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Harvey, Irma, and Maria: Hurricane Recovery Contract Spending by the Numbers


Hurricane relief


“Thanks to the Federal Procurement Data System (FPDS), taxpayers can start keeping a closer watch over some of the billions of dollars the US government is paying contractors to address the aftermath of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.

According to the data, as of October 19, the federal government has awarded a total of $1.65 billion for supply and service contracts to aid and rebuild areas damaged by the storms: $794.8 million for Harvey, $368.7 million for Irma, and $492.7 million for Maria.”

“FPDS posts regularly updated spreadsheets containing a wealth of data about relief contracts awarded in response to the three hurricanes that made landfall in the United States and its territories this year: Hurricane Harvey, which pummeled Texas and Louisiana in late August and early September, Hurricane Irma, which cut a destructive swath through Florida in mid-September, and Hurricane Maria, which days later inflicted massive damage on Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

There are three caveats: First, the data only tracks contracts—not other types of spending, such as grants and assistance to individuals and local governments, or other forms of federal relief aid such as military transport. Second, according to FPDS, the data “represents a portion of the work that has been awarded to date,” due in part to the challenges some contracting offices—particularly those located in disaster recovery areas—are facing as they try to feed timely and accurate contracting data into the system. Third, for military operational security concerns, the availability of Defense Department data is subject to a 90-day delay.

More than three-quarters ($1.3 billion) of the total was awarded under full and open competition. About 94 percent of the total has been spent by the Department of Homeland Security, mainly through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the US Coast Guard.

FPDS tracks the principal place of performance of the contract, which is defined as “the location of the principal plant or place of business where the items will be produced, supplied from stock, or where the service will be performed.” Hurricane Harvey primarily affected Texas and Louisiana, yet those two states are the principal place of performance for just 3 out of every 10 contract dollars. For Hurricane Irma, Florida is the principal place of performance for about 36 percent of the contract expenditures, while Puerto Rico is the locus of 56 percent of Hurricane Maria contract spending. The US Virgin Islands were battered by both Irma and Maria, but the territory— home to 100,000 US citizens—has been the place of performance for just 2 percent and .09 percent of Irma and Maria contract expenditures, respectively.

The most lucrative contracts so far have been awarded by FEMA to address the immediate needs of the victims of Hurricane Maria. One was a $122 million task order awarded to Disaster Solutions Alliance, a joint venture involving top 100 contractor URS Corporation, “to execute a feeding mission” in Puerto Rico. The other was a $118 million order placed with Florida-based engineering firm Team Systems International to deliver 80 million liters of bottled water to Puerto Rico. The current top hurricane relief contractor is medical transportation company American Medical Response, with $153.8 million in awards.

Contract expenditures for the three hurricanes grew at vastly different rates during the first two weeks, based on our analysis of the data posted at the time. For all three storms, spending increased very little for the first three to four days after landfall. After the fourth day, Harvey contract spending surged and continued to grow rapidly over the next eight days. Irma spending spiked on day six, but then grew very slowly over the following week. We were particularly intrigued by the spending trend for Hurricane Maria. Even though Maria was the last of the three storms—when, presumably, the government was most ready to initiate the recovery effort—the amount spent on relief contracts remained a relative pittance and barely grew at all during the first five days. After the fifth day, contract spending began to grow slowly and then grew sharply after day nine.

As the recovery efforts shift over the coming weeks from providing temporary relief to performing large-scale cleanup and infrastructure rebuilding, Harvey/Irma/Maria contract spending will grow exponentially. Eventually, it could even eclipse contract spending for both Hurricane Sandy (nearly $3 billion) and Hurricane Katrina (more than $20 billion), which means the risk of fraud and waste will also grow exponentially. In fact, Congress and the FBI are already hot on the trail of suspected mishandling of federal funds and resources flowing into Puerto Rico. Past experience has taught us that corruption related to natural and man-made disasters takes many forms and can take many years to investigate.”



China Is Quietly Reshaping the World



“DEFENSE ONE” By Anja Manuel

“China is quickly growing into the world’s most extensive commercial empire. The scale and scope of the Belt and Road initiative is staggering.

Estimates vary, but over $300 billion have already been spent, and China plans to spend $1 trillion more in the next decade or so.”

“The Pakistani town of Gwadar was until recently filled with the dust-colored cinderblock houses of about 50,000 fishermen. Ringed by cliffs, desert, and the Arabian Sea, it was at the forgotten edge of the earth. Now it’s one centerpiece of China’s “Belt and Road” initiative, and the town has transformed as a result. Gwadar is experiencing a storm of construction: a brand-new container port, new hotels, and 1,800 miles of superhighway and high-speed railway to connect it to China’s landlocked western provinces. China and Pakistan aspire to turn Gwadar into a new Dubai, making it a city that will ultimately house 2 million people.

China is quickly growing into the world’s most extensive commercial empire. By way of comparison, after World War II, the Marshall Plan provided the equivalent of $800 billion in reconstruction funds to Europe (if calculated as a percentage of today’s GDP). In the decades after the war the United States was also the world’s largest trading nation, and its largest bilateral lender to others.

Now it’s China’s turn. The scale and scope of the Belt and Road initiative is staggering. Estimates vary, but over $300 billion have already been spent, and China plans to spend $1 trillion more in the next decade or so. According to the CIA92 countries counted China as their largest exports or imports partner in 2015, far more than the United States at 57. What’s most astounding is the speed with which China achieved this. While the country was the world’s largest recipient of World Bank and Asian Development Bank loans in the 1980s and 90s, in recent years, China alone loaned more to developing countries than did the World Bank.

