Marines in full uniform and obviously with short hair. Approaching them is an assumed civilian demonstrator with long hair down past his shoulders, and a newsman wearing a suit and neatly dressed. The caption accompanying the photograph reads as follows: “Marines queried newsmen and demonstrators alike at approaches to George Mason Memorial Bridge. All pedestrians were closely screened before crossing bridges.”

Another searing photo depicts a Marine Chinook helicopter with Marines onboard from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, about to land on the grounds next to the Washington Monument. According to the photo’s caption, the purpose was to “head off demonstrators moving toward the Treasury Building.” I have always wondered whether there was a concern of demonstrators attempting to loot the Treasury Building! But if that were the case, the Treasury Building was guarded only by a sole Marine, at least in the published photo.

The caption under the photograph of the solitary Marine guarding the Treasury Building indicates that “Treasury was the farthest point of Marine control in Washington.” Wow! How difficult is it to imagine a portion of our nation’s capital being under “Marine control”? Are the protests currently in progress and being planned — are they going to result in Washington, D.C., and perhaps other cities, being under some degree of military control?

Are the protests currently in progress and being planned — are they going to result in Washington, D.C., and perhaps other cities, being under some degree of military control?”

https://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/your-military/2020/06/04/marine-vet-recalls-1971-anti-war-protests-in-washington/

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

David Nelson served in the Marine Corps for three years before separating as a captain in 1973. He lives in Houston.

Army Will Spend $1.5 Billion For 3rd Prototype Attempt -Bradley Vehicle Replacement

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Image: QRA Corporationhttps://qracorp.com/pentagon-wars-movie/

Editors Note:

The undersigned was on the staff of one of the design companies for the gun system of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle development program. I witnessed first hand one of the most costly weapons system development programs in history.

I cannot help but observe that we are undergoing a similar debacle for the Bradley’s replacement. The bottom line question: With Pandemic and civil unrest economic impact today, can we afford to embark on the equivalent of a re-release and update of the famous HBO Movie, “Pentagon Wars”?

Ken Larson

HBO”

TASK AND PURPOSE“:

“The Army will likely end up spending upwards of $1.57 billion to develop a replacement for the Bradley Fighting Vehicle that’s served the U.S. military for nearly four decades, according to a new assessment from the Government Accountability Office — and that’s just for a fleet of prototypes.

As of January 2020, the service had doled out roughly $366.64 million in funding as part of a middle-tier acquisition program for the Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle Increment 1 the service initiated in September 2018, according to the GAO report.

The Army is expected to spend another $1.2 billion to procure 14 prototype vehicles apiece from two separate defense contractors, an acquisition that, planned for this past March, fell apart when the service cancelled its solicitation in January in order to “revisit the requirements, acquisition strategy and schedule” prior to prototyping.

The cancellation was reportedly prompted by the fact that the service only received one bid, from General Dynamics Land Systems, for the OMFV prototyping competition, as Army leaders told Defense News at the time.

According to the GAO report, the Army had previously planned on handing out an initial production contract award in late fiscal year 2023 and fielding the initial replacement vehicle by some time in early fiscal year 2026, but those dates are now up in the air due to the January cancellation.

“Officials stated that Army leadership is still committed to moving forward with the program, but they will need to reassess the achievability of their requirements within the desired timeframe,” according to the GAO report.

As Task & Purpose previously reported, the OMFV — part of Army Futures Command’s Next-Generation Combat Vehicle (NGCV) program — is just the latest attempt to replace the Bradley that has spanned nearly two decades.

In 1999, the Army adopted the Future Combat Systems (FSC) Manned Ground Vehicles (MGV) program was initiated as part of a broad effort to make the service’s legacy forces “lighter, more modular, and — most importantly — more deployable,” as the Army put it at the time.

That program was cancelled a decade later in 2009 and immediately replaced with the Ground Combat Vehicle program in 2010, which sought to replace the Bradley with the a Ground Combat Infantry Fighting Vehicle before being cancelled in 2014 amid rising costs and expanding requirements.”

https://taskandpurpose.com/military-tech/army-optionally-manned-fighting-vehicle-program-cost

Is Short Term Economic Focus On Earnings Killing U.S. Innovation?

