Tag Archives: Government Inefficiency

Plutonium Disposal Plant 41 Yrs Behind Schedule – Over Budget & Pointless

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                                         The MOX Facility in South Carolina. Photo via Google Earth

“WAR IS BORING”

“The Army Corps of Engineers stated that MOX won’t be finished and ready for operations until 2048 — putting it 41 years behind schedule.

Latest completion cost estimate went from  $1.6 billion to a staggering $17 billion .

It is now pointless after Russia pulled out of a major nuke treaty.


 Imagine you have a contractor working on your house. They quoted you a price and told you the project would be done in no time. Sure, you realize costs will probably go up some and the schedule will slip due to an unexpected problem or two.

But months turn into years, years turn into a decade, and now, 14 years later, you find that they’ve already spent five times their original estimate and they aren’t even halfway done!

That’s the situation the Department of Energy is facing with the contractor building a nuclear fuel facility in South Carolina.

The Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, known as MOX, is a multi-billion dollar boondoggle that is behind schedule, over budget and will never be able to complete its mission.

MOX was originally conceived as part of an agreement between the United States and Russia in which each country pledged to dispose of weapons grade plutonium. But that was back in 2000.

As cost overruns and technical failures have become clear, the Department of Energy asked Congress to cancel the program in 2016. The South Carolina delegation, defending jobs in their districts, pushed back and claimed doing so would violate the agreement.

Last week, Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin announced he would be withdrawingfrom the agreement. Without Russia being party to the agreement, the last remaining pretense for this boondoggle is shattered.

Congress will soon be reviewing the budget for fiscal year 2018 and should ensure that funding for this project is ended once and for all.

The new independent cost estimate shows that finishing the construction of the MOX facility has gone from $1.6 billion to a staggering $17 billion — more than 10 times the original projection.

And while the facility was supposed to be fully constructed in 2007, the Army Corps of Engineers stated that MOX won’t be finished and ready for operations until 2048 — putting it 41 years behind schedule.

But even if Congress decides to accept spending $17 billion in taxpayer dollars and waiting 41 extra years for the facility, the project will never work.

MOX technology dates back to the 1960s and has caused experts to raise concerns about the technical viability of the U.S. facility should it ever be completed and become operational. In 2014, Energy Department experts concluded that U.S. implementation of MOX technology still remains a “significant risk.”

Moreover, even if the facility were to work perfectly and produce the mixed oxide fuel as intended, there aren’t any commercial nuclear reactor companies interested in purchasing it. In 2008, the project lost its only potential customer and hasn’t been able to find a single replacement.

What is even more unbelievable is that $17 billion isn’t even the bottom line for this monstrosity. Other independent estimates have found that over the facility’s lifetime, which includes the costs of operating the plant for 20 years on top of construction costs, MOX will cost taxpayers $110 billion.

The fact that these cost estimates come from independent sources is important. For the last several years the contractor in charge of the MOX project, CB&I AREVA MOX Services, has been spreading misleading facts and figures about the project’s true costs.

These contractor statements have been proven wrong time and time again by the Department of Energy, independent sources and reality. The new Army Corps analysis exposes just how the contractors’ optimistic estimates border on delusional.

For example, the contractors stated earlier this year that finishing the job will cost $3 billion; the Army Corps found the contractors’ estimate should have come closer to $10 billion. The contractors’ calculation, they found, had serious problems which led to the inaccuracies.

“The MOX Services estimate-at-completion is not credible because it was developed using unrealistic production and productivity rates, artificially low escalation, inappropriate allocation of management reserves and contingency that is not time phased across the project duration, and lack of escalation applied to these reserves,” the Army Corps’ report stated.

Based on its calculations the MOX project is only 28 percent complete, not 48 percent as the contractor has asserted.

What CB&I AREVA MOX Services also seem to conveniently forget in its calculations is that the project is running on at least a 25 percent rework rate, meaning approximately a quarter of the work already done will have to be re-done — the project takes one step back for every four steps forward.

This includes everything from walls that were installed incorrectly to piping that was ordered but didn’t meet specifications.

These kinds of mistakes led to CB&I AREVA MOX Services receiving only half of its possible contract award fee in 2015. “Overall performance is below the level needed for successful project completion, as culminated in cost overruns and schedule delays,” the government documents stated.

They cited the contractor’s poor management of the project and failure to adequately perform random drug testing. Still, CB&I AREVA MOX Services received $4.33 million of the possible $8.86 million in bonuses for that year.

It may seem remarkable that CB&I AREVA MOX Services has managed to retain the contract after so many missteps, but it could be the result of a very successful lobbying effort.

The two companies that make up CB&I AREVA MOX Services, Chicago Bridge & Iron Works (CB&I) and AREVA, spent a total of $2.4 million lobbying the government in 2015 on various issues including the MOX project. In the first two quarters of 2016 alone the groups have spent $1.4 million.

That amount doubles when including other organizations, like the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, that listed MOX as a lobbying objective.

The contractor has effectively lined up several senators and representatives who have made sure that taxpayer dollars continue to flow to the MOX project, and thus to CB&I AREVA MOX Services.

Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Tim Scott (R-SC), and Reps. Joe Wilson (R-SC), James Clyburn (D-SC) and Rick Allen (R-GA) have done their best to support MOX. During the budget process this year, Wilson wrote a letter to the House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development urging them to continue funding the MOX program. Clyburn and Allen also signed the letter.

It comes as no surprise that Reps. Wilson and Clyburn as well as Sen. Scott are among the AREVA Group’s top recipients for campaign donations. Also on the list are Reps. Mike Simpson (R-ID) and Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, which determines annual funding for MOX.

At this point the MOX project is nothing more than pork barrel politics.

“We are confident [the MOX project] is not feasible in this environment. We are going down a road spending money on something that will never happen. Unfortunately, that seems to us to be a very large waste of taxpayer money,’’ DOE Associate Deputy Secretary John MacWilliams told The State reporter Sammy Fretwell on a tour of the construction site.

MOX is unaffordable, 41 years behind schedule, and will never work.

And now that Russia has withdrawn from the agreement, the United States would be the only country trying to uphold it. Congress’s decision to continue funding this disaster was based on grossly inaccurate information about both the cost and performance of this project.

But they have time to revisit this decision with unbiased facts and analysis before the next budget decisions need to be made. There are cheaper and faster ways to dispose of the plutonium, methods that the Energy Department is already exploring.

There is no reason Congress should continue forcing taxpayers to fund such an obvious boondoggle.”

https://warisboring.com/the-u-s-governments-plutonium-disposal-plant-is-wait-for-it-41-years-behind-schedule-a611e606d98#.llmqdhxv2

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Industry-Paid Fellowships Infiltrate Congress

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“POGO

“The U.S. Congress allows Members to staff their offices with Fellows who are paid by corporations, foundations, universities, non-profits, and other outside private entities.

Fellowship program far too often flies under the conflict of interest radar.


Recommendations:

Require disclosure in the House of Representatives

The House Rules committee should introduce language into the Code of Official Conduct that would require Representatives to report when their office employs an individual who is compensated by any source outside of the United States Government. Such a report should include the identity of the source of the compensation and the amount or rate of compensation.

More oversight in the Senate

Senate reporting of Fellows who are paid by corporations, foundations, universities, non-profits, and other outside private entities is falling short.  The Senate Ethics Committee needs to increase its oversight over the Congressional Fellows reporting requirements, actively checking with Member offices to make sure they don’t have any Fellows employed for years they don’t report any. The Senate Ethics Committee should also increase training for Member offices on what they are required to report, at the start of each Congress it should hold a series of trainings for all Member offices.

Both Chambers should require electronic filing of these disclosures, in a publically accessible format

The Senate, and House as it begins to require reporting on Fellows, should transition to an electronic filing system that can be accessed by the public. This will allow for more uniform participation by Member offices and more public oversight over the Congressional Fellowship programs.