Unlike the United States and Europe, China uses aid, trade, and foreign direct investment strategically to build goodwill, expand its political sway, and secure the natural resources it needs to grow. Belt and Road is the most impressive example of this. It is an umbrella initiative of current and future infrastructure projects. In the next decades, China plans to build a thick web of infrastructure around Asia and, through similar initiatives, around the world.

Most of its funding will come in the form of loans, not grants, and Chinese state-owned enterprises will also be encouraged to invest. This means, for example, that if Pakistan can’t pay back its loans, China could own many of its coal mines, oil pipelines, and power plants, and thus have enormous leverage over the Pakistani government. In the meantime, China has the rights to operate the Gwadar port for 40 years.

Belt and Road is China’s biggest foreign policy initiative to date, but it’s no Marshall Plan. Beijing is not doing this out of altruism, or out of a desire to stabilize the countries it loans to. So why spend such enormous sums on its neighbors? For one thing, China is too dependent on its eastern seaboard and the narrow Malacca Strait near Singapore to get goods in and out of its vast territory; for example, over 80 percent of its oil goes through the Strait. So building trade routes through Pakistan and Central Asia makes sense. Belt and Road also helps China invest its huge currency reserves and put its many idling state-owned enterprises to work.

The initiative also has a positive side effect for Beijing: Some Chinese government officials say specifically that it’s about competing with the United States. At a minimum, it creates leverage to make many smaller countries feel economically beholden to China.

So what does all this mean for the “liberal international order” that the U.S. did so much to create and uphold over the past seven decades? The effect is not all bad.

If the point of that order was to secure peace and prosperity, there are ways in which China’s largesse actually complements it. Countries that trade moregenerally fight less, not just with their trading partners, but with the world in general. In its own way, China is thus helping to uphold international peace. Yet even if there is less interstate war under a “Pax Sinica,” an era when many small “donee” states are beholden to China means that on a slew of other issues—from counterterrorism to sanctioning countries at odds with the West—the U.S. will find it harder to impose its will.

On the prosperity question, China’s economic impact on the countries it lends to so far seems mixed at best. While the 20 percent or so that China gives in traditional aid does help local economies, most of its largesse comes as loans, which have not been as helpful. Scholars who looked at Chinese investment in Africa 1991 to 2010 found that Chinese assistance does not appear to help economic growth, and that inexpensive Chinese imports often displace African local firms, and thus hurt employment in small enterprises. China usually requires donee countries to use Chinese firms to build roads and ports, and so doesn’t employ local firms or train local workers. In Pakistan, for example, 7,000 Chinese nationals are working on the economic corridor—they bring their own cooks, have separate housing, and don’t interact much with the locals. Relatively few Pakistanis are working on the actual road and rail-building (and thus developing skills)—but Pakistan has deployed nearly 15,000 security personnelto guard the Chinese. Soldiering is not a skill Pakistan needs more of.

Also, while Chinese loans used to have low interest rates around 2.5 percent, they are now creeping up to near 5 percent or more. This will make them harder to repay. While those who receive Chinese funds are happy to fix their power shortages and improve their roads, they may be mortgaging their futures.

Perhaps the biggest challenge China’s efforts pose to the “liberal international order” is that, in contrast to most Western aid and loans, Belt and Road projects often encourage terrible governance, environmental, and human rights standards, although China’s record on this has improved somewhat over the past few years.

China is often the largest investor in countries that others ostracize—because they are run by dictators, don’t respect human rights, and are corrupt—such as Zimbabwe, North Korea, Niger, Angola, and Burma. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni—no guardian of human rights—explained that he likes Chinese investment because they “don’t ask too many questions,” and “come with … big money, not small money.” Of course, while the U.S. and Europe insist on high standards for their aid projects today, both their companies and governments also had terrible records on human rights and the environment when they ventured to India, Africa, Latin America in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

On worker safety and the environment, when China first ventured abroad, its standards were often abysmal. In some areas, Chinese firms still leave behind a mess of underpaid miners, devastated forests, and ruined rivers. Yet China is learning quickly. In 2017, the Chinese government published new, more stringent guidelines for outbound investors. China’s new infrastructure investment bank, the AIIB, wants to apply world-class standards, and many Chinese companies—including the national oil behemoth CNOOC—are improving rapidly.

If China’s geoeconomic push continues, it will be its largest legacy and have a profound impact on the world—not necessarily all negative. Since the West doesn’t have $1 trillion to lavish on developing country infrastructure in a new great game, its best choice may be to coopt and shape this juggernaut. If the Belt and Road initiative is a success, asphalt will be smoother, logistics will run faster, and countries that were cut off from world markets will be able to trade more. If the research cited above holds true, that will lead to fewer interstate wars, although it will make many small countries beholden to China. President Xi emphasized in both his 2015 and 2017 visits to the United States, and at Davos, that China wants a more equitable international system, but it does not want to unravel the international order. By encouraging China to raise the labor, human rights and environmental standards of their projects, the world should hold him to it.”


Anja Manuel is a co-founder and principal at the consulting firm RiceHadleyGates LLC, and a former State Department official. She is the author of This Brave New World: India, China, and the United States.





State and Agriculture Departments Building Out Cloud Services to Support Other Federal Agencies


ag & State


“There’s a nice symmetry to what may be happening in IT services across the federal government.