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Image: “Saracanaday.com

DEFENSE SYSTEMS

The U.S. risks losing its competitive edge over China in terms of technology because companies care more about quarterly earnings than research and development.

Solutions involve incentivizing U.S. companies to focus on long-term investments and research.

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“That’s the message Michael Brown, director of the Defense Innovation Unit, the Defense Department’s innovation arm, shared at a Brookings Institution virtual event May 8 on China’s technological impact worldwide.

“You’re never going to win in a technology race with defense,” Brown said. Instead, the U.S. needs to focus on being more productive and “invest in itself” with more basic research.

“What do we do to reform our business thinking and our capital markets to move away from short-term thinking to be more long-term oriented,” Brown said. Ways to focus U.S. companies on building and maintaining a competitive edge include stricter export controls and more scrutiny of foreign investments in U.S. companies, particularly technology startups.

Brown, formerly CEO of Symantec, said the corporate focus on quarterly earnings and stock prices is counterproductive to competing with China.

“They all feed into this short-term thinking in our business community,” said Brown, “we have to reform this or we’re not going to be successful in competing with China.”

Incentives could include tax advantages for focusing on long-term growth and research and development, Brown said. And on the punitive side, there is the possibility of establishing penalties for U.S. companies that off-shore manufacturing or spinning off hardware businesses whose domestic presence can support U.S. jobs and military production.

“The irony is that U.S. companies focus on profits often driven by market dominance ends up aiding China’s cause,” Tom Wheeler, former Federal Communications Commission chairman, said during the event. “The market control, market dominance that we’ve seen from the principal big tech companies thwarts competition driven innovation.”

“It is doubtful that we will be able to out implement China,” said Wheeler, referencing that country’s tightly controlled, one-party system of government. “But we can out-innovate China if we have policies that will encourage this competition driven innovation.”

The big question for DIU is whether it can take advantage of U.S. tech talent, startups and research dollars to maintain a long term advantage over China, which is able to dictate its priorities to industry.

“The Defense Innovation Unit spends all day every day trying to encourage innovative companies to work with the Defense Department,” Brown said. “And General Secretary Xi [Jinping] accomplishes this by fiat. So we have to recognize that there are some advantages to their system.”

Brown said he maintained some doubts about the ultimate success of the “civil-military fusion” practiced in China.

“I don’t know how well that’s going to work for them, but that certainly keeps me up at night,” he said.”

F-35 Full Rate Production Challenges Include Failing Engine Tests And Replacing 1,005 Turkish Parts

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 Image: Senior Airman Quay Drawdy/U.S. Air Force

DEFENSE NEWS

According to the GAO, the number of F-35 parts delivered late skyrocketed from less than 2,000 in August 2017 to upward of 10,000 in July 2019. At one point in 2019, Pratt & Whitney stopped deliveries of the F135 for an unspecified period due to test failures, which also contributed to the reduction of on-time deliveries.

And those supply chain problems could get even worse as Turkish defense manufacturers are pushed out of the program, the Government Accountability Office said in a May 12 report.

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 “Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is on the verge of full-rate production, with a decision slated for early 2021. But a congressional watchdog group is concerned that as the company ramps up F-35 production, its suppliers are falling behind.

The number of parts shortages per month also climbed from 875 in July 2018 to more than 8,000 in July 2019. More than 60 percent of that sum was concentrated among 20 suppliers, it said.

“To mitigate late deliveries and parts shortages — and deliver more aircraft on time — the airframe contractor has utilized methods such as reconfiguring the assembly line and moving planned work between different stations along the assembly line,” the GAO said.

“According to the program office, such steps can cause production to be less efficient, which, in turn, can increase the number of labor hours necessary to build each aircraft,” which then drives up cost, the GAO added.

Those problems could be compounded by Turkey’s expulsion from the F-35 program, which was announced last year after the country moved forward with buying the Russian S-400 air defense system. Although Turkey financially contributed to the development of the F-35 as a partner in the program, the U.S. Defense Department has maintained that Turkey cannot buy or operate the F-35 until it gives up the S-400.

The Pentagon has also taken action to begin stripping Turkish industry from the aircraft’s supply chain, a process that involves finding new companies to make 1,005 parts, some of which are sole-sourced by Turkish companies.

