Category Archives: Security

How the Vietnam Tet Offensive Undermined American Faith in Government

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TET Offensive

President Lyndon B. Johnson and Gen. William Westmoreland in Vietnam on December 25, 1967, a month before the Tet Offensive.

EDITOR’S NOTE: 

I had a recent conversation with an old acquaintance from the Tet Offensive 50 years ago.  We met on the 1968 Vietnam battlefield as enemies and later became friends by accident in civilian life when we met again at a U.S. airport in 1998.

 What’s It Like To Meet Someone You Fought Against In War 

We agree the following article in “The Atlantic” is an excellent footnote to history on how the Tet Offensive, that enormously effected the two of us, also dramatically impacted the faith of Americans in the U.S. government regarding truth in foreign interventions.  –Ken Larson


“THE ATLANTIC”

“Tet shaped the world within which we live today: In an era when Americans still don’t fully trust government officials to tell them the truth about situations overseas, and don’t have confidence that leaders, for all their bluster, will do the right thing.

Tet is an important reminder that for liberals and conservatives sometimes a little distrust is a good thing. Particularly at a time when we have a president who traffics heavily in falsehoods, Tet showed that blind confidence in leaders can easily lead down dangerous paths.”


“When Americans wince upon hearing presidents make proclamations about foreign policy, the legacy of the 1968 Tet Offensive looms large.

On January 30, at the start of the sacred Vietnamese holiday of Tet, which celebrated the start of the new lunar year, the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong launched a massive military offensive that proved the battle raging in Southeast Asia was far from over, and that President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration had grossly oversold American progress to the public. Although U.S. troops ultimately ended the offensive successfully, and the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong suffered brutal loses, these bloody weeks triggered a series of events that continue to undermine Americans’ confidence in their government.

The Tet offensive came after several months of the North Vietnamese modifying their strategy. Rather than a battle of attrition, the leadership planned to launch a massive assault that aimed to undermine the morale of the South Vietnamese as well as the American public. Since December, the North Vietnamese had been conducting a series of attacks meant to send U.S. forces in the wrong direction. Johnson and his military advisors fell for the trick. The president and General William Westmoreland had focused on potential attacks against a U.S. Marine base in Khe Sanh. Johnson kept asking military leaders if they were prepared to defend the base and he kept promising congressional Democrats and Republicans that he had received their assurances everything would be fine.

Meanwhile, Johnson had conducted a massive public relations blitz in the end of 1967 to convince the public that the war was nearing a conclusion and that the United States was winning. The Progress Campaign, as it was sometimes called, deployed large volumes of data to convince the media that the communists were losing on the battlefield and that their numbers were diminishing.

Westmoreland told Meet the Press on November 19, 1967 that the U.S could win the war within two years and then proclaimed at the National Press Club on November 21 that “the end begins to come into view.” In November 1967, according to the Harris poll, confidence in the president’s Vietnam policies rose by 11 points (from 23 to 34 percent). In his State of the Union Address on January 17, Johnson sounded downright optimistic, even though he acknowledged that the U.S. faced major challenges overseas and that victory in Vietnam would take some time. As he asked Congress to pass a tax surcharge to help pay for the escalating costs of the war, while continuing to fund the Great Society, the president declared that the enemy was testing the “will” of the nation to “meet the trials that these times impose.”

In resolute fashion, Johnson went on to promise that “America will persevere. Our patience and our perseverance will match our power. Aggression will never prevail.” Max Frankel of The New York Times reported, “Whereas a year ago he promised ‘more cost, more loss and more agony’ in the war, this year he emphasized the positive, what he called the ‘marks of progress,’ and dwelt less on the whole issue of the war than in the previous two speeches.”

Then the situation took a bad turn a few weeks later. The crisis of Tet began in the early morning of January 30, the start of the year of the Monkey. In Saigon, NLF fighters attacked the American embassy. A 20-year-old soldier, Chuck Searcy, recalled waking up after an evening of drinking and movies, that when the sirens went off he assumed it was a drill and they would be able to go back to sleep. “But then a captain came around the perimeter in a jeep with a loudspeaker announcing that this was not a practice alert … It was the moment when the war became a reality for us, because up to then, Saigon had been considered a very safe area and quite secure and basically an area that would never be attacked.” The fighting continued until 9:15 the next morning. Nineteen enemy soldiers would lose their lives in the battle for the embassy; five Americans were killed. This was just one of many onslaughts that took place as the communists conducted their offensive in five major cities, 36 provincial capitals and smaller hamlets across the country.

Desperate to stop the public fallout, on January 31, Johnson ordered Westmoreland to hold daily press briefings to “convey to the American public your confidence in our capability to blunt these enemy moves, and to reassure the public here that you have the situation under control.” Johnson warned legislators that the anti-war protests in the U.S. were being triggered by allies of the communists. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara privately told Johnson, “I think it shows two things, Mr. President. First, that they have more power than some credit them with … My guess is that we will inflict very heavy losses on them, both in terms of personnel and materiel and this will set them back some, but after they absorb the losses, they will remain a substantial force.”

After the initial shock and awe, U.S. troops mounted a fierce and effective counter-attack, one of the most successful military operations of the war. When it was all over in late February, the communists suffered over 40,000 deaths, including some of their most skilled troops. The fighting ended when the U.S. and South Vietnamese recaptured the city of Hue.

Yet the military victory turned into a political disaster for the administration. Johnson tried to stop the political bleeding from the realization that the Vietnam War was not ending any time soon.

The Tet Offensive showed that Johnson and Westmoreland were lying about having “reached an important point where the end begins to come into view,” as Westmoreland famously had said.

The media coverage of Tet provided reporters with unprecedented access to the images of the conflict as the battles moved into the cities, and they delivered. One of the most famous images from the period was that of a South Vietnamese brigadier general Nguyen Ngoc Loan, the chief of the national police, putting a bullet in the head of Nguyen Van Lem, a captain in the Vietcong. The photograph, taken by Associated Press photographer Eddie Adams on February 1, confirmed the brutality of this conflict to many Americans. Life magazine’s cover on February 16 featured a photograph of two North Vietnamese soldiers with Chinese AK-47 automatic rifles, guarding Hue, with an article by Catherine Leroy called, “The Enemy Lets Me Take His Picture.”

