Category Archives: Us Economy

Forecasting Disease From Space

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Geospacial Disease Forecasting

Photo Credit: World Health Organization (WHO)

“TRAJECTORY”

“Disease forecasting remains an imperfect science, but as it is refined to a point of repeated, reliable accuracy, it will play a more significant role in containing and responding to dangerous disease outbreaks.”


“In May 2017, hydrologist Antarpreet Jutla and a team of civil scientists used predictive algorithms to forecast an outbreak of cholera in Yemen. Cholera, a waterborne bacterial disease, primarily blooms during hot and dry seasons in coastal, developing countries lacking sophisticated sanitation and water infrastructure. To identify areas where these conditions are prevalent, Jutla’s team used satellite imagery to monitor temperature patterns, water storage, population migration, regional topography, and precipitation throughout Yemen. That data was fed into a processing algorithm that predicted areas most likely to experience an outbreak in the near future—particularly cities in West Yemen along the Red Sea.

Less than a month later, the model’s predictions rang true. Because the algorithms were built and tested using data from other regions, such as the Bengal Delta in South Asia, the team did not anticipate such accurate results in Yemen and chose not to preemptively warn local officials of the model’s predictions. In June, highly populated cities along the country’s West coast (including Al Hudaydah, Hajjah, and Taiz) saw tens of thousands of inhabitants suffer moderate to severe cholera symptoms.

The epidemic confirmed the model’s effectiveness beyond the team’s expectations. The refinement of such a system to a near-certain level of accuracy would offer huge advantages to hospitals and medical professionals, such as the ability to prepare treatment facilities and appropriately allocate supplies and vaccinations.

A similar disease forecasting effort in fall 2017 predicted malaria outbreaks in the Peruvian Amazon. NASA has partnered with university researchers who leverage NASA’s satellite fleet to identify areas where popular breeding grounds for the anopheles darlingi mosquito (the species most responsible for spreading malaria) overlap with concentrated human populations, leading to high infection rates. Using the Land Data Assimilation System (LDAS), NASA can pinpoint warm temperatures and calm waters like ponds or groundwater flooding—ideal conditions for darlingi to lay eggs. Regional models analyze this data and jump forward 12 weeks to predict where malaria is most likely to erupt. Health ministries are then encouraged to administer preventative treatment, bed nets, and other resources to specific health posts throughout Peru.”

http://trajectorymagazine.com/forecasting-disease-space/

 

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Continuing Resolutions – The Short Term Budget Fix That Is Bad For Government

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CR and the Can

Dark clouds pass over the Capitol in Washington.(AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

“FEDERAL TIMES” By Chris Cummiskey

“The latest continuing resolution was passed just before Christmas and is set to expire Jan. 19. What does it say about our country that the Congress can’t execute the most basic responsibility of providing funds for a full fiscal year?

Threatening a federal government shutdown is considered the nuclear option by both parties in Congress. However, the reality is that government by continuing resolution is bad for just about everyone.”


“Once again, the airwaves and media outlets are filled with the threat of another federal government shutdown in just 10 days.

Congress and the president have been at odds over the annual spending bill to fund the government for months, with agencies function under a series of short-term spending measures to keep the lights on. The latest continuing resolution was passed just before Christmas and is set to expire Jan. 19.

Unfortunately, this has been a common approach to government funding in recent years that I know all too well. In 2013, as the deputy under secretary for management at the Department of Homeland Security, I was tasked with overseeing DHS’s shutdown efforts.

Now, it is no secret there are legitimate policy issues to resolve this year including a host of immigration related items. The problem is that government by continuing resolution is bad for our citizens, bad for the government and bad for Federal workers that are trying to deliver much needed services.

Bad for citizens

Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, it is likely that you or someone close to you relies on some sort of government service. This can take many forms – ranging from receiving a monthly social security check to taking your family to a national park. What does it say about our country that the Congress can’t execute the most basic responsibility of providing funds for a full fiscal year? Confidence is already low in the federal government’s ability to perform. This doesn’t help. Say what you will about state governments, but as a state senator, we had no choice but to get the budget done at the start of each fiscal year. Most states have a balanced budget requirement that forces lawmakers to get in a room and not come out until a funding bill is sent to the governor. Congress should try that approach.

Bad for government operations

Under the rules of a CR period, the funding level is an apportioned amount based on prior year funding. Think of it as a mini fiscal year. Under a CR, no new starts of programs are permitted and changes to existing programs are severely limited. It essentially freezes all the current activity for departments and agencies so that most strategic planning is placed on hold. This means that even needed changes to improve service delivery and performance are shelved until a full year spending bill is approved by Congress.

