Category Archives: Security

The One Year Budget Cycle Must Go

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         Photo Courtesy “Dabble With” dot com     

By  Ken Larson                               
Having  dealt with the funding process in the government contracting industry  (both large and small business) for over 40 years through many  administrations and much frustration, I can discuss with  some  credibility a major weakness in the huge machine we call the US  Federal  Government — the one year budget cycle. Its tail end is whipping everybody this month and we have undergone previous sanctimonious “Shutdowns”, with the promise of more to come.

A huge reason for much of the largess in this entire area is the one year budget cycle in which the US Government is entrenched.

About mid-summer every agency begins to get paranoid about whether or not they have spent all their money, worried about having to return some and be cut back the next year. They flood the market with sources sought notifications and open solicitations to get the money committed. Many of these projects are meaningless.

Then during the last fiscal month (September) proposals are stacked up all over the place and everything is bottle-necked. If you are a small business trying to get the paperwork processed and be under contract before the new fiscal year starts you are facing a major challenge.

Surely the one year cycle has become a ludicrous exercise we can no longer afford and our government is choking on it. It is a political monstrosity that occurs too frequently to be managed.

Government must lay out a formal baseline over multiple years (I suggest at least 2 fiscal years – ideally 4 – tied to a presidential election)  – then fund in accordance with it and hold some principals in the agencies funded accountable by controlling their spending incrementally – not once year in a panic mode.

Naturally exigencies can occur. A management reserve can be set aside if events mandate scope changes in the baseline due to unforeseen circumstances. Congress could approve such baseline changes as they arise.

There is a management technique for the above that DOD, NASA and the major agencies require by regulation in large government contracts.    It is called “Earned Value Management” and it came about as a result of some of the biggest White Elephant overruns in Defense Department History.

http://www.smalltofeds.com/2008/…

I contend we have one of the biggest White Elephants ever in front of us (a National Debt approaching $20 Trillion)

We need to get this mess under control, manage our finances and our debt or it will manage us into default.

 

Modest Small Business Innovative Research Program (SBIR) Investments Bring Big Benefits

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Blackbox Biometrics’ Blast Gauge System

“NATIONAL DEFENSE MAGAZINE”

“The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program makes funding available to small companies to develop technologies to meet warfighting requirements and that can transition to a program of record and commercialization.

The Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program is similar to SBIR, but requires the small business to formally collaborate with a research institution.

The defense industry is big, technologically complex and highly competitive. The bar for entry can be high. For small companies who think they have something new or different to offer, vying for a chance to compete can be daunting.

The cost and risk involved with science and technology and research and development to bring a new product or service to market can exceed the ability and resources of many small businesses. So special funding is available to help them develop their ideas and prove their technologies. Meanwhile, program managers and prime contractors have incentives to bring small companies to the table.

Then-Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Acquisition and Development Sean Stackley said in a 2015 memo that a competitive, healthy small business industrial base is vital to the long term success and affordability of the service. “Where affordability is paramount, a strategy that includes small business creates more affordable outcomes and promotes innovation and technical advancement,” he said.

Bob Smith, director of the Navy’s SBIR/STTR program, said in May 2016 that the service announces topics three times a year. It issued about 170 topics in its most recent cycle. From that it received about 2,800 proposals. It reviewed, evaluated and prioritized each one, and selected two proposals for each topic. One of the two is chosen to go forward as a Phase II project. The Navy looked at 252 Phase II proposals, and selected 137 Phase III awards to help those technologies transition.

“These might seem like low numbers, but if you talk to any venture capitalist, that’s a pretty good track record,” Smith said.

While SBIR can help small companies introduce and develop their new technologies, Smith said companies should not focus solely on winning these awards. “Do not make SBIR your only business model. It will not work.”

For Midé Technology Corp., a small business in Medford, Massachusetts, SBIR efforts have led to some surprising developments. From missile instrumentation to bulkhead shaft seals to smart wetsuits, Midé has seen SBIR grant activity evolve into further opportunities including the development of products for the military and commercial markets. One good idea has led to another.

“We know the cycles when the topics and solicitations come out from the different agencies and departments,” said Midé’s Vice President of Corporate Programs Rick Orlando. We have a process in our company that ties into their schedules. We look at the topics, and glean the ones where we have interest and are suited to submit a proposal.”