The images on television were just as bad. The coverage shifted from smoke and helicopters to soldiers fighting to recapture ground in a brutal war. “There, on color screens,” one observer noted, “dead bodies lay amidst the rubble and the rattle of automatic gunfire as dazed American soldiers and civilians ran back and forth trying to flush out the assailants.” Walter Cronkite famously signed off his broadcast challenging the president and joining journalists who had increasingly been saying that the government was not telling the full truth. “Who won and lost in the great Tet Offensive against the cities? I’m not sure. The Vietcong did not win by a knockout but neither did we … For it seems now more certain than ever, that the bloody experience in Vietnam is to end in a stalemate. To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past.” ABC anchor Frank McGee followed up a few days later telling viewers “The war is being lost” while his colleague Frank Reynolds said it put the president’s credibility “under fire.”

Inside the White House, the historian Robert Dallek found that Johnson’s advisors were shaken. Following one meeting of foreign policy advisors, Joseph Califano reported that they were “beyond pessimistic.” The new secretary of defense, Clark Clifford, recalled that “It is hard to imagine or recreate the atmosphere in the sixty days after Tet. The pressure grew so intense that at times I felt the government might come apart at its seams. Leadership was fraying at its very center—something very rare in a nation with so stable a government structure.” Clifford said that in early March he made his “overwhelming priority” as Secretary “to extricate our nation from an endless war.”

“The element of hope has been taken away by the Tet Offensive,” noted Secretary of State Dean Rusk, “People don’t think there is likely to be an end.” Newsweek ran a cover story on February 19, with Westmoreland on the cover, entitled “Man on the Spot.”

By the time that Tet ended, Johnson was left with a massive credibility gap that overshadowed everything he had done on domestic policy. By March, when anti-war Democrat Senator Eugene McCarthy performed unexpectedly well in the New Hampshire primary, the polls had really turned on the president and the war. An initial spike in public support from Tet in February, with a notable increase in hawkish sentiment about Vietnam, turned hard against the administration in March. 49 percent of Americans thought the war was a mistake; only 41 percent thought it was the right decision. Only 35 percent believed that it would end within the next two years. His overall approval ratings for handling the war fell to a meager 26 percent. On the last day of the month, with his support plummeting, Johnson shocked the nation by going on television to announce that he would not run for reelection.

When rumors circulated that Westmoreland had asked for 206,000 more troops in response to Tet, Americans were outraged and the apparent blindness of the people in power. The Democratic Convention in 1968 was a disaster, as liberal Democrats and the anti-war movement opened up a civil war. Ironically, the person to reap the most benefits from the war was Richard Nixon, the next president of the United States, who lied and deceived the public about Vietnam in ways that even Johnson could not have imagined.

Besides the damage that Tet imposed on Johnson, the surprise attack and the revelation that the administration had vastly oversold the prospects for success were a severe blow to public confidence in American government leaders to tell the truth and to do the right thing.

The right also took its own lessons from Tet and other parts of the increasingly critical wartime coverage, namely that the media could not be trusted. As reporters focused on Tet as evidence of failure, hawkish Democrats and Republicans were quick to note, rightly so, that the U.S. counter-offensive had been successful. Johnson felt this way and tried to hammer away on the point that the media was misrepresenting what happened. For decades, coverage of Tet would remain to conservatives a symbol of why the “liberal establishment” could not be trusted to give the public a realistic assessment of national security issues.

For much of the nation, however, the specifics of Tet were beside the point. The real story was the context of the disastrous policies in Vietnam that cost thousands of American lives every month, undermined the nation’s moral authority in the Cold War, and didn’t seem to be working. As the historian Fred Logevall has argued, Tet is not the sole culprit behind the shattered faith from Vietnam, as opposition to the war and the realization of government falsehood had been growing for several years. But Tet still packed an extraordinarily powerful punch on a nation primed to be disillusioned. Based on what they were seeing in the winter of 1968, the communists in North Vietnam remained strong and determined, and promises that the war was ending were simply not true.”

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/01/how-the-tet-offensive-undermined-american-faith-in-government/550010/

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Government Audit Finds Pentagon Squandered Millions On Economic Development Projects in Afghanistan

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Afghanistan Task Force Failures

Cashmere Goat Farm in Afghanistan Abandoned as of April 2017. (Photo: SIGAR)

“THE PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT”

“Mixed results, waste, and unsustained projects” that cost U.S. taxpayers more than $675 million.

The Task Force awarded more than $200 million in sole-source contracts, which pose a higher risk of poor performance and corruption. Even worse, $35 million of these contracts went to companies employing former Task Force officials.”


“The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) rendered what could be the final verdict on the Pentagon’s controversial Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (Task Force). On Tuesday, the watchdog released the results of a comprehensive performance audit of Task Force programs and activities in Afghanistan. It found “mixed results, waste, and unsustained projects” that cost U.S. taxpayers more than $675 million.

Readers of our blog are probably familiar with the Task Force, a Department of Defense (DoD) office that carried out economic development projects in Afghanistan from 2010 to 2014. The office achieved notoriety in 2015 for allegedly spending $43 million to build a gas station that should have cost less than $500,000. (The actual cost of the gas station remains a matter of dispute between SIGAR and DoD. The dispute took a bizarre turntwo years ago when a DoD official testifying at a Senate hearing quoted a cost figure, the source of which remains a mystery.) For the last two years, Special Inspector General John Sopko has been publicly bashing the Task Force for “ill-conceived,” “poorly planned,” and “unfinished” projects.

The audit, conducted at the request of Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and former Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), found several systemic flaws that doomed the Task Force: poor record-keeping, absence of a clear statement of objectives and strategy, inconsistent coordination with other U.S. agencies, and poor contract planning and oversight.

Because the Task Force did a particularly bad job collecting data and retaining records, SIGAR was “unable to determine whether it achieved its goal of reducing violence, enhancing stability, and supporting economic normalcy in Afghanistan through strategic business and economic activities.” As a result, taxpayers may never know exactly what the Task Force did or did not accomplish. The records SIGAR could get its hands on tell a story of massive waste and unfulfilled promises.

The Task Force obligated more than $675 million in contracts, $316 million of which funded contracts directly supporting economic recovery projects. The remaining $360 million went toward various indirect and overhead costs, including the infamous luxury private villas the Task Force used to house staff, guests, and contractors, instead of using less expensive U.S. government accommodations.

SIGAR determined that only 22 percent of the $316 million in contracts fully met their objectives. But even this rather modest metric must be taken with a grain of salt, since completed projects often were abandoned or fell into disuse or disrepair because the Afghans were unable to independently sustain them.

The report quotes an unnamed Task Force employee who recounted some troubling initial impressions:

The first thing I noticed was that the organization was involved in far too many activities. The list of projects was extremely long and unfocused and seemed to be a hodge-podge of projects without a strategy. The organization was trying to do too many things, including work that overlapped with that of other organizations working in Afghanistan.