On the one hand, you have USDA building out its capabilities in analytics and financial services to meet the needs of other agencies here at home. On the other hand, you have State beefing up its networking infrastructure to improve mobility and network connectivity for agencies with needs abroad.”

“It seems that the goal for some government agencies is to not only be a consumer of IT solutions but also provide those technologies to others as well. That’s certainly true of the State Department, which has made clear its objective to become a larger cloud services provider via its Foreign Affairs Network or FAN. State plans to increase its services through the FAN network by 15 percent by the end of fiscal 2018.

Developed by the department’s Bureau of Information Resource Management, FAN is a portfolio of secure, cloud-based services that enable a more mobile, productive and collaborative workforce. According to State, FAN allows the foreign affairs community to have access to modern cloud services that have standardized security and management frameworks and streamlined procurement options.

But State is not the only agency with the goal of increasing its presence as a service provider. The Agriculture Department is planning to offer services across all federal agencies – whether as a platform-as-a-service provider or as a financial services and systems provider. USDA asked for $3 billion for IT in fiscal 2018, out of an overall discretionary budget of $18 billion.

Money for new State projects

By comparison to USDA, the State IT budget has remained mostly the same over the past three years, with slight reductions from year to year, generally in the neighborhood of $50 million. The fiscal 2018 request is roughly the same level as the fiscal 2017 enacted level. The development modernization and enhancement (DME) budget is actually about $13 million less than fiscal 2016.

DME is “new IT money,” or funding to be used to buy new products, develop new applications and implement new capabilities. Despite this reduction, State still requested a total of $366 million for DME funding –around 20 percent of its total IT budget, which is actually above the civilian average of 10 percent to15 percent. State designates a large 57 percent of its IT spend as infrastructure, primarily for back-end technologies needed for enterprise IT functions such as servers and network security. State needs that level of infrastructure and networking spending to support its vast IT facility holdings around the world.

That level of demand creates a constant budget pressure to reduce energy consumption – and to reduce the agency’s dependence on physical infrastructure, in favor of more cloud-based technology.

Cost savings, mobility and the FAN connection

Last June, State awarded a contract to create a platform for applications that monitor, analyze and visualize State facility sensor data, to cut down on energy use. Essentially a trial, the contract now is worth $25 million over three years, and only covers a portion of State buildings. Down the road, however, it will open up other Statae facilities to using the internet of things as a means of controlling costs.

On other cost-savings fronts, State is adhering to the government’s Data Center Optimization Initiative, with a goal to cut back on physical data centers – especially the ones in the U.S. to the main point of consolidation, the Enterprise Server Operations Center West or ESOC West data center.

The department also has the goal of increasing mobility access to its employees in two different ways.

First, it wants to increase the number of mobile devices by 30 percent so that employees can access critical apps while working in the field or at home. Second, to support this rollout, the agency will need to purchase more mobile network technologies and mobile application development tools to ensure employees have the access to the right databases and systems.

It’s through these and other efforts that State plans to use FAN to become a more prominent service provider to external customers. Ironically, FAN is already being used by organizations like the USDA (which has its own ambitions to provide more services to agencies). The USDA Foreign Agricultural Service needs global IT network connectivity and relies on FAN for that connectivity.

In each case, you have an agency playing to its strengths and betting it can turn a traditionally high-dollar part of its overall budget into services for others, rather than just an expense.”

About the Author:

Kevin Shaker is a market intelligence analyst with immixGroup (an Arrow company), which helps technology companies do business with the government. He can be reached at or on LinkedIn at


Of Guns At Home, And Guns Abroad


Box cutters (top) were banned from aircraft after 9/11, and Reapers (bottom) were sent around the world to hunt down terrorists. But homegrown terrorists have easy access to AK-47s (middle). (Photo illustration by Mark Thompson, U.S. ATF, USAF)


“The gun and terrorism issues show markedly different approaches to vexing problems.

Congress demands the Pentagon hunt down and kill every terrorist—and adds billions to its budget to do just that. But it refuses to lift a (trigger) finger to curb domestic terror like that which occurred Sept. 30 in Las Vegas. These mass firearm murders have become an itch that must be scratched.”

“My father hunted deer with his 30.06 deep in the woods of Maine, and taught me and my brothers how to shoot. I helped teach my two sons to shoot in the wilds of New Hampshire. But when you combine all-but-unrestricted access to near-automatic firearms with suicidal shooters, there needs to be a reckoning.

I embrace the Second Amendment, and I don’t want guns banned. I think I am like most Americans in this regard.

Congress has become increasingly pusillanimous during my nearly 40 years in Washington. Despite talk, they have refused to cut the deficit, reform entitlement programs, or fix the zany tax code. This week, we entered our 17th year of war in Afghanistan without lawmakers declaring war. So why should we expect them to do anything about their constituents slaughtering other constituents?

As a reporter for nearly 50 years, I’m pretty much of a First Amendment absolutist. OK: no shouting “fire” in a crowded theater, but that’s about it. That’s barred because—get this—it could lead to people getting hurt, or maybe even killed, in a stampede. But you can’t mow down innocent people by shouting vile epithets at them from the 32nd floor of a Las Vegas hotel.

Why are my staunch Second Amendment-backer friends so opposed to even the most common-sense measures to curb the gun violence in our midst? Do we really need semi-automatic weapons, huge magazines, suppressors—more commonly known as silencers—or “bump stocks,” a legal firearm option used in the Nevada massacre that all but turns semi-automatic weapons into machine guns?