Bad for federal workers

The constant threat of a shutdown is also bad for government workers who are left to do the best they can with a cloud of constant uncertainty. CRs also make it very difficult to fill mission essential positions. Federal managers and supervisors who are often shorthanded due to attrition, retirement and lack of retention incentives, struggle to meet critical staffing needs. When coupled with the slow rate of political appointments in many agencies, it makes it almost impossible to get the job done. These artificial mini fiscal years are particularly hard on the CFO and budget offices in agencies. At any given time, they are already working issues in several fiscal years. As an example, amid the current meltdown, CFOs and their staff must continue planning for the public release of the president’s fiscal 2019 budget set for next month. This kicks off congressional attention for the next round of budgeting even though they have not finished the 2018 spending bill.

As a recovering politician, I get it. You must play the cards you are dealt to leverage your best position in a budget negotiation. There are always a lot of moving parts and competing spending interests. Threatening a federal government shutdown is considered the nuclear option by both parties in Congress. However, the reality is that government by continuing resolution is bad for just about everyone.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Chris Cummiskey is a former acting under secretary/deputy under secretary for management and chief acquisition officer at the U.S. Department Homeland Security. He also serves as a senior fellow with the Center for Cyber and Homeland Security at George Washington University.

https://www.federaltimes.com/opinions/2018/01/09/short-term-budget-fixes-are-bad-government/

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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.”

Hard Lessons from America’s Longest Wars

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lessons longest wars“BREAKING DEFENSE”  By James Kitfield

“American troops have been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan for so long that the public doesn’t even celebrate their victories or mourn their defeats any more.

When U.S.-backed forces this year recaptured the twin capitals of the self-proclaimed caliphate of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria hardly anyone in America noticed.

When reports noted earlier this year that a resurgent Taliban had regained control of roughly 40 percent of Afghanistan that warranted only passing mention in the American media.”

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“There’s an old axiom that democracies, with their fickle political winds and short attention spans, are just not well suited for long wars. With the post-9/11 fight against violent Islamist extremists already well into its second decade, with no end in sight, it’s little wonder that many Americans believe the longest wars in U.S. history have been costly mistakes.

James Kitfield, who’s won more Gerald Ford Defense Reporting awards than anyone else (3)

Despite their unpopularity in a war-weary America, the post-9/11 wars looks very different to the men and women who have been in the middle of the fight. Not necessarily better, but more complex and nuanced than the narrative of an endless and futile slog against an unfathomable foe. U.S. military, intelligence and law enforcement agencies have learned and adapted constantly during a decade-and-a-half of fighting this “global war on terrorists,” as have our determined and adaptive enemies. After covering those wars, I spent recent years interviewing many of the top U.S. leaders in this long conflict in an effort to capture those lessons for my book, “Twilight Warriors: The Soldiers, Spies and Special Agents Who Are Revolutionizing the American Way of War” (Basic Books, 2016). Among their many insights the following lessons stand out.

Know Thine Enemy

China’s legendary military strategist Sun Tzu cautioned: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.” Yet from the beginning of these long wars U.S. officials have been slow to grasp the ideology, motivations and strategies of our enemies. The resulting miscalculations have cost the nation dearly.

President George W. Bush infamously saw a connection between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq which just didn’t exist. We invaded in 2003 and created a self-fulfilling prophecy. President Barack Obama wrongly believed the killing of Osama bin Laden and many of his top lieutenants spelled the end of Al Qaeda, leading him to prematurely withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq and Afghanistan and to underestimate ISIS as the Junior Varsity team of terror. For his part President Donald Trump routinely reacts to new terror attacks with calls to build a border wall and ban immigrants and refugees from Muslim-majority countries, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of jihadi attacks are conducted by Americans or legal immigrants.

Congress also seems dangerously disengaged from the nature of the war it authorized so long ago. Many lawmakers reacted with incredulous questions when four U.S. Special Forces soldiers died in Niger. What were U.S. troops even doing in that African nation, some of them wondered publicly? Of course, U.S. forces have been killing terrorists and helping to combat Islamist extremist groups and Al Qaeda affiliates in Africa for many years. It’s a familiar list: Al Shabab in Somalia; Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen; Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in the Sahel region; and Boca Haram in Nigeria. Perhaps too few lawmakers read newspapers or watch TV news.

Then there have been the seemingly inexplicable decisions by senior American policymakers. A cursory understanding of Iraq’s sectarian dynamic should have stopped Coalition Provisional Authority head Paul Bremer from his disastrous early decisions to disband the regular Iraqi Army and launch an aggressive “de-Baathification” campaign. That single act is believed by many to have driven Sunni officers and troops into the hands of Al Qaeda in Iraq, where they swam in a swamp of Sunni grievance. The resulting terrorist insurgency took the better part of a decade to subdue.

“The single biggest lesson we should have learned is that before you invade a country, you need to really understand in a very granular and nuanced way what is going on inside that country,” retired Gen. David Petraeus, the former leader of the Iraqi and Afghan counterinsurgency campaigns and former director of the CIA, told me in an interview. As the former commander of the 101st Airborne Division during the Iraq invasion, Petraeus remembers being given “Iraqi experts” who couldn’t tell him if the towns he was entering were majority Sunni or Shiite, or where the ethnic border lines were on a map: “Which means they didn’t know anything.”