Task Force contracting personnel, according to the report, were “generally inexperienced and unfamiliar with government contracting regulations and timelines, and their plans tended not to account for routine delays in the U.S. contracting process.” Furthermore, ill-defined contract requirements often left contracting officials unable to hold poor performers accountable.

The Task Force awarded more than $200 million in sole-source contracts, which pose a higher risk of poor performance and corruption. Even worse, $35 million of these contracts went to companies employing former Task Force officials. In the two examples described in the report, the results were disastrous. Hickory Ground Solutions, a consulting firm whose chief executive was a former Task Force employee, won a $3.9 million sole-source consulting contract. Hickory allegedly ran afoul of small business contracting rules and misled the contracting officer about its capability to fulfill the contract’s requirements. Transformation Advisors Group, another small consulting firm that employed a former Task Force official “in a senior capacity,” received full payment on a mining training program contract despite allegedly unsatisfactory performance.

Despite recounting numerous examples of waste, cronyism, and outright fraud, the report makes no mention of any criminal or other enforcement actions arising out of the Task Force’s operations. This is somewhat surprising, given Special Inspector General John Sopko’s assertion in January 2016 that “several criminal investigations” connected with the Task Force were underway.

To its credit, DoD took a conciliatory tone toward the audit. “We appreciate SIGAR’s efforts,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Colin Jackson wrote in a response letter reprinted in the report’s appendix. He conceded that SIGAR’s findings are “consistent with other independent assessments that concluded that [the Task Force] had mixed results” and that the report “documents unacceptable weaknesses and shortcomings.”

“We can—and must—do better,” Jackson stated.

Credit must also go to John Sopko and his dogged team of auditors and investigators for keeping the heat on DoD. We hope the government has learned its lesson and takes to heart the several “observations” SIGAR makes in the report to guide the White House and Congress if they ever decide to authorize another entity like the Task Force.”

http://www.pogo.org/blog/2018/01/audit-finds-dod-task-force-squandered-millions-had-few-successes.html

 

 

 

Immigration Reform: An Army Recruitment Opportunity

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Military and Immigration

“THE HILL” By Eric Fanning, Former Secretary of the Army

“Our nation’s military is stronger when it reflects the diversity it aims to defend.

The Dream Act is an opportunity for Congress to advance this nation’s national security by expanding recruitment pools, maintaining a high-quality force, and creating opportunities for thousands of young people for whom the United States of America has always been home.”


“As secretary of the Army, my job was to recruit, train, equip, and look after the morale and welfare of over one million U.S. soldiers and their families. In each of these efforts, I sought to create a force that embraced inclusivity and diversity. I believed the more the Army looks like society, the stronger it becomes.

Right now, Congress is contemplating the passage of the Dream Act, which would establish protections and a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers — young people brought to the country before they were 16 years old who have lived in the United States continuously for the past decade, and yet currently have no path to legal immigration.

If passed, this legislation would not only provide temporary work permits and protection from deportation for millions of young people, it would also be a tremendous opportunity for the U.S. Army to expand its pool of high-quality recruits — tapping into exactly the kind of people that make our military the greatest in the world.

Over the past two decades, the Army has maintained a high operational tempo. The missions in Iraq and Afghanistan continue, and the current threat landscape has created an urgent demand for personnel in Europe, Asia, and Africa. As a result, Congress directed the Army to increase the number of active-duty soldiers from 476,000 to 550,000 by the end of fiscal 2018.

Quickly adding additional high-quality recruits is no easy task. The U.S. Army Recruiting Command (USAREC) is struggling to find candidates who meet the Army’s requirements. Last year, USAREC Commander Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Snow acknowledged as much, stating that “the biggest challenge right now is the fact that only 3 in 10 can actually meet the requirements to actually join the military,” because they fail due to health, educational background, or other issues.

As a result, USAREC has been forced to lower its recruiting standards in hopes of reaching its goal of 80,000 new soldiers. In fiscal 2016, 1.6 percent of Army recruits were Category Four candidates, who scored in the bottom third of standard military exams. The following fiscal year, the Army increased the acceptance rate to 1.9 percent. While these percentages remain below the 4 percent cap, they are moving in the wrong direction.

The reduction in recruiting standards comes at the same time the Pentagon has decided to suspend the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest, or MAVNI, program, which offered an expedited pathway to citizenship for immigrants with highly sought after medical and language skills. The MAVNI program had been a success for the Army: Sergeant Saral Shreshta, the 2012 Soldier of the Year, and Specialist Paul Chelimo, an Olympic Silver Medalist at the 2016 Rio games, earned their citizenship through the program.

Given the wide breadth of challenges facing our nation, the U.S. needs a skilled, diverse military force with high levels of integrity that can adapt to today’s emerging threats. The MAVNI program was an important element of creating that force and the Army has reaped the benefit of hundreds of Dreamers currently serving in its ranks. The Dream Act is an opportunity for the Army to expand access to this recruiting pool.

According to a recent report, over the next few years, “the net growth in the U.S. population of 18- to 29-year-olds — the segment of the population most likely to enlist — will come entirely from immigrants and the children of immigrants.” If the U.S. Army is going to be successful in recruiting qualified 18- to 29-year-olds, it must tap into this pool of potential recruits. And on the retention front, the facts are even more compelling: another study found that non-citizen “recruits are far more likely to remain in the military through their first terms of enlistment than recruits who are U.S. citizens.”

Resourcing our Armed Forces takes many forms. Of course we need to make sure that our military is adequately funded and has a stable budget that supports all missions. Dreamers also represent an important resource to ensure our military has access to mission critical skills. Pitting these goals against each other is unnecessary and shortsighted.

Our nation’s military is stronger when it reflects the diversity it aims to defend. Our nation’s Armed Forces should not be forced to pass over those who are qualified and willing to serve. The Dream Act is an opportunity for Congress to advance this nation’s national security by expanding recruitment pools, maintaining a high-quality force, and creating opportunities for thousands of young people for whom the United States of America has always been home. It should be passed as soon as possible.”

Eric Fanning was the 22nd secretary of the Army serving during the Obama administration.

http://thehill.com/opinion/national-security/367839-immigration-reform-an-army-recruitment-opportunity


 

Pentagon Leaders Skirting Major Defense Acquisition Program (MDAP) Controls Required by Law

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Dodging the Formal Acquisition Process

The Abrams M1A2 SEPv3 Battle Tank. (Photo: U.S. Army)

“THE PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT (POGO)”

“The 2018 National Defense Authorization Act provides $650 million to upgrade 29 M1A2s to the new configuration. That means we will be spending $22 million to upgrade a $6 million vehicle.

