Tag Archives: DOD

U.S. Air Force Technology Empowering Teleworkers

Image: “Aerospace America


Aerospace engineers and others will be able to access classified networks from home.

Air Force Research Laboratory accelerated the rollout of a new way for aerospace engineers, intelligence analysts, research physicists and others to securely access classified networks remotely.


“The coronavirus pandemic separated thousands of U.S. service members, Defense Department civilians and contractors from the highly classified information they need to do their jobs each day — data they can’t just bring home or access on the unsecured internet.

AFRL calls the initiative deviceONE. This month contractors authorized to handle classified equipment began home deliveries of jump kits consisting of modified off-the-shelf laptop computers. The laptops are loaded with software developed under a National Security Agency project to securely connect users to classified networks hosted on servers in Hawaii. About 20 kits have gone out so far from an initial batch of 40.

The uses will be myriad. At AFRL, for example, engineers or other professionals could log onto deviceONE to help prepare computer models of aircraft or projectiles for wind tunnel tests, said John Woodruff, the program manager for the SecureView laptops who is based at AFRL’s Rome, New York, site.

Thousands more deliveries will follow, as vendors such as Dell, HP and Panasonic deliver more laptops to AFRL for modification. Those won’t just go to AFRL workers, but also staff at dozens of other Air Force organizations, and possibly other military organizations, Woodruff told me in a phone interview.

The program could last far beyond the COVID-19 lockdowns, potentially giving airmen and troops who depend on classified data a convenient new way to access those networks at far-flung, austere locations in Afghanistan, countries in Africa and elsewhere.

DeviceONE is part of the Air Force’s Advanced Battle Management System effort, which seeks to find new ways to connect aircraft, satellites and operations centers and share data in the field. The initiative has three elements:

  • Virtual Desktop Information, or VDI, a series of cloud-type servers at Pacific Air Force’s Hawaii headquarters that store data and applications such as Microsoft Outlook — basically everything to run a user’s entire desktop remotely.
  • SecureView, the lightweight, thin client-style laptops that do little more than access the classified network and don’t allow anything to be saved to the hard drive.
  • Commercial Solutions for Classified, or CSFC, program, which connects the SecureView laptops with the VDI servers. CSFC, based on technology developed roughly six years ago by the National Security Agency, combines virtual private networks to process classified information.

AFRL was already working on combining those preexisting technologies, but the coronavirus pandemic made the need to get it into the field even more pressing.

AFRL hurried to release the latest version of SecureView, and then worked with several Air Force organizations to get deviceONE approved for rollout at the end of March. The approval process took place at “unprecedented speed,” Woodruff said. “What normally takes months was compressed to five days.”

Now that the first 40 kits have been prepared with the proper security and other software, Woodruff expects the next thousand laptops to arrive by late April.

The next phase of the project will lay the groundwork for deploying several thousand more deviceONE units. Each user’s computer costs less than $2,500, Woodruff said, and adding thousands of more users to Pacific Air Force’s infrastructure will likely cost between $6 million and $10 million.

A nontechnical roadblock could lie ahead, Woodruff suspects. Suitable laptops could become scarce as governments, schools and companies around the world shift to teleworking.

Woodruff said AFRL has kept good relationships with top officials at vendors such as Dell, to try to convince them to prioritize their orders as much as they can.

“We’re all trying to work remotely all of a sudden,” Woodruff said. “It’s very difficult to get the quantity of laptops that we’re discussing, quickly, from the manufacturers.”


Department Of Defense Updates Mid-Tier And Urgent Acquisition Policies

Image: Roper Center, Cornell University


The Defense Department issued updates to mid-tier and urgent acquisition policies that allow the military to quickly develop prototypes and field systems. The policies took effect in the last days of 2019.


“Reworking the DOD 5000 series instructions that govern acquisition practices has been a top priority for DOD acquisition chief Ellen Lord, who told reporters Dec. 10 the changes “the most transformational change to acquisition policy in decades.”

The Pentagon has said it expects to publish the adaptive acquisition framework in January, which will include acquisition pathways specific to “the unique characteristics of the capability being acquired,” Lord said.

The mid-tier acquisition instructions address rapid prototyping and fielding and are meant to serve as a path to “accelerate capability maturation before transitioning to another acquisition pathway or may be used to minimally develop a capability before rapidly fielding.”

Lord said the new mid-tier instructions under an 18-month pilot facilitated a dramatic increase in the number of programs.

“Since our pilot started 18 months ago, we have gone from zero middle-tier programs in November 2018 to over 50 middle-tier programs today delivering military utility to warfighters years faster than the traditional acquisition system,” Lord said in the media briefing.

The urgent instructions focus on capabilities needed during conflict that can be fielded in less than two years but cost less than $525 million in research and development funds or $3 billion for fiscal 2020 procurements.

Lord said the department’s changes to the acquisition would make it easier for professionals to match programs with acquisition pathways as well as reduce lead time for pathfinder projects.

The rewrites for major capability, software, defense business systems and services acquisition are pending release.”


It’s Time to Stop Stuffing the Defense Budget




THE PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT (POGO) From the Article, “Bestselling Pentagon Fiction”

For the Pentagon, happy days are here again (if they ever left). With a budget totaling more than $1.4 trillion for the next two years, the department is riding high, even as it attempts to set the stage for yet more spending increases in the years to come.”


“With such enormous sums now locked in, Secretary of Defense (and former Raytheon lobbyist) Mark Esper is already going through a ritual that couldn’t be more familiar to Pentagon watchers. He’s pledged to “reform” the bureaucracy and the spending priorities of the Department of Defense to better address the latest proposed threats du jour, Russia and China. His main focus: paring back the Pentagon’s “Fourth Estate” — an alphabet soup of bureaucracies not under the control of any of the military services that sucks up about 20% of the $700 billion-plus annual budget.

Esper’s promises to streamline the spending machine should be taken with more than the usual grain of salt. Virtually every secretary of defense in living memory has made similar commitments, with little or nothing to show for them in terms of documented savings. Far from eliminating wasteful programs, efforts pursued by those past secretaries and by Congress under similar banners have been effective in only one obvious way: further reducing oversight and civilian control of the Pentagon rather than waste and inefficiency in it.