Walmart and Cabela’s, two of the nation’s leading firearm retailers, apparently stopped selling bump stocks following the massacre. That’s sure to impress 58 families. And Congress hasn’t ruled out doing something about bump stocks. Such courage! Even the National Rifle Association broke its typical silence following such shootings to acknowledge such faux machine-gun devices might warrant restrictions. That’s a tentative, but tiny, step in the right direction.

Believing in the fundamental right to bear arms is a long way from the lust for personal firepower that has grown in this country since I was a kid. Why do so many gun advocates and their NRA allies have such a Pavlovian response to any suggestion that the nation needs to get a handle on this scourge? The notion that additional restrictions will inexorably lead to confiscations or bans is a black-and-white mindset in a gray world.

There are 89 guns in this country for every 100 people (No. 2 is Yemen, currently waging civil war, at 55). But 3 percent of American adults own half those guns (78 percent of Americans don’t own a firearm). Americans also possess an estimated 48 percent of the globe’s 650 million guns in civilian hands (that makes the Pentagon, which accounts for about 37% of global defense spending, look like a relative bargain).

One 2015 accounting noted that all of the nation’s wars killed 1,396,733 Americans…while 1,516,863—9 percent more—have been killed by guns, just since 1968. A Gallup survey earlier this year showed that 55 percent of Americans wanted tougher gun-control laws, with only 10 percent wanting them loosened. But that 10 percent, bolstered by more than $4 million in NRA campaign contributions to congressional candidates since 1998, has given the gun lobby unparalleled clout on Capitol Hill.

That’s led to some bizarre etymological debates. Joseph Lombardo, the Las Vegas sheriff, was asked if Stephen Paddock’s 58 murders were an act terrorism. “No, not at this point,” he said. “We believe it was a local individual.” That suggests the post-9/11 fear-mongering has worked, and that one must be an “other” to be a terrorist. A pathetic man can rake 22,000 people from high up in a nearby hotel, killing 58 and wounding nearly 500 more…and none (in charge) dare call it terrorism?

Some of my anti-gun friends say the Second Amendment was the Founding Fathers’ original sin. No, that’s not right either. A sound and fair Second Amendment makes sense for a nation spawned by those shrugging off the yoke of tyranny by force of arms.

But Second Amendment backers also have to acknowledge that the Founding Fathers had no inkling of modern firearms, and the NRA’s death grip on Congress. If the recent conservative embrace of “originalism” in interpreting the Constitution and its amendments means anything, it means that the Founders were familiar with Brown Bess muskets and Pennsylvania rifles, not AK-47s and the NRA.

The nation rightly goes to great lengths to prevent its men and woman in uniform from dying on the battlefield. U.S. taxpayers spent $50 billion on 25,000 Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected vehicles that the Pentagon rushed to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, many by air, to shield U.S. troops from $100 roadside bombs. The flip side of that fact is just as critical: we will spend billions—no, make that trillions—to track down a relatively few terrorists no matter where on the globe they’re hiding. We hurl $2.4 billion B-2 bombers and grim MQ-9 Reapers around the world, along with the cream of our young, to find them and wipe them out.

But our federal government won’t do a damn thing to halt homegrown mass murder. Both terrorists and murderers are vile scum, but what accounts for our skewed priorities?

An annual “Survey of American Fears” (is this a great country, or what?) by California’s Chapman University helps put this into perspective. Government corruption ranked #1 (60.6 percent of those surveyed said they were “afraid or very afraid” of it) in 2016. Terrorism was #2, cited by 41 percent, slightly higher than the 38.5 percent who feared “government restrictions on firearms and ammunition.” Interestingly, in light of that concern, “people I love dying” ranked 6th, at 38.1 percent, edging out the 35.5 percent who feared “The Affordable Health Care Act/Obamacare.”

Experts say fears can be irrational because our brains have evolved to make speedy judgments, fueled by emotion, that may have made sense in the past but no longer do. “Our biases reflect the choices that kept our ancestors alive,” neuroscience journalist Maia Szalavitz has written. “But we have yet to evolve similarly effective responses to statistics, media coverage, and fear-mongering politicians.”

Box cutters were turned into blades of mass destruction on Sept. 11, 2001. They were used by 19 Islamic terrorists to hijack four airliners and kill 2,977 innocents. Forty-eight hours later, before post-9/11 flights resumed, the U.S. government barred them from U.S. commercial aircraft.

No one asked that the handy tool be banned elsewhere. In fact, I just bought a nifty ceramic-bladed model to help me slice up all the Amazon boxes that arrive at my house each week. But banning box cutters from commercial air travel was a necessary step in dealing with the violence they enabled.

The same logic needs to apply to guns. Of course tighter restrictions won’t end firearm violence. But few want to abolish the Second Amendment. They just want reasonable, responsible restrictions to curb the carnage. Such limitations, well beyond banning bump stocks, are coming. The only question is how many more will have to die first.”

Photo of Mark Thompson

By: Mark Thompson, National Security Analyst

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


$21 Billion Worth of F-35 “Concurrency Orphans” (Permanently Unfit for Combat)





“Airplanes left behind in the acquisition cycle after the services purchased them in haste before finishing the development process.

If they are left in their current state, nearly 200 F-35s might permanently remain unready for combat because the Pentagon would rather buy new aircraft than upgrade the ones the American people have already paid for.”