Then we did it again. We withdrew in 2011 and ISIS simply repeated the cycle, forming its own alliance with former Baathist military officers and stoking Sunni grievances against Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

“By 2009-2010 we had essentially crushed Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), and we had a competing narrative to what the extremists were offering ideologically, which was a more inclusive government in Baghdad and a region moving in a positive direction,” said retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who led Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in defeating AQI and killing its leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and later commanded all U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan. “Then the ‘Arab Spring’ started and you had all this instability spread throughout the region, and [leader Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi and ISIS adapted to those conditions and filled that vacuum. As a consequence ISIS became something like Al Qaeda 3.0.”

Al Qaeda Is An Ideology First, Not A Group

Knowing your enemy means understanding his core motivations and goals. After U.S. counterterrorism forces killed Bin Laden and nearly all of his chief lieutenants in the 2010 – 2011 timeframe, President Obama plausibly argued that “core Al Qaeda” as it existed at the time of the 9/11 terrorist attacks had been decimated. But the bond that truly unites core Al Qaeda with its far-flung affiliates and other Sunni extremist groups is not like a regular army’s bonds of patriotism, discipline and training. They are bound by a transnational ideology, Salafi jihadism. Salafis are fundamentalists who interpret the Quran literally and believe the only true Islam is a mythic version they say was practiced in the days of the Prophet Mohammed and his acolytes in the 7th century. They believe it is their duty to impose this medieval version of Islam on “apostates” and “non-believers,” by extreme violence if necessary.

ISIS = Al Qaeda 3.0

In the Darwinian selection process of the terror strikes survivors get stronger as they learn and adapt. So it was with al-Baghdadi, the former chief of foreign fighter operations for Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the most lethal of the many affiliates that constitute “Al Qaeda 2.O.” After the 2011 Arab Spring protests and the Syrian regime’s iron-fisted response to a sectarian civil war, al-Baghdadi realized that the same ratlines that AQI had used to funnel foreign fighters from Syria into Iraq to fight the U.S. military could be reversed, sending AQI’s Sunni jihadists the other way to carve a sanctuary out of the rotting corpse of Syria.

Baghdadi had served prison time in a U.S. detention center, where he formed bonds and alliances with a network of former senior Baathist military officers in Saddam Hussein’s army. In 2013-2014, Baghdadi and his jihadists launched a series of daring prison breaks in Iraq to free them. Working together, they launched ISIS’ lightning offensive in the summer of 2014, stunning the world when they overran numerous Iraqi Army divisions and captured roughly a third of both Syria and Iraq, bringing ISIS’ terrorist army to the outskirts of Baghdad. What looked like a military offensive by a ragtag army of ISIS irregulars was actually the result of an unprecedented alliance between Salafi jihadists and former Sunni Baathist military officers whose networks reached deep into corrupted Iraqi Security Forces.

Under al-Baghdadi’s leadership ISIS is certainly an innovative organization. Understanding that it would resonate powerfully in Salafi ideology, Baghdadi proclaimed an Islamic caliphate, and declared himself its caliph, or ruler, attracting an unprecedented 40,000 foreign fighters from across the globe to ISIS’ black banner. Adopting Bin Laden’s strategy of attacking the West as a path towards greater legitimacy in the terror pantheon, he formed an “external affairs unit” that was behind terrorist “spectaculars” in Paris and Brussels. Many former Al Qaeda affiliates switched their allegiance to ISIS.

“The Paris attack was a nightmare, and of particular concern because of the direct connectivity between ISIS and the perpetrators. It had all the hallmarks of a centrally planned, organized and directed attack involving top ISIS leadership,” Nicholas Rasmussen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), told me in a recent interview. The Paris and Belgium attacks were proof that as long as ISIS enjoyed sanctuary from which to recruit and plan attacks on the West, it would remain a mortal threat.

“Safe haven is always high on the list of a terrorist organization’s sources of strength, and ISIS exercising state-like dominion over much of the territory of Iraq and Syria, with all its economic and energy resources, was in many ways the ultimate safe haven. That was incredibly dangerous from a counterterrorism perspective,” he said. “Combine that with ISIS’ unique ability to attract fighters from outside Iraq and Syria, which was far beyond anything Al Qaeda ever aspired to, and suddenly we were dealing with a mass terrorist movement.”

It Takes a Network to Defeat a Network

At their pinnacles, Al Qaeda and ISIS acted not as discrete terrorist organizations but as central command for a globe-spanning terrorist insurgency, with both groups funneling fighters, resources and “lessons learned” among a far-flung network of affiliates that stretched across an arc of instability from Southwest Asia all the way to North Africa.