Examples of gutting oversight under the guise of reform abound, including attempting to eliminate offices focused on closing excess military bases and sidelining officials responsible for testing the safety and effectiveness of weapon systems before their deployment. During the administration of President Bill Clinton, for instance, the slogan of the day — “reinventing government” — ended up, in Pentagon terms, meaning the gutting of contract oversight. In fact, just to repair the damage from that so-called reform and rebuild that workforce took another $3.5 billion. Gordon Adams, former associate director for national security and international affairs at the White House Office of Management and Budget, noted accurately that such efforts often prove little more than a “phony management savings waltz.”

Secretary of Defense Esper has also pledged to eliminate older weapons programs to make way for systems more suited to great power conflict. Past efforts along these lines have meant attempts to retire proven, less expensive systems like the A-10 “Warthog” — the close-air-support aircraft that protects troops in combat — to make way for the over-priced, underperforming F-35 jet fighter and similar projects.

Never mind that a war with either Russia or China — both nuclear-armed states — would be catastrophic. Never mind that more effort should be spent figuring out how to avoid conflict with both of them, rather than spinning out scenarios for fighting them more effectively (or at least more expensively). Prioritizing unlikely scenarios makes for a great payday for contractors, but often sacrifices the ability of the military to actually address current challenges. It takes the focus away from effectively fighting the real asymmetric wars the U.S. has been fighting since World War II. It leaves taxpayers with massive bills for systems that almost invariably turn out to be over cost and behind schedule. Just as an infamous (and nonexistent) “bomber gap” with the Soviet Union was used by the Pentagon and its boosters to increase military spending in the 1950s, the current hype around ultra-high-speed, hypersonic weapons will only lead to sky’s-the-limit expenditures and a new global arms race.

Esper’s efforts may end up failing even on their own narrow terms. Reforming the Pentagon is hard work, not only because it’s one of the world’s largest bureaucracies, but because there are far too many parochial interests that profit from the status quo. Under the circumstances, it matters little if current spending patterns aren’t aligned with any rational notion of what it would take to defend the United States and its allies.

A Revolving-Door World

The Department of Defense regularly claims that it has implemented “efficiencies” to ensure that every penny of your tax dollars is being wisely spent. Such efforts, however, are little more than marketing ploys designed to fend off future calls for cuts in the Pentagon’s still-ballooning budget. Here are just two recent examples of this sadly familiar story.

In September 2018, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report stating that the Department of Defense had provided insufficient evidence that $154 billion in alleged “efficiency savings” from fiscal years 2012 to 2016 had been realized; the department claimed credit for them anyway.

Just this month, the GAO came to a similar conclusion regarding a proposed Pentagon reform plan that was to save $18.4 billion between fiscal years 2017 and 2020. Its report stated that the Pentagon had “provided limited documentation of… progress,” which meant the GAO “could not independently assess and verify” it. Consider that a charitable way of suggesting that the Department of Defense was once again projecting a false image of fiscal discipline, even as it was drowning in hundreds of billions of your tax dollars. The GAO, however, failed to mention one crucial thing: even if those alleged savings had been realized, they would simply have been plowed into other Pentagon programs, not used to reduce the department’s bloated budget.

Esper and his colleagues have argued that it will be different this time. In an August 2nd memo, his principal deputy, David Norquist, stated that “we will begin immediately and move forward aggressively… The review will consider all ideas — no reform is too small, too bold, or too controversial to be considered.”

Even if Esper and Norquist were, however, to propose real changes, they would undoubtedly run into serious interference within the Pentagon, not to mention from their commander-in-chief, President Donald Trump, a man determined to plough ever more taxpayer dollars into the military, and from members of Congress in states counting on jobs generated by the military-industrial complex. Inside the Pentagon, on the other hand, resistance to change will be spearheaded by officials who previously held jobs in the defense industry or hope to do so in the future. We’re talking, of course, about those who have made use of, or will make use of, the infamous “revolving door” between weapons companies and the government. Consider that the essence of the military-industrial complex in action.

Such ties start at the top. During the Trump administration, the post of secretary of defense has been passed from one former defense industry figure to another, as if it were literally reserved only for key officials from major weapons makers. Trump’s first secretary of defense, retired General James (“Mad Dog”) Mattis, came to the Pentagon straight from the board of General Dynamics, a position he returned to shortly after leaving the department. Interim Secretary Patrick Shanahan, who followed him, had been an executive at Boeing, while current Secretary Esper was Raytheon’s former chief in-house lobbyist. The Pentagon’s number three official, John Rood, similarly comes courtesy of Lockheed Martin. And the list only goes on from there.

This has been a systemic problem in Democratic and Republican administrations, but there has been a marked increase in such appointments under Donald Trump. A Bloomberg Government analysis found that roughly half of the Obama administration’s top Pentagon officials had defense contractor experience. In the Trump administration, that number has reached a startling 80%-plus.

That revolving door, of course, swings both ways. Defense executives come into government, where they make decisions that benefit their former colleagues and companies. Then, as retiring government officials, they go to work for defense firms where they can use their carefully developed government contacts to benefit their new (or old) employers. This practice is endemic. A study by the Project On Government Oversight found 645 cases in which the top 20 defense contractors hired former senior government officials, military officers, members of Congress, or senior legislative staff as lobbyists, board members, or senior executives in 2018 alone.

There is, of course, nothing new about any of this. The late Senator William Proxmire (D-WI) pinpointed the problem with the revolving door back in 1969:

“The easy movement of high-ranking military officers into jobs with major defense contractors and the reverse movement of top executives in major defense contractors into high Pentagon jobs is solid evidence of the military-industrial complex in operation. It is a real threat to the public interest because it increases the chances of abuse… How hard a bargain will officers involved in procurement planning or specifications drive when they are one or two years from retirement and have the example to look at over 2,000 fellow officers doing well on the outside after retirement?”

Such revolving-door hires and former defense executives in government remain a powerful force for the status quo in Pentagon spending. They exert influence as needed to keep big-ticket weapons programs like the F-35 combat aircraft up and running, whether they are needed or not, whether they work as promised or not.