In January 2001, Peter Winokur began working as a Fellow in Senator Harry Reid’s (D-NV) office. He would ultimately spend almost four years there, specializing in energy policy and eventually becoming the Senator’s Energy & Transportation Advisor. He wrote legislation, offered advice, wrote memos for the Senator, met with lobbyists and public interest groups, and attended meetings on press and policy strategy, according to reports on his work. He was, for all intents and purposes, a Senate staffer. There was one major distinction: his $120,000-per-year salary was paid by the IEEE-USA, an industry group that is an “organizational unit” of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and whose stated goal is to “recommend policies and implement programs specifically intended to serve and benefit the members.”

Many of Winokur’s long hours in the Senate were spent working on the Energy Policy Act of 2002. It was a big bill, combining policy on energy efficiency, alternative energy sources, energy production, and even some amendments to state programs. “My basic workday is from 8:00 AM to 6:30 PM. Throw in 2 hours on the Metro where I read as much as I can, and it’s a 7:00 AM to 7:30 PM day. Then I get home to read my Sandia and IEEE e-mail,” he wrote on his time in the Senate.

Winokur felt he would fit in well at Senator Reid’s office because Reid was the Ranking Member of the Environment and Public Works Committee and the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee. Winokur stated, “The Senator is committed to making renewable energy technologies a priority. And so am I.” And so is IEEE-USA. Their policy position statements on Energy and Environment from the time are not so different from some of the text of the Energy Policy Act of 2002 introduced in the Senate. Winokur’s Energy Department bio states, “As Energy and Transportation Advisor, crafted energy policy that included tax legislation for renewable energy, resulting in billions in economic development and the creation of tens of thousands of jobs.” This work for the Senate while being paid by industry gives the appearance of—and the incentive structure for—a conflict of interest.

Winokur had the kind of access most industry professionals can only dream about. He found that “people have a tendency to return phone calls from a Senate office, whether it’s the Attorney General of a state, the chief counsel of the FCC, or the COO of a California utility,” Winokur wrote in his report.

Regardless of whether there was an identifiable legislative outcome from Winokur’s position (the Energy Policy Act of 2002 never made it out of conference to become a law), it’s fairly easy to see how beneficial it could be for IEEE-USA, or any industry, to have someone on their payroll in a Congressional office, with the ear of a powerful Senator, every day. And the fellowship proved beneficial to Winokur as well. The Project On Government Oversight’s (POGO) review of this and hundreds of other similar fellowships found that most fellowship positions last only a year, and most fellows earned far less than permanent staffers. But Winokur was there for almost four, making $120,000 a year–which was close to the maximum amountSenate staff could be paid at the time.

This kind of arrangement, with fellows working in Congress but paid by an outside source, is legal, and more common than one might think. But are the Members of Congress and their staffs actually following the rules that are supposed to keep a check on conflicts of interest? And how often do fellowship programs end up furthering industry goals over Congressional priorities?

Fellowships Bring Congress and Industry Closer Together

The Fellows are required to abide by all the laws, rules, and standards governing permanent Congressional staff members. Indeed, they are often indistinguishable from permanent staff members. They work on writing legislation and Floor speeches, and represent the Member in meetings with other offices and constituents.

There are additional rules governing fellows. Congressional offices must make sure that fellows have no conflicts of interest and that the arrangement gives no undue advantage to special interest groups. “The participant may not work on issues related to the interest of the individual company or industry providing such funding. Conflicts of interest and the appearance of conflicts between the participant’s duties to the Senate and his or her responsibilities to the private sponsor must be avoided,” the Senate Ethics Manual states. It is the duty of the Senator to monitor the activities of the fellow to ensure that no potential conflict of interest arises during the course of their work. A similar statement can be found in the House Ethics Manual: “an intern or fellow should not be assigned duties that will result in any direct or indirect benefit to the sponsoring organization or anyone else with which the individual is affiliated (including the employer or fellow), other than broadening the individual’s knowledge.”

On the Senate side, the supervisor of the fellow is required by a Senate rule to report to the Ethics Committee “the identity of the source of the compensation received by such individual and the amount or rate of compensation paid by such source.” The House does not have a similar rule and does not require fellows or their supervisors to disclose their compensation details.

This program is often used for the educational benefit of these fellows and is generally intended to be a temporary placement before the fellows return to their organization. On the House side, “A Member or House office may accept the temporary services of an intern participating in a program … which is primarily of educational benefit to the participant. … Similarly, a Member or House office may accept the temporary services of a fellow participating in a mid-career education program … while the individual receives compensation from his or her employer,” the Ethics Manual states. Many of the organizations sponsoring these fellowships tout how valuable it is for their participants to learn about Congress and the legislative process while Congress benefits from knowledgeable experts. “The objective of the David A. Winston Health Policy Fellowship is to provide a unique opportunity to learn about the political system through direct exposure to public and private sector roles in health policy development,” one brochure states.

Congressional Fellows are in significant demand. They come to an office looking like a year’s worth of free work from some very competent people.

“Approximately 50% of Fellows begin or return to careers in academia following the Fellowship, with strengthened credentials in policy-relevant research and an ability to teach students about the complex issues involved in bridging science and policy,” the Society for Research in Child Development writes about their fellowship. For Congressional Members, it’s understandable why they would look for outside support. “While federal spending and the executive branch have ballooned, Congress has downsized its research and analytical support staff by about one-third over the past 40 years,” former Congressional Research Service analyst Kevin Kosar wrote for National Affairs. Another study by the Sunlight Foundation pointed to low pay and turnover as undermining Congress’s ability to attract and retain talented staff.

Or as one fellow put it, “Congressional Fellows are in significant demand. They come to an office looking like a year’s worth of free work from some very competent people.” These fellowships, funded by outside entities, offer the opportunity for access to experts these offices might not otherwise be able to afford.

Of course the intended purpose of these fellowship programs makes good sense and can be beneficial to all parties, but using these experts could pose a problem.

POGO reviewed 2,014 publicly available reports on Senate fellows and found several examples of the appearance of a conflict of interest, and that Senators did not consistently disclose fellows whose salary was paid by a third party. The House does not maintain records on Congressional Fellows at all.

On the Senate side, fellows and their supervisors are required to file reports detailing when they began their fellowship, how much money they’re making, what entity is paying their salary, and how many hours they’ve worked. Senate rules mandate that new fellows file their “Agreement to Comply with the Senate Code of Official Conduct,” known as form 41.4, at the beginning of their fellowship, at the end of each calendar quarter, and at the end of the fellowship. The fellow’s supervisor must file a “Report on Individuals Who Perform Senate Services,” known as form 41.6, which is often signed by the Senator. While these forms are available to the public, they are not electronically available and anyone interested in seeing them must visit the Senate Office of Public Records during business hours.

While these forms offer fascinating insight into which industries and Senators are utilizing the fellowship program, they also demonstrate how much we don’t know. POGO examined all of the 2,014 publicly available forms on file at the Senate Office of Public Records as of April 22, 2016, to determine the extent of compliance with the law. In our review, we found that approximately 27 percent were missing data on the source of the fellow’s compensation, and approximately 24 percent were missing data on how much the fellow was being paid. We also discovered instances where Senators employed fellows but failed to file the appropriate forms.

On the House side, there was no disclosure at all and no records to be reviewed. According to the House Ethics Manual, the fellows are required to comply with the Code of Official Conduct, but there are no rules requiring reporting and no forms collected by the House Office of the Clerk. The ethics manual also states: “[W]hile internship and fellowship programs are often sponsored by educational institutions, other public or private organizations may act as sponsors, provided the arrangement does not give undue advantage to special interests.” How the House ensures compliance with this requirement is a mystery.

The Appearance of a Conflict of Interest

The rules governing the Senate program are fairly simple: Both the Senator and the Fellow must avoid all conflicts of interest, including the appearance of a conflict. But in POGO’s review, we were able to find several examples of Fellows working on projects that were directly related to the industry paying their salaries. Below are just a few of those examples.