Ellen Lord, the Pentagon’s undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment, had hoped to stop contracting with Turkish suppliers by March 2020, but in January she said that some contracts would extend through the year, according to Defense One.

While the Defense Department has found new suppliers to manufacture the parts currently made in Turkey, it is uncertain whether the price of those components will be more expensive. Furthermore, as of December 2019, the new production rates for 15 components were lagging behind that of the legacy Turkish producers.

“According to program officials, some of these new parts suppliers will not be producing at the rate required until next year, as roughly 10 percent are new to the F-35 program,” the GAO said.

“Airframe contractor representatives stated it would take over a year to stand up these new suppliers, with lead times dependent on several factors, such as part complexity, quantity, and the supplier’s production maturity. In addition, these new suppliers are required to go through qualification and testing to ensure the design integrity for their parts.”

The F-35 Joint Program Office disagreed with the GAO’s recommendation to provide certain information to Congress ahead of the full-rate production decision, including an evaluation of production risks and a readiness assessment of the suppliers that are replacing Turkish companies.

In its statement, the JPO said it is already providing an acceptable number of updates on the program’s readiness for full-rate production.

Hard times for the F-35’s engine supplier

Not all F-35 production trends reported by the GAO were bad for the aircraft. Since 2016, Lockheed has made progress in delivering a greater proportion of F-35s on schedule, with 117 of 134 F-35s delivered on time in 2019.

However, one of the biggest subsystems of the F-35 — the F135 engine produced by Pratt & Whitney — drifted in the opposite direction, with a whopping 91 percent of engines delivered behind schedule.

At one point in 2019, Pratt & Whitney stopped deliveries of the F135 for an unspecified period due to test failures, which also contributed to the reduction of on-time deliveries.

According to the Defense Contracts Management Agency, “there have been 18 engine test failures in 2019, which is eight more than in 2018, each requiring disassembly and rework,” the GAO wrote. “To address this issue, the engine contractor has developed new tooling for the assembly line and has established a team to identify characteristics leading to the test failures. Plans are also in place for additional training for employees.”

https://www.defensenews.com/air/2020/05/12/some-f-35-suppliers-are-having-trouble-delivering-parts-on-schedule-and-turkeys-departure-could-make-that-worse/

The Heavy Cost of Ignoring Biosurveillance

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https://dod.defense.gov/News/Special-Reports/1012_biosurveillance/

NATIONAL DEFENSE MAGAZINE”

It’s crucial that any such network be independent of governments and left in the hands of public health officials. The data it gathers should not be filtered through bad actors such as the Chinese Communist Party, or elected officials who may have a political agenda.

One day — hopefully soon — big international meetings will return and the next Biosurveillance Conference will be held in a bigger venue with a lot more participants.”

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“It was Aug. 28, 2012 in a Washington, D.C., hotel near Union Station where the National Defense Industrial Association held its first and only Biosurveillance Conference.

It was lightly attended — if memory serves. I’ll be charitable and say there were 75 attendees in the smallish room.

At least one of them — myself — was in the wrong place. Biosurveillance? I thought it would be about sensors. I was expecting to hear about typical defense and homeland security technologies designed to detect bioweapons — something akin to the Department of Homeland Security’s BioWatch program, or what the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense wanted. The agenda included Defense Threat Reduction Agency personnel.

No, actually, the attendees were mostly in the public health field, and they were talking about a worldwide database where doctors, public health officials, veterinarians and the like could report what they were seeing as far as new infectious diseases.

They likened the concept to weather reports. The world has a network of sensors that tells meteorologists what’s happening in the atmosphere. With the data, they can warn people if a storm is coming and citizens can prepare. The public health officials wanted to do the same for infectious diseases: manmade or natural. And the far-term goal would be to do predictive analysis — just like weather forecasts.

Here is an example: let’s say a doctor in China — let’s just say Wuhan, China — noticed an unusual number of cases of patients with a new respiratory disease marked by an unusually high fatality rate. He would then input that information into a database accessible to public health officials throughout the world. Then, let’s just say, doctors in South Korea or Italy, noticed the same thing. Analysts could connect the dots and sound the alarm. Hospitals could stock up on items such as, let’s say, face masks and respirators.