“The new F-35 Program Executive Officer, Vice Admiral Mat Winter, said his office is exploring the option of leaving 108 aircraft in their current state because the funds to upgrade them to the fully combat-capable configuration would threaten the Air Force’s plans to ramp up production in the coming years. These are most likely the same 108 aircraft the Air Force reportedly needed to upgrade earlier in 2017. Without being retrofitted, these aircraft would become “Concurrency Orphans,” airplanes left behind in the acquisition cycle after the services purchased them in haste before finishing the development process.

Left unsaid so far is what will become of the 81 F-35s purchased by the Marine Corps and Navy during that same period. If they are left in their current state, nearly 200 F-35s might permanently remain unready for combat because the Pentagon would rather buy new aircraft than upgrade the ones the American people have already paid for. What makes this particularly galling is the aircraft that would be left behind by such a scheme were the most expensive F-35s purchased so far. When the tab for all the aircraft purchased in an immature state is added up, the total comes to nearly $40 billion. That is a lot of money to spend on training jets and aircraft that will simply be stripped for spare parts.

The Pentagon and Lockheed Martin have been assuring the American people for years that the price tag for the F-35 is on its way down. Much of that effort was part of the campaign to convince Congress to approve the Economic Order Quantity, or multiple-year block buy of F-35 components. They claimed that would lead to even more cost savings. But it is difficult to be enthusiastic about the prospect of saving $2 billion when the program could potentially have wasted up to ten or perhaps twenty times that amount.

Upgrades are unusually complex for the F-35 because of the design process being used for the program. The program is developing the F-35 in several phases, called blocks. Each block has more capabilities than the earlier version. According to the Lockheed Martin website, Block 1A/1B combined basic training capabilities with some security enhancements. Block 2A remained a training version, with the ability to share data between aircraft. Blocks 2B and 3I are the first versions with any combat capabilities. The only significant difference between 2B and 3I is the aircraft’s computer processor. The first version expected to have full combat capabilities is Block 3F. This version has yet to be completed and is only expected to begin realistic combat testing next year.

F-35 Block Plan: Capabilities/Transition Plan

The Marine Corps controversially declared Initial Operational Capability with Block 2B aircraft in 2015. But this version is hardly ready for combat. The Pentagon’s testing office has repeatedly said that any pilots flying Block 2B F-35s who find themselves in a combat situation would “need to avoid threat engagement and would require augmentation by other friendly forces.” In other words, the 108 Air Force F-35s in question, or any of the Block 2B aircraft, would need to run away from a fight and have other aircraft come to their rescue.

VERY Expensive Trainers

Getting to the bottom of exactly how much money has been wasted buying potentially combat-incapable fighters is a bit of a challenge. There are various ways to calculate the cost of weapon systems. To make it even more difficult, the numbers have been deliberately obscured by the Pentagon and the defense industry over the years. Using Lockheed Martin’s own numbers for aircraft deliveries, it is possible to make a few calculations to begin to get an idea about how much money may have been spent on these potential concurrency orphans.

The defense industry likes to use the Unit Recurring Flyaway cost. This is just the material cost of the airframe plus the fee to have it put together. This figure sometimes does not include the cost of the engine and it does not include the support and training equipment, spare parts, software upgrades, or contractor fees necessary to actually make the aircraft work.

Under the best case scenario, the only aircraft that would remain concurrency orphans are the 108 Air Force Block 2B and 3I F-35As. Without knowing exactly when the 108 aircraft in question were built, it is impossible to know precisely how much was spent to procure them. But, using publicly available information, it is possible to calculate a reasonably approximate figure since the Air Force acquired its first 108 F-35As in Low Rate Initial Production lots 1-9.

Using the Lockheed Martin/Air Force figures (which are MUCH lower than the real costs) for the first 108 F-35As purchased, the American people spent approximately $14.117 billion to purchase fighter planes that will never be fully combat capable unless the Air Force spends the money to upgrade them.

When you factor in the cost of the engine and the support equipment necessary to acquire an aircraft that is actually capable of operating, the dollar amounts are much different than what the Pentagon and Lockheed Martin advertise. This figure can be called the procurement unit cost.

F-35 Air Force Unit Procurement Cost Chart

By simply multiplying the number of aircraft purchased per lot by average procurement unit cost for the corresponding year, the American people spent approximately $21.4 billion for those 108 orphaned F-35As. That is slightly more than has been spent on the entire four-year fight against ISIS.

What remains to be seen is what will happen to all of the Block 2B aircraft remaining in the other services. During the period in question, the Marine Corps purchased approximately 53 Block 2B F-35Bs and the Navy purchased 28 Block 2B F-35C variants. The Project on Government Oversight submitted questions to the F-35 Joint Program Office and Lockheed Martin regarding whether the Navy and Marine Corps aircraft will be upgraded to the fully combat-capable 3F software configuration along with the other concurrency modifications, such as structural reinforcements. So far, no reply has been received from either office. When the costs to purchase all variants of the F-35s bought between 2007 and 2014 (the approximate timeframe the first 108 F-35As were purchased), are added together, taxpayers have spent $39.4 billion.

The Natural Result of Concurrency

The risk that the services would be stuck with less than capable aircraft is one that the Pentagon knowingly took when leaders decided to overlap the development and testing of the program with the production. That overlap is what is known as concurrency.

The F-35 program is one of the most concurrent programs in history. The services will have nearly 800 F-35s either on hand or in the manufacturing pipeline before the design is fully proven through testing under the current plans. This is something former Pentagon Acquisition chief Frank Kendall called “acquisition malpractice.”