Department of Energy’s National Laboratories

The Department of Energy is responsible for a network of 17 National Laboratories conducting all kinds of scientific research. Three of these labs, Sandia National Laboratories, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and the Los Alamos National Laboratory, have multi-billion dollar budgets and focus on ensuring the US nuclear stockpile is safe, secure, and reliable. The DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration manages the labs by hiring contractors to run them—contractors who have a large financial stake in ensuring their work continues and have long worked to influence Congress in any way possible. In recent years they have focused on gaining support for a $1 trillion nuclear modernization effort. “A White House official … described the labs to me as being among ‘the biggest rogue elements in the U.S. government,’” former Energy Department senior policy advisorRobert Alvarez wrote.

Stephanie Teich-McGoldrick was a 2015-2016 Congressional Fellow from Sandia National Laboratories, working on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Sandia is one of the largest national labs in the United States and works mainly to ensure the safety and reliability of U.S. nuclear weapons. Sandia Corporation, a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin, manages and operates the lab with an annual budget of $2.9 billion. The Energy and Natural Resources Committee has authorizing jurisdiction over the Department of Energy Labs, which means it has jurisdiction for any policy changes impacting the labs. According to the Congressional record, Teich-McGoldrick worked on legislation directly affecting the labs while receiving a salary of $124,000 paid by Sandia. In April 2016, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) thanked Teich-McGoldrick by name for her work on the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016. This bill, which was re-named the North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act of 2016, passed both the House and the Senate, and includes several references to work done by the national labs. Though neither the House nor Senate versions of the bill mention Sandia National Lab specifically, it’s clear the legislation would affect its work. Indeed, both versions include language on modernizing and increasing the security of the U.S. power grid, an area in which Sandia describes itself as playing “a key role.” It’s impossible for the public to know if Teich-McGoldrick worked on parts of the legislation that would have affected the labs—it is a huge bill and she may well have steered clear of anything to do with Sandia’s work. But there’s no doubt that her position gives the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Fellows in the House are not required to disclose their information.

Teich-McGoldrick is only one of many Sandia-sponsored Congressional Fellows. In 2009 another former Sandia Congressional Fellow named Matthew Allen wrote a report on his time in the House Committee on Homeland Security called Working at Congress: A Sandian’s Experience in which he details what Fellows do. The report also serves to demonstrate how valuable the experience can be, not just for the Fellow but for Sandia as well. One of the reasons Sandia sends people to Congress, Allen wrote, was “the benefit the lab receives in having an employee that can translate the political landscape into opportunities for the lab.” There is, of course, no public record of Allen’s time on the Hill, as Fellows in the House are not required to disclose their information.

Sandia Lab has placed two dozen Fellows over the last 25 years. According to Sandia Lab spokesman Jim Danneskiold, the Lab only sponsors fellows at the request of congressional committees or members of Congress. “Fellows provide unbiased technical assistance, but they never work on specific programs or issues that affect the labs and follow strict requirements that prevent conflicts of interest. Sandia does not seek out Congressional Fellow positions, and only responds when requested,” he told POGO. The other two labs, Livermore National Lab and Los Alamos National Lab, are also no strangers to the Congressional Fellowship program. For example, Kory Sylvester was a 2007-2008 Fellow for Pete Domenici (R-NM) then-Ranking Member on the Senate Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee. Sylvester’s Fellowship was sponsored by Los Alamos National Security, the managing and operating contractor of the lab and a consortium of big-name contractors including Bechtel, Babcock & Wilcox Technical Services, and URS Energy and Construction. Senator Domenici was known as “Saint Pete” by the nuclear labs for all the money he brought to them. At that time the Los Alamos Lab’s annual budget was $2.7 billion. While Sylvester was working on the committee that decides and appropriates funds for the lab, he was paid $127,000 by the contractor running it. According to Iowa State University’s College of Engineering, Sylvester also completed another Congressional Fellowship at the House Committee on Homeland Security.

A Congressional Fellow sponsored by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory shows how even when the Fellowship forms are filled out, they may not tell the whole story. Robert Perret was a 1996-1999 Fellow in Senator Harry Reid’s (D-NV) office. Perret’s paperwork indicates his salary was paid by the University of California Regents, a governing board for the University of California network. However, in a September 2000 statement, Senator Reid thanks Perret for his “exceptional work,” stating he actually came from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Livermore lab was managed by the University of California at the time and the address on Perret’s forms is a post office box from Livermore, CA.

It’s not just the National Nuclear Security Administration laboratories that take advantage of this program. POGO found the managing contractor of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, UT-Battelle, has sponsored at least six Congressional Fellows. Since 2006 they have had at least one Fellow in Senator Alexander’s (R-TN) office every year, some Fellowships lasting longer than a year. This is an advantageous move for the company since in 2011 Senator Alexander became Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee, which decides how much money will go to Oak Ridge National Lab every year. In 2015 he became the Chairman.

These committees decide a lot more than just annual funding. In 2014, Congress passed a bipartisan law called the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA). Lawmakers were concerned when industry experts found that approximately $20 billion is misused or wasted on duplicative information technology (IT) projects every year. FITARA was meant to increase transparency on how IT funds are spent across the federal government. But the Energy Department laboratories didn’t like this added oversight and accountability, and in 2015 they launched a campaign to secure an exemption from its requirements.

It was Senator Alexander who led the charge in getting the labs the exemption they so desperately wanted. Despite the fact that IT experts across the government as well as the Government Accountability Office were strongly against the exemption, it was included in the appropriations bill crafted by the Energy and Water Development Subcommittee. John Rivard was the UT-Battelle Fellow in Senator Alexander’s office at the time, with an annual salary of $168,000. According to Rivard’s LinkedIn profile, which indicates he’s still working in Senator Alexander’s office, he “co-writes legislation, speeches, and op-eds regarding science, energy, competitiveness, and space policy.” Rivard’s place in Senator Alexander’s office and his stated activities give the appearance of a real conflict of interest, and a potential violation of Senate ethics rules.

IEEE-USA

IEEE-USA also has a long history of placing Fellows in Congressional offices (as well as in executive branch offices). The organization has been placing Fellows in Congressional offices since 1974 and keeps a publicly available record of fellowship alumni.

If a Fellow is working on legislation that will directly fund their industry or the company that’s paying their salary, there’s a clear conflict of interest.

One recent IEEE-USA Fellow demonstrates exactly how these Fellows can use their positions to influence policy to be beneficial toward their industry. Robert Bartolo was a 2014-2015 IEEE-USA Fellow in Senator Robert Casey’s (D-PA) office. When Bartolo became a Fellow in September 2014, he had already earned his Ph.D. and worked at the University of Maryland and the Naval Research Laboratory for several years. “One motivation for applying for the Fellowship was out of a concern for the serious implications of climate change and the current lack of a workable and effective plan to actually minimize carbon emissions in the years ahead. This was a policy topic I definitely wanted to work on,” Bartolo wrote in a report about his placement in Senator Casey’s office.

Bartolo got his wish and was able to work on several energy and environment policies, some of which were directly in line with IEEE-USA’s policy goals. In Bartolo’s report, he describes several projects he was personally involved in. During Bartolo’s Fellowship, Senator Casey introduced legislation to promote the development of clean energy fueling infrastructure called the Clean Vehicles Corridors Act (CVC Act). The bill established clean vehicle areas along interstate highways where the infrastructure necessary to refuel clean vehicles, including electric charging and biofuels, would be made available. In his final report to IEEE-USA, Bartolo said he worked with the Environment and Public Works Committee to incorporate aspects of the CVC Act into the Drive Act, a highway reauthorization bill, but the Drive Act didn’t make it out of Committee during Bartolo’s time in Congress. Bartolo stated, “I expended some effort to try and introduce aspects of the CVC Act that would be germane to [the Energy and Natural Resources Committee]. For instance encouraging the Department of Energy (DOE) to provide grants on a cost sharing basis for clean fueling infrastructure.”

This work was directly in line with IEEE-USA’s publicly stated policy goals for this time period. IEEE-USA’s 2014 National Energy Policy Recommendations includes a section on “Transforming Transportation by Diversifying Energy Sources.” These recommendations are remarkably similar to the legislation developed and introduced by Senator Casey. For example, IEEE-USA recommends, “Promoting the development of battery charging infrastructure, and its development by cities, states, and businesses, and along the interstate highway system with the support of the federal government.” IEEE-USA further recommends the development of alternative transportation fuels including, “promoting the use of biofuels.”