What makes this particularly curious is that at the same time the Army is dodging the MDAP process with the tank upgrade program, the Hercules tank recovery vehicle upgrade program is going through the MDAP process. That means the wrecker will receive greater scrutiny than the weapon it is meant to recover.”


“When Army leaders decided they needed an upgraded version of the Abrams tank, they wanted to get it without enduring what they consider to be a cumbersome formal acquisition process. Any program of this scale would ordinarily be classified as a Major Defense Acquisition Program (MDAP) and be subject to the oversight reviews and regulations that status entails. To avoid this, Army leaders claimed a major modernization effort to a weapon central to their very identity was a mere design tweak, and managed the project through the far less rigorous Engineering Change Proposal process. This is a problem. The MDAP process may be cumbersome, but its intended purpose is to ensure the Pentagon properly evaluates its needs and then enters into programs that will properly meet them. It is also meant to exert the kind of pressure necessary to keep costs under control. While the system is indisputably flawed (the F-35 is an MDAP), the services should not be permitted to simply ignore the laws. Doing so will almost certainly result in weapons of dubious combat value and more cost overruns.

In performing such a maneuver to avoid the toughest of the acquisitions process, the Army is hardly alone. All of the services are increasingly resorting to similar schemes for other high-profile programs. The danger to the taxpayers, to say nothing of the men and women who will have to take these systems into combat one day, is that these complex and expensive weapons systems aren’t subjected the kind of outside scrutiny necessary to ensure the services are purchasing suitable and effective equipment.

Acquisition Reform

Hardly a year goes by without some effort to modernize the Pentagon’s weapons buying process. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) succeeded in pushing into law a provision to split the Pentagon’s office of Acquisition, Technology & Logistics into at least two offices. The long-time chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee believes this will allow the separate undersecretaries to focus more on their particular offices. The new office of Research and Engineering will focus on innovation while the Acquisition and Sustainment office deals with basic business functions associated with buying and maintaining new weapons. House Armed Services Committee chairman, Representative Mac Thornberry (R-TX), has introduced legislation meant to streamline the process for the past three years. The latest version would allow the services to purchase more items through commercial marketplaces. Previous similar efforts, such as when the Pentagon attempted to change the definition of commercial items to avoid the competitive bidding process, proved problematic. Earlier efforts were geared towards improving program business models and reducing the process’s reports and paperwork. Congress also effectively outsourced acquisition reform to the defense industry when it created the “Section 809 Panel” as part of the FY 2016 National Defense Authorization Act to make recommendations to streamline the way the Pentagon buys weapons. This panel is comprised of several members with deep ties to the defense industry and is the subject of a concerted lobbying effort by the contracting community.

The effectiveness of such efforts is not yet clear, but that might not matter. The usual result of most such efforts is an even more sluggish process—it is a rare problem that can’t be made worse with the addition of more bureaucracy.

Why the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex Wants to Avoid the MDAP Process

From the perspective of the Pentagon, the defense contractors, and their allies on Capitol Hill, there are advantages in procuring weapon systems through means other than the formal acquisition process. The acquisition process is so complicated and involved that the Department of Defense created the Defense Acquisition University in 1991 to educate personnel on navigating various aspects of the process. A full explanation of the process would fill volumes, but even the basics provide a glimpse into the complexity of the process.

A Major Defense Acquisition Program goes through three separate phases. At the end of each phase, a program goes through a review process to determine whether it has met the criteria to move onto the next phase. These transitions are called “milestones.”

A project begins when the services identify a new military need, or what is known as a capability. This is done through the Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System. This process figures out whether a new weapon system is actually needed to fill the perceived capability gap or if a change in tactics or some other non-material solution can get the job done. This work is reviewed by the Joint Requirements Oversight Council. If they determine a new weapon system is needed, then it goes through the Material Solution Analysis Phase.

A program has to achieve 40 milestone requirements just to pass Milestone A into the second major phase of a program, the Technology Maturation & Risk Reduction Phase. These 40 requirements includes conducting an Analysis of Alternatives, which is a comparison of other weapons that could potentially fill the same need; an Independent Cost Estimate, which helps decision-makers decide if the weapon is something they can afford to pursue (or what tradeoffs should be made if it’s not); and developing a Test and Evaluation Master Plan, which is essential to establish clear testing benchmarks to evaluate how the new weapon system performs in combat. While plenty of redundancy exists within the process, it is meant to protect the interests of both the warfighters and taxpayers. The Government Accountability Office has noted the importance of following through with these steps as part of a knowledge-based process. If the services don’t do so, they create situations where programs “carry technology, design, and production risks into subsequent phases of the acquisition process that could result in cost growth or schedule delays.”

Ideally, multiple contractors will build prototypes that will then be tested as part of a competition to see which design performs the intended mission better. The most successful programs begin this way, with the Lightweight Fighter Program (F-16) and the A-X Program (A-10) being the most notable examples.

The awarding of a contract for the winning design marks Milestone B, and the program passes into the Engineering & Manufacturing Development Phase. The prime and sub-contractors then finalize the development of the system and begin manufacturing enough production-representative goods to complete the Initial Operational Test & Evaluation process.

The successful completion of the realistic combat and live-fire testing phase marks Milestone C, and the program proceeds to full-scale production and deployment to the troops.

Throughout this process, there are numerous review and decision points. This includes a review by the Defense Acquisition Board, which is made up of the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretaries of the Military Departments, four undersecretaries of defense, the Director of Operational Test & Evaluation, and others.

Case Study: The Army’s New Tank

The Army commissioned General Dynamics to design an upgraded version of the M1A2 Abrams tank in 2015. The first of what is expected to be 1,500 upgraded versions of the Army’s Abrams tanks rolled off the assembly line at the Lima, Ohio, factory on October 4, 2017. The choice of contractors for the project was hardly a surprise as the Abrams tank is a General Dynamics product. That is not to suggest that another contractor could not perform the work. Other contractors like BAE Systems also build armored vehicles and their component systems. By designating the project as an Engineering Change Proposal, however, the Army had little need to open it to a competitive bidding process as “most ECPs occur in a sole source environment.”

To the casual observer, the Army’s newest tank looks very much like the existing tanks. The M1A2 SEPv3 is still essentially an Abrams tank on the outside. However, the vehicle is quite different on the inside. It sports a new suite of communications gear called the Joint Tactical Radio System, which is supposed to fully integrate the vehicle into the Army’s command and control network. To provide the necessary electricity to power all of the new electronics and conserve fuel in situations where the crew does not need to run the gas-turbine engine, an improved generator has been added inside the hull.