While the F-35 program is still technically in “low rate initial production,” this is really only true in a strictly legalistic sense. Lockheed Martin is expected to produce more than 90 F-35s in 2018. This, like the 266 previously bought and contracted for (all U.S. F-35s purchased through 2017), seems to go somewhat beyond the “the minimum needed to provide production representative test articles for operational test and evaluation (OT&E) (as determined by DOT&E for [Major Defense Acquisition Programs] or special interest programs), to establish an initial production base for the system and provide efficient ramp up to full-rate production” standard established in the Department of Defense acquisition regulations.

The danger of purchasing hundreds of aircraft before a program produced a stable and fully tested design has been well known for years. Concurrency, as a RAND Corporation analyst explained in testimony before the House Committee on Government Reform on May 10, 2000, is rooted “in the politics of the acquisition process.” As POGO has pointed out before, this practice serves to limit the available political options for restructuring programs experiencing significant test failures or cost overruns. When the Pentagon makes substantial procurement commitments well before development or testing is complete, it severely increases the political costs of cancelling the program due to all the money already invested and all the jobs already created.

Dr. Michael Gilmore, the now-retired Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, warned that the services would likely have to send aircraft back to the maintenance depots for modification. The list of modifications is already quite extensive. The Air Force lists 213 change items in its FY 2018 budget request. The modifications required go far beyond mere software upgrades. They include serious structural upgrades including fixes to the landing gear, ejection seats, and the aircraft’s bulkhead structures.

Some aircraft would have to undergo this process several times before they could be in the full combat configuration.

This is an expensive process. The Government Accountability Office identified $1.8 billionworth of retrofitting costs to the program in 2016, with $1.4 billion going to already known problems and another $386 million worth of anticipated fixes that had yet to be identified. These figures are almost certainly much lower than the true cost to retrofit the aircraft already purchased because, as the testing process continues, it’s natural that more and more problems will be revealed. The F-35 program is expected to cost $406.5 billion in development and procurement costs alone. The true cost to upgrade the earlier generation aircraft must be much higher than what is being publicly reported if is the Pentagon has deemed it cheaper to purchase more aircraft.


In total, Congress has authorized—and the Pentagon has spent—nearly $40 billion purchasing approximately 189 F-35s that, in their current configuration, will never be able to perform the way they were expected to when taxpayer dollars were used to buy them. This is hardly the right way to do business.

Any future program must abide by the true spirit of the “fly before you buy” business model—unless of course neither Congress nor DoD nor the manufacturers really care about producing an effective and affordable system.”

Photo of Dan Grazier

By: Dan Grazier, Jack Shanahan Fellow

Dan Grazier is the Jack Shanahan Fellow at the Project On Government Oversight

Can You Be Hacked By the World Around You?

Hacked by the World Around You

Could scanning a QR code be an invitation to malware? (Photo credit: Zapp2Photo/

“FIFTH DOMAIN”  By Jeremy Straub, North Dakota State University

“Have you been warned against scanning unknown QR codes or just taking a picture with your phone?

New research suggests that cyberattackers could exploit cameras and sensors in phones and other devices.”

“As someone who researches 3-D modeling, including assessing 3-D printed objects to be sure they meet quality standards, I’m aware of being vulnerable to methods of storing malicious computer code in the physical world.

Our group’s work is in the laboratory, and has not yet encountered malware hidden in 3-D printing instructions or encoded in the structure of an item being scanned. But we’re preparing for that possibility.

At the moment, it’s not very likely for us: An attacker would need very specialized knowledge about our system’s functions to succeed in attacking it. But the day is coming when intrusions can happen through normal communications with or sensing performed by a computer or smartphone. Product designers and users alike need to be aware of the risks.

Transmitting infection

In order for a device to become infected or compromised, the nefarious party has to figure out some way to get the computer to store or process the malware. The human at the keyboard has been a common target. An attacker might send an email telling the user that he or she has won the lottery or is going to be in trouble for not responding to a work supervisor. In other cases, a virus is designed to be unwittingly triggered by routine software activities.

Researchers at the University of Washington tested another possibility recently, embedding a computer virus in DNA. The good news is that most computers can’t catch an electronic virus from bad software – called malware – embedded in a biological one. The DNA infection was a test of the concept of attacking a computer equipped to read digital data stored in DNA.

Similarly, when our team scans a 3-D printed object, we are both storing and processing the data from the imagery that we collect. If an attacker analyzed how we do this, they could – perhaps – identify a step in our process that would be vulnerable to a compromised or corrupted piece of data. Then, they would have to design an object for us to scan that would cause us to receive these data.

Closer to home, when you scan a QR code, your computer or phone processes the data in the code and takes some action – perhaps sending an email or going to a specified URL. An attacker could find a bug in a code-reader app that allows certain precisely formatted text to be executed instead of just scanned and processed. Or there could be something designed to harm your phone waiting at the target website.

Imprecision as protection

The good news is that most sensors have less precision than DNA sequencers. For instance, two mobile phone cameras pointed at the same subject will collect somewhat different information, based on lighting, camera position and how closely it’s zoomed in. Even small variations could render encoded malware inoperable, because the sensed data would not always be accurate enough to translate into working software. So it’s unlikely that a person’s phone would be hacked just by taking a photo of something.

But some systems, like QR code readers, include methods for correcting anomalies in sensed data. And when the sensing environment is highly controlled, like with our recent work to assess 3-D printing, it is easier for an attacker to affect the sensor readings more predictably.