Under the pioneering leadership of Gen. McChrystal, JSOC (the secretive war-fighting subcomponent of U.S. Special Operations Command), adapted by incubating its own network-centric model of military operations. That model relied on an unprecedented synergy that developed in the war zones between Special Operations Forces, intelligence and law enforcement agencies, and conventional military forces. The model of operations that McChrystal helped pioneer was most closely associated in the public mind with drone strikes and the relentless counterterrorism raids such as Operation Neptune Spear, which brought Osama bin Laden to justice. At its hot core, this new, network-centric style of warfare is predicated on hunting individual terrorists and other extremists who hid in the dark corners of the world, and in plain sight as well.

The intense battle rhythm behind that new style of warfare was unlike anything that had come before it. JSOC’s multiagency joint task forces and intelligence fusion centers combined the skills of disparate national and international players into a unified, mission-focused whole. The streamlined operations enabled by the network greatly condensed the traditional military-targeting cycle of “find, fix and finish” by constantly incorporating intelligence “exploitation and analysis,” creating what the counterterrorism community called an “F3EA” style of operations. Within that operational model the once bright lines between intelligence gathering and operational targeting disappeared.

The synergies required of that new style of operations explained major reorganizations of the Central Intelligence and Defense Intelligence agencies, the emergence of the National Counterterrorism Center as a major, multiagency coordinating node in the network, and the National Security Agency’s (NSA) storage of vast amounts of electronic metadata in search of “patterns of life” among terrorists and their networks. JSOC’s mantra “it takes a network to defeat a network” became the rallying cry of a man-hunting juggernaut that McChrystal described to me as “the Amazon.com of counterterrorism.”

“The epiphany for me came as we were studying Al Qaeda operations and realized that it didn’t act like a typical hierarchal terrorist organization, with ponderous, top-down execution. It moved so fast that we were constantly asking ourselves, ‘How did they do that?’” McChrystal recalled. After that it became all about building a globe-spanning U.S. counterterrorism network along with allies, he said, and connecting far-flung military, intelligence and law enforcement entities together focused on a common contextual understanding of the threat, and on winning this one fight.

“The biggest epiphany of all was that once we connected all these nodes and the network was working, I didn’t have to make a lot of big decisions,” he said. “The network learns and it knows what to do! Through the wisdom of the crowd, the network adapted organically and figured out the right strategy.”

Counterterrorism vs. Counterinsurgency

Four times in this long war U.S. military commanders have confronted a dangerous tipping point where a campaign of terrorism transforms into a much larger and more widely-supported insurgency powerful enough to compete with government forces for control of territory: Iraq in 2006-7; Afghanistan in 2009-10; and Iraq and Afghanistan again in 2014-2017. At that point a strictly counterterrorism campaign of targeted strikes on terrorist leaders becomes ineffective in countering a determined and dug-in insurgency. A more  manpower intensive counterinsurgency campaign is required to clear enemy-held ground, hold it to protect the local population, and build governance as a means to win the populace to the government’s side.

Disagreements about the efficacy of counterterrorism versus counterinsurgency strategies, both between military and civilian leaders and among the military fraternity itself, led to some of the costliest mistakes of the post-9/11 wars. U.S. commanders and their civilian masters in Iraq 2003-2005 were slow to even recognize the insurgency there until it was almost too late. Disagreements over a counterterrorism versus a counterinsurgency strategy between the White House and McChrystal’s team in Afghanistan in 2009 eroded critical trust between them, ultimately leading to McChrystal’s dismissal. If the Iraqi government does not rebuild and project governance into the recaptured Sunni majority city of Mosul, then its recent victory there against ISIS is also likely to prove temporary.

Petraeus, who replaced McChrystal in Afghanistan after leading the successful counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq, understood the mission as keeping the country from once again becoming an Al Qaeda sanctuary, which required halting the momentum of the Taliban insurgency, and accelerating the training of Afghan security forces so they could defend their own country.

“And you can’t do that with a counterterrorism strategy of man-hunting alone! You can hunt men all day long, but if you don’t clear territory and hold it, then the enemy is just going to keep regenerating,” Petraeus told me in our interview for Twilight Warriors. “So anyone who believed we could win in Afghanistan with counterterrorism operations alone was mistaken. There is no foundation for that idea whatsoever.”

https://breakingdefense.com/2017/12/hard-lessons-from-americas-longest-wars/0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pentagon Assigns 1,200 Auditors for Unprecedented Financial Review

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Pentagon Audit U.S. News dot com

“DEFENSE ONE”

“After decades of false starts, the Defense Department aims to issue its first audit report in November 2018.

The Defense Department is finally beginning an audit of its finances, following years of calls for greater transparency and failed attempts to make its accounts fully reviewable.”

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“Defense Comptroller David Norquist made the announcement Thursday, saying the department’s inspector general would begin the audit in December. Starting in 2018, Norquist said, the IG will issue reports on the Pentagon’s finances annually. The first audit will be released in November of next year.

