Tag Archives: national debt

Army To Discard $6 Billion (WIN-T) Network Investment And Start Over Without A Plan

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Army Network $6B

 “DEFENSE NEWS”

“House lawmakers roasted Army officials for abruptly scrapping its acquisition strategy months after submitting its 2018 budget without a well-defined alternative. 

Whether the U.S. Army may shift a half-billion dollars from its ailing network programs and chart a new course will be up for debate as lawmakers reconcile rival House and Senate defense policy bills this month.”


“But several key lawmakers said they are not ready to let the Army reboot from a $6 billion investment without explaining what’s next.

Army officials argue the service lacks the survivable, mobile and hardened tactical network it would need on a modern battlefield. They are asking Congress to end the Mid-Tier Networking Vehicular Radio, the Command Post of the Future and the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) Increment 2 at the end of fiscal year 2018 to free up money budgeted for the three.

And although at least two key lawmakers said they were supportive — chairmen of the House and Senate armed services committees — they want more information.

“I support them being willing to examine themselves and reverse course if that’s what’s appropriate,” HASC Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, said of the Army on Oct. 5. “It’s going to be up to them to prove to us that now we are on a better path, that we have learned the lessons.”

Thornberry said Army officials spoke with him in September about making the change.

“They’ll have to lay out their plans to us, but if we can have a path forward in ’18, there’s no reason to wait until ’19.”

The House-passed 2018 National Defense Authorization Act calls for WIN-T to be accelerated, and the Senate-passed version zeroes out the president’s request for WIN-T funding. The White House has defended WIN-T and some other programs the Senate NDAA would cut.

SASC Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., grilled Gen. Mark Milley, the Army chief of staff, at a May hearing and accused the Army of wasting $6 billion on WIN-T. That stance actually aids Milley’s aim to reboot Army network plans.

On Sept. 9, McCain met with Milley on Capitol Hill and asked him how he proposes the WIN-T funding be redistributed.

“We told them to send us what they want to do with it, and we will examine it, but we had to act to cut it off,” McCain said of the meeting.

McCain said his support for the Army’s next move “depends on what they want to use it for. WIN-T has been a total failure.”

Proposed changes could be handled as an Army request to reprogram the 2018 funding or as part of the NDAA depending on the timing, McCain said.

The Army envisions scenarios in which it fights a near-peer enemy in contested environments that require small units, operating independently and moving constantly to avoid defeat.

Yet the first increment of WIN-T, while fielded, can only function — transmitting voice, video and data — when a unit is stopped. The WIN-T’s second increment is meant to provide an on-the-move capability, but it has struggled.

The latest annual report from the Pentagon’s office of developmental test and evaluation faults WIN-T’s technical performance, usability and vulnerability to enemy jamming.

At a hearing of the HASC Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee on Sept. 28 to question Army officials over its new plans, Chairman Michael Turner, R-Ohio, expressed deep skepticism the Army would get it right this time.

In a subsequent interview with Defense News, Turner said the goal is to provide new troops technology at least as advanced as what they were had in high school, and not to be eclipsed by adversaries who “have modernized and put at risk our ability to operate.”

“The question is what are we going to do, not just what are we not going to do,” Turner said.

Turner pushed back at the idea WIN-T had been a failure, noting it had been delivered, tested and fielded.

“The issue is not that it’s not working; the issue is: What are our goals and objectives, what are our technology needs, and how do you achieve those?” Turner said, “And the Army’s going to need to have an answer at least in scoping and in implementation, while they explain the nearly $6 billion that’s already been spent.”

https://www.defensenews.com/2017/10/05/lawmakers-if-us-army-ends-6b-in-network-programs-whats-next/

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Military’s Health Records Maze

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VA Records Maze

“MILITARY TIMES”

“More than $1 billion has been invested in medical record interoperability in recent years but with mixed results.

Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said he is open to adopting the new military electronic health record system for his department but stopped short of promising that will happen this summer.

“We’re exploring all options,” Shulkin told members of the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday. “It’s a highly complex issue … if there was an easy solution here, it would have been made already.”

The comments came in response to criticism from lawmakers related to the ongoing health records saga, a point of tension for the departments for decades.

“We’ve been giving you all a lot of money, and it’s not fixed,” said Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla. “You could be the best VA secretary of all time if you solved this one problem.”

At issue is the seamless medical transition of active-duty troops and reservists to VA care. Veterans have long lamented missing records, repeated exams and frustrating inefficiencies with the dueling department systems.