Indeed, Bartolo makes no effort to hide that he directly worked on issues related to the interests of IEEE-USA. On his LinkedIn profile, Bartolo lists the issue areas he worked on during his Congressional Fellowship, including Energy and Climate Policy, Renewable Energy Tax Policy, Zero Emission Vehicles, and Energy Efficiency, all of which coincide with information and recommendations in IEEE-USA’s 2014 National Energy Policy Recommendations.

Senator Casey’s office maintains that potential conflicts of interest are strictly monitored. “The vast majority of our office’s congressional fellows were detailed from other government agencies, and any fellow detailed from an organization outside of government was prohibited from working on any issue that could conflict with the organization,” the Senator’s Communications Director, John Rizzo, told POGO.

But Bartolo’s Fellowship seemed to violate Senate rules that require Congressional Fellows to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest. It also raises questions about whether Bartolo’s Fellowship was primarily for his educational benefit.

To make matters worse, there is no official record of Bartolo’s time in the Senator’s office, as they never filed the required forms with the Senate Office of Public Records. Senator Casey did file forms for three other Fellows in 2008 and 2009, indicating that at that time his office is familiar with the rule requiring the filing. Yet the only record of Bartolo’s time in the Senator’s office are his reports on the IEEE-USA alumni list and his own LinkedIn page, which circumvents the transparency and accountability purposes of the rule.

These examples are just a small handful of those that clearly demonstrate a failure to comply with the conflict of interest terms of the rule. Some might ask why this is important. After all, why have a Fellow with a wealth of knowledge if they can’t work on developing policy for that field? But conflicts of interest tend to result in policy that benefits powerful special interests at the expense of taxpayers’ interests. That is why the Senate ethics manual requires each Fellowship to be “analyzed on a case-by-case” basis. If a Fellow is working on legislation that will directly fund their industry or the company that’s paying their salary, there’s a clear conflict of interest.

That’s not to say that Congressional offices shouldn’t have Fellows or that the program should be abolished. It’s a valuable resource for both Members of Congress and industry professionals who want to understand the legislative process better. But more scrutiny of potential conflicts of interests is necessary.

It’s important to note that the public only knows about these conflicts because in most cases the Senators and their Fellows followed the rules and filed their agreement and reporting forms as required. They made an effort to be transparent. POGO’s review of this Fellowship program found evidence to suggest that lack of standardized reporting, or in some cases of reporting at all, is a widespread problem.

A Lack of Compliance

The Senate rule was created to provide important transparency of how this Fellowship program is used both by industry and by the Senators themselves. Lack of compliance with the rule significantly undermines its intent. Despite the fact that the reporting forms are required to be filed every quarter, POGO found Fellows or their sponsors frequently failed to comply. As a result it is difficult to know just how many Senate offices are using this program without disclosure. The total lack of disclosure on the House side makes it impossible to know how those Fellowships are being used.

“We’re concerned about both real and perceived conflicts of interest. We think that’s really important…because it impacts the integrity of the fellowship programs.”

One way of getting an idea of how many Fellows have flown under the radar is to analyze the publicly available Fellowship alumni records posted by some sponsoring organizations. These alumni records provide an excellent glimpse into how many Senators have had Fellows but never had them file forms with the Senate Office of Public Records. As noted above, IEEE-USA has a publicly available list of their 87 Congressional Fellowship alumni dating back to 1974. A little under 50 percent of the listed Fellows were in Senate offices, and of those, 76 percent did not file any documentation with the Senate Office of Public Records.

POGO conducted a similar analysis of the Brookings Institution’s Legis Congressional Fellowship, which provides government and corporate applicants the opportunity to work in Congress. But they’re not required to disclose to the public which government or corporate entity they come from. This Fellowship is intended to provide a comprehensive understanding of how Congress works and to help Fellows create a network of contacts on the Hill. One past Legis Fellow states, “I’m not a lawyer, but I fit in very well. I wrote legislation. I wrote speeches. I wrote floor statements. I analyzed bills. Legis makes us better at what we do.” While Brookings does not have a publicly available list of Fellowship alumni, there is an abbreviated list of some of the Congressional and Committee offices where the Institution has successfully placed Fellows in the past. Of the 17 Senators listed, 7 did not have any kind of records for any Fellows filed with the Senate Office of Public Records.

In addition to a total lack of filing, there are several examples of Senators with gaps in their record keeping or no records before a certain date. For example, Senator Ron Wyden’s (D-OR) office filed 82 forms from 1997 until 2000. But between 2001 and 2011 there’s a gap without records for a single Fellow. Through Fellowship alumni lists, like those kept by the American Psychological Association (APA), it’s clear that Senator Wyden’s office was familiar with rule at one time and did have Fellows during this period, despite the lack of records. Kenneth Lutz was an IEEE-USA Fellow in Senator Wyden’s office in 2009. Although there are no records for Lutz’s time there, he stated in a report about his time as a Fellow in Wyden’s office: “Senator Wyden’s office has had many Fellows, and the staff knows how to ease Fellows into legislative work. I was given quite a lot of responsibility by the legislative staff member with whom I worked.”

Similarly, some Senators do not have records for older dates, perhaps indicating they weren’t aware of the requirement at the time. One example of this may be Amanda Clinton, the 2014-2015 APA’s Congressional Fellow in Senator Chris Murphy’s (D-CT) office. While forms were never filed for Clinton’s Fellowship, it appears Murphy filed for other Fellows beginning in early 2016.

There is also a clear lack of standardization in how the forms are filled out. For example, The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) facilitates Fellowships from a number of different Fellowship sponsors including the American Chemical Society, APA, IEEE-USA, and the AAAS themselves. These organizations are responsible for recruiting, choosing, and sponsoring their fellows while AAAS helps them find placements in Congressional offices. Cynthia Robinson, Director of the AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships, told POGO that potential conflicts of interest are taken very seriously. “They have to be free agents and the sponsoring organizations can’t take any role in dictating what they do throughout the year,” Robinson said. “We’re concerned about both real and perceived conflicts of interest. We think that’s really important…because it impacts the integrity of the fellowship programs.”

But it’s up to the fellows and their supervisors to decide how they disclosure their sponsors on the Senate disclosure forms. Some Fellows cite the AAAS as the source of compensation, while others cite the underlying sponsoring organization. For example, John Cederquist was an IEEE-USA Fellow in Senator Jon Tester’s (D-MT) office from 2010-2011. On his forms he listed AAAS as the source of compensation though the Fellowship was technically sponsored by IEEE-USA. And, as we mentioned above, Senator Reid’s Fellow Robert Perret listed the University of California Regents instead of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory as his sponsor. While these simple misrepresentations may not seem relevant, they serve to make analysis of the records more difficult and can undercut the transparency intent of the rule.

A lack of strict compliance with the Senate rule abounds and would appear to indicate a lack of education about what, exactly, is required. For instance, former Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI) filed records for four Fellows from 1989 to 2012. Yet the source of compensation for each is listed as Senator Kohl, indicating either that all the forms spanning 20 years were filled out incorrectly or Senator Kohl was asking all Fellows to fill out disclosure forms, even if they weren’t being paid by a third party. It appears that at least two of the employees listed as Fellows, Arlene Branca and Theodore Bronstein, were full-time staff and would not have been required to fill out the forms.

Senator Michael Bennet’s (D-CO) Fellowship records show a similar pattern. According to records from the Senate Office of Public Records, Jonathan Davidson was a Fellow in the Senator’s office from 2011-2016, though his source of compensation is listed as “Michael Bennet.” A press release from Bennet’s office states Davidson was named Senator Bennet’s Chief of Staff in January 2011, which indicates there was no need for him to file these disclosure forms at all.