In general, Orlando said a high proportion of Midé’s R&D work is funded by SBIR funding. “It’s about 80 percent of our R&D expenditures, but that doesn’t count our product revenue.”

A small company in Melbourne, Florida, has used SBIR to match existing technology with a requirement to provide communications relay radios between unmanned systems and host platforms.

“We had the technology, but we had to find a way to militarize it. It had to handle the vibrations and temperatures, and be small enough to fit inside an unmanned aerial vehicle,” said Emilio Power of RSS Technology.

The RT 1944 U radio was developed by RSS using a Navy SBIR investment. Power says the RSS radio is now part of the littoral combat ship program, and the company’s equipment is on the ship and its off-board vehicles, such as the MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned aircraft.
SBIR and STTR projects require a technology transition plan, that specifies the “fiscal and transition commitment of participants in the transition stream to develop, deliver and integrate a technology/product into an acquisition program.”  It calls for a “seminal transition event,” to test the technology in a mission environment before it can be used by the warfighter.

“Our Phase III funding is allowing us to finish our software and conduct the seminal transition event, which is to do 80 MB at 30 miles. We’re getting ready to put that radio into production,” Power said.

RSS Technology is taking advantage of a related funding mechanism, the Rapid Innovation Fund, to further validate the concept. The Navy’s RIF enables participants to develop concepts and technologies to meet operational or national security needs, and invests in ways to reduce technical risk and cost.

“The SBIR program is fantastic,” Power said. “But one has to know how to work it. There is only a certain amount of money. But that investment can make the difference between an idea and a reality.”

Powers understands the importance and value of working with big companies. But being smaller is an advantage. “A lot of the big guys have tried doing some of these projects, but it takes a long time. A small company can act and react faster.”

Janet Hughes with Robotic Research of Gaithersburg, Maryland, said her company has participated in SBIRs for a number of agencies, such as the Army, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Department of Homeland Security.

“We’ve had success moving to Phase II and III by working closely with the TPOCs (technical points of contact),” Hughes said. “We’ve taken technologies developed through one agency’s SBIR program and transitioned them into other agencies.

“Today we use SBIR funding almost exclusively for our research and development,” added Hughes.

Rochester, New York-based BlackBox Biometrics (B3), has been selling the Blast Gauge System, a small, wearable sensor that can detect and measure overpressure from explosions such as artillery or bombs, that can cause brain injuries. According to B3’s Scott Featherman, the Blast Gauge technology was first developed with DARPA, and was adopted by the Army. Now, because of a SBIR from the Marine Corps Systems Command, BlackBox has demonstrated the effectiveness of the technology to the service.

“We’re completing our Phase II now and getting ready to enter Phase III, and begin commercial sales,” Featherman said.

Once a company wins a Phase II SBIR award, the Navy SBIR program offers a course to the company to learn how to create a business plan and navigate the complex Defense Department business structure. This is called the SBIR/STTR Transition Program (STP).

A good percentage of NAVSEA’s SBIR companies participate in the program, Smith said. “We teach them how to be a success. That’s what STP does; we foster the relationship between the Navy and the company and teach these companies how to transition their technology.”

“Our naval acquisition community considers SBIR/STTR part of the solution for delivering quality innovation to our warfighters — quickly and cost-effectively,” said Smith. “The Navy cares about our small businesses, and we care about them succeeding.”

Tad Dickenson, Raytheon’s director of the company’s SPY-6(V) Air and Missile Defense Radar program, said Raytheon has some big reasons why it embraces small business. “Small companies offer more diverse input, and help us to think like a smaller company.”

Raytheon has developed the radar with open architecture to be flexible.  “There’s nothing proprietary, and any-sized company can be involved in the program. In fact, we can insert different algorithms for the same function next to each other to see which works best. We can select one, or both. And we can easily put in new functionality, or replace something with a better version.”

Raytheon’s SBIR teammates bring important attributes to a project, Dickenson said, because they are lean and agile, and can produce results quickly at a lower cost. “Their ideas evolve very quickly, and we can leverage that innovation. That adds up to better capability, performance and affordability for the Navy.”