Congress has pushed for Defense to make itself audit-ready for decades, but the Pentagon has repeatedly missed deadlines for investigators to fully dive into the minutiae of its $600 billion in annual spending. For the last several years, department officials and lawmakers of all ideological backgrounds have targeted 2017 as the year to finally get Defense ready for its financial review. The Pentagon was statutorily required to be audit-ready by September, and Norquist pledged in his May confirmation hearing to release a full financial review in 2018 whether the department was ready or not.

The department will deploy 1,200 auditors to examine every corner of its finances. The IG has hired independent public accounting firms to help it analyze each military service and to produce an overarching, department-wide report.

It is important that the Congress and the American people have confidence in DOD’s management of every taxpayer dollar,” Norquist said. “With consistent feedback from auditors, we can focus on improving the processes of our day-to-day work.”

He added the annual audits also would ensure the military receives adequate supplies and equipment.

“It demonstrates our commitment to fiscal responsibility and maximizing the value of every taxpayer dollar that is entrusted to us,” said Dana White, a Pentagon spokeswoman, on Thursday.

The Government Accountability Office first put the Pentagon’s lack of audit-readiness on its “high-risk list” in 1995. Disparate systems among the department’s various branches and components, coupled with a dramatic increase in the use of contracts in recent years, have inhibited the efforts to boost oversight. Obama administration officials acknowledged their failure to make Defense audit-ready hindered officials’ ability to track the smallest of expenses and created a public confidence issue.

“The taxpayer will never be convinced if we can’t do what every public company does” and achieve full auditability, then-Defense Comptroller Robert Hale toldGovernment Executive in 2014.

Rep. Mike Conway, R-Texas, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee’s panel on oversight and investigations, commended department leadership.

“Today’s announcement is a major turning point for Department of Defense auditability,” Conway said. “The commitment to perform a full, annual audit of the DoD will provide the taxpayers the accountability they deserve, as well as present opportunities for increased efficiency within the department.”

http://www.defenseone.com/politics/2017/12/pentagon-defense-auditors-first-financial-review/144447/?oref=d-river&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=EBB%2012.12.2017&utm_term=Editorial%20-%20Early%20Bird%20Brief

 

 

Q&A Reference Library On Small Business Government Contracting And The Military Industrial Complex

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Quora Questions with Answers by Ken that have undergone 677,000 Views on Small Business Government Contracting and the U.S. Military Industrial Complex Ken Larson Reference Library on Quora

 

Defense Contractors Holding the Pentagon Hostage with Service Contracts

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Contractor Holds Pentagon Hostage

“THE PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT (POGO)” By Dan Grazier

“Defense contractors are creating complicated support systems for the increasingly complex weapon systems the Pentagon buys, which allows the contractors to secure long-term contracts for which they have no competition from other companies.

The Pentagon, with the apparent consent of Congress, has allowed Lockheed Martin to retain control of a [F-35] system vital to the day-to-day operations of what is supposed to be the aircraft at the center of the fleet of three Services.

Sustainment costs are expected to top $1.2 trillion through 2060, the expected lifespan of the program.”

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“A new Government Accountability Office report, released in October 2017, details problems the services are having keeping the F-35 fleet ready for combat. One problem it highlighted was that, at a time when the Pentagon is desperate to ramp up production of new aircraft, the services have to wait an average of 172 days—nearly six months—to repair components for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), when it should only take between 60 and 90 days. While this aspect of the report garnered most of the headlines, the report reveals a much more fundamental and systemic problem involving most of the latest high-tech weapon systems: Defense contractors are creating complicated support systems for the increasingly complex weapon systems the Pentagon buys, which allows the contractors to secure long-term contracts for which they have no competition from other companies.

The F-35 serves as the ultimate example of this arrangement. Under the current plans, the American people will spend $406.5 billion for research, development, and procurement for a fleet of 2,456 F-35s. That is a staggering figure, but it pales in comparison to the costs to sustain the program. These costs are expected to top $1.2 trillion through 2060, the expected lifespan of the program. That is about $30 billion per year. While the sustainment-to-acquisition cost ratio for the F-35 program is roughly equivalent to the historic average of 70:30, the way in which the Pentagon and the contractors reach the 70 percent figure adds more than simple financial costs to the program.

Sustainment Challenges

It takes a great deal of effort to keep a complicated aircraft like the F-35 flying. To get a sense of just how much support is required, you only have to look at the latest bid solicitation documents. The support contract for the JSF program is being run though the Naval Air Systems Command, which opened the bid process in March. But this was nothing more than a formality since it was always intended as a sole source contract for Lockheed Martin.

According to the documents, Lockheed Martin will provide a number of services to support all of the currently fielded F-35s. Under the terms of the contract, the contractor will produce spare parts, support equipment, training materials, and infrastructure, and manage the Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS), among a great deal else. The full list shows exactly how much the Pentagon depends on the contractors to keep its weapons and vehicles working properly. And because these contracts are so valuable, the companies have very little incentive to design themselves out of their products by building a system that can be maintained by uniform personnel without the need to depend upon contractors.