Senator Bennet’s records also feature several Fellows with listed compensation as executive branch government offices, including the Department of Defense, Department of Energy, and the State Department. Fellows from the executive branch, or detailees, are not required to file out the same form as the Congressional Fellows. While they are required to file an agreement to comply with the Senate Code of Official Conduct, the form is called a 41.3 and is not available for public viewing. Detailees are also prohibited from working on projects that may be considered a conflict of interest. Over 60 of the 2,014 records reviewed by POGO—forms 41.4 and 41.6—list executive branch offices as the source of compensation.

These kinds of gaps, misfilings, and inconsistencies seem to be the result of a lack of education about exactly what this rule requires. Although the Senate Ethics Committee requires all new Senate personnel to complete a training program on the Code of Official Conduct, neither this rule nor its requirements are directly mentioned in the training documents. Though the Senate Ethics staff told POGO that Senators and their staff would be familiar with the requirement as it would be covered in training on the Ethics Manual, it appears that a more direct inclusion of the rule and its requirements should be adopted to increase compliance. It’s important to consider the fact that while some Members will provide more than enough information to be safe, as is the case with Senators Kohl and Bennet, it seems just as likely that the opposite will happen.

This Fellowship program can be a valuable resource for both Congress and non-government professionals across disciplines. But too often the program is misused. Fellows remain in offices for years, their salaries are often much higher than the typical staffer, and far too often they’re in a position to affect legislative changes that can directly benefit the industry paying their salary. The kind of access this Fellowship program provides is invaluable for these industries. It is yet another way that corporations, foundations, and other outside entities affect the legislative process.”

http://www.pogo.org/straus/issues/congress/2016/the-insidious-and-totally-legal-way-industry-infiltrated-congress.html

 

 

 

Underwater Robots: Will the Pentagon Miss the Boat?

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“NATIONAL DEFENSE MAGAZINE”

“The Defense Department has made significant investments in underwater vehicle designs and prototypes.

But it has not funded  larger numbers for testing and experimentation.

Top defense contractors have jumped into the race to develop autonomous mini-submarines for the U.S. military. As the Pentagon makes it increasingly clear that unmanned technology will be a linchpin of future warfare, contractors have taken the plunge, partnered with or acquired commercial firms in this sector in hopes of capturing future Defense Department contracts.

There is a flaw in the plan, however, warns retired Navy Rear Adm. Fred Byus. The Pentagon has taken initial steps to “steer investments” in autonomous technology but is not moving fast enough to increase production of robots so they can be made available to large numbers of users for testing and experimentation.

The technology to produce autonomous underwater vehicles is ready to transition from the lab to the fleet, says Byus, who is general manager of mission and defense technologies at Battelle. He contends that if the Pentagon continues to buy vehicles only in onesies and twosies, the technology is at risk of getting stuck in limbo, will remain unfamiliar to most potential users and will produce prototypes that are too expensive to be accessible across the military.

Undersea drones are one area of warfare where the United States has the opportunity to gain a big technological edge over potential adversaries, Byus says. Leaps in innovation have occurred both in the defense and commercial markets but the Pentagon may not be able to take advantage of the advanced technology because of its internal approaches to acquisitions, he adds. “You have to have processes that keep up with technology.” With robotics, it is important to “get the technology into the hands of the war fighters as widely as possible.”

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has been a proponent of unmanned undersea systems. He said in February that the Pentagon would invest $600 million over the next five years in “variable size and variable payload unmanned undersea vehicles.” Carter described a vision of networked “distributed” drones that would give naval forces unprecedented capabilities to collect intelligence.

Despite this high-level endorsement, the Defense Department’s acquisition organizations are not moving quickly to push the technology forward and start building prototypes in sufficiently large numbers, Byus says. Talking about the promise of robotics alone is not enough unless there is “parallel development of tactics” for the use of the technology, and incentives for vendors to produce more systems at lower prices.

The Navy this month solicited a “request for information” from contractors, asking for proposals on how existing unmanned undersea vehicles could be adapted for military use. Under a project called “extra large unmanned undersea vehicle,” the Naval Sea Systems Command wants to conduct experiments to develop tactics and concept of operations.

Contractors like Battelle, General Dynamics and Boeing Phantom Works have made big bets on commercial robots they believe are suitable for military use and cheaper than anything the Pentagon could ever invent.

Byus worries that the Defense Department’s plan to tap commercial technology may fall short because it is mostly focused on niche experiments that will not create a demand for vehicles and therefore not motivate the industry to keep investing. “The autonomous systems industrial base is not in place to support large scale employment of the technology,” he says. “They need to be thinking about that.” Underwater submarines, for instance, have not been made in big enough numbers so units across the Navy can test them, he says, nor is there enough work to support the development of the autonomous underwater vehicle industrial base.

Companies in this sector continue to hedge their bets. Battelle moved to acquire SeeByte Inc., a software developer that specializes in autonomous undersea vehicles and sensors. One of the industry’s best known players, Bluefin Robotics was taken over by Battelle in 2005, and earlier this year was acquired by General Dynamics Mission Systems.

A major Navy ship builder, Huntington Ingalls Industries, has produced the Proteus underwater vehicle in a partnership with Battelle. It is a dual-mode system that can be driven by a pilot or operated autonomously. The vehicle was designed by the Columbia Group’s Engineering Solutions Division. Huntington Ingalls acquired ESD two years ago and renamed it the Undersea Solutions Group.

Commercial companies that have developed underwater robots are now feeling the pinch of the downturn in the oil and gas industries. This creates an opportunity for the Pentagon to play a more prominent role as a customer of this technology, Byus says. “Underwater technology development is under the same type of financial constraints on the commercial side that it has seen with the downturn in R&D on the government side.”

The military needs to step up the integration of unmanned systems into the force because it can’t afford the rising costs of people, he says, and needs to “relieve war fighters from dull dirty and dangerous work that autonomous systems are capable of doing.” With underwater submarines, the military could deploy a network of robots to keep eyes on potential enemies, for example.

“It will take some progressive thinkers in the Defense Department to say, ‘For this industrial base to be in place when we need it, we need to kick start the commercial applications as well as the government applications.’” A cautionary tale is found in the ship-building industry, where there are so few suppliers that prices continue to soar, forcing the Navy to buy fewer platforms — a downward cycle known in the Pentagon as the procurement “death spiral.”

The Pentagon also would benefit from better outreach to commercial companies so it can learn what innovations are being acquired by other countries, some of which are potential future adversaries. “You need a well coordinated program of commercial and government investment,” Byus says. “With only commercial development, you’ll have technological parity. If it’s all government funded, there is a risk that you end up with an industrial base and systems that are very expensive, which increases the cost of systems and the challenge of getting them into the hands of users.”

http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/blog/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?ID=2316

No Protection for IC Whistle Blower Contractors

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(Photo: Mike Mozart / Flickr)

“POGO”

“The restoration of Intelligence Community (IC) contractor whistle blower rights would help safeguard billions of taxpayer dollars in government contracts, grants, and reimbursements annually.

“Snowden:  “I had read the laws. I knew that there were no whistle blower protections.”

Snowden’s disclosure to the media is a perfect example of why intelligence contractors need a mechanism to safely disclose suspected waste, fraud, and abuse.

Three years after Edward Snowden’s leaks, it appears that everyone has an opinion about him—traitor, hero, or somewhere in between. However, there is one undeniable fact surrounding Snowden’s circumstances that has been misreported by Congress and the Executive Branch far too many times: the Intelligence Community (IC) contractor would have had almost no protections had he come forward through proper channels.

Sure, Snowden could have gone to his supervisors and disclosed his concerns. However, had that supervisor retaliated against Snowden by firing him or demoting him, he would have had no protections because he was an IC contractor. In the absence of adequate protections, IC contractors have only two alternatives to almost certain retaliation: 1) remain silent observers of wrongdoing, or 2) make anonymous leaks.

This has not always been the case though. In fact, IC contractors enjoyed the gold standard of whistleblower protections for four years, between 2008 and 2012.