Dickenson said the SBIR program creates win-win-win situations that benefit the Navy, Raytheon and the small businesses. “We look to nurture these relationships. We learn a lot from our small business partners, and we think we can offer them a mentorship relationship with our experience and expertise.”

http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/articles/2017/4/5/modest-sbir-investments-bring-big-benefits

National Service Narrows Military-Civilian Divide

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Basic Training Photo Credit: Spc. Emily R. Martin/Army

“AIR FORCE TIMES”
“Since 1974, America has depended on an all-volunteer military for our national defense.
Even in the face of 15 years of war (and counting), the all-volunteer force has proven to be sustainable at the present levels with relatively little adjustment to its selection criteria.
Overall, this force has performed magnificently, in many cases exceeding the expectations of the original architects and surprising many of the naysayers.
While this is good news, especially for those who abhor a draft, it has not been without unintended consequences.

Our nation today faces a growing military-civilian divide, both cultural and societal. Less than one-half of one percent of Americans currently serve in uniform, while the 99-plus percent realize the benefit while bearing none of the burden. Not only do most American families have no one in the military, most do not even know someone who is now serving. This is especially true within the higher economic strata, to include the majority of our nation’s lawmakers.

As a result, most Americans know little or nothing about what life is like for our military families who serve and sacrifice on our behalf. This does not make for a healthy society.

One ray of hope to offset this divide has been a growing interest in national service in a civilian capacity as a way to get more Americans involved. Only about one in four young Americans can even meet the requirements for military service, which makes non-military service options even more important.

While there is much to be said for requiring all young people to serve a year or more in some capacity of national service, that is simply a non-starter in today’s environment. It turns out, however, that a purely voluntary program is already enormously successful.

In fact, demand for very poorly paid national service positions, such as those supported by AmeriCorps, exceeds the availability of these positions many times over. There is an increasing thirst among our nation’s 18- to 24-year-old population to get involved in something bigger than themselves, and, yes, altruistically to “make a difference” in this world.

National service in a civilian capacity still requires a degree of sacrifice on the part of its participants, including financial deprivation and what we might call the “opportunity cost” of a year or more of their lives. The benefits, however, far outweigh these costs, and that’s one reason the demand is so high.

One need look no further than the “greatest generation” and what they subsequently achieved for themselves and for the nation as a direct result of their having served in World War II.

Of course, these veterans, as today’s, were “battle hardened,” which is not likely to be the case for those engaging in civilian national service.

The real benefit to those who served came in the form of maturity, self-discipline, management and leadership experience, and the camaraderie that derived from shared experience, especially with teammates of diverse backgrounds to which they might never have otherwise been exposed.

The thousands of businesses who have been hiring our current generation of veterans have quickly discovered it is not an act of charity, rather it’s the smartest thing that they could be doing for their enterprises. The same can be said for those who hire young Americans coming out of a year or more of national service.

The benefits of national service are legion. What makes the case more compelling is that, by doing their share, these young men and women are actually helping to bridge the military-civilian divide and adding to the moral fiber of our communities and our nation.

We’re stronger as a nation because so many of our young men and women selflessly serve, whether in uniform or in a civilian capacity. Both contribute to “providing for the common defense.”

The recently released federal budget proposal, however, would wipe out this critical element of our national strength by zeroing out both AmeriCorps and the Corporation for National and Community Service, the little-known federal agency that runs national service programs, including AmeriCorps and Senior Corps.

This proposal ignores the enormous return on investment that these very small budget lines represent, especially in comparison to the defense budget, which these programs actually complement.

This would be a tragic outcome for both the nation and those individuals in national service.

There is nothing partisan about national service, which for over eight decades has enjoyed bipartisan support at all levels of government. The Kennedy-Hatch Serve America Act of 2009 came about following the 2008 election campaign during which both John McCain and Barack Obama gave their enthusiastic endorsement of national service.

The subsequent passage of that legislation significantly increased the number of AmeriCorps positions available for young Americans to serve their country. We must not lose this momentum.