Last year, defense and VA officials certified that their Joint Legacy Viewer now allows physicians in both departments to share and read those critical health records, eliminating many of those problems.

But the separate back-end systems still prevent VA doctors from editing or updating veterans’ old military records, and vice versa. Shulkin acknowledged that “it is not the complete interoperability we would hope for.”

Earlier this year, officials with the Military Health System announced plans to shift to the new GENESIS system for all personal military health records, allowing easier access for both patients and doctors.

Shulkin said he hopes to settle on a similar new system for VA this summer. He said a number of factors will go into that decision, including long-term viability of the new system, ease of transferability from old systems and interoperability with defense records.

But VA officials have long been resistant to simply adopting the same IT systems as the military because of specific agency needs. Lawmakers pushed Shulkin to break that trend, but he would not commit to any system at the hearing.

He did say that “VA needs to get out of the software development business” and will be looking for more private sector “off-the-shelf” options for health record systems, to minimize the workload of maintaining any future health records systems.

“It’s not an easy project in a single hospital, much less a whole system the size of VA,” he said.

Shulkin’ appearance before the committee was billed as a conversation about next year’s budget request, but so far only a few details of that plan have been released publicly. A full budget is expected to be released by White House officials later this month.

The department would see a 6 percent boost in programming funds under the “skinny budget” outlined by President Trump, one of only a few federal agencies looking at a funding boost under his plan.

Committee members told Shulkin to expect many more questions about the health records issue after the fiscal 2018 specifics are released”

http://www.militarytimes.com/articles/va-dod-health-records-2017-search

 

 

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

 

 

 

A Different Path to War

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“WAR ON THE ROCKS”

“Americans today enjoy a measure of safety that our ancestors would envy and that our contemporaries do envy.

We generally do not need to wage war to keep it that way.

On the contrary, some recent wars have degraded the U.S. military and undermined our security. Policymakers should therefore be extremely reluctant to risk American lives abroad.

The U.S. military is the finest fighting force in the world; it comprises dedicated professionals who are willing and able to fight almost anywhere, practically on a moment’s notice. Any military large enough to defend our vital national security interests will always be capable of intervening in distant disputes. But that does not mean that it should. Policymakers have an obligation to carefully weigh the most momentous decision that they are ever asked to make. These criteria can help.

Any nation with vast power will be tempted to use it. In this respect, the United States is exceptional because its power is so immense. Small, weak countries avoid fighting in distant disputes; the risk that troops, ships, or planes sent elsewhere will be unavailable for defense of the homeland generally keeps these nations focused on more proximate dangers. The U.S. government, by contrast, doesn’t have to worry that deploying U.S. forces abroad might leave America vulnerable to attack by powerful adversaries.

There is another factor that explains the United States’ propensity to go abroad in search of monsters to destroy: Americans are a generous people, and we like helping others. We have often responded favorably when others appeal to us for assistance. Many Americans look back proudly on the moments in the middle and latter half of the 20th century when the U.S. military provided the crucial margin of victory over Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and the Soviet Union.

But, in recent years, Americans have grown more reluctant to send U.S. troops hither and yon. There is a growing appreciation of the fact that Washington’s willingness to intervene abroad – from Somalia and the Balkans in the 1990s, to Iraq and Afghanistan in the 2000s, to Libya and Yemen in the present decades – has often undermined U.S. security. We have become embroiled in disputes that we don’t understand and rarely can control. Thus, public anxiety about becoming sucked into another Middle Eastern civil war effectively blocked overt U.S. intervention in Syria in 2013, notwithstanding President Obama’s ill-considered red line warning to Bashar al Assad.

But while the American people are unenthusiastic about armed intervention, especially when it might involve U.S. ground troops, most Washington-based policy elites retain their activist instincts. They believe that U.S. military intervention generally advances global security and that the absence of U.S. leadership invites chaos. The essays in this series, “Course Correction,” have documented the many reasons why these assumptions might not be true. The authors have urged policymakers to consider other ways for the United States to remain engaged globally – ways that do not obligate the American people to bear all the costs and that do not obligate U.S. troops to bear all the risks.

But the authors do not presume that the United States must never wage war. There are indeed times when it should. Policymakers should, however, keep five specific guidelines in mind before supporting military intervention, especially the use of ground troops. Doing so would discipline our choices, would clearly signal when the U.S. military is likely to be deployed abroad, and could empower others to act when the United States does not.