The tank uses the same M256 smooth-bore cannon as the existing M1A1 tanks, but the breach in this variant has been modified to use the Ammunition DataLink to be compatible with the advanced multi-purpose round. This allows the tank’s gunner to send a signal to the round right before it is fired, setting its detonation mode to one of three different settings. It can detonate on impact, detonate on a delay for obstacle reduction, or airburst. This single round replaces four existing rounds, reducing the logistical burden of the armored forces, which is always a great concern.

In response to the threat posed by IEDs, the new tank includes a Counter Remote Controlled Improvised Explosive Device electronic warfare package. Should all of that fail, or when enemy fighters use simpler low-tech command-wired IEDs (which they will), the tank also boasts additional armor protection.

These are not insignificant changes. They add significantly to an already extremely heavy tank. As someone who spent ten years operating in tanks, I can tell you this is a significant problem. The Abrams tank is already too heavy for most of the world’s bridges. This restricts the number of avenues a unit can take to reach an objective, making it much easier for the enemy to predict the unit’s movements. It also increases the logistics burden because a heavier tank requires more fuel.

Sources within the Army say the new variant is too heavy for the Army’s fleet of Heavy Equipment Transport vehicles. The Army relies on these vehicles to transport the tanks across long distances to conserve fuel and to reduce wear and tear on the tanks.

They also do not come cheaply. The 2018 National Defense Authorization Act provides $650 million to upgrade 29 M1A2s to the new configuration. That means we will be spending $22 million to upgrade a $6 million vehicle.

What makes this particularly curious is that at the same time the Army is dodging the MDAP process with the tank upgrade program, the Hercules tank recovery vehicle upgrade program is going through the MDAP process. That means the wrecker will receive greater scrutiny than the weapon it is meant to recover.

Case Study: F-35 Follow On Modernization

F-35A's touch down at RAF Fairford

An Airman with the Air Combat Command F-35A Heritage Flight team marshals an F-35A Lightning II to its parking spot on the flightline at Royal Air Force Fairford, England, June 30, 2016. The team flew to England for the Royal International Air Tattoo. (Photo: U.S. Air Force / Tech. Sgt. Jarad A. Denton)

The F-35 program is being managed through the regular MDAP process, but officials are now working furiously behind the scenes to prevent the next phase of it from following the same path. No one is quite sure what the latest incarnation of the F-35 will be able to do when the program completes the development and testing process, but that isn’t stopping officials from seeking funds for upgrades to the aircraft. They are continuing to develop a list of needed capabilities for the newer version, called Block 4.

The Pentagon estimates the cost just for the initial phase of the modernization program—the research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) phase—to be more than $3.9 billion through 2022. The Government Accountability Office correctly points out that this “would exceed the statutory and regulatory thresholds for what constitutes a major defense acquisitions program (MDAP), and would make it more expensive than many of the other MDAPs already in DOD’s portfolio.”

The F-35 Joint Program Office has strenuously resisted efforts to create a separate MDAP for the Block 4 modernization citing time and money concerns. The Joint Program Office wants to run the modernization program as part of the original contract from 2001. By dodging the MDAP process for this effort, the program would avoid many of the processes meant to ensure proper Congressional oversight. The program would not, for example, have to go through a Milestone B review, which would establish an acquisition program cost baseline and require regular reports to Congress about the program’s cost and performance progress.

Such a move also means the program would not be subject to the provisions of the Nunn-McCurdy amendment which establishes unit cost growth thresholds. This would require the Pentagon to notify Congress if the program’s unit cost grows by 25 percent and calls for the program’s cancellation if the cost grows by more than 50 percent. This, unfortunately, does not happen very often because the law includes a waiver provision that allows the Secretary of Defense to certify that the program is critical to national security and should be continued. Only one program, the Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter, has been cancelled as a direct result of a Nunn-McCurdy breach.

Case Study: The B-21 Raider

B-21

(Photo: US Air Force)

The biggest ticket item currently attempting to dodge public scrutiny is the Air Force’s newest bomber, the B-21 Raider. This program is being managed by the Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office, a secretive group that is conveniently not subject to many of the regulations Congress imposes upon most acquisition programs.

According the Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office website, this outfit has a key advantage the regular acquisition office does not:

“waivers to and deviations from any encumbering practices, procedures, policies, directives or regulations may be granted in order to ensure the timely accomplishment of the mission within applicable statutory guidance.”

The Air Force has been extremely cagey about releasing cost information about the new bomber. During the bid process, service leaders announced a $550 million per aircraft target cost. So far, Air Force leaders have refused to publicly releasethe value of the B-21’s development contract with Northrop Grumman. The stated reason for the secrecy about cost is that a potential adversary could derive information about the size, weight, and range. Apparently no one will be able to determine any of that information from the artist’s rendering of the new bomber, or from the list of subcontractors Air Force officials publicly announced.

Conclusion

The MDAP process is complex and does often fail to produce weapons that do what they are expected to do or come anywhere close to meeting the original cost expectations. The process is long over-due for a comprehensive streamlining effort. But even though the process is deeply flawed, the protections it includes were put there to protect the interests of the troops and the taxpayers. Just because the services find the process inconvenient, doesn’t justify their efforts to dodge the oversight mechanisms provided by federal law.

Unless Congress arrests this disturbing trend, the services are likely to continue to use these schemes to bypass the rules and regulations put in place to protect both the troops and the taxpayers. The people’s interests are served only when everyone involved in the process of buying new weapons have the correct information at the beginning. As Tom Christie, former Director, Operational Test and Evaluation wrote:

“Upfront realistic cost estimates and technical risk assessments, developed by independent organizations outside the chain of command for major programs, should inform Defense Acquisition Executives.  The requirement for those assessments to be independent, not performed by organizations already controlled by the existing self-interests sections of the bureaucracy is essential.”

It is understandable that the services want to speed up the process of fielding new weapon systems. While there are many flaws in the current acquisition system, it is not the root of the problem. Service leaders and their partners (and far too often future colleagues) in the defense industry keep pursuing unrealistic programs and Congress keeps voting for them. Dodging the current acquisition regulations will not fix that problem, but it will make it easier for all involved to hide the bad results from the people paying for them, but presumably not from those who would suffer the consequences if a weapon were to fail in combat.”

http://www.pogo.org/straus/issues/weapons/2018/dodging-the-formal-acquisition-process.html

 

 

 

Everyone Can Now Explore The Government’s Real Estate Portfolio.

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Federal Real Property Management System

“FEDERAL NEWS RADIO”

“The Veterans Affairs Department owns a historical hotel at 49 Rue Pierre Charron, in Paris. There’s a Ben Hur Road in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and the Agriculture Department owns a few labs and warehouses along it.