What is perhaps most problematic is the ability for sensing to provide a gateway into systems that are otherwise secure and difficult to attack. For example, to prevent the infection of our 3-D printing quality sensing system by a conventional attack, we proposed placing it on another computer, one disconnected from the internet and other sources of potential cyberattacks. But the system still must scan the 3-D printed object. A maliciously designed object could be a way to attack this otherwise disconnected system.

Screening for prevention

Many software developers don’t yet think about the potential for hackers to manipulate sensed data. But in 2011, Iranian government hackers were able to capture a U.S. spy drone in just this way. Programmers and computer administrators must ensure that sensed data are screened before processing, and handled securely, to prevent unexpected hijacking.

In addition to developing secure software, another type of system can help: An intrusion detection system can look for common attacks, unusual behavior or even when things that are expected to happen don’t. They’re not perfect, of course, at times failing to detect attacks and at others misidentifing legitimate activities as attacks.

Computer devices that both sense and modify the environment are becoming more common – in manufacturing robots, drones and self-driving cars, among many other examples. As that happens, the potential for attacks to include both physical and electronic elements grows significantly. Attackers may find it very attractive to embed malicious software in the physical world, just waiting for unsuspecting people to scan it with a smartphone or a more specialized device. Hidden in plain sight, the malicious software becomes a sort of “sleeper agent” that can avoid detection until it reaches its target – perhaps deep inside a secure government building, bank or hospital.”


Lawmakers Developing VA Facilities Closure Plan

VA Facility Closings

Three statues portraying a wounded soldier being helped, stand on the grounds of the Minneapolis VA Hospital in June 2014. (Jim Mone/AP)


“At issue are the roughly 6,300 facilities owned by the VA spread across the country.

Veterans groups who testified before committee on Thursday said they have serious concerns that an outside panel could focus on savings instead of seeking the best care options for veterans.

Some of the largest veterans groups said they have serious concerns with the proposal, saying it’s ripe for abuse and could tempt VA officials to outsource more veterans’ medical care to private-sector physicians.”

“House lawmakers took the first steps toward shutting down hundreds of Veterans Affairs facilities through a process similar to military base closure rounds, saying the move is critical to keep the department from wasting millions of dollars on underused, aging buildings.

Even supporters admitted the plan will be a difficult sell on Capitol Hill.

“This bill is bold, transformative and controversial,” said Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “Moving forward with it will require a significant amount of political courage and, let’s face it, members of Congress are not known for that.”

At issue are the roughly 6,300 facilities owned VA spread across the country. Department officials have said more than 57 percent of those locations are more than 50 years old, and hundreds of others provide little value to veterans care or department management.

VA Secretary David Shulkin in June announced plans to close at least 430 vacant or mostly vacant buildings over the next year, a move that is expected to save about $7 million annually. But he also has pushed for further authorities to close other locations, to better match department resources with future needs.

The VA base-closure-style plan — dubbed the Asset and Infrastructure Review Commission — would establish an eleven-member outside panel to recommend facility closings and resource shifts based on facility needs criteria to be established by the VA secretary.

That would involve an in-depth review of VA real estate and health care strategies, complete with public hearings. The final commission recommendations would need to be approved by the president. Congress would have 45 days to override the White House decision if they disagree with the planned closings and moves.

Much like the military base closing commissions, the set-up is designed to separate facility closing choices from political whims. Roe and committee ranking member Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., said the commission could also recommend setting up new facilities in underserved areas, using savings from other closings to pay for the new sites.

But veterans groups who testified before Roe’s committee on Thursday said they have serious concerns that an outside panel could focus on savings instead of seeking the best care options for veterans, creating major problems for a system already dealing with wait time and access challenges.

Carl Blake, associate executive director at Paralyzed Veterans of America, said his group could support the idea “assuming the intent is to right-size the VA and not simply use this opportunity to reduce the footprint of VA for the purpose of fulfilling a promise for greater community care access and cutting spending.”

Officials from Disabled American Veterans said they support a full review of the department’s national footprint but aren’t convinced the base-closing commission is the right path for that discussion. Officials from the American Legion said their group would not support the plan unless veterans groups had the opportunity to veto recommendations they deem harmful to veterans care.

But even without those concerns, any federal facility closing process faces a difficult path in Congress. Defense Department officials have been petitioning lawmakers for five years to hold another military base closing round, only to have the proposal rebuffed annually.

Government Accountability Office researchers said the last five BRAC rounds have produced nearly $12 billion in annual federal savings. But the last round conducted in 2005 still has not recouped its original costs, which has lead many in Congress to question the value of such cutbacks.

Roe insisted this plan is different, because the focus isn’t on generating savings but instead better preparing the department to respond to veterans needs. The proposal for now is only draft legislation, but he said he hopes to move forward on the issue in coming weeks.

Veterans groups said they would continue to work on the issue with lawmakers but emphasized their skepticism.

Acting VA Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Policy Regan Crump said department officials are not backing the idea of an outside asset commission yet, but do support “the need for more flexibility” with VA facilities.

As the congressional debate continues, VA officials are reviewing another 784 non-vacant but underused facilities to determine if they can close or restructure them in coming months.”


Polaris Trucks Carry Commandos And Casualties – And Can Be Robots




“Polaris is a small, tough company that makes small, tough trucks, favored by the MarinesSpecial Forces, and allied nations. They’re basically military-grade dune buggies, easy to transport by plane or helicopter and easy to customize to the mission. In this video, Polaris shows us one of their larger DAGOR vehicles configured to carry a full eight-man squad and the smaller MRZR set up as a mini-ambulance — as well as where to attach the gadgets to make it self-driving for the Army’s S-MET robotics competition.”