Vital U.S. National Security Interest at Stake

The United States should not send U.S. troops into harm’s way unless a vital U.S. national security interest is at stake. Unfortunately, the consensus in Washington defines U.S. national security interests too broadly. Protecting the physical security of the territory of the United States and ensuring the safety of its people are vital national security interests. Advancing U.S. prosperity is an important goal, but it is best achieved by peaceful means, most importantly through trade and other forms of voluntary exchange. Similarly, the U.S. military should generally not be used to spread U.S. values, such as liberal democracy and human rights. It should be focused on defending this country from physical threats. The military should be poised to deter attacks and to fight and win the nation’s wars if deterrence fails.

The criterion offered here is more stringent, for example, than the Weinberger-Powell Doctrine, which held that U.S. troops should not be sent overseas “unless the particular engagement or occasion is deemed vital to our national interest or that of our allies.” By effectively equating U.S. national interests with those of our allies, it allowed for a range of interventions that would not be considered automatically valid under the guidelines spelled out here.  Policymakers should not risk the lives of U.S. troops to protect others’ interests as though those interests were our own.

Clear National Consensus

The American people must understand why they are being asked to risk blood and treasure and, crucially, they must have a say in whether to do so. The U.S. military should not be engaged in combat operations overseas unless there is a clear national consensus behind the mission.

Although modern technology allows constituents to communicate their policy preferences easily, traditional methods are just as effective in ascertaining whether the American people support the use of force. We should rely on the tool written into the Constitution: the stipulation that Congress alone, not the president, possesses the power to take the country to war.

As Gene Healy notes in this series, Congress has regularly evaded its obligations. Although the U.S. military has been in a continuous state of war over the past 15 years, few in Congress have ever weighed in publicly on the wisdom or folly of any particular foreign conflict. Some now interpret Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty or United Nations Security Council resolutions as obligating the United States to wage war without explicit authorization from Congress. This is unacceptable. The president may repel attacks against the United States, but the authority to deploy U.S. forces abroad, and to engage in preemptive or preventative wars of choice, resides with Congress — and by extension the people — of the United States.

Understanding of the Costs—and How to Pay Them

We must also understand the costs of war and know how we will pay them before we choose to go down that path. We cannot accurately gauge popular support for a given military intervention overseas if the case for war is built on unrealistic expectations and best-case scenarios. There is no such thing as a free lunch, and there is certainly no such thing as a free war.

Deficit spending allows the federal government to pretend otherwise. Politicians make promises, with bills coming due long after they’ve left office. But we should expect more when it comes to the use of force. Advocates for a military intervention should be forced to frame their solution in relation to costs and benefits. The debit side of the ledger includes the long-term costs of care for the veterans of the conflict. Hawks must also explain what government expenditures should be cut – or taxes increased – to pay for their war. The American people should have the final say in choosing whether additional military spending to prosecute minor, distant conflicts is worth the cost, including the opportunity costs: the crucial domestic priorities that must be forgone or future taxes paid.

Clear and Obtainable Military Objectives

We cannot compare the costs or wisdom of going to war if we do not know what our troops will be asked to do. The U.S. military should never be sent into harm’s way without a set of clear and obtainable military objectives.

Such considerations do not apply when a country’s survival is at stake. But wars of choice — the types of wars that the United States has fought in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and elsewhere — are different. Advocates for such wars must demonstrate not only that the fight is necessary to secure vital U.S. interests, that it has public support, and that it has funding, but also that the military’s mission is defined and attainable.

Military victory is rarely sufficient, however, as our recent wars and interventions demonstrate. In the case of regime-change wars, ensuring that a successful transition to a stable, friendly government occurs can take a considerable amount of time and resources. Whatever replaces the defeated forces must represent a marked improvement in order for the war to advance U.S. vital interests. U.S. leaders, therefore, must not only define the military objective, but also detail what the resultant peace will look like, and how we will know the mission is complete.

It is easy for Washington to start wars, but we cannot leave U.S. troops on the hook for ending them. Policymakers must account for the tendency of war to drag on for years or more, and they must plan for an acceptable exit strategy before committing troops.

Use of Force as a Last Resort

The four criteria above are not enough to establish a war’s legitimacy, or the wisdom of waging it. After all, modern nation-states have the ability to wreak unimaginable horror on a massive scale. That obviously doesn’t imply that they should. Thus, the fifth and final rule concerning military intervention is force should be used only as a last resort, after we have exhausted other means for resolving a foreign policy challenge that threatens vital U.S. national security interests.