1100 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest is the address of the Old Post Office Pavilion, owned by GSA and leased by the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C.”


“Thanks to the General Services Administration’s publication of Federal Real Property Profile Management System [FRPP MS] data, everyone can explore the obscure, interesting and ordinary aspects of the government’s real estate portfolio.

“GSA is proud of the work completed, in concert with our partners at other federal agencies, to make this data public for the first time,” said Giancarlo Brizzi, acting associate administrator for GSA’s Office of Governmentwide Policy. “Expanding the number of federal agencies reporting detailed data beyond the 24 Chief Financial Officers Act agencies to more than 50 federal agencies and making that data available for review by lawmakers, stakeholders and the American public is a big step forward in increasing the transparency of the federal government’s real property footprint.”

The data set is made up of fiscal 2016 data, and follows requirements set by the Federal Assets Sales and Transfer Act of 2016 [FASTA]. The law sets up a mechanism where the administration can identify underused or vacant federal property. It establishes a Public Buildings Reform Board, which will recommend specific property to consolidate, reconfigure or sell.

GAO reported earlier this year that, according to GSA’s FRPP database, in 2015, 23 agencies reported more than 7,000 excess or underutilized properties.

The “Freeze the Footprint” policy, which required agencies to freeze their real property footprint, cut 24.7 million square feet from the inventory between 2013 and 2015, saving the government about $300 million in rent, and operations and maintenance costs.

In 2015, OMB released a National Strategy for Real Property, which requires agencies to implement a five-year rolling planning process that sets annual square foot reduction and disposal targets and prioritizes the disposal of unneeded and inefficiently used properties.

A Reduce the Footprint (RTF) companion policy also was introduced.

“Publicizing this information on 300,000 federal assets will make it easier to identify property that can be disposed of, sold or repurposed,” Brizzi said in a statement to Federal News Radio. “GSA looks forward to continuing to work with our partners in other agencies, Congress and the American public to ensure this data is as accurate and useful as possible as we carry out our mission to provide the facilities federal agencies need to carry out their important work at the best value to the taxpayers.”

The data represents the government’s inventory as of Sept. 30, 2016. 2017 data is scheduled for publishing in spring 2018.

The set isn’t a complete inventory, as FASTA allows the exclusion of property based on national security and Freedom of Information Act exclusions.

The national security exclusion is a factor the Project on Government Oversight is always concerned about, said POGO Senior Policy Analyst Peter Tyler.

“Not just because it’s maybe hidden behind closed doors, it’s also at times an overused exemption,” Tyler said. “Things do not have to be a national security secret just because it’s Department of Defense property. It often gets lumped in because it’s easier. That’s something we want to watch and double check.”

Tyler said another problem is there’s just missing data in any agency. That’s something the Government Accountability Office highlighted in its High-Risk List, when it said some agencies estimated, rather than determined, actual operating costs for each building, since these agencies don’t maintain information on costs for specific buildings.

“As a result, standardizing data has been challenging since agencies have applied different approaches to collecting data that align closely with their mission but that in some cases are inconsistent with existing GSA guidance,” GAO said.

“That’s one thing that outside organizations should look at with this data,” Tyler said. “Is the data complete and is it accurate?”

That’s not to say this data release isn’t a win for government transparency. According to the High-Risk List, the government’s real property portfolio includes about 273,000 buildings that are leased or owned, and cost billions of dollars to operate and maintain.

“The number one benefit that this provides I think is the transparency,” said Curtis Kalin, spokesman for Citizens Against Government Waste. “The more data that is available for scrutiny, the better.”

Knowing how many properties the federal government owns and leases, where they are located, and how much is being spent on rent, are the first steps toward ensuring taxpayer money isn’t wasted, Kalin said.

Kalin said while an Excel spreadsheet hundreds of thousands of entries long might be daunting for the layman, that’s where third parties like CAGW come in and translate those numbers.

The same goes for POGO. [The Project on Government Oversight]

“The success story of this is that Congress required a publicly accessible data set and they’ve done that, it is downloadable, it’s not just a bunch of pieces of paper that we have to request through the FOIA process, so kudos to them for doing that,” Tyler said. “Could it be better, sure, there’s always better things to be done — more web-based, user-friendly searchablility could be good — but credit where credit’s due. This is a true publicly accessible data base and that’s great.”

Tyler said he was curious what the next steps will be for Congress and how it uses the information to help reduce the federal footprint and dispose of surplus property.

In a statement from House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Penn.), the congressman said the data set “will provide Congress with an important tool in its oversight of the management of federal properties.”

https://federalnewsradio.com/management/2017/12/gsa-releases-expansive-federal-real-property-inventory/

 

The Unaffordable Pentagon Audit

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Unaffordable Pentagon Audit

“THE NATIONAL INTEREST”

“To perform this audit is both expensive and time-consuming, and in many cases duplicates already-existing proven DOD oversight mechanisms.

The audit is larger in scope and size than any other attempted of its kind, dissecting a vast global enterprise of more than two million people.

The total cost of the 2018 audit will be an eye-popping $847 million. That’s a lot for an already cash-strapped Pentagon—the equivalent of eight Air Force F-35 fighter jets.”


 “Who can forget the Pentagon hammer that cost $600? It may be apocryphal, but it has symbolized inefficient spending for more than two decades. And last year a newspaper headline breathlessly shouted, “Pentagon buries evidence of $125 billion in bureaucratic waste.”

So seemingly only a heretic would question the need to audit the Department of Defense. But what if a Pentagon audit represents a pyrrhic victory—a quest where the results won’t justify the cost?

The Pentagon is cooperating, having recently announced that it’s ready to undergo a financial audit after years of preparation, with DOD budget secretary David Norquist noting, “It is important that the Congress and the American people have confidence in DOD’s management of every taxpayer dollar.” Norquist went on to describe how annual audits will now become part of everyday life at DOD.

To be sure, DOD is to be commended for the hard work to get to this point. But before going too far down this road, we should assure ourselves that a costly and laborious annual financial audit of DOD, performed using commercially derived strict Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), will result in a better-functioning DOD. It’s not at all clear it will.

Congress was the driving force behind the Pentagon audit, and has long bemoaned the fact that it has never been audited. Starting in 1990, and then again in 2010, Congress passed laws that required the Pentagon to undergo a full financial audit starting in fiscal year 2018.

Since then, elected officials rarely miss an opportunity to emphasize the importance of the audit. Sen. Chuck Grassley, for example, said in a recent speech on the Senate floor that “26 years of hard-core foot-dragging shows that internal resistance to auditing the books runs deep,” while in April, eight U.S. senators told Defense Secretary Mattis that they were concerned, statingthat “clean audits inherently provide controls that guard against fraud, waste, and abuse.”