The signatories to this piece have all proudly served our country in uniform. We strongly believe that a national civilian service program is a vital component of our strength as a nation. We urge the administration to rethink this small, but critical, budget item, and we urge our congressional representatives to ensure that both the AmeriCorps program and the Corporation for National and Community Service are fully funded.
Air Force Gen. John A. Shaud (ret.)
Army Gen. William G. T. Tuttle (ret.)
Salisbury is chairman of the Critical Issues RoundTable, an informal non-partisan group of retired senior military leaders who meet regularly in Washington to discuss contemporary issues of national importance. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Military Times or its staff.
Co-signers:
Army Lt. Gen. Henry J. Hatch (ret.)
Navy Rear Adm. Cameron Fraser (ret.)
Navy Rear Adm. David T. Hart Jr. (ret.)
Army Maj. Gen. Leo M. Childs (ret.)
Army Brig. Gen. Clarke M. Brintnall (ret.)
Army Brig. Gen. Gerald E. Galloway (ret.)
Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas L. Hemingway (ret.)
Air Force Reserve Brig. Gen. John A. Hurley (ret.)
Army Brig. Gen. Richard L. Reynard (ret.)
Army Brig. Gen. Anthony A. Smith (ret.)
G. Kim Wincup
Army Col. Charles B. Giasson (ret.)
Army Reserve Col. Herman E. Bulls
Army Col. George W. Sibert (ret.)
Army Col. John P. Walsh Jr. (ret.)
Army Col. Francis A. Waskowicz (ret.)
Army Lt. Col. William T. Marriott III (ret.)
Army Lt. Col. Palmer McGrew (ret.)
Army Capt. Douglas A. Cohn (ret.)
Army Capt. Joan S. Grey (ret.)
Glen L. Archer III
Jan C. Scruggs”

New Website Competes VA Hospitals

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Image:  “Cartoon Stock”

“MILITARY TIMES”

“WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs wants its medical centers to compete over patients, and they’re launching a new online tool to make comparison shopping for health care easier.

The new “access to care” site, launched Wednesday but expected to be refined significantly over the next few weeks, will allow veterans to see how regional VA health centers stack up against each other on wait times, available services and customer satisfaction.

Poonam Alaigh, acting under secretary for health at the department, said the goal is to both increase transparency over the state of VA health services and provide veterans a way to better customize their own care.

Would-be patients willing to travel significant distances can find regional offices with shorter average wait times for primary and specialty care than nearby facilities. Individuals in metro areas can choose between sites based on customer response ratings.

“There’s competition now,” she said. “They’re going to start losing patients if they don’t start watching the patient experience piece.”

The site is the latest step in a three-year response to the 2014 VA wait-times scandal that forced the resignation of several senior department officials, including then VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.

Hospital administrators were found to have manipulated wait-time data to better meet department standards, and in some cases gain bonuses for facility improvements.

Alaigh dismissed concerns about the new public comparison site creating similar incentives for dishonesty, saying the focus is on accountability and public awareness. And she said unrelated to the site, VA has implemented new data-monitoring algorithms to detect similar manipulation in the future.

But she acknowledged the site will highlight “the good and bad” of current facility performance.

For example, on the site now, visitors can track wait times for new patient primary care appointments for every VA facility in the greater Phoenix area, the center of the 2014 scandal. For the VA clinic in nearby Anthem, Arizona, the average wait is 11 days. For the clinic in Casa Grande south of the city, it’s 56 days.

“I want to use this to help build accountability,” she said. “I don’t want this to be a punitive thing. It also has to be a tool for us to redirect resources to needed areas.”

The site also includes comparisons of standardized health data to other regional, non-VA hospitals, although only a small number of VA sites are currently listed. Alaigh said more will be added in coming weeks.

So will a feedback button for veterans to ask questions about facility offerings and better contact information to help veterans contact medical centers. Alaigh called the site “rushed” and “far from perfect” but said officials wanted to get the available data in veterans hands as quickly as possible.

VA officials for years have promised both better access to medical treatments at department clinics and better customer service throughout the agency, but have received mixed reviews on the work so far from veterans groups and lawmakers.

http://www.militarytimes.com/articles/va-website-medical-care-access-competition

 

 

Want to Reform Government? Start with the Basics.

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“WASHINGTON TECHNOLOGY” By Stan Soloway

“The principal, and ultimately most impactful, evolution that needs to take place has little to do with law and everything to do with culture and people.

The generally poor quality of cross-sector communications and collaboration suggests, the workforce entering government today is being trained and developed in much the same way as multiple generations before them.”


“The email was most unexpected. In the midst of what had been a series of substantive discussions with a Defense Department command about the potential application of a new capability that might help address one of the command’s most pressing concerns, a command attorney effectively directed that the conversations cease. Because no “requirement” exists for the capability being discussed, he said, the conversations had to end.