The NDAA for fiscal year 2008 contained temporary provisions that allowed all Department of Defense (DoD) contractors, including those at the National Security Agency (NSA), to enforce their whistleblower rights through district court jury trials. Additionally, in 2009, comprehensive whistleblower protections were enacted for all government contract employees paid with stimulus funds, including other IC agencies like the Central Intelligence Agency. Contrary to predictions that contractor whistleblowers would flood the courts, only 25 cases were filed from 2008 through 2012 under the DoD contractor provision (including from the intelligence community).

This whistleblower shield was so successful in deterring contractor waste and abuse that the Council of Inspectors General for Integrity and Efficiency proposed a permanent expansion for all government contractors. In 2012, McCaskill introduced a whistleblower protection amendment for all government contractors that won bipartisan Senate approval in the fiscal year 2013 NDAA.

However, during that NDAA’s closing conference committee negotiations, whistleblower rights were extended only to contractors outside of the intelligence community. Preexisting rights for IC contractors were also removed, despite a proven track record that the law was working as intended and no evidence that the law had any adverse impacts on national security during its five-year lifespan.

To better protect taxpayer dollars, our country and Americans’ privacy, Congress must restore whistleblower protections for intelligence contractors and stop feeding the false narrative that such protections exist.”

http://www.pogo.org/blog/2016/09/protect-whistleblowers-ic-contractors.html

 

 

Fed Year-End Spending Spree Needs to Change

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EDITOR’S NOTE:  We have often discussed the inefficient one year budget cycle of the US Government and recommend changes.   The One Year Budget Cycle Must Go.  Robert F. Hale  was comptroller and chief financial officer at the Defense Department from 2009 until 2014. As you will see in his opinion below, he heartily agrees.

Robert Hale

Robert Hale


“BREAKING DEFENSE”

“WHY DOD’s YEAR-END SPENDING NEEDS TO CHANGE”

“As the end of the fiscal year approaches at the Department of Defense (DoD), organizations are working hard to spend all the funds which are available for use only during the current fiscal year.

The pithy rationale for these actions: “Use it or lose it.”

We need to find practical ways to apply the brakes to year-end spending so that DoD funds only its highest-priority needs.

DoD spending spikes sharply during the final week of the fiscal year.  (To be technically correct, by “spending” I am referring to entering into contracts or otherwise obligating funds.) In a 2010 report researchers from Harvard and Stanford Universities showed that, based on data for the years 2004 to 2009, final-week spending at DoD was more than four times higher than the average weekly spending during the rest of the year.  Similar trends occurred at other federal agencies.

The spike doesn’t necessarily mean that year-end funds are wasted.  Many year-end funds buy construction-related goods and services, office equipment, and IT equipment and services. These items are needed, but they do not directly support the most critical DoD mission needs, such as training and military readiness.  Moreover, research on federal IT spending suggests that final-week purchases are of lower quality than those made during the rest of the year, and I suspect the same finding applies to other categories of spending.  The surge in spending may also lead overworked contracting officers to push out lower-quality contracts.

Making operating funds available only for one year works against good resource allocation in another way. Resource managers must estimate forthcoming bills for services in the final month of the fiscal year (for example, final bills for electricity and water) and obligate the funds before year’s end. They have to estimate on the high side because, if their estimate is low, they risk violating the federal anti-deficiency laws. High estimates for routine services leave fewer funds available for mission-critical activities such as training and readiness.

Year-end spending worries federal employees, and it should worry taxpayers too.  For several years the Obama Administration conducted a SAVE campaign (Securing Americans’ Value and Efficiency), which asked federal employees to suggest ways to make government more efficient. In my role as DoD comptroller, I reviewed suggestions related to DoD. I was struck by how many employees urged that year-end spending be reduced. A 2007 survey of DoD financial management and contracting professionals showed the same result. Almost all respondents expressed concerns about year-end spending.

The law already has some provisions designed to avoid year-end spending spikes.  For example, only 20 percent of major operating budgets are supposed to be spent during the final two months of the fiscal year. But this provision still leaves room for final-week spikes.

Congress could help by passing DoD appropriations on time – that is, by October 1.  Late appropriations push even more spending toward the end of the year and may exacerbate year-end spending. Unfortunately, Congress has not provided DoD with an on-time appropriation during any of the Obama years, and it will apparently not do so again this year.

But Congress can help by permitting DoD to carry over a small percentage of its operating budgets (perhaps 5 percent) into the next fiscal year. This flexibility would not increase the total funds available to DoD. However, for funds eligible for carry over, managers could decide whether to buy that office furniture for the headquarters at the end of the year or wait and let other needs compete for the funds next year. There is some evidence that carry-over authority helps. Our Harvard and Stanford researchers found that, at one federal agency that had such authority (the Department of Justice), final-week spending spikes were much smaller.

While serving as DoD’s comptroller, I tried to persuade Congress to permit the Department to carry over small amounts of its operating funding into the next fiscal year.  I made a few converts, but not enough to make it happen.

The next administration should try again to secure carry-over authority.”

Why DoD’s Year-End Spending Needs to Change

 

 

 

VA Buying System Archaic & Improvement Slow

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“FCW”

GAO Report:   ordering interface looks like something from when people “first started using computers.”

The VA procurement policy framework as being “outdated and fragmented,” with different procurement regulations covering different parts of the agency. Revisions and standardization of the VA’s overarching procurement regulation isn’t due until 2018.

The Department of Veterans Affairs embarked on an update of its fragmented, overlapping and out-of-date procurement system in 2011. Capitol Hill critics say implementation could be going faster.

“Companies doing business with the VA don’t know what the rules are, and even the VA contracting officers get confused,” said Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) at a Sept. 20 House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing.

Rep. Ann Kuster (D-N.H.) said the way the system works right now is “unacceptable” and that she will be “anxiously waiting” any updates to the system.

Greg Giddens, VA’s executive director for acquisition, logistics and construction, said the agency has “strategies in place that align with GAO’s recommendations” in most areas of oversight concern.

Acting Chief Procurement and Logistics Officer Rick Lemmon said the agency is in the process of developing and launching a new Windows-based ordering interface, to replace the aging, text-based legacy system in fiscal year 2017. The current VA system is integrated with the agency’s homegrown VistA health record system, and is coded using the legacy MUMPS computer language.

Giddens noted that VA is in the midst of a financial management IT initiative, and launching plans for a digital healthcare platform. Both of these efforts “will impact legacy and contemporary supply-chain systems and interfaces, as well as influence system-improvement alternatives and investment decisions over the next two to five years,” he said.”

https://fcw.com/articles/2016/09/21/va-procurement-oversight.aspx?admgarea=TC_Management

 

Federal Cyber Incidents Up 1,300% In 10 Years

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“WASHINGTON POST”

“The number of cyber incidents reported by federal agencies jumped more than 1,300 percent, from 5,503 to 77,183, over the 10 years through fiscal 2015.

This is not just a theoretical warning.

Federal information security has been on the high-risk list of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) since 1997, and the situation has only grown worse.

These statistics, at once sobering and alarming, were included in a GAO report presented to the President’s Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity this week. The report was in the form of a statement from Gregory C. Wilshusen, the GAO’s director of information security issues.

“Over the last several years, we have made about 2,500 recommendations to agencies aimed at improving their implementation of information security controls,” Wilshusen said. “These recommendations identify actions for agencies to take in protecting their information and systems. For example, we have made recommendations for agencies to correct weaknesses in controls intended to prevent, limit, and detect unauthorized access to computer resources. … However, many agencies continue to have weaknesses in implementing these controls, in part because many of these recommendations remain unimplemented. As of September 16, 2016, about 1,000 of our information security–related recommendations have not been implemented.”

Ineffective cyberprotection “can result in significant risk to a broad array of government operations and assets,” he added.

Press secretary Jamal Brown of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) responded by saying that “cybersecurity is one of the most important challenges we face as a nation. Over the last nearly eight years, federal agencies have made significant progress in strengthening their overall cybersecurity posture. Yet, as cyber threats continue to evolve and grow, we must remain vigilant in our efforts to combat them.”

Among of those efforts was release of a first-ever cybersecurity workforce strategy and implementation of the Cybersecurity National Action Plan, which established the commission that heard Wilshusen’s statement.

“GAO’s recommendations to the commission are important and welcomed,” Brown said.