This point is informed by centuries-old concepts of justice. Civilized societies abhor war, even those waged for the right reasons while adhering to widely respected norms, such as proportionality and reasonable protections for noncombatants. War, given its uncertainty and destructiveness, should never be entered into lightly or for trivial reasons.

America has an exceptional capacity for waging war. U.S. policymakers therefore have a particular obligation to remember that war is a last resort. Precisely because no one else is likely to constrain them, they must constrain themselves.

Conclusion

U.S. foreign policy should contain a built-in presumption against the use of force. That does not mean that war is never the answer, but rather that it is rarely the best answer. Americans today enjoy a measure of safety that our ancestors would envy and that our contemporaries do envy. We generally do not need to wage war to keep it that way. On the contrary, some recent wars have degraded the U.S. military and undermined our security. Policymakers should therefore be extremely reluctant to risk American lives abroad.

The U.S. military is the finest fighting force in the world; it comprises dedicated professionals who are willing and able to fight almost anywhere, practically on a moment’s notice. Any military large enough to defend our vital national security interests will always be capable of intervening in distant disputes. But that does not mean that it should.”

New Rules for U.S. Military Intervention

Corruption Lessons from US Experience in Afghanistan

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Image:  Politifact.com

“POGO”

“The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released the first in a series of reports imparting lessons from the 15-year, $115 billion Afghanistan reconstruction effort.

The core lesson:  establish an anti-corruption strategy before plunging into nation-rebuilding.

The report, Corruption in Conflict: Lessons from the U.S. Experience in Afghanistan, is a review of how effectively the US government—primarily the Departments of Defense (DoD), State, Treasury, and Justice, and the US Agency for International Development—responded to corruption in Afghanistan reconstruction spending. SIGAR identifies six key lessons that will hopefully inform future contingency operations, and makes recommendations for executive and legislative action.

The report defines corruption as “the abuse of entrusted authority for private gain,” as exemplified by such acts as bribery, embezzlement, extortion, fraud, and nepotism. It asserts that, while certain forms of corruption have been a part of Afghan culture for centuries, the problem grew to epic proportions after 2001. SIGAR faults the US-led reconstruction effort in three respects: by rapidly injecting billions of dollars into the Afghan economy without adequate oversight, by failing to recognize the scope and severity of corruption, and by subordinating anticorruption efforts to short-term security and political goals.

The recommendation that seems most sensible (to provide the most bang for the buck, if you will) is for the agencies to establish a “joint vendor vetting unit” to more carefully screen contingency operation contractors and grantees. For reconstruction missions to succeed, international aid money must be kept out of the hands of what SIGAR calls “malign powerbrokers”—those who thrive off corruption, such as local warlords, crooked government officials, and insurgents. Robust screening of recipients will also help ensure reconstruction funds aren’t lost to fraud, waste, and abuse.

The United States will remain engaged in Afghanistan for several more years, and it will likely embark on relief efforts in other war-torn countries as well. It is therefore critical that the government heed the lessons collected over the years by its watchdogs: the Commission on Wartime Contracting, which ceased operations in September 2011, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, which closed its doors in October 2013, and SIGAR, which will carry on until appropriated funding for the reconstruction drops below $250 million.”

http://www.pogo.org/blog/2016/09/government-watchdog-identifies-lessons-from-afghanistan-reconstruction.html

 

Military Aid To Israel $38 Billion Over 10 Years

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Image:  “Accuracy in Media.Org”

“THE WASHINGTON POST”

“Israel and the United States have reached an agreement that will provide Israel an unprecedented amount of military aid over a decade.

U.S. officials declined to comment on the specifics of the agreement.

The State Department said the agreement, known as a memo of understanding, will be signed Wednesday afternoon. Jacob Nagel, Israel’s acting national security adviser, arrived in Washington on Tuesday morning to sign on behalf of his country.

The agreement is expected to give Israel as much as $3.8 billion a year over 10 years, more aid than the United States has ever provided to any country. That represents a significant increase over the $3.1 billion the United States gives annually now, a figure that increases to about $3.5 billion a year with aid supplements approved by Congress. That is also much lower than the $4 billion to $5 billion a year that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought.

Netanyahu appears to have agreed to some other major concessions. The newspaper Haaretz reported that he agreed to limit Israel’s ability to lobby Congress for more aid, unless it is at war. The Israeli leader also agreed that Israel will not ask Congress for more aid to develop missile defense systems.