Of course there is no “requirement” in place; they had only recently become aware of the technology. Our conversations were about whether and how it might be applicable. In other words, one can’t have a requirement for something one doesn’t even know about.

And let’s not even get started on why an attorney even stepped in. One would think the relevant program office could decide when and if their time was being wasted.

As I’ve relayed this story to friends and colleagues in both government and industry, it became clear that it is far from uncommon.

More than 20 years after the passage of acquisition reforms that, among other things, were designed to improve the government’s access to and communications with the private sector, and a half dozen years since the Office of Management and Budget issued its “Mythbusters” memo that was designed to make clear the importance of open communications, the problem remains all too present.

That is not to say there are no good examples of agencies and components swimming against the tide. There most certainly are. The Special Operations Command has created SofWerx, which invites companies of all sizes to demonstrate their capabilities and explore with the command possible applications. SOCOM acquisition executive Jim Geurts says his hope is that SofWerx will become a kind of “mosh pit” of ideas.

And then there is the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, innovation labs in a range of agencies including Homeland Security, HHS and USAID. Beyond that, there have been more than 500 procurement contests and challenges, which by design invite any interested party to propose a solution to an identified problem.

For each of these activities, communications and collaboration are a core operating principle. But the reach of each also remains quite limited and each operates, to one extent or another, outside of the traditional acquisition process.

As the Trump Administration launches its new Office of American Innovation, focused on bringing smart business acumen to government, these examples also provide something of a framework from which to start.

First, whether acquisition is high on their target list or not today, it needs to be. After all, it is a critical engine upon which the government runs. And yes, there are a number of regulatory barriers that need to be eliminated to make that process work as it should.

Changing that paradigm in government requires that the workforce be given the tools, the training and the support to both understand and incorporate smart business concepts in the execution of their work. It requires that the workforce understand, far more than most do now, how businesses identify, manage and mitigate risk.

And it requires that they recognize that communications can be both appropriately limited and significantly more open than they might think.

Simply put, while the government is not a business, there are a wide array of best business practices from which the government would greatly benefit. And none is more important than the degree to which successful businesses have adapted and changed their approach to people and collaboration.

Every day I see examples where clients are engaged with their commercial customers at levels and depths that are exceptionally rare in the government arena.

As some have suggested, most of the business world has moved from the information age to the collaboration age. It’s past time for the government to embrace that shift as well. Finding new ways to make that happen would be a terrific first step to really changing and moving the government forward.”

About the Author

Stan Soloway is a former deputy undersecretary of Defense and former president and chief executive officer of the Professional Services Council. He is now the CEO of Celero Strategies.

https://washingtontechnology.com/articles/2017/03/27/insights-soloway-kushner-message.aspx

 

 

 

New Campaign to Highlight Strong Women Vets (VIDEO)

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Women Veterans

Image:  “Military Times”

“MILITARY TIMES”

“Women now total nearly 11 percent of veterans in America, and roughly 20 percent of all veterans under the age of 50.

It [the campaign] features short stories on four women: a former helicopter door gunner and amputee, a refugee-turned-soldier-turned-dentist, an airman who later pursued acting, and a breast cancer survivor who became a physical fitness coach.

The #ShesBadass campaign, launched on the last day of Women’s History Month, includes stories of women veterans discussing their service, post-military life and challenges. The group, whose stated goal is to change public perceptions of veterans in America, released a new online video Friday to spread that message.

“When I tell people I’m a veteran, I kind of get that look: ‘Which country?’” said Tigon Abalos, one of the veterans featured in the video. “I have to say ‘U.S. Army veteran.’”

The campaign comes amid dramatic changes for women service members in recent years, including the opening of all combat jobs to women and the recent nude photo sharing scandal that has highlighted issues of misogyny and harassment in the ranks.

Got Your 6 Director of Content Kate Hoit, an Iraq War veteran, said she hopes the video serves as wake-up call for the public and a resource for her peers.

“My goal was to help defy stereotypes and put a face to a new generation of veterans. And I think we accomplished our goal,” she said.

“So the next time someone says, ‘You were in the military? But you’re so small,’ or ‘you don’t look like a veteran,’ just show them this video. And then tell them to kindly f*** off.”