Reasonable, right? But at what cost? Norquist also noted that to conduct the annual examination will require a small army of auditors—some 1,200—to examine every nook, cranny and ledger of the Pentagon’s sprawling bureaucracy. Norquist also estimated that the total cost of the 2018 audit will be an eye-popping $847 million. That’s a lot for an already cash-strapped Pentagon—the equivalent of eight Air Force F-35 fighter jets.

Why so expensive? Because, like corporate audits following similar standards, the Pentagon audit looks at much more than financial “books.” It also spot-checks property records and estimated values of millions of pieces of equipment and facilities, such as vintage armored personnel carriers and World War II–era armories, verifies data in personnel records for accuracy, such as marriage certificates and birthdays, and examines thousands of other records and systems.

The audit is larger in scope and size than any other attempted of its kind, dissecting a vast global enterprise of more than two million people. To perform this audit is both expensive and time-consuming, and in many cases duplicates already-existing proven DOD oversight mechanisms.

So why do it? Good question. U.S. corporations by law undergo annual strict financial audits to assure potential investors in capital markets of the soundness of their offerings as described in their financial statements. But DOD is not a corporation, and has no corresponding need.

And, perhaps most significantly, financial audits are not the best tools for discovering inefficiencies, waste or fraud. For those purposes, there are far better methods such as zero-based budgeting, contract or waste audits, strong management and continuous process-improvement techniques. Indeed, the few U.S. companies that don’t have to undergo a financial audit usually avoidit, since it usually does not result in significant reductions in waste or fraud compared to the costs involved.

U.S. taxpayers deserve confidence that the Defense Department operates in an honest and efficient manner. But at a time when our military is deteriorating for want of adequate resources, highlighted daily by ship accidents, crushing maintenance backlogs and munitions shortages, an $847 million annual audit—accompanied by, at best, modest expectations for improvement—is a mistake the Pentagon can ill afford.”

http://nationalinterest.org/feature/the-unaffordable-pentagon-audit-23784

 

 

 

 

 

College Develops Center for Technology Incubator with the Navy as “Anchor” Tenant

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Velocity Center - Sketch

Velocity Center Sketch Artwork: NAWC IH

“NATIONAL DEFENSE MAGAZINE”

“An upcoming facility in Maryland is expected to become a hub of innovation for industry, the Navy and university students. 

The College of Southern Maryland recently announced the construction of its Velocity Center, which will include a research center, technology incubator and education facility for its patrons.”


“It is expected to be 20,000 square feet and will contain features such as a cybersecurity laboratory, space for the university’s robotics team and room for industry. The Navy will occupy about 5,500 square feet and serve as an “anchor tenant,” said Tommy Luginbill, director of the Entrepreneur and Innovation Institute at the college. Luginbill is also the program coordinator for the school’s business management program.

“They were very, very big on the idea of having their own space to do what they want to do [with] their own projects,” he said of the Navy. “They were also big on the idea of having an open field. They wanted tall ceilings and they wanted a wide area in the center of the building so that they could host events.”

The center is scheduled to open sometime in 2018 in Indian Head, Maryland, he noted. The university and Navy would have their own spaces in the center, Luginbill explained, and there would be offices for defense contractors.

This format will allow the groups to collaborate on a variety of projects, he said. However, technology developed in the facility may have “dual usage,” meaning they can be leveraged in both the military and commercial sector, he noted.

“If you get these scientists in there who are the ones creating these things, and you get these students in there who are young and maybe looking at the world a little differently … they might say, ‘Well, your [3D-printed] wrench is a great idea, but have you ever thought about using your … technology for things like fidget spinners?’” he said.

The facility could also help the town retain its young engineers, who may otherwise choose to relocate to urban areas in search of jobs, he noted.

The Velocity Center cost is approximately $1.25 million, according to a news release.”

http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/articles/2017/12/20/college-develops-center-for-technology-inchoation

Pentagon Full Steam Ahead With Major Cloud Acquisition

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Pentagon Cloud Full Steam Ahead

“NEXT GOV”

“The Defense Department is not letting blowback or criticism from industry slow down its emerging cloud strategy, which could see it award an enterprise contract worth billions to a single company by the end of 2018.

The contract would be awarded to a single cloud service provider for up to 10 years “to deliver services for cloud computing and platform services” for “all DOD organizations.”


 “The accelerated approach prompted industry concern and calls for the Pentagon to slow down or change course, but led by a Cloud Executive Steering Group reporting directly to leadership, the Defense Department is doing anything but.

“There has been no change in strategy for the CESG,” Pentagon spokesperson Patrick Evans told Nextgov. “The acquisition will be done as a fair and open competition with an industry day in early 2018.”

The next steps, as outlined in the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, or JEDI, strategy, will be a draft solicitation for a “single-award, indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract using full and open competitive procedures.”

Other contracts, according to the memo, could be issued for additional services, such as migration support, application modernization, change management and training.

The Pentagon’s aggressive timeline calls for initial migrations of data to the new contract by the first quarter of 2019.

Strategically, the Pentagon’s approach shares commonalities with that of the CIA, which ultimately selected Amazon Web Services for a 10-year enterprisewide cloud contract four years ago worth $600 million.”

http://www.nextgov.com/it-modernization/2017/12/pentagon-full-steam-ahead-major-cloud-acquisition/144707/

Federal Acquisition Regulations We Love To Hate

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Regulations We Love to Hate

“DEFENSE NEWS”

“The Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), which governs how the federal government buys goods and services, is a 2,000-page document.

According to a 2017 analysis by Deloitte, over two-thirds of all federal regulations on the books have never been updated since they were created.”


“The sheer number of laws, regulations, and policies that apply to the defense acquisition process is staggering. The Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), which governs how the federal government buys goods and services, is a 2,000-page document. On top of that is the 1,500-page Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS), which applies specifically to purchases by the Department of Defense (DoD). In addition to all those regulations are federal statutes and DoD internal policies that govern the acquisition process. For contracting officers, that means determining the applicability of hundreds of regulations, in addition to hundreds of laws and policies, to make a purchase.

Many of these laws, regulations, and policies are outdated, but no one has taken the time to remove or update them.

While each outdated regulation alone may not be a significant problem, in the aggregate those regulations can pose an enormous administrative burden. Many in the defense acquisition workforce have argued that assessing and complying with the large number of regulations slows down the acquisition process, wasting time, money, and energy that could be better spent elsewhere. Additionally, the complexity and cost of compliance creates a barrier to entry for small businesses that may wish to engage in business with DoD but cannot afford the lawyers and compliance officers necessary for the job.