For his part, President Trump has repeatedly bragged about his role in promoting defense-related employment in key states, both from Pentagon budget increases and the sale of arms to repressive regimes like Saudi Arabia. In March, he held a one-hour campaign-style rally for workers at a tank plant in Lima, Ohio, at which he typically suggested that his budget increases had saved their jobs.

As for Congress, when the Army, in a rare move, actually sought to save a modest amount of money by canceling an upgrade of its CH-47 transport helicopter, the Senate struck back, calling for funding that the Pentagon hadn’t even requested in order to proceed with the program. The reason? Protecting jobs at Boeing’s Philadelphia-area factory that was scheduled to carry out the upgrades. Unsurprisingly, Trump seems fine with this congressional initiative (affecting the key battleground state of Pennsylvania), which still needs to survive a House-Senate conference on the defense bill.

The bottom line: Donald Trump is likely to oppose any changes that might have even the smallest impact on employment in states where he needs support in election campaign 2020. Defense industry consultant Loren Thompson summed up the case as follows: “We’re too close to the presidential election and nobody [at the White House] wants to lose votes by killing a program.” And keep in mind that this president is far from alone in taking such a stance. Similar reelection pressures led former President Jimmy Carter to increase Pentagon spending at the end of his term and caused the George H. W. Bush administration to reverse a decision to cancel the troubled V-22 Osprey, a novel part-helicopter, part-airplane that would later be implicated in crashes killing dozens of Marines.

“We Won’t Get Fooled Again”

What would a genuine Pentagon reform plan look like? There are areas that could easily yield major savings with sufficient political will and persistence. The most obvious of these might be the Pentagon’s employment of more than 600,000 private contractors, many of whom do jobs that could be done by government civilians for less. Cutting that work force to “only” about half a million, for example, could save more than a quarter of a trillion dollars over the next decade, as noted in a recent report by the Center for International Policy’s Sustainable Defense Task Force (of which both authors of this article were members).

Billions more could be saved by eliminating unnecessary military bases. Even the Pentagon claims that it has 20% more facilities than it needs. A more reasonable, restrained defense strategy, including ending America’s twenty-first-century forever wars, would make far more bases redundant, both at home and among the 800 or so now scattered around the planet in an historically unprecedented fashion. Similarly, the president’s obsession with creating an expensive Space Force should be blocked, given that it’s likely only to increase bureaucracy and duplication, while ensuring an arms race above the planet as well as on it.

Real reform would also mean changing how the Pentagon does business (not to speak of the way it makes war). Such savings would naturally start by simply curbing the corruption that comes from personnel in high positions who are guaranteed to put the interests of defense contractors ahead of those of taxpayers and the real needs of American security. (There are also few restrictions on former officials working for foreign governments and almost no public disclosure on the subject.) The Project On Government Oversight found hundreds of Pentagon officials leaving for defense industry jobs, raising obvious questions about whether decisions they made were in the public interest or meant to advance their own future paydays.

Real reform would close the many loopholes in current ethics laws, extend cooling-off periods between when an official leaves government and when he or she can work for an arms contractor, and make far more prominent information about when retired national security officials switch teams from government to industry (or vice versa). Unfortunately, since Esper himself has refused to pledge not to return to the world of the corporate weapons makers after his stint as secretary of defense, this sort of reform will undoubtedly never be part of his “reform” agenda.

One outcome of his initiative, however, will definitely not be money-saving in any way. It will be to boost spending on high-tech systems like missile defense and artificial intelligence on the almost laughable grounds (given the past history of weapons development) that they can provide more military capability for less money. Whether you look at the Navy’s Ford aircraft carriers — the first two costing $13.1 billion and $11.3 billion — or the Air Force’s aerial refueling tanker (which has taken nearly two decades to procure), it’s not hard to see how often vaunted technological revolutions prove staggeringly costly — far, far beyond initial estimates — yet result in smaller, less effective forces. As longtime Pentagon reformer Tom Christie has pointed out, to really change the acquisition system would require building in significantly more discipline. That would mean demonstrating the effective and reliable use of new technology through rigorous field-testing before advancing fragile weapons systems to the production stage, ensuring future maintenance and other headaches for troops in combat.

There is, in addition, a larger issue underlying all this talk of spending reform at the Pentagon. After all, Esper’s “reforms” are visibly designed to align Pentagon spending with the department’s new priority: combatting the security challenges posed by Russia and China. Start with one crucial thing: these challenges have been greatly exaggerated, both in the Trump administration’s national defense strategy and in the report of the industry-led National Defense Strategy Commission. That document, when you analyze its future math, even had the nerve to claim that the Pentagon budget would need to be boosted to nearly $1 trillion annually within the next five years, reports Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Russia has much to answer for — from its assistance to the Syrian army’s ongoing slaughter of civilians to its military meddling in the affairs of Ukraine — but the response to such challenges should not be to spend more on ships, planes, and advanced nuclear weapons, as current Pentagon plans would do. In reality, the economy and military of Russia, a shaky petro-state only passing for a great power, are already overshadowed by those of the U.S. and its NATO allies. Throwing more money at the Pentagon will do nothing to change Russian behavior in a positive fashion. Taking measures that are in the interests of both countries like renewing the New START nuclear reduction treaty and beginning new talks on curbing their massive nuclear arsenals would be extremely valuable in their own right and might also open the door to negotiations on other issues of mutual concern.

China’s challenge to the U.S is significantly more economic than military and, if those two nations wanted to make the planet a safer place, they would cooperate in addressing the threat of climate change, not launch a new arms race. Genuine reform of the Pentagon’s massive budget is urgently needed, but rest assured that Secretary of Defense Esper’s claims about implementing real changes to save taxpayer dollars while making the U.S. military more effective are the equivalent of bestseller-list Pentagon fiction. The motto of Congress, not to speak of the White House and the public, with respect to the Pentagon’s latest claims of fiscal probity should be “we won’t get fooled again.”


DOD Unveils Plan For Contractor Cyber Security Standards

Image: “Enisa”


The standards, known as Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification, will be researched and developed in partnership with the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab and Carnegie Mellon University Software Engineering Institute.

Once in place, third-party private sector companies will audit contractors to ensure compliance. The program also will include an education and training center for cybersecurity.”