Lawmakers and veterans groups have lobbied for better Veterans Affairs services in recent years as those numbers have risen, but advocates say the department still needs major changes in aging hospitals and outdated policies to fully embrace the needs of women veterans.

Got Your 6 officials are also hoping that women currently serving and out of the military will use the #ShesBadass hashtag on social media to share their own stories, bringing more public attention to their role in their communities.

Got Your 6’s newest public service campaign wants to remind Americans that military women aren’t just a key part of America’s fighting force.

They’re also badass.”

http://www.militarytimes.com/articles/gy6-campaign-badass-women-veterans

 

Pentagon Networks of Expendable Platforms

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Photo: DARPA’s swarming concept (DARPA)

“NATIONAL DEFENSE MAGAZINE”

“Teams of lower-cost, unmanned systems that don’t need to return from battle will be critical for future warfighting, the head of the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office said March 28.

Potential adversaries are developing new military technologies that are putting expensive U.S. military platforms and personnel at greater risk, William Roper noted at an Air Force Association conference in Arlington, Virginia.

“Increasingly we’re going to ask our designers, including those in industry, to help us shift all of the dangerous jobs in combat — as many of them as we can do in an ethical way — to machines that can take the brunt of at least that initial edge of conflict so that … we have the maximum number of our operators returning home safely,” he said.

Much of the technology required already exists, he said.

The Strategic Capabilities Office, also known as the SCO, has partnered with Defense Department research laboratories and other organizations on a number of projects along these lines.

One, called Perdix, demonstrated the ability of a fighter jet to launch a swarm of autonomous drones capable of performing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.

Another, called Avatar, is a robotic “wingman” concept that would pair unmanned aircraft with a manned fighter. Doing so would reduce the number of pilots in harm’s way. The SCO is working on a similar concept for the Army, Roper said.

The office also has a program aimed at creating “a ghost fleet of expendable boats” that could team with U.S. Navy vessels, he said.

These types of systems offer an advantage over most of today’s platforms, he noted.

“All the things we build are expensive, and if they take off it’s our expectation that they come home and land,” he said. “That hasn’t been an issue until now” when there is greater concern about fighting advanced adversaries.

Requiring a high level of survivability is a huge constraint for system designers and operational planners, Roper said. Manned platforms have to be protected and refueled. They also require more maintenance and sustainment. That translates to higher costs for the Defense Department, he added.

Using relatively low-priced robotic systems to perform high-risk missions would provide greater operational flexibility and lower the costs of a loss or mishap, he said.

“There’s a reason why we don’t take fine china and crystal to have picnics anymore,” he said. “Once you’ve used paper plates and Dixie cups, you’re not coming back from that. It makes it a completely different experience. We haven’t had that equivalent in the military.”

Advances in autonomy, teaming technologies, artificial intelligence and machine learning are enabling a greater reliance on robots, Roper noted.

“I think you’re going to see that more and more,” he said.  “Making a team of things perform a function that only an expensive thing would have done in the past.”

Despite these advances, humans will not be completely cut out of the loop. Nor will the Pentagon cease to buy high-ticket equipment, Roper said. But the role of high-priced, manned platforms could change.

“What I think … our high-end tactical systems will become is less weapon-slingers and they’ll become more like command hubs,” he said.

Roper likened the human warfighter of the future to an NFL quarterback running an offense. “They’re the ones that call the audibles … and it’s the team [of robots] that runs the play that has been picked,” he said.

This manned-unmanned teaming concept is driving much of what the Strategic Capabilities Office is working on, he said.

While machines are becoming smarter and more capable, they still have limitations, he noted. “Autonomy is very good at making brute force elegant,” Roper said. “But it’s very difficult for it to make strategic choices especially outside of the data set on which it’s built.”

Machines are more likely to fail when presented with a decision that they haven’t been programmed to make, he said.

“What that tells me is that I’m going to need people connected to the machine to help make choices when it’s that thing that hasn’t been seen before,” he said. “People are great at …  quickly being able to think strategically [and] get down to action in a way that’s cognizant of the risks that are being taken.”

http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/blog/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?ID=2465

How Russian Hackers Will Attack the US Next

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Russia Hack the hackers

RZOZE19/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM

DEFENSE ONE”

“The U.S. needs to be planning now how it will respond.

The question is not if Russia will conduct another major cyberattack on the U.S., but when.