These examples from Wilshusen show how broad that array can be: “Sensitive information, such as intellectual property and national security data, and personally identifiable information, such as taxpayer data, Social Security records, and medical records, could be inappropriately added to, deleted, read, copied, disclosed, or modified for purposes such as espionage, identity theft, or other types of crime.”

In June 2014, the Office of Personnel Management announced that personal information, including Social Security numbers, belonging to 22 million federal employees and others had been hacked. That is the largest announced cybertheft but far from the only one. The private sector also has been repeatedly hit by cyberthieves.

“These threats come from a variety of sources and vary in terms of the types and capabilities of the actors, their willingness to act, and their motives,” Wilshusen said. “For example, advanced persistent threats — where adversaries possess sophisticated levels of expertise and significant resources to pursue their objectives — pose increasing risks.”

In a March report to Congress, the OMB linked the rising number of cybersecurity incidents to “an increase in total information security events and agencies’ enhanced capabilities to identify, detect, manage, respond to, and recover from these incidents.”

Although the report indicates that about 40 percent of the GAO’s recommendations have not been implemented at any one time, in an interview, Wilshusen said the government’s long-term record is significantly better. Within four years, 88 percent to 90 percent of the recommendations are followed, he said by phone. “Over time,” he added, “the agencies do a pretty good job of implementing our recommendations.”

The GAO offered several recommendations, including strengthening oversight of government contractors that provide information-technology services. That was a lesson learned the hard way through the OPM breach.  In 2014, the GAO found that five of six selected agencies “were inconsistent” in their oversight of contractor cyber controls.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2016/09/22/federal-cyber-incidents-jump-1300-in-10-years/?utm_campaign=EBB%209.23.16&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Sailthru

 

A Veteran Suicide Every 72 Minutes

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Photo: Shawn Thew, epa

“USA Today”

“It’s a pace of killing unknown to most Americans and a source of national shame.

In one narrow category — 18- to 24-year-old male veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan and were VA patients — the suicide rate was 10 times the national average for all people.

Of 20 veteran suicides daily, just six were enrolled in VA health care.  A 46-page suicide analysis released by the Department of Veterans Affairs last month reveals just how swift this current of self-destruction is flowing, particularly for young veterans fresh from war.

A veteran is choosing death every 72 minutes, and the VA could be doing more to keep that person alive. When veterans manage to ask for help, too many of their calls are not getting through to VA’s suicide hotline (800-273-8255). The agency isn’t offering enough veterans the kind of cutting-edge treatment therapies that researchers are finally uncovering.

The statistics tell the tragic story. Veterans in 2014 were killing themselves at three times the rate of civilians and at a quickening pace, up by a third from 2001 to 2014. Most self-destructive are young male veterans in their 20s, who are dying at four times the rate of their civilian peers. Female veterans were 2.4 times more likely to choose suicide than civilian counterparts.

The dying is relentless. Iraq War veteran Tom Young, 30, lay down on Illinois train tracks last year after failing to reach someone at the VA hotline. Former police officer and Navy veteran Peter Kaisen, 76, shot himself in the parking lot of a veterans hospital on Long Island last month.

Young died at a time when some calls into the VA hotline were actually going tovoicemail, a problem since repaired. But too many calls today still roll over to less-prepared backup centers outside the VA.

The agency’s mammoth bureaucracy, second only to the Pentagon, has been slow to embrace new ideas, chief among them managing the urge to commit suicide and not just treating underlying illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder or severe depression.

When this kind of skills training is tailored to the individual veteran, it can be extremely effective in reducing suicide, according to Craig Bryan, head of the National Center for Veterans Studies at the University of Utah, and other scientists. The VA needs to move faster on this science, and on fresher ideas such as behavioral health clinics devoted to managing coping skills, much like dialysis centers manage kidney disease.

To be sure, the issue is complex, and VA has made progress: expanding mental health care staffing; developing computer algorithms to single out hardcore suicidal cases for special care; and pushing private doctors to query veterans about the emotional impact of their military service.

Of 20 veteran suicides daily, just six were enrolled in VA health care. The others either chose against going to the VA or were ineligible for its care.

Easy access to guns is another part of the problem. Two-thirds of male veterans who commit suicide use a firearm, compared with 52% of male civilians.

The answers to veteran suicides are “not meeting the demand,” says Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “We often compare it to the early days of the AIDS crisis, when the gay community especially felt like their friends were dying left and right, and people weren’t paying attention.”

Attention must be paid, by the presidential candidates and everyone else.”

http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2016/09/15/every-72-minutes-veteran-commits-suicide-our-view/90254596/?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=DFN%20EBB%209.16.16&utm_term=Editorial%20-%20Early%20Bird%20Brief

 

 

 

 

Military Victory is Dead

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“MODERN WAR INSTITUTE AT WEST POINT”

“Victory’s been defeated; it’s time we recognized that and moved on to what we actually can accomplish.

We’ve reached the end of victory’s road, and at this juncture it’s time to embrace other terms, a less-loaded lexicon, like “strategic advantage,” “relative gain,” and “sustainable marginalization.”

A few weeks back, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Harvard Professor Steven Pinker triumphantly announced the peace deal between the government of Columbia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC). While positive, this declaration rings hollow as the exception that proves the rule – a tentative treaty, however, at the end, roughly 7,000 guerrillas held a country of 50 million hostage over 50 years at a cost of some 220,000 lives. Churchill would be aghast: Never in the history of human conflict were so many so threatened by so few.

One reason this occasion merited a more somber statement: military victory is dead. And it was killed by a bunch of cheap stuff.

The term “victory” is loaded, so let’s stipulate it means unambiguous, unchallenged, and unquestioned strategic success – something more than a “win,” because, while one might “eke out a win,” no one “ekes out a victory.” Wins are represented by a mere letter (“w”); victory is a tickertape with tanks.

Which is something I’ll never see in my military career; I should explain. When a government has a political goal that cannot be obtained other than by force, the military gets involved and selects some objective designed to obtain said goal. Those military objectives can be classified broadly, as Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz did, into either a limited aim (i.e. “occupy some…frontier-districts” to use “for bargaining”), or a larger aim to completely disarm the enemy, “render[ing] him politically helpless or military impotent.” Lo, we’ve arrived at the problem: War has become so inexpensive that anyone can afford the traditional military means of strategic significance – so we can never fully disarm the enemy. And a perpetually armed enemy means no more parades (particularly in Nice).

Never in the history of human conflict were so many so threatened by so few.

It’s a buyer’s market in war, and the baseline capabilities (shoot, move, and communicate) are at snake-belly prices. Tactical weaponry, like AK-47s are plentiful, rented, and shipped from battlefield to battlefield, and the most lethal weapon U.S. forces encountered at the height of the Iraq War, the improvised explosive device, could be had for as little as $265. Moving is cost-effective too in the “pickup truck era of warfare,” and reports on foreign fighters in Syria remind us that cheap, global travel makes it possible for nearly anyone on the planet to rapidly arrive in an active war zone with money to spare. Also, while the terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba shut down the megacity Mumbai in 2008 for less than what many traveling youth soccer teams spend in a season, using unprotected social media networks, communication has gotten even easier for the emerging warrior with today’s widely available unhackable phones and apps. These low and no-cost commo systems are the glue that binds single wolves into coordinated wolf-packs with guns, exponentially greater than the sum of their parts. The good news: Ukraine can crowdfund aerial surveillance against Russian incursions. The less-good news: strikes, like 9/11, cost less than three seconds of a single Super Bowl ad. With prices so low, why would anyone ever give up their fire, maneuver, and control platforms?

All of which explains why military victory has gone away. Consider the Middle East, and the recent comment by a Hezbollah leader, “This can go on for a hundred years,” and his comrade’s complementary analysis, that “as long as we are there, nobody will win.” With such a modestly priced war stock on offer, it’s no wonder Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies agrees with the insurgents, recently concluding, of the four wars currently burning across the region, the U.S. has “no prospect” of strategic victory in any. Or that Modern War Institute scholar Andrew Bacevich assesses bluntly, “If winning implies achieving stated political objectives, U.S. forces don’t win.” This is what happens when David’s slingshot is always full.