“A Department of Defense official unveiled plans Thursday for contractor cybersecurity standards that are scheduled to be implemented by January 2020.

Katie Arrington, special assistant to the assistant secretary of Defense acquisition for cyber, made the announcement along with a plea for the private sector to work with the government to secure its supply chain at a Professional Services Council conference Thursday. The new standards will have a five-level system, and they will combine guidance currently in place from the National Institute of Standards and Technology with new input from the private sector and academia.

The level of cybersecurity required by the standards will be indicated on all contract solicitations once implemented.

Defense officials have spoken of the need to develop new contractor cybersecurity standards for more than a year now. Earlier this year, DOD CIO Dana Deasy described how tier-one prime contractors aren’t the big concern.“It’s down when you get to the tier-three and the tier-four” subcontractors.”

“Where the issue breaks down is that as you go down to those various subcontractors, do they understand, [are they] equipped, have the knowledge and the capabilities to defend themselves, and what is it we should be doing more to help them learn how to defend themselves at those tiers?” Deasy said.

Arrington’s announcement was the first look into what to expect when the new standards are implemented. Similarly, in 2017, DOD introduced a regulation that requires all vendors who do business with the department to more safely guard “covered defense information” that is transmitted to or stored in their systems or networks for contracted work.

In addition to speaking about the new rules, Arrington stressed the need for collaboration between public and private sectors to ensure information security.

“It is not a ‘me’ thing, it is a ‘we’ thing,” Arrington said.

The “vast majority” of DOD contractors have ad hoc and inconsistent cybersecurity practices, Arrington said. Cybersecurity breaches and intellectual property theft of DOD data has led to the theft of high-grade weapon systems, such as the F-35.

“We should be infuriated about what has happened to our data,” she said.

Arrington will be embarking on a listening tour across the country to seek input from contractors for the cybersecurity rules. Arrington is a former South Carolina lawmaker and small business owner who contracted with the government — experiences she said will inform her work to help secure military data.

The greatest counterintelligence risk to the U.S. is not theft of government data, but private sector IP, said Joyce Corell, assistant director for supply chain and cyber at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s National Counterintelligence and Security Center. Governments, like China’s, and their efforts to steal U.S. IP have taken up the majority of the U.S. counterintelligence apparatus’s work, Corell said in a talk following Arrington’s.

New steps to secure the supply chain are critical to plugging the leaks of data. To do so, Corell pushed for cybersecurity to be baked-in across all parts of the supply chain for government contractors. In the past, Corell has pushed small businesses to increase their cybersecurity to work with the government.

Corell and Arrington both drove the message that cybersecurity is needed at all levels of the supply chain, at all levels of contracting and from the military to civilian agencies.

Supply chain security is “a team sport,” Corell said.”

Pentagon Entrenches Bug Bounty Program




“Defense Department announced it will be entrenching the federal government’s first ever bug bounty program.

Awards contract to HackerOne and Synack to “create a new contract vehicle” for DoD components and service branches to launch their own bug bounty challenges aimed at incentivizing the discovery of vulnerabilities on networks.

Bug bounties are standard in private industry and many have expressed the need to adopt them in government. However, government, and to some degree, military culture, can stifle this, according to some. With no incentives to disclose discovered vulnerabilities, and in some cases, discovery leading to misinterpretation not as valuable or friendly information but threatening, this “promotes a ‘do-nothing’ culture,” two Army captains wrote in an article in the Cyber Defense Review.

Hack the Pentagon, as it was known, brought in members from the outside to find vulnerabilities on DoD computer systems for potential monetary compensation based upon the types and how many vulnerabilities they found.

The Hack the Pentagon initiative was led by the Defense Digital Service team, another technology initiative stood up by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter to bring in outside talent and replicate the tech culture of Silicon Valley firms to solve challenging problems for the department. Hack the Pentagon brought in over 1,400 registered and vetted hackers to find vulnerabilities on DoD unclassified systems, discovering 138 unique and previously undisclosed vulnerabilities in need of patching.

“This contract vehicle for a crowd-sourced security solution can also serve as a road map for other departments and agencies across the federal government to adopt and implement as well,” a release from DoD said.

Secretary Carter has worked hard to bring outside talent from the bastions of technology and innovation around the nation.

DDS, stood up last November, “brings coders in for what we call a tour of duty,” Carter has described. “They come in, you know they’re not going to make a career of it, they’re not going to join, they’re not going to be part of the government, but they come in for a year or a two, or a project, and make a contribution to us.”

Chris Lynch, who heads DDS, said the program was spun out of U.S. Digital Service, the White House team that was brought in from the private sector to bring in best practices and fix some of the biggest technology problems facing government.

“I like to say that we’re a very mission-focused organization,” he said of DDS in June at the Defense One Technology Summit. “We function a little bit more like a SWAT team … we go into things where there’s a challenge and work to help out in whatever way we can. So we’ve got some special super powers just because of how we’re positioned within the Department of Defense and we try to use our knowledge about how to build products and ship products to turn around challenge or very strategic projects that are going on.”

Carter has also pushed the Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental office, which originated with one office in Silicon Valley in 2015 to serve as a DoD outpost for outreach from the Pentagon to tech firms. Since it was first announced, there are now two additional offices in Boston and Austin with 12 contracts awarded totaling $36.3 million in the last fiscal year.

DoD said DDS will work with various components within the department and external government agencies in a consultative role as to advise the execution of future bug bounty programs.”







DOD Revamps Source Selection Process


Best Value DAU.dodlive.mil

Image: DAU.dodlive.mil


“New source selection procedures (SSP) on March 31 rescind the previous policies issued five years ago.

The new procedures will have a significant impact on proposal evaluations in DOD and specifically on how they handle best value tradeoffs and lowest price technically acceptable (LPTA) procurements.

If you would like to read the full 40-page memorandum and its three appendices, it is available on our website.

Redefining the best value continuum

DOD added a new source selection approach to the best value continuum for use as a standalone evaluation approach or in combination with the previously defined best value subjective tradeoff or LPTA tradeoff. The new approach is called Value Adjusted Total Evaluated Price (VATEP) tradeoff, and it allows the source selection authority (SSA) to include monetized adjustments to an offeror’s evaluated price based on specific enhanced characteristics proposed in the offeror’s solution.