Inspectors General Community Launches “Oversight.Gov”




“, a centralized and searchable database of reports from offices of the inspector general (OIGs) throughout the federal government.

The database makes it easier to find reports on cross-cutting problems across the government.”

“The project is the result of two years of work from the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE).

Michael Horowitz, the Inspector General (IG) of the Department of Justice and the Chair of CIGIE, elaborates on the goals of the website in a press release, stating that “the public should have easy access to information about their government, and is a big step in this direction.”

67 OIGs who make their reports public have committed to posting searchable versions of their reports from fiscal years 2015 through 2017 to They have also committed to posting all new reports to whenever they post to their own site moving forward.

The homepage of has data broken down by fiscal year on the number of reports available, on how many recommendations are in those reports, and on the potential savings identified by IGs. This data automatically updates every time an IG uploads a new report to reflect this new information.

The site also has a “Report Government Fraud, Waste & Abuse” button at the top of every page, which currently links to a list of contact information for all 73 OIGs. CIGIE has hopes of expanding the capacity of this whistleblower assistance functionality by, for example, assigning a full time CIGIE employee to facilitate whistleblower disclosures through the ‘report’ page of the site. However, such plans are contingent on funding.

The Project On Government Oversight has done extensive work to ensure IGs are independent and effective watchdogs, and we believe the introduction of could serve to help those in the oversight community stay privy to the most recent findings of waste, fraud, and abuse, and to keep IGs accountable.

To keep up with the latest in the IG community, you can check out POGO’s database of vacant IG posts, and follow @OversightGov on Twitter to get live updates whenever new IG reports are available.”




Afghanistan Veteran Awarded Medal of Honor Explains Beating PTSD and Finding Peace and Hope

Afghanistan Medal of Honor Explains

The author, Florent Groberg, is seen here as an Army lieutenant flying over Afghanistan’s Konar province in 2012. He was awarded a Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest combat valor award, after risking his life to minimize the fallout from a deadly suicide attack. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Alexis Ramos)

“WASHINGTON POST” By Florent Gronberg

“I realized sitting in my own hospital bed, having been injured by a suicide bomber, that no Taliban, no al-Qaeda, and no foreign fighter ever truly scared me.

What frightened me were the demons in my head left behind after that traumatic attack, and their relentless work to destroy my inner spirits and finish me off.”

“The longest war in American history turns 16 years old Saturday — the anniversary of the first deployment of elite special operators to Afghanistan just weeks after the worst terrorist attack in our nation’s history.

Back then our mission was clear, and the call to war was simple: We were going to take out Osama bin Laden, and shut down al-Qaeda’s safe haven for good.

For most American teenagers, a 16th birthday is a huge milestone, a joyful transition into the independence, freedom and opportunities that come with adulthood. But in war, these milestones operate in reverse. The longer they stretch on, the murkier our mission feels, the greater the sacrifice becomes, and the farther into the distance our original goals fade.

Most Americans, glad to be hitting back after being attacked on 9/11, never imagined how expansive this war would become, how many millions would ultimately deploy to fight it, that bin Laden would prove such an elusive target, or that this conflict would morph from a massive manhunt to an even greater struggle for Afghanistan’s nationhood and soul.

And no one would have believed 2,500 American lives — and even more Afghan allies — would be lost.

Americans look at these questions differently and from many perspectives — across our dining room tables and our political divides. Some think we have been there too long, some that victory is just around the corner. Some think we have a responsibility to put Afghanistan back together, others that we are doing more harm than good.

I’ve been a part of these conversations, and I’ve been one of the many confused about our mission. Until I deployed myself.

On the ground in Afghanistan, walking through the silvery moon dust that layers the mountain ridgelines and among ancient societies who carve their homes out of some of the world’s most unforgiving terrain, this war looks very different.

Instead of hostile barbarians, I found myself among hungry and hopeful people. Instead of hunting a terrorist, we hunted for a nation’s future.

Yes, we fought the Taliban, and we used overwhelming American strength to fight those who engaged us with hostility. But we spent much more time working to improve the living conditions for ordinary Afghans, to clear paths for children to safely go to school, to deliver electricity, clean water and basic human security.

I saw the best of humanity at work in Afghanistan through the sacrifices and bravery of the people we worked alongside.

I also saw the depths of evil. Acts of barbaric cruelty, Afghan against Afghan, and brother against brother. The Taliban are a merciless enemy, happy to kill scores of their own people if it was worth one American life.

What hits hardest from my time in Afghanistan is how many of us came home with wounds — physical and emotional.

I nearly became a statistic, one of the 20 veterans who takes his or her life every single day. But like my time in combat, I relied on my brothers and sisters around me. They never quit on me, they pushed me and guided me. They saved my life once in the mountains of Afghanistan and again in the hospital room of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Today, I work with the Boeing Co. to help veterans and their families land careers where they can use their rare and unique skills. Part of that process involves providing our veterans with the resources they need when they, too, are struggling, physically or emotionally. To me, the continuing legacy of this war resides in every job offered to a veteran, in every family reunited with their service member, and in every opportunity for peace that we create.”


Florent Groberg is a retired Army captain, Medal of Honor recipient and author of “8 Seconds of Courage: A Soldier’s Story from Immigrant to the Medal of Honor,” to be released Nov. 7. He works at Boeing Co. as director of veterans outreach and defense, space and security strategy. On Twitter: @FlorentGroberg