The F-35 program is off to a bad start maintenance-wise. According to the GAO report, during the first nine months of 2017, 20 percent of the F-35 fleet was unable to fly because the spare parts they needed were unavailable. Nearly 20 percent of the F-35’s replacement parts require at least two years to be delivered. Lockheed Martin is also late in delivering details on how to perform the necessary maintenance procedures to the services, which makes it difficult for the maintainers at the unit level to properly troubleshoot problems with the aircraft. One squadron reported maintenance staff pulling parts from the aircraft in the mistaken belief they were broken and ordering new ones from the contractor. An official at one of the depot maintenance facilities that handles major repairs reported that 68 percent of the parts received at their shop did not actually need to be repaired. The process of testing each of these parts at the depots takes nearly 10 hours, so even a single falsely identified broken component contributes to wasted time. When more than two-thirds of all components coming through the system aren’t really broken, the GAO rather understates the matter by saying it is “both inefficient and can add to repair backlogs.”

The consequences of issues like this are significant. The GAO did not provide exact figures, but they reported the F-35s experience failures resulting in the loss of a mission-critical function at “more than twice the rate expected across all variants.”

The Field Service Representative Problem

The military’s dependence on contractors for basic functions incurs costs far beyond the mere financial. All American service members who have deployed to a combat zone during the War on Terrorism have seen the vast numbers of contractors working behind the scenes to support the war effort. In 2007, at the very height of “The Surge,” civilian contractors outnumbered combat troops. By 2016, contractors outnumbered troops by a 3 to 1 margin.

Military officials like to say that contractors actually cut costs and take care of the support functions, allowing the troops to focus on winning the war. Whether or not a contractor really “frees a Marine to fight” is debatable. Using contractors does provide a convenient means by which Administrations can mask the size of our military commitments to these places by adhering to caps on the official numbers of troops deployed in the strict sense of the actual number of uniformed military personnel deployed. These force caps rarely include contractor personnel. And contractors are hardly more economical. A 2011 Project On Government Oversight study found contractors can cost the government more than twice the amount of an equivalent government employee.

The financial costs are just part of the problem, however.

Perverse Incentives

What good is a weapon system if it doesn’t work when the troops need it the most? Every penny of the taxpayers money spent on it will have been wasted if at the moment of crisis, it stands idle because it is down for maintenance. As a result, the prime contractor has a perverse incentive to build itself into the final product to the greatest extent possible.

Understanding how a weapon system works is key to properly maintaining it, and for a system that is heavily reliant on software and computing power this means the maintenance personnel would need access to all of the system’s technical information. But manufacturers don’t want to hand over the data to anyone, citing intellectual property rights. By withholding this information, the prime contractor makes itself the only outfit capable of providing the necessary support services. No other company can compete for even one of the support contracts because the government is unable to specify the required needs.

Under this system, the original prime contractor has very little incentive to keep its prices reasonable because it will have no competition.  This is good for the contractors’ long-term business plans, but not so good for the taxpayers.

And it’s definitely not good for the men and women who depend on these systems in combat.

Looking at the Problem Properly

As important as it is, figuring out who should perform the maintenance and logistics functions is secondary to the problem we should be trying to solve: reducing maintenance and logistics burdens to the absolute minimum. This has always been one of the biggest criticisms of complex systems like the F-35.

Every time a gadget is bolted onto a weapon or vehicle, another potential maintenance burden is added. It becomes one more thing that can break and then take the entire system out of the fight. That is the part of the problem most people probably think about. To borrow a quote: “amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study logistics.” For every gadget added, the force must carry spares for it. These will get added to the ever-growing logistics tail that gets dragged behind the combat forces.

It used to be that these gadgets would be maintained by either the troops actually operating the system or by the support troops in their unit. That is the right way to do business. Weapons and equipment will ideally be designed in such a way that in the rare event they do break down, they can be repaired quickly and easily in the field by the users. Weapons and vehicles develop cult followings in large part because of how easy they are to maintain. The reason you still see Jeeps driving the streets of the United States is because the troops driving them during World War II grew to love them in no small part because of their ruggedness and ease of maintenance

In 2007, at the very height of “The Surge,” civilian contractors outnumbered combat troops. By 2016, contractors outnumbered troops by a 3 to 1 margin.

It is vitally important for the services to carefully consider each piece of equipment, and each gadget added to each piece of equipment for the real value it adds for the troop in the field. It is also vitally important to test a new system against the one it is meant to replace. The testing of the new system needs to show that not only is the benefit on the battlefield worth the monetary cost, but also that it is worth the maintenance and logistical burden that comes with the new system. Is the (often marginal) improvement in performance worth the extra personnel that may need to be brought along in the logistics trains? Is it worth the extra costs associated with transporting the new spare components? Computerized systems often require specialized diagnostic equipment to identify maintenance problems. These sometimes require their own vehicles to transport. Does the extra performance justify that?