In traditional best value subjective tradeoff evaluations, bidders may exceed minimum contract requirements, but no guidance is provided about how much the government is willing to pay for performance above minimum performance requirements. In subjective tradeoff procurements, the evaluation team must carefully document instances where a bidder offers to exceed a contract minimum requirement, and the SSA has to subjectively weigh the benefits of each feature in evaluating the offeror’s proposal and trading off these benefits against price.

In the new VATEP approach, the government will clearly identify minimum (threshold) and maximum (objective) performance requirements in the RFP and identify how much it is willing to pay in terms of price increase (either percentage or dollars) for measurable performance above the threshold.

This approach quantifiably links value and cost in such a way that a bidder can make an informed decision whether it should propose to meet or exceed threshold levels.

For example, if speed is a performance requirement, the government will clearly state what it is willing to pay for increased speed above the threshold level up to the objective level. If it costs 10 percent more for the offeror to increase speed from the threshold to the objective performance level, and the government is willing to pay 20 percent more to achieve this higher performance, then proposing the higher performance level would be a good decision. On the other hand, if the government is only willing to pay 5 percent more, and the offeror would have to raise its price by 10 percent to achieve this higher performance level, then the offeror would be better served to just propose performance at the lower threshold level.

In VATEP procurements, it is expected that the offeror will meet all threshold performance levels but will receive monetized evaluation credits for performance above thresholds. For performance above thresholds, the SSA will reduce the offeror’s evaluated price (for evaluation purposes only) by the amount of the credit the RFP assigns for performance above the threshold.

The government may assign an affordability cap to set an upper limit on how much the government will pay in total for all performance enhancements. Exceeding the affordability cap would make the offeror ineligible for award.

Any enhancements proposed above the threshold will be incorporated into the awardee’s contract.

Standardizing rating methodology and terminology

For all negotiated procurements (FAR Part 15), major system acquisitions (FAR Part 2.101), and task orders greater than $10 million on multiple award contracts, the new SSP standardizes evaluation terminology using five color ratings or adjectival ratings. These are:

  1. Blue (Outstanding) = a proposal with an exceptional approach and understanding of requirements that contains multiple strengths.
  2. Purple (Good) = a proposal with a thorough approach and understanding of requirements and contains at least one strength.
  3. Green (Acceptable) = a proposal with an adequate approach and understanding of requirements and has no strengths.
  4. Yellow (Marginal) = a proposal that does not demonstrate an adequate approach and understanding of requirements.
  5. Red (Unacceptable) = a proposal that does not meet the requirements of the solicitation and thus contains one or more deficiencies and is unawardable.

The above definitions apply when the government decides to consider performance risk as a separate evaluation factor. If performance risk is combined with the technical evaluation, the five color scores remain the same, but the definitions are slightly modified to include performance risk.

Clearly, to score well in highly competitive bids a proposal will need to have multiple strengths associated with each evaluation factor.

Neutral past performance rating may not be neutral

Past performance evaluations consider each offeror’s demonstrated recent and relevant record of performance in supplying products and services that meet contract requirements.

Relevancy is unique to each solicitation but may include, but not be limited to, similarity of product/service/support, complexity, dollar value, contract type, use of key personnel (services bids), and extent of subcontracting/teaming. Ratings are generally adjectival and are typically scored as Very Relevant,Relevant, or Somewhat Relevant. For example, very relevant would include present or recent past performance of an effort that involved essentially the same scope, magnitude, and complexities as those in the solicitation.

Quality of product or service as a separate rating is not required, however, a separate confidence assessment is required based on the overall record of recency, relevancy, and quality of performance.

Confidence ratings have five adjectival levels—Substantial, Satisfactory,Neutral, Limited, or No Confidence.

A neutral confidence rating occurs when there is no recent/relevant performance record available or the record is so sparse that no meaningful confidence rating can be assessed. When a neutral rating is received, the offeror’s past performance may not be evaluated favorably or unfavorably, however, the SSA may determine that another offeror with a substantialconfidence or satisfactory confidence rating is worth more than a neutralconfidence rating in a best value tradeoff as long as the determination is consistent with the stated evaluation criteria.

In LPTA procurements, an offeror with a neutral rating is given a passing score, so offerors are not penalized for lack of past performance.

LPTA procurement requirements defined

The new SSPs clearly state when an LPTA procurement is appropriate and emphasizes that this approach is appropriate when the products or services being acquired have:

  1. Well-defined requirements;
  2. Minimal risk of unsuccessful contract performance;
  3. Price has a dominant role in the source selection process; and
  4. There is no value, need, or interest to pay for higher performance.

Well-defined requirements mean technical requirements with acceptability standards that can be articulated by government and clearly understood by industry.

Appendix C to the new SSPs cites acquisition of commercial items or non-complex services or supplies as acquisitions that are appropriate for LPTA evaluations. This guidance is consistent with DoD’s Better Buying Power initiatives.

Small business participation

The government will evaluate the extent of small business participation proposed. Small business participation may be a standalone evaluation factor or a subfactor under the technical evaluation.

The requirement for small business participation must be clearly stated in the RFP as percentage goals for small business participation with the applicable breakdown of goals for various categories of small business concerns.

Proposed small business participation will be rated as either acceptable orunacceptable or scored using the same five color scores used for evaluating the technical proposal. When color scores are used, a Blue (Outstanding) rating is defined as “a proposal with an exceptional approach and understanding of the small business objective.”

The procedures do not say that in order to earn a Blue rating the offer must propose to exceed small business participation goals.

Mandatory use of discussions

Discussions are now mandatory for all procurements with an estimated value of $100 million or greater.

The procedures acknowledge that awards without discussions on large procurements are seldom in the best interest of government. Awards without discussions on complex, large procurements are discouraged.

Discussions, as a minimum, must include:

  1. Any adverse past performance information to which the offeror has not had an opportunity to respond; and
  2. Any deficiencies or significant weaknesses that have been identified during the evaluation.

The Procuring Contracting Officer (PCO) is encouraged to discuss other aspects of the proposal that could enhance the offeror’s potential for award such as evaluation weaknesses, excesses, and price, but is not required to discuss every area where the proposal could be improved.