Russia has been the subject of much American press speculation this spring, as questions and suspicions swirl regarding its involvement in alleged hacks during the U.S. presidential election. While the details of these specific attacks remain unclear, what is clear is the danger posed by the superpower’s well-established hacking prowess.

As such, America needs to be planning now how it will respond. In 2015, cyberthreat firm FireEye alleged Russian nexus-hackers had caused power and energy outages across Ukraine, impacting thousands of citizens. No other country has been so publicly accused of conducting a cyber-to-conventional attack (a cyberattack with visible, physical consequences). Russia leadership has also publicly prioritized its information warfare and cyberweapons. “Information is now a species of weapon,” wrote Russian major general Ivan Vorobvev in 2013.

As proven by the alleged hacking activities this U.S. presidential election, the fear of information warfare is very real. However, the US must also remain vigilant about cyber-to-conventional attacks; many of our critical infrastructure networks are littered with vulnerabilities, and consumer technology is moving more and more citizens into the line of battle.

Because cybertools have become so accessible, it’s unlikely even a limitless defense budget could stop every attack. With this in mind, response must be the key priority. Based on my qualitative analysis of Russia’s previous military motives, strategies and tools, any Russian attempt to exploit US cybervulnerabilities will most likely target the US’s communications and IT critical infrastructure.

Intensifying the Fog of War

Russia is unlikely to target other industries for a number of reasons. Historically, it has avoided attacks that could trigger a full-scale military response, preferring to intensify the fog of war and cause maximum confusion. Within this strategy, Russia is unlikely to target such important U.S. sectors as chemical, nuclear, public health, energy, or defense industries. Russia is also unlikely to seriously attack the U.S. financial, agriculture, or manufacturing industries, which could anger U.S. allies and damage Russia’s growing role in the global economy.

But attacks on communications and IT infrastructure could take several forms.

Targeting alert systems would prevent U.S. monitoring systems from catching intrusions fast enough. This could in turn precede tactics with more immediate conventional consequences. As an example, conducting denial-of-service attacks against central IT networks could cripple government operations, disrupting service for thousands of phone customers or severing internet access for millions of consumers. If timed well, a communications attack during wartime could disrupt national emergency alert services. This includes 911 networks and emergency broadcast stations. During a national disaster, this would have devastating consequences.

Russia could also target physical parts of national infrastructure managed (and defended) by private companies, including fuel centers, power sources, and trucks that transport IT components. These industries also rely heavily on the internet of things, with vulnerabilities in cloud and mobile computing.

The U.S. is certainly aware of these risks. Following the 2013 National Infrastructure Protection Plan, national leaders assessed all critical infrastructure for vulnerabilities, and proposed defensive plans. As a result, industry departments have started performing a number of routine checks, including information sharing, monitoring, and backing up essential information.

However, budgetary gaps remain a huge problem. The Obama administration asked for only $19 billion (yet to be received) for its 2017 Cyber Security Budget. While the Trump administration has included huge proposed increases for cybersecurity investment in its 2017 budget (including $61 million for the FBI to combat criminal encryption tools), the private sector spent approximately $80 billion on cybersecurity five years ago. Of note, none of these federal government cybersecurity budgets were, or have been, approved.

Hacking the Hackers

As a result of these budget constraints and realities, it’s crucial the U.S. focus its efforts strategically. As a minimal option, the U.S. could respond to a Russian cyberattack by conducting simple cyberintrusions against Russian internet networks, government websites, and communications services, causing disruptions and damaging Russia’s security credibility. For example, using National Security Agency’s TreasureMap tool, which tracks all global connections to the internet, the U.S. could also place malware in these networks for future intelligence gathering.

A more aggressive response would involve conducting operations against Russia’s own critical infrastructure networks. By inserting logic bombs into Russian networks (tools that self-destruct once within systems), the U.S. could potentially damage the Russian economy. These same tools can be leveraged to cause even more damage if used to target dams, air traffic control towers or other infrastructure. Such actions would send a grave message, but the risk of escalation would be higher as well.

The most aggressive response would involve directly attacking Russian military targets by shutting off power at a nuclear facility or an airfield. Many Russian industrial networks run on Windows XP, a very old system, while remaining connected to the internet. Not only are these systems extremely vulnerable to attack, the U.S. has already shown it has the ability to do so. In November 2016, the U.S. reportedly penetrated Russian military systems and left behind malware, to be activated in the case of Russian interference of U.S. elections.