In another concession that was controversial in Israel’s ­defense industry, Netanyahu agreed to phase out a special arrangement that for decades has allowed Israel to spend 26 percent of U.S. aid on defense research, development and procurement. No other country receiving U.S. funding is allowed to do so. But Israel was granted that exception in the 1980s so it could build up its nascent defense infrastructure. With Israel’s defense industry now thriving, the Obama administration wanted U.S. aid directed to American companies providing goods and services.

Negotiations for the aid package have been underway since November to replace a memo of understanding that will end in 2018. The new agreement will run from 2019 through 2028.

Salai Meridor, who was Israel’s ambassador when the last agreement was signed, welcomed the deal, despite some reservations.

“I don’t measure this relationship by the dollar number and whatever the exact number is. It is a reflection of the great relationship between the state of Israel and America,” he said.

But Meridor called it disappointing to have limitations on Israel requesting more aid from Congress in the future.

“Many of the important initiatives that have cemented the relationship have been the result of Congress’s initiative,” he said. “I think this is an element of the agreement we might all regret in the future.”

The talks have been complicated by substantive, political and personal differences. Netanyahu and President Obama have had a famously contentious relationship that reached a boiling point in 2015 when the Israeli leader appeared before Congress to lobby against the Iran nuclear deal.

The Obama administration wanted the increased military aid package completed before the end of his term to demonstrate the United States’ commitment to Israeli security after the agreement with Iran.

“It’s a good deal for Israel and a good deal for the United States,” said Ilan Goldenberg, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security. “It sends a signal to those in the region that the U.S.-Israel relationship is a bedrock in the Middle East. Whatever difficult relationship exists between the president and the prime minister, at a strategic level, the relationship is better than that. Even if Obama and Netanyahu don’t like each other very much, Israel and the United States are willing to make a commitment to Israel’s security.”

The agreement has political advantages for both leaders. Netanyahu has been criticized for his aggressive tactics on the Iran nuclear deal, with critics saying he has poisoned relations with Israel’s greatest ally. Obama has insisted that the United States remains Israel’s biggest protector, despite any personal and political differences with the prime minister.

“In financial terms, Israel maybe could have gotten more in the summer of 2015 than the summer of 2016,” said David Makovsky, a fellow with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “But it’s still an increase. What seems to have driven the idea of coming to closure on this now is that both sides would like to get this done before the election.”

Israel remains concerned about the threat posed by Iran, particularly now that its isolation has been eroded with the Iran nuclear deal.

“We do not want this to be interpreted as being compensated for a deal we did not consent to,” said Eran Lerman, a former deputy national security adviser to the prime minister.

“We know Israel was not alone in the region of feeling worried about the consequences,” he added.

It remains to be seen whether the $3.8 billion a year represents a ceiling or a floor. The agreement appears to rein in Israel’s ability to ask for more money. But members of Congress, particularly those involved in appropriations, have expressed a reluctance to give up their ability to allocate money based on their sense of priorities.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/agreement-on-military-aid-for-israel-expected-within-days/2016/09/13/50847ad8-79c1-11e6-bd86-b7bbd53d2b5d_story.html

 

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

 

Pentagon & VA Struggle With Military Electronic Health Care

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Vets Electronic Health Care Maze

“FEDERAL NEWS RADIO”

“The Defense Department will delay the roll out of its forthcoming $4.6 billion electronic health record   [EHR] because of newly-discovered technical problems.

“Glitches in integrating the commercial software with the legacy systems the military services use to store and process patient data.”

The EHR, known as MHS Genesis, was originally slated to reach its initial operating capability at a handful of hospitals and clinics by early December, but that date will likely move back by a few months due to unexpected glitches in integrating the commercial software with the legacy systems the military services use to store and process patient data.

The department’s original schedule called for clinicians to move away from DoD’s legacy AHLTA and CHCS systems and begin using GENESIS on Dec. 6. The initial sites were to be Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane, Washington and the Oak Harbor Naval Hospital on Washington’s Whidbey Island.

Program officials will spend the next 30 days determining how serious the integration issues are before drawing up a new schedule, but they still intend to use those medical treatment facilities as the first sites for the new EHR, and for Washington hospitals and clinics at Joint Base Lewis-McChord and Naval Hospital Bremerton to follow shortly thereafter.

Defense officials began system validation sessions with clinicians at Bremerton last month in order to begin gathering user feedback ahead of the launch. Cummings said they’d uncovered no major issues beyond the technical problems DoD and Leidos already identified.

And she said based on DoD’s market research, the glitches aren’t too unlike the integration problems major commercial health care systems have faced as they’ve tried to introduce new electronic health record systems.