There is no requirement to discuss all weaknesses in an offeror’s proposal even when undiscussed weaknesses may be determinative in the award.

Selecting the Source Selection Authority

The new procedures continue the practice of requiring the agency head to designate, in writing, someone other than the PCO as the source selection authority for procurements with values greater than $100 million (including options and planned orders). For these larger procurements, the SSA must establish a Source Selection Advisory Council (SSAC) to provide functional expertise.

When established, the SSAC’s primary role is to provide a written comparative analysis of the offerors and provide an award recommendation to the SSA. In the absence of an SSAC, the Source Selection Evaluation Board (SSEB) does not prepare a comparative analysis or recommendation for award since this task is the responsibility of the SSA.

The Source Selection Decision Document (SSDD) provides the rationale for award, and a redacted version can be provided at the debriefing.

The establishment of an SSA other than the PCO and use of the SSAC on larger procurements moves the selection decision solidly toward the organization needing the products, systems, or services being procured and away from individuals on the procurement side of the organization that may be more inclined to choose price over performance.

Final thoughts

The new source selection procedures, just like the previous, provide excellent guidance to improve DOD evaluation practices. I believe this procedure will serve DOD and industry well in the coming years and will help industry write better, more competitive proposals.



About the Author

Bob Lohfeld is the chief executive officer of the Lohfeld Consulting Group. E-mail is robert.lohfeld@lohfeldconsulting.com.


Cyber, Cloud Lead DOD Budget Priorities



Image: “Govtechworks”


“The IT budget request is $37 billion, up about 1.5 percent from the previous year.

The initiatives driving DOD IT budgeting for fiscal 2016 and the foreseeable future are cybersecurity, cloud, infrastructure, and unified capabilities.

With the omnibus appropriations deal reached in late December, technology companies selling to the Defense Department can breathe a collective sigh of relief — the deal will allow for new program starts and many IT modernization initiatives.

With the Joint Information Environment (JIE) serving as the department’s vision for security, interoperability and enterprise services, effective messaging should continue to be focused on how tools and technologies fit within the JIE concept.

Let’s dive into some of the major priorities and initiatives we expect to see through the remainder of the fiscal year and into fiscal 2017.

Cybersecurity, Cloud, and Unified Capabilities

Across the entire DOD, cybersecurity remains the highest priority. Because of the increasing severity and sophistication of cyber threats, the department must take aggressive steps to defend its networks, secure its data, and mitigate mission risks. Security considerations will affect almost every DOD IT investment.

We see the JIE manifested in the recent shift from localized network protection to a more enterprise approach for securing the DOD enterprise with the Joint Regional Security Stacks (JRSS).

Along with consolidating security stacks, DOD is standing up the new Joint Force Headquarters (JFHQ) organization. It will be charged with synchronized defense of DOD’s networks. Expect continued heavy demand for collaboration tools, testing technologies, and training programs for the new cyber workforce.

DOD will continue to press forward with cloud adoption as part of the JIE. In early 2015, DOD opted not to rely on DISA as its cloud broker, and revised security standards. Now FedRAMP-approved vendors can more easily host and process DOD data without jumping through more hoops – at least for unclassified data.

DISA will still remain in charge of cloud standards and security requirements for the DOD, and its Cloud Access Points (CAPs) initiative aims to reinforce the gateways between internal networks and the web.

CAPs are designed to perform intrusion detection, firewalling, and data loss prevention. DOD wants to scale CAP usage across the department, so commercial cloud providers looking at DOD sales will likely have to customize solutions based on CAP requirements.

In fact, if you build out a tool that works seamlessly with the CAPs, you may have a leg up on competitors.

In terms of shared services, Unified Capabilities (UC – providing voice, video, and various collaboration tools over the Internet) is an area the Army, Air Force, and DISA are working on together as part of a DOD wide effort to move away from older, hardware based systems.

Interoperability will remain a priority at DOD — whether that means ensuring the new electronic health record can talk to the VA or verifying that systems are interoperable not just with internal DOD mission partners but our allies as well.

DISA spending

DISA’s fiscal 2016 base budget request is about $9.4 billion. Of that, IT spending accounts for $4.6 billion – a 1.9 percent decrease from last year due to expected drops in fees the rest of DOD pays DISA for the services it provides.

In terms of priorities, IP-based collaboration will be an increasingly important service DISA provides to the branches. With a goal of true interoperability, DISA will be looking to invest in real time data sharing, speech recognition, VOIP, and state of the art collaboration tools.

Also, despite it having a reduced role in cloud procurement for DOD, cloud vendors should note that DISA is exploring a variety of off-premise and on-premise hybrid cloud approaches, which should gain momentum and adoption in 2016 and 2017.

On the cyber front, DISA wants to pursue a robust and layered defense approach to security, from the Internet access point down to the endpoint, marrying cyber and analytics to analyze changes and forecast over-the-horizon threats.

Army spending

The Army has budgeted $7.6 billion for IT out of its $127 billion operating budget, which represents a 3 percent increase to the IT budget request, due to increased investment in communications and infrastructure.

One of the Army’s biggest IT initiatives will be increased use of the commercial cloud. Army’s overall goal is to migrate all enterprise applications to the cloud by the end of fiscal 2018.

With its new cloud strategy, the Army has been able to make more progress with Unified Capabilities. The RFP for UC is expected to come out by the end of fiscal 2016. Also tying into cloud are Home Station Mission Command Centers for standardized tactical communications to overcome remote deployment limitations, demonstrating the Army’s emphasis on developing mobile solutions for deployed warfighters.

The other biggest IT efforts for fiscal 2016 within the Army will relate to cybersecurity. Army is trying to shore up and improve its existing cybersecurity efforts with a few big initiatives. The first is “Information Technology Box” for cyber. The Army is depending on this acquisition method to help it get cyber products quickly. IT Box will look to COTS for cyber tools like insider threat and discovery software.

Air Force spending

The Air Force’s fiscal 2016 IT budget request is $5.3 billion out of an overall budget request of $122 billion. That’s a 5 percent decrease over last year, due to realignment of portfolios and priorities. The decline comes out of operations and maintenance funding; however, the service is actually seeing a $300 million increase in capital expenditure budgeting, as it’s an organization that is dedicated to developing or purchasing more innovative and newer capabilities.