Repealing or amending outdated provisions that bog down the acquisition process is long overdue. The Section 809 Panel, a congressionally mandated panel to streamline and improve the defense acquisition process, is currently taking on the task of identifying and eliminating these outdated provisions. One bold approach that the panel is taking for this endeavor is its “50 Worst!” campaign, which solicits public input on the 50 worst laws, regulations, and policies that impede the acquisition process. The panel has already made some recommendations to begin this effort earlier this year.

Take for instance the FAR clause that encourages contractor policies to ban texting while driving, which must be included in every solicitation, contract, and subcontract over the micro-purchase threshold. This FAR clause resulted from an executive order that was issued in 2009 when the iPhone was only two years old and just a handful of states banned texting while driving. Today, 47 States, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have these bans, and DoD has prohibited the use of cell phones while driving on all military installations, making this FAR clause unnecessary. This example is just one of the many outdated regulations that are duplicative of existing law or policy, add paperwork, and need to be removed.

The panel has also made recommendations to amend outdated laws, which Congress recently adopted, and the president signed into law in the FY 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). One of the panel recommendations adopted by Congress was to amend a 2005 law that sought to increase circulation of the dollar coin. Among the requirements in that law was that business operations conducted by a federal agency that involve coins or currency must be capable of accepting and dispensing dollar coins. In practice, however, the dollar coin has not been widely circulated even with this law in place, and the cost of this requirement has exceeded the benefit. In the FY 2018 NDAA, Congress creates an exception to the dollar coin requirement for business operations conducted under a contract with a federal agency.

Another one of the panel’s adopted recommendations was to amend a law that establishes 20 years as the maximum length for DoD fuel storage contracts. The 20-year limit was originally enacted in 1956, and since then, fuel storage technology has dramatically improved. Modern fuel storage technology is now capable of operating for up to 30 years without interruption. However, because of the 20‐year contract limit, contractors were expected to dismantle fuel storage infrastructure when their contracts terminated, potentially disrupting fuel services and wasting government resources. Congress addresses this concern in the FY 2018 NDAA by extending the maximum length for fuel storage contracts to 30 years to reflect technological advances.

In addition to its activities to review the defense acquisition process at large, the panel is aiming for simple changes that could, in the aggregate, have a significant benefit by allowing contractors and contracting officers to focus on the mission first, instead of navigating through outdated laws, regulations, and policies. The dollar coin requirement and the fuel storage contract limit are examples of laws that clearly needed to be updated and were recognized by Congress as such. The panel is seeking similar examples through its “50 Worst!” campaign. Public input and support is vital for this endeavor. Without input from those in the acquisition workforce who deal with the process every day, the panel may not be able to capture all of the challenges involved.

The panel wants to hear your ideas on how to make the defense acquisition process better. The panel can be reached through its website, through social media, or by email at Sec809@dau.mil”

https://www.defensenews.com/acquisition/regulations/2017/12/18/thats-the-worst-acquisition-regulations-we-love-to-hate/?dn-trending

 

 

 

The Pentagon Is Not a Sacred Cow

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Pentagon Sacred Cow

“THE NEW YORK TIMES”

“The Pentagon already wastes about one in five of the taxpayer dollars it receives, according to a Pentagon-commissioned study.

And the United States, which has plenty of other urgent needs, already spends more on its military than the next seven countries combined.”


“Health care, Social Security, Medicare and other social programs are all on the chopping block as the Republican-led Congress scrambles to make up for the revenue lost to its planned tax cuts. The Pentagon, however, remains a sacred cow, destined to receive yet more money.

The military budget is now $643 billion. The actual and potential threats from Russia, China, North Korea and Islamic extremists are all serious, but giving the Pentagon another huge increase defies common sense.

The opening bid for the 2018 defense budget came from President Trump, who in May proposed $677 billion. That was $54 billion above a budget cap set by Congress in 2011, after the 2008 financial crisis led to demands for fiscal restraint. Then last month, Congress upped his ante by passing a 2018 military authorization bill that would increase spending to around $700 billion, some $85 billion above the legal cap. Mr. Trump signed that bill into law on Tuesday.

For the moment, that increase is a fiction. Before it can occur, Congress must remove the 2011 caps and appropriate the money. That is the focus of the present budget battle on Capitol Hill. Republican leaders reportedly want to increase military spending by at least Mr. Trump’s original figure of $54 billion and nonmilitary spending by $37 billion. Democratic leaders are insisting on equal increases for both categories.

What’s not clear is that the Pentagon needs any increase until it can get a handle on waste, which a 2015 study estimated at $125 billion, about one-fifth of its budget.

The Pentagon had a virtual blank check after the Sept. 11 attacks, as it went after Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and then turned its attention to overthrowing Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Military spending in 2017 is already as high as during the armed forces buildup of the 1980s. The proposed increase, coming after the United States has withdrawn thousands of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, would take it even higher. Mr. Trump, bedazzled by men in uniform and enthralled by displays of weaponry, says more money is needed to build bigger and better forces. And senior commanders have lobbied hard for a big increase to upgrade a military they say lacks readiness, meaning the training and equipment needed to fight.

It’s certainly true that the military, cut back after the Cold War, was strained during the 16 years of near constant war after Sept. 11. Yet the ground troopswho are doing the actual fighting say there is no crisis, according to the analyst Mark Thompson of the Center for Defense Information at the Project on Government Oversight. Other experts say claims of a deteriorating military are exaggerated.

Some increases are understandable, even inevitable. For instance, from 2001 to 2012, the average cost per active service member grew by 61 percent, when adjusted for inflation, because of new and expanded benefits, increasing health care costs and pay raises. Those costs prompted the Pentagon to reduce personnel, says Todd Harrison, an expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

But other increases arise from a dysfunctional congressional budget process complicated by lobbyists who woo lawmakers to back unneeded or extravagant weapons. That’s how lawmakers wind up investing in programs that don’t deliver, like the overbudget F-35 jet fighter, and modernizing the nuclear arsenal at an estimated cost of $1 trillion over the next 30 years, when smarter choices would cost less and still keep the country safe.

One encouraging sign is that the Pentagon’s acquisition chief, Ellen Lord, is talking to Congress about moving away from high-tech toys that may no longer be relevant or affordable. Another is that the Pentagon has decided to launch its first (believe it or not) audit.

Like other federal agencies, the Pentagon can’t have it all. The military is critical to national security. That does not give it license to be a poor steward of resources and gobble up tax dollars at the expense of other programs.”