The problem with these cyberattacks is that the potential for counter attacks is infinite. Russia attacks the U.S. communications grid. The U.S. does the same. And on it would go, potentially until a physical war was started.

In 2016, Christopher Painter, the U.S. State Department’s coordinator for cyber issues, said “cyber activities may in certain circumstances constitute an armed attack that triggers our inherent right to self-defense as recognized by Article 51 of the UN Charter.” This means the U.S. could legally respond to a Russian cyberattack with conventional military forces, in an effort to deter Russia from escalating further.

But ultimately, there’s a reason the Obama administration referred to the plethora of powerful U.S. and Russian cybercapabilities as a digital arms race. The cycle is perhaps best described as an endless series of advantages, with Russia and the U.S. continuing to make each other more and more uncomfortable. And now Trump’s administration will need to figure out just how uncomfortable he is willing to get.”

http://www.defenseone.com/threats/2017/03/how-russian-hackers-will-attack-us-next/136469/?oref=d-river&&&utm_term=Editorial%20-%20Early%20Bird%20Brief

Federal Government Contracts Need to Be Posted Online

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Open Contracting

“THE PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT’

“Last Week Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) introduced the “Contractor Accountability and Transparency Act of 2017” (S. 651), which POGO and eight other bipartisan groups supported.

The bill will expand the contracting information available on USASpending.gov (which now only offers summaries of contracts), make the contract information more accessible and readable, and help reduce Freedom of Information Act backlogs.

In fiscal year 2016, the federal government spent $472 billion for the acquisition of goods and services. In order to rein in spending and regain public faith in the contracting system, the government must provide public access to information on the contracting process. Posting copies of contracts—rather than summary data that offers little, if any, insights into the goods and services being purchased—is essential to learning about government activities and eliminating waste, fraud, abuse, and substandard performance.

When contract information is publicly accessible, genuine competition will increase, and the government will be better situated to get better deals, especially as budget constraints take hold. Simply stated, the government will be in a much improved position to leverage its robust buying power.

Despite concerns some have voiced about posting contracts, it can be accomplished without compromising national security information or contractors’ proprietary commercial or financial information.

In fact, many states have already adopted a more transparent contracting system without negatively impacting their ability to do business with contractors. According to a recent Project On Government Oversight report, at least 33 states proactively post some contracts online. That means two-thirds of the states are ahead of the federal government when it comes to contract transparency.

For many years, groups and Members of Congress have worked in a bipartisan manner to enhance transparency in the area of federal contract spending. In 2006, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), with the support of Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Tom Carper (D-DE), and Barack Obama (D-IL), introduced a bill that brought federal spending out of the Dark Ages—the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 (FFATA). That bill was signed into law (see the Notes section) by President George W. Bush, and it provided the foundation for USASpending.org and learning more about federal spending.

In 2008, all four Senators teamed up again to introduce the Strengthening Transparency and Accountability in Federal Spending Act of 2008, which proposed to enhance federal spending transparency. The new bill was intended to expand the scope of information that would become publicly available, including details about the contract bids and the award’s financial terms. Additionally, the bill would have posted searchable copies of “all contracts, subcontracts, purchase orders, task orders, lease agreements and assignments, and delivery orders.”

The 2008 election, pitting Senator Obama against Senator McCain, essentially caused the bill to die in the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. But that wasn’t the last we heard about posting contracts online.

In addition to Senator McCaskill, Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) has also been working on the issue.  He not only cosponsored the McCaskill bill, but since 2010 and most recently on March 14, 2017, has also introduced the Public Online Information Act, which will make information from all three branches of government available on the internet, including contracts.

With annual contract spending bouncing back up to nearly $500 billion, oversight of that spending is crucial. Groups from across the political spectrum support efforts to increase disclosure of federal contracts to improve transparency and accountability in federal spending. Posting contracts online should have happened years ago. We will see if the 115th Congress is serious about transparency and accountability in federal spending. If it is, passing Senator McCaskill’s and Senator Tester’s bills will be a good start.”

http://www.pogo.org/blog/2017/03/contracts-need-to-be-posted-online-mccaskill-sunshine-transparency.html

 

 

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