The most pressing of the Air Force’s new technology priorities is integrating cyber and intelligence to help plan for offensive cyber warfighting. Now that the 25th Air Force reports to Air Combat Command, it is looking for ways to more effectively plan operations and defend air and cyberspace.

Vendors should make information protection, secure storage, and availability part of their strategies with Air Force customers.

The Air Force also is paying increased attention to cybersecurity for weapons systems, especially protection of command and control systems like aircraft. Many of these systems were designed and built before the Internet existed, so cybersecurity was not a concern. Now the service needs help identifying and categorizing risks and baking in cybersecurity requirements to correct this issue. Look to assist them in identifying vulnerabilities for networked systems – from supply chain and maintenance up to weapons systems sensors, including software code.

The Air Force is a step ahead of the Army when it comes to JIE initiatives like UC and the cloud. Its Collaboration Pathfinder cloud platform is used for email, collaboration tools, and storage capabilities. This commercial cloud work doesn’t mean the Air Force has abandoned DISA, however; the service wants the most cost-effective solution, mixed with the appropriate security, whether that’s through commercial sources or DISA.

Navy spending

The Navy’s 2016 base budget request is about $161 billion. Of that, $6.5 billion is requested for IT – a 3.9 percent increase – due largely to cyber spending for next generation and tactical command and control systems.

The Navy’s Innovation Cell will serve as a platform allowing the service to rapidly and efficiently introduce new technologies. Among its first challenges for industry is data analytics. The Navy’s ability to conduct detailed data modeling, mining, and predictive analytics is limited, although almost every activity within the service has expressed the need for these solutions.

The Navy is also using the Innovation Cell to seek out ways to scale up virtualization and increase wide area network storage capacity to accommodate voice, video, and data carried over IP.

Of course the Navy’s largest investments are CANES and NGEN (the service’s consolidated afloat and ashore networks). NGEN has three top priorities: its tech refreshes (conducted every six months as the primary vehicles for modernization), preparing for the contract’s recompete, and consolidating to 15 NGEN data centers. For CANES, expect installations to finally start ramping up this fiscal year.

The Navy sees cloud computing as a critical enabler of the JIE’s emphasis on secure and efficient access to information and IT services anytime, anywhere, and on any secured device.

Cloud computing will also allow networks to be more interoperable, a key tenet of the JIE. Right now the focus is on the low-hanging fruit: unclassified or lightly sensitive data.

The Navy needs assistance with establishing trust between systems – and that challenge becomes more complex with commercial cloud hosting thrown into the equation. Disaster recovery, patching, and scanning are also key issues. Vendors should remember these concerns as they help the Navy figure out the right mix of commercial, private, or hybrid adoption.


The three biggest priorities for the DOD in fiscal 2016 — cybersecurity, cloud adoption, and shared services— are nothing new, but the DOD is trying to update its acquisition strategies, pilot more projects, and issue more challenges to drive innovation and get access to newer capabilities more quickly.

Vendors selling to the DOD need to be aware of their customers’ pain points and how their IT projects relate to the overall DOD mission. Having a continual dialogue between program managers, CIOs, and end users will continue to be vital to achieving success.”


Pentagon to Harness Best Talent America Has to Offer


Ashton Carter

Defense Secretary Carter


“Defense Digital Service  will bring in talent from America’s technology community to work for a specific period of time, or for a specific project.

This approach was used by the White House to fix the healthcare.gov website.

[In addition] A wide-ranging personnel reform proposal unveiled by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter could put the Pentagon in a better position to compete with the private sector for talent.

The proposals that Carter announced Nov. 18 would be the most far reaching personnel reforms the Pentagon has seen since the United States eliminated the draft and moved to an all-volunteer force more than 40 years ago.

Under a project that Carter dubbed “Force of the Future,” the Defense Department will seek to “harness the best talent America has to offer,” he said in a speech at George Washington University’s Elliot School of International Affairs.

Carter launched the effort in April out of concern that the military is struggling to recruit and retain top talent at a time when commanders need people with specialized skills in areas that also are in high demand in the private sector — international affairs, foreign languages, cyber security and all manner of information technology.

The reforms appear to be particularly motivated by recent struggles in the Army to recruit qualified soldiers and to retain its most skilled officers. These challenges are seen as a bellwether for potentially long-term recruiting and retention troubles.

The “Force of the Future” review is being led by Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Brad Carson, who enlisted more than 150 subject matter experts from the military services and academia. The group reviewed over 100 studies and commission reports on civilian and military personnel issues, talent management, and private sector human resources practices.

According to a senior defense official, Carter was insistent that the Pentagon move away from an industrial-age personnel system where human resources is about “soul annihilating box checking,” in favor of “best practices” that are followed in the private sector but haven’t made their way to the Defense Department.

A key goal is to increase the flow of personnel and ideas between the public and private sector. There should be “on ramps” for private sector talent to come into the Defense Department to help tackle tough technical projects, Carter said.

Carter also wants to offer “off ramps” for military service members to “connect with ideas and innovators outside the Pentagon.” This means having the option to take sabbaticals. DoD will ask Congress to lift the pilot restrictions on the existing “career intermission program” that lets service members take a sabbatical for a few years while they are starting a family, exploring different career opportunities or pursuing a degree without having to leave the military. The current programs are not widely used because officers fear they will not be promoted. Carter will push the services to encourage these sabbaticals.

“We’ve always been mindful that the military is a profession of arms. It’s not a business,” Carter said. “The key to doing this successfully is leveraging tradition and change. While the military cannot and should not replicate all aspects of the private sector, we can and should borrow best practices, technologies, and personnel management techniques in commonsense ways.”

With only a year left in the Obama administration, it is unclear what, if any, of these reforms will have a chance to take hold before Carter leaves office. The senior defense official said time is of the essence. “We’re all in a hurry,” he said. “Progress will be measured in weeks, not months.”

In a Nov. 18 memo, Carter set a Dec. 15 deadline for the military services to submit their plans for how they will implement these reforms. “The secretary wants to do things he can put his stamp on,” the official said. “This is really his vision.”