The guerrillas know what many don’t: It’s the era, stupid. This is the nature of the age, as Joshua Cooper Ramos describes, “a nightmare reality in which we must fight adaptive microthreats and ideas, both of which appear to be impossible to destroy even with the most expensive weapons.” Largely correct, one point merits minor amendment – it’s meaningless to destroy when it’s so cheap to get back in the game, a hallmark of a time in which Wolverine-like regeneration is regular.

This theme even extends to more civilized conflicts. Take the Gawker case: begrudged hedge fund giant Peter Thiel funded former wrestler Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against the journalistic insurrectionists at Gawker Media, which forced the website’s writers to lay down their keyboards. However, as author Malcolm Gladwell has pointed out – Gawker’s leader, Nick Denton, can literally walk across the street, with a few dollars, and start right over. Another journalist opined, “Mr. Thiel’s victory was a hollow one – you might even say he lost. While he may have killed Gawker, its sensibility and influence on the rest of the news business survive.” Perhaps Thiel should have waited 50 more years, as Columbia had to, to write his “victory” op-ed? He may come to regret the essay as his own “Mission Accomplished” moment.

True with websites, so it goes with warfare. We live in the cheap war era, where the attacker has the advantage and the violent veto is always possible. Political leaders can speak and say tough stuff, promise ruthless revenge – it doesn’t matter, ultimately, because if you can’t disarm the enemy, you can’t parade the tanks.”

Military Victory is Dead

 

Military Online Auctions Unloading Unwanted Gear

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“NATIONAL DEFENSE MAGAZINE”

“Nineties-era Humvees can be had for $7,000.

Dump trucks and tractors that once trudged through warzones start at $15,000.

And construction cranes that helped build military outposts bear price tags from $20,000 to $23,000. Most are in good working order and many of the trucks have surprisingly low mileage.

These are some of the 1,300 pieces of surplus military hardware that will be up for auction September 7. “Every Wednesday we sell 350 to 400 items,” says Jeffrey L. Holmes, senior vice president of government solutions and auction management at GovPlanet.

GovPlanet, based in Pleasanton, California, is the government-focused arm of used-equipment marketplace IronPlanet. The company won a six-year contract from the Defense Logistics Agency to help offload surplus inventory that has accumulated over decades.

Holmes, a former Army officer and long-time defense industry executive, is insistent that the military should sell off aging forklifts, cranes, trucks and trailers sooner, rather than later.

Iron mountains of surplus inventory sit all over the United States. If it’s not needed by the military, why not sell it? “They bought a lot, and not all the equipment got used as often as they had anticipated,” Holmes tells National Defense. “This isn’t junk. There is some junk, but some good value. And every piece of equipment comes with a full inspection report.”

GovPlanet’s contract with DLA covers only rolling stock. Construction equipment is the easiest to sell because it is no different from what commercial companies use. By virtue of their prestige as wartime workhorses, the Humvees and five-ton trucks are among the most sought-after items at GovPlanet’s weekly online auctions. There are 1990s-vintage Stewart & Stevenson trucks with as little as 1,400 miles.

The first Humvee auction the company held in December 2014 drew early 200,000 visitors. A typical Humvee sale attracts from 100,000 to 200,000 viewers. An all-Humvee auction of 250 vehicles is scheduled for September 13.

The auctioning of surplus military equipment can be highly profitable for the vendor, which retains 25 percent of the proceeds. The most recent DLA contract was fiercely contested, with GovPlanet beating the previous contractor Liquidity Services. Other auction houses like Ritchie Brothers also play in this market, and companies often compete against the government’s own General Services Administration, which oversees sales of many agencies’ excess inventory.

The sale of unused military equipment is turning into an increasingly lucrative opportunity as U.S. forces downsize and close down overseas bases. GovPlanet now operates 283 sites under the DLA contract, including four in Europe, and a couple more due to open up in the Pacific Rim. “We have personnel and inventory at all 283 sites,” says Holmes.

The surplus military vehicle market creates a culture clash of sorts. Whereas the Defense Department tends to want to hold on to things indefinitely and has little financial incentive to sell its aging stock, private contractors like GovPlanet are all about moving the equipment to the largest bid as quickly as possible.

Repairs and upgrades sometimes are recommended to make vehicle more palatable to potential buyers, Holmes says. Some of these “make ready” fixes are done in a cost-sharing arrangement with DLA. They could be simple improvements like adding batteries or fluids. “If we do that we’ve shown we can get 40 percent more for the item, even for some cosmetic changes.”

The price of an item is determined based on its original acquisition value. Typically military vehicles auctioned by GovPlanet sell for about 8 percent to 10 percent of their original purchase cost. “It varies by equipment,” says Holmes. “A Humvee that fell out of an airplane without a parachute is not going to get 8 or 10 percent of its original acquisition value. Some equipment is relatively new. Some equipment is old but hasn’t had much use. We see construction equipment with less than 24 hours of operation.”

One of the challenges for GovPlanet is to convince the Defense Department to get rid of things. “The military hangs on to stuff for a long time assuming they might need it one day,” says Holmes. “So you have acres and acres of stuff sitting there, aging.” Company executives have worked with the Army and DLA to “encourage them to sell the equipment sooner, because we can get a higher price point. We encourage the military services to get rid of surplus stock, to get money back into their budgets.”

There are restrictions on who can buy this equipment. Nothing can be sold offshore. Buyers must be U.S. citizens based in the United States. Some items are sold to brokers and dealers who may do their own upgrades before they resell. Other companies buy vehicles and modify them, install radios and tweak them for collectors. Occasionally purchasers are actual consumers, such as farmers or hunters who need rugged vehicles to get around.

The equipment auctioned by GovPlanet comes with a “condition certification” that is issued after it’s been inspected. Inspectors’ reports are available to bidders two weeks ahead of auction dates.

With the exception of Humvees and other specialty trucks, the majority of the equipment DLA gets rid of is commercial gear that has been beefed up a little bit and painted in camouflage. GovPlanet demilitarizes the trucks — removing armor or other sensitive components — before they are auctioned.

This is a business that is poised for growth, Holmes says. “With the downsizing of the Army there’s more equipment coming in.” The company is eyeing future DLA contracts to auction generators and commercial pickup trucks.

Working with the Defense Department presents unique difficulties for auction houses that rarely are encountered with other, more cash-strapped clients. “We have about 200 state and local municipalities that have used us to dispose of surplus equipment,” says Holmes. “They are trying to get maximum value from the equipment to get funds to buy new stuff.” The military is not as motivated. “Culture is one of the most difficult things I wrestle with,” says Holmes. “They are very reluctant to try something new. They’re comfortable with what they are doing, and they are skeptical.”

Commercial customers, by contrast, are more eager to try new approaches. “If you propose something to the commercial sector, they’re probably going to give you a shot to let you show them that what you promised is true.” In the government, they presume upfront that there’s no value in surplus equipment, he says. “As a taxpayer when you see equipment going to a crusher and being sold for pennies on the dollar as scrap metal, I see that as wasteful. Instead, you can get money that you can reutilize. The commercial sector gets it. The defense sector is slower to grasp.”

Parent company IronPlanet was founded in 1999 and was an early exploiter of the Internet as a medium to sell construction equipment. It later moved into the transportation, oil, gas and government sectors. It has sold about $5 billion worth of equipment. The company won’t disclose specific sales numbers for the DLA auctions other than claiming it sells 400 vehicles a week on average over 48 auctions conducted each year.

The DLA contract GovPlanet won in 2014 is based on a “proceeds share model.” Typically sellers pay auctioneers upfront to offload their equipment. After it is sold, the auctioneers collects a fee from the buyer, then gives the net to the seller. Under the DLA deal, the agency is in charge of disposing used equipment, and GovPlanet agrees to a 75/25 proceeds split. “When we sell an asset, DLA gets 75 percent of the proceeds. We have skin in the game. So we leverage our marketing to get a higher price point.”

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