Consider the $600,000 F-35 helmet. It works as part of the Distributed Aperture System (DAS). The system includes a series of cameras in the skin of the aircraft facing out. The images from the cameras are processed together and then projected into a visor in the pilot’s helmet. This allows the pilot to see “through” the jet’s skin so when the pilot looks down at the floor, he or she sees instead what is under the jet.

That sounds quite advanced, but just because something is advanced doesn’t mean it’s needed. To figure out if this incredibly complicated system is warranted, it is important to consider a question that is not often asked: what problem is the DAS attempting to solve? It has long been understood that fighter pilots need to be able to look around and see what is going on in the sky around them. For generations, people have understood that the pilot who spots the enemy first has the distinct advantage in combat. That is why the best fighter planes have bubble canopies with the pilot sitting high inside the fuselage to give them the most unobstructed view possible. That is a relatively simple engineering solution to make the maximum use of the pilot’s own eyeballs, still the most effective visual instruments in existence.

In this case, it’s not clear whether the DAS actually provides a performance advantage. Test pilots have reported that the projected images in the visor lag behind the movement of their heads. F-35 pilots have had to “learn” how to move their heads properly—they can’t turn too quickly. Moreover, the images DAS produces are less clear than what pilots see with their own eyes. One F-35 pilot has said, “to be honest with you I don’t really use it all that often, the reason being is that if I really want to see what is underneath me I will just look outside, I will just roll up. It doesn’t take that much longer for me to just bank up there airplane and look… Because I can see it with greater clarity… It’s just an added benefit. That is not the primary function of those cameras.”

The taxpayers are already paying for a cockpit in the F-35 with the additional cost of including the DAS. Had the services and the contractor just positioned the pilot higher in the aircraft and provided a better view through the canopy, then the taxpayers wouldn’t have to spend $600,000 for each helmet system, the troubled F-35 would have one less thing that can break, and the services wouldn’t need to carry around as many spare parts. They also wouldn’t have to send each pilot to have his or her delicate helmet custom-fitted—a process that takes two days and is something the manufacturer, Rockwell Collins, actually brags about:

Infographic: F-35 Gen III HMDS by the numbers

Graphic: Rockwell Collins

Because weapons manufacturers won’t hand over the technical data for the systems the Pentagon buys, the Services are dependent on the contractor for all support. It is reasonable for a company to prevent its competition from gaining an unfair advantage, but one can’t help but think the real motivation behind withholding the technical data is that sharing it with the Services might allow the Services to develop maintenance procedures that would not require contractor support, thus eliminating a massive, lucrative revenue stream. Companies need to make a profit to survive, but they should not be allowed to do so by making it more difficult for the military to accomplish its mission.

There’s Something About ALIS

Lockheed Martin accomplished perhaps its greatest acquisition coup by convincing the Pentagon and Congress that it would be a good idea to surrender control of the network at the very heart of the F-35’s maintenance process. The entire F-35 program depends upon a complex network called the Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) to keep the jets flying. ALIS plays a central role in the maintenance of the aircraft. It connects the plane’s on-board failure diagnostics with the program’s maintenance management and the logistics supply chain. ALIS is supposed to work by identifying a broken part on the F-35, automatically ordering a replacement part, and then guiding the maintenance crews through the repairs.

ALIS also manages the critical Mission Data Loads, which are large software files with information about target and threat locations, the specifics about electronic and/or infrared signatures, and all relevant mapping data. The jets need these files to properly locate targets and evade or defeat threats. These files need to be constantly updated with data gathered during missions. This information travels through the ALIS network.

According to the Lockheed Martin website, “ALIS serves as the information infrastructure for the F-35, transmitting aircraft health and maintenance action information to the appropriate users on a globally-distributed network to technicians worldwide.”

The wisdom of trusting so much functionality to a single networked system is questionable. The network is vulnerable to hacking, as the program office demonstrated by canceling a November 2015 cyber test to the network (which would have involved contracted hackers attempting to penetrate the network’s security) out of fear the tests would disrupt F-35 flight operations. Concerns about the security of the network are so great on Capitol Hill that lawmakers added language to the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act ordering the Pentagon to review the F-35 program’s vulnerabilities to cyber-attack. Congress gave the Pentagon six months to submit a report detailing potential threats and the plan to address them.

The Pentagon, with the apparent consent of Congress, has allowed Lockheed Martin to retain control of a system vital to the day-to-day operations of what is supposed to be the aircraft at the center of the fleet of three Services.

Of more immediate concern is the simple fact that the prime contractor has created a situation in which they have total control of this this part of the program. ALIS “resides on the backbone network of Lockheed Martin,” according to the Pentagon’s acting testing director, David Duma. The Pentagon, with the apparent consent of Congress, has allowed Lockheed Martin to retain control of a system vital to the day-to-day operations of what is supposed to be the aircraft at the center of the fleet of three Services.  And management of this system does not come cheap. The Department of Defense has estimated the total cost to purchase and operate ALIS will be $16.7 billion over the program’s expected 56-year lifespan, but a Pentagon-commissioned report concluded that these costs could rise to $100 billion due to schedule slips and functionality problems.