What I learned at that one-day conference ended up being part of a story that ran in the November 2012 issue. NDIA members with their expertise in information technology could have a lot to offer building such a network, I reasoned, so it was worth reporting.

Let’s pull some quotes out of that 2012 story.

Harshini Mukundan, a scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, said diseases emerge from people, plants and animals.

“They are all interconnected, and having separate agencies monitoring each one defeats the cause.”

Laurie Garrett, an analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations, said the technical part of setting up a biosurveillance network could be completed in five to 10 years. Policies and procedures were the roadblocks. “I don’t believe we have the capacity or the will to implement” it, she said. U.S. political gridlock would prevent the idea from moving forward, she predicted.

Jason Pargas, special assistant to the DTRA director, sounded an optimistic tone. It could all come to fruition in five to 10 years. Prediction models, applied math and advanced computing would make it so.

The reporting that emerged from this conference ended up in the article, “Top Five Threats to National Security in the Coming Decade.” We ranked “Bio-Threats” as No. 1. Yikes. I don’t even want to mention what the other four were for fear of a jinx.

I would like to say that National Defense consistently reported on this issue and that we kept up a constant drumbeat for the need of a worldwide biosurveillance network, but that is not the case. Public health really isn’t in our wheelhouse.

However, two years later in 2015, we did an update online, which was reported from an Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association homeland security conference.

No progress had been made on a biosurveillance network, Jeff Runge, former chief medical officer at DHS, said at the conference. That year saw a deadly strain of the flu that killed many children and an Ebola outbreak.

“The rate and scope and spread of the illnesses were not detected before severe consequences occurred,” he said. “These are cautionary tales underscoring the need for better biological intelligence.”

Navy Cmdr. Janka Jones, then the director of medical programs in the office of the assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical and biological defense, said, “We’ve got a lot of capability. We don’t have a lot of money to build new capability.”

Transparency, openness and data sharing would be key, she said. Jones helped the Obama administration in 2012 put together the first-ever national strategy on biosurveillance. It was released in July, shortly before the NDIA Biosurveillance Conference. It included a technology roadmap on how to build the information-sharing network.

“Biosurveillance — including early detection — is one of our first lines of defense against these threats,” President Barack Obama wrote in the introduction to the strategy.

National Defense took its eye off the ball when it comes to biosurveillance — but so did a lot of people, apparently. That won’t be the case in the future.

Granted, there are policy, procedure and diplomatic hurdles to overcome, but how much funding would it have cost to set up an initial biosurveillance network — $100 million, $200 million? Seems like a paltry investment when more than $1 trillion is being spent on an economic bailout, lives have been lost and entire industries brought to their knees.”

https://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/articles/2020/4/21/the-heavy-cost-of-ignoring-biosurveillance

Citizen-Soldiers Vs. Soldier-Citizens

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Image Courtesy “Spike.com”

“THE PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT (POGO)”

The divide between America’s soldier-citizens and the society they serve has a significant impact on policy decisions and military budgets.

Exploring the differences between the citizen-soldier and the soldier-citizen in “Killing for the Republic” with  Dr. Steele Brand.”

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“The veneration of service members in the United States today manifests benignly in the refrain, “Thank you for your service,” and the much appreciated discounts at the local home improvement center, but this reverence can also have less benign effects. The number of retired flag officers serving in high government positions, sitting on the boards of defense contractors, and appearing as talking heads on television shapes policy, which in turn drives Pentagon budgets.

Dr. Steele Brand, a professor of history at The King’s College in New York City, explored the differences between the citizen-soldier and the soldier-citizen in his recent book, “Killing for the Republic.Republican Rome produced highly adaptive armies with farmers who would moonlight as effective soldiers during the campaigning season and then return to their families and plows—a practice that helped to remove the barriers between the military and the society it served, according to Brand. He says Rome’s part-time soldiers faced an uphill battle against enemy professionals, but that their ability to adapt meant they usually prevailed in the end. In this interview, Dr. Brand explains the differences between the Roman and American models of training soldiers and how those differences contribute to the civilian-military divide.”

https://www.pogo.org/podcast/citizen-soldiers-versus-soldier-citizens-with-dr-steele-brand/