One of the proposals includes creating an online job matching system for service members to “shop around” as they would on LinkedIn. They would be able to search for jobs using data that has not typically been captured by the department.

Carter also will launch a comprehensive compensation study. Today, everyone is paid the same based on rank, time and grade, the defense official said. “That’s not how leading companies do that.” 

Benefits also will be reviewed. Some of the most controversial proposals involve maternity and paternity leave policies. According to the official, these recommendations are still being debated. 

Carter said the Pentagon is updating and modernizing retirement benefits. He believes this is essential to attract young people to join the military. Today, troops have to serve 20 years before getting any retirement benefits, but 80 percent don’t serve that long, which means they leave with no retirement benefits at all. “Starting in the next few years, we’ll be able to offer a portable 401k-like plan, which all who serve can take with them whenever they move on — whatever’s next in life,” Carter said.

These reforms are only the beginning, said Carter. “So stay tuned in the coming months. We’re taking a serious look at making some commonsense reforms to our officer promotion system. We’re also looking at ways to improve how we manage our civilian personnel.”

Other initiatives proposed under “Force of the Future” include:

• College internship programs that would increase the likelihood of participants receiving full-time jobs in the Department of Defense.
• Entrepreneur-in-residence program to embed up to three entrepreneurs in different parts of the department to work on special projects sponsored by senior leaders.
• The designation of a “chief recruiting officer” within the office of the secretary of defense to lead executive recruitment throughout the department and to function as an executive headhunter.
• Expansion of the secretary of defense “corporate fellows” program that assigns service members to work at top U.S. corporations and bring back what they learn.”

Don’t Let the Revolving Door Hit You On the Way Out, Jon




“Department of Defense (DoD) Inspector General (IG) Jon Rymer announced his resignation.

Rymer revealed his plans to head to the financial services industry, which he oversaw and regulated while acting as IG for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Rymer’s brief tenure as DoD IG is stained with criticism regarding his office’s lack of independence, with Rymer being more of a lap dog than a watchdog.

During Rymer’s tenure as DoD IG, his office attempted to narrow whistleblower protections and failed in its auditing duties, providing “vacuous” oversight in its Afghanistan efforts and being forced to rescind the clean bill of health it gave to a Marine Corps audit. Currently, the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) is investigating the DoD IG regarding allegations that DoD IG officials—including those within the general counsel’s office—destroyed evidence in the Thomas Drake case. Additionally, Rymercontinues to defend former Acting DoD IG Lynne Halbrooks’ actions in covering up CIA leaks of confidential information to protect former CIA official Leon Panetta, the Secretary of Defense when DoD IG released their report.

While all of the above actions are cause for concern, the most important of Rymer’s shortcomings is his failure to support whistleblowers, encouraging an environment where many employees are so afraid of reprisal that they forgo reporting wrongdoings. Whistleblowers are pivotal to Congress’s ability to conduct its constitutional oversight duties and to federal agencies’ ability to effectively operate our government. Both the DoD and Congress must step up to hold accountable officials who illegally retaliate against whistleblowers. Rymer’s disregard for whistleblower retaliation and his attempts to narrow whistleblower protections only reinforces how important it is that Congress and the Administration appoint the right IG.

Congress needs to scrutinize the failures of Rymer’s office and determine whether the DoD IG’s number two man, Principal Deputy IG Glenn Fine, is the right person to replace him. We need real commitments from the next DoD IG to fix the problems preventing the agency from being free from waste, abuse, and fraud. We need an IG who supports whistleblowers and who can create an environment that does not have one in four employees so afraid of reprisal that they will not report suspected wrongdoing.

While Congress is appropriately focused on filling IG vacancies, they also need to consider the importance of having the right person for the job.hile acting as IG for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).”





DoD Pays Premium for Gas Station in Afghanistan



“The Department of Defense (DoD) spent nearly $43 million to build a gas station in Afghanistan that should have only cost between $200,000 and $500,000.

Incredibly, overhead costs accounted for about 70 percent ($30 million) of total project expenditures, according to the report.  DoD is unable—or unwilling—to provide a justification.

DoD’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations spent $42.7 million between 2011 and 2014 to construct a compressed natural gas (CNG) automobile filling station in Sheberghan, Afghanistan. (You may recall Sheberghan as the site of an unfinished, hazard-filled teacher training facility built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that we blogged about two years ago.) The station includes two dispensers/four hoses, one CNG trailer filling point, a car conversion center, an administrative office building, and gas compression and processing equipment. It is currently being operated by a private company, Qashqari Oil and Gas Services.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). determined that the project should have only cost between $200,000 and $500,000. That means we taxpayers overpaid by as much as 10,750 percent. Incredibly, overhead costs accounted for about 70 percent ($30 million) of total project expenditures, according to the report.

According to SIGAR, the Task Force had neither considered the feasibility of the station nor the “potentially considerable obstacles to the project’s success” prior to starting construction. The report forecasts a bleak future for the station: the area lacks the infrastructure needed to transmit and distribute natural gas, and the cost of converting gasoline-powered cars to run on CNG is prohibitively expensive for average Afghanis.

DoD did not provide SIGAR with an explanation for the exorbitant cost or answer other questions concerning the project. Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Brian P. McKeon told SIGAR that the March 2015 closure of the Task Force resulted in his office “no longer possessing the personnel expertise to address these questions.”

McKeon’s statement particularly rankled Special Inspector General John F. Sopko. “Frankly, I find it both shocking and incredible that DOD asserts that it no longer has any knowledge about TFBSO [the Task Force], an $800 million program that reported directly to the Office of the Secretary of Defense and only shut down a little over six months ago,” he wrote to Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter. The report calls McKeon’s claim of ignorance “unconvincing” and accuses DoD of hindering SIGAR’s investigation. Apparently, the contentious, counter-productive relationship between SIGAR and the Pentagon that we’ve blogged about before hasn’t improved.

SIGAR plans to issue additional reports on the Task Force’s activities and spending in Afghanistan. As for the gas station boondoggle, Sopko promises “to shed additional light on how this program operated, what it achieved, how this enormous amount of money was spent,” and, most ominously, “whether any conduct by TFBSO staff or contractors was criminal in nature.”