Conclusion

Carl von Clausewitz articulated the concept of friction in war nearly two centuries ago. Friction is the accumulation of little problems and difficulties that make the accomplishment of any mission in war difficult. No amount of effort can eliminate friction entirely for the military, but civilian and military leaders can make decisions during times of peace that can greatly reduce sources of friction in war. Buying overly complex weapon systems that require thousands of civilians to support in war is not the way to do that.

The Pentagon needs to stop buying (and Congress needs to stop authorizing) weapon systems that operate with only a single contractor’s support. The government should never sign a contract for a program that does not include receiving full data rights for the system. Anything less is a betrayal of the men and women who will have to trust their lives to it, and a betrayal of the American taxpayers. A weapon system can’t simply be judged by the expected combat performance. Decision-makers must also consider the costs in terms of the financial and logistical burdens involved to achieve that performance. Any expected combat performance must outweigh total costs involved. As a general rule, any weapon system should be kept as simple as possible and still get the job done.”

http://www.pogo.org/straus/issues/weapons/2017/defense-contractors-holding-the-pentagon-hostage-with-service-contracts.html?utm_source=weekly-reader&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=wr-171202&utm_content=header?referrer=https://outlook.live.com/

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Photo of Dan Grazier

 Dan Grazier, Jack Shanahan Military Fellow

Mr. Grazier, a former Marine Corps captain, served tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan during the War on Terror. His various assignments in uniform included tours with 2nd Tank Battalion in Camp Lejeune, NC, and 1st Tank Battalion in Twentynine Palms,CA.   He has written extensively and lectured on matters of military reform and Manœuvre Warfare. His work has appeared in the Marine Corps Gazette, Fires Bulletin, and Small Wars Journal.

He is a 2000 graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University and a 2012 graduate of the Marine Corps Expeditionary Warfare School.Dan Grazier is the Jack Shanahan Military Fellow at the Project On Government Oversight

 

 

Agency Progress Lacking on Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA)

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FITARA

“THE PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT”

“Only 4 of the 24 federal agencies GAO reviewed (the Departments of Commerce, Energy, Homeland Security, and Transportation) had clearly defined processes and policies for certification by the CIO.

By establishing incremental development as the standard, FITARA increases the likelihood that potential problems in projects will be caught and corrected sooner, ensuring less waste.”


“This week the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on federal agencies’ implementation of information technology (IT) reforms that require closer oversight from Chief Information Officers (CIOs) of their respective agency’s software development projects.

In response to years of major waste and mismanagement of IT investments, about which the Project On Government Oversight has previously reported, the federal government passed the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2015.

The bill also calls on the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to require an agency’s Chief Information Officer (CIO) to certify major investments are being incrementally developed and to clearly report on the certification process.

In the past, agencies have invested years and millions—or even billions—of taxpayer dollars into a project just to cancel it or end up with a system that performs well below projected productivity. The GAO report points to examples such as the 2012 cancelation of the billion-dollar Department of Defense (DoD) Expeditionary Combat Support System after DoD had spent more than five years on the project, and the Farm Service Agency’s endeavor to replace aging hardware and software applications that, ten years and $423 million dollars later, only delivered about 20 percent of planned functionality.

Since 2015 the management of IT acquisitions and operations has been on GAO’s “high-risk list,” a list of agencies and areas that have a higher potential for fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement. This “high risk” classification highlights the importance of properly implementing FITARA reporting and certification standards to foster accountability and transparency.

While FITARA is a step in the right direction, there is still a ways to go. This week’s GAO report shed light on the implementation of FITARA reforms: only 4 of the 24 federal agencies GAO reviewed (the Departments of Commerce, Energy, Homeland Security, and Transportation) had clearly defined processes and policies for certification by the CIO. Eleven agencies had policies that were not clear or detailed enough, and 9 had no policy at all. Furthermore, as of August 2016, across the participating agencies only 62 percent of investments were certified by the CIO.

The GAO report implies this outcome is at least partially because of a lack of clarity in OMB guidelines for how agencies should report CIO certifications. GAO emphasizes the “critical” nature of “a clear and consistent approach for agencies to follow.” OMB has responded to GAO’s concerns by issuing a new guidance this year for fiscal year 2019 with more specific guidelines. GAO felt the updated guidance was a “key improvement” and a “positive step.”

For fiscal year 2017, federal agencies were budgeted to spend over $89 billion on IT, including more than $43 billion on major investments. It is important that agencies and OMB work together to effectively implement FITARA reforms to make sure this money is well spent.”

http://www.pogo.org/blog/2017/11/some-agencies-yet-to-implement-it-oversight-reforms-gao-reports.html