“On average, even a commercial provider takes 15 to 18 months from contract award to implementation. I don’t think we’re seeing anything out of the norm,” she said. “I will say that what’s different about us is we’re adopting an enterprise solution. We can’t optimize GENESIS just for one military treatment facility, we’re doing this integration and these interfaces once, as opposed to a commercial hospital where they might have interfaces that are local.”

The Defense Department said the delay would not result in any increase to the project’s five-year $4.6 billion cost ceiling. And Cerner, the subcontractor on whose software Genesis is based said it saw no indication that the setback in initial operating capability would affect the overall schedule for a final rollout to DoD’s worldwide medical facilities.

“We’re pleased that we remain in good position for an on-time, enterprise-wide deployment and are able to facilitate this additional configuration and testing for the initial operating capability pilot sites so that the system is performing at an optimal level when scaled across all MHS facilities,” Marlene Bentley, a company spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.”

Technical problems delay rollout of DoD’s electronic health record

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How the Pentagon Became Walmart

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Aerial View From Over Arlington Va

(Photo By USAf/Getty Images)

“FOREIGN POLICY”

“Asking warriors to do everything poses great dangers for our country — and the military.

Our armed services have become the one-stop shop for America’s policymakers.

Here’s the vicious circle in which we’ve trapped ourselves: As we face novel security threats from novel quarters — emanating from nonstate terrorist networks, from cyberspace, and from the impact of poverty, genocide, or political repression, for instance — we’ve gotten into the habit of viewing every new threat through the lens of “war,” thus asking our military to take on an ever-expanding range of nontraditional tasks. But viewing more and more threats as “war” brings more and more spheres of human activity into the ambit of the law of war, with its greater tolerance of secrecy, violence, and coercion — and its reduced protections for basic rights.

Meanwhile, asking the military to take on more and more new tasks requires higher military budgets, forcing us to look for savings elsewhere, so we freeze or cut spending on civilian diplomacy and development programs. As budget cuts cripple civilian agencies, their capabilities dwindle, and we look to the military to pick up the slack, further expanding its role.

“If your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” The old adage applies here as well. If your only functioning government institution is the military, everything looks like a war, and “war rules” appear to apply everywhere, displacing peacetime laws and norms. When everything looks like war, everything looks like a military mission, displacing civilian institutions and undermining their credibility while overloading the military.

More is at stake than most of us realize. Recall Shakespeare’s Henry V:

In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man

As modest stillness and humility:

But when the blast of war blows in our ears,

Then imitate the action of the tiger;

Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,

Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage 

In war, we expect warriors to act in ways that would be immoral and illegal in peacetime. But when the boundaries around war and the military expand and blur, we lose our ability to determine which actions should be praised and which should be condemned.

For precisely this reason, humans have sought throughout history to draw sharp lines between war and peace — and between the role of the warrior and the role of the civilian. Until less than a century ago, for instance, most Western societies maintained that wars should be formally declared, take place upon clearly delineated battlefields, and be fought by uniformed soldiers operating within specialized, hierarchical military organizations. In different societies and earlier times, humans developed other rituals to delineate war’s boundaries, from war drums and war sorcery to war paint and complex initiation rites for warriors.

Like a thousand other human tribes before us, we modern Americans also engage in elaborate rituals to distinguish between warriors and civilians: Our soldiers shear off their hair, display special symbols on their chests, engage in carefully choreographed drill ceremonies, and name their weapons for fearsome spirits and totem animals (the Hornet, the Black Hawk, the Reaper). And despite the changes ushered in by the 9/11 attacks, most of us view war as a distinct and separate sphere, one that shouldn’t intrude into our everyday world of offices, shopping malls, schools, and soccer games. Likewise, we relegate war to the military, a distinct social institution that we simultaneously lionize and ignore. War, we like to think, is an easily recognizable exception to the normal state of affairs and the military an institution that can be easily, if tautologically, defined by its specialized, war-related functions.

But in a world rife with transnational terrorist networks, cyberwarriors, and disruptive nonstate actors, this is no longer true. Our traditional categories — war and peace, military and civilian — are becoming almost useless.

In a cyberwar or a war on terrorism, there can be no boundaries in time or space: We can’t point to the battlefield on a map or articulate circumstances in which such a war might end. We’re no longer sure what counts as a weapon, either: A hijacked passenger plane? A line of computer code? We can’t even define the enemy: Though the United States has been dropping bombs in Syria for almost two years, for instance, no one seems sure if our enemy is a terrorist organization, an insurgent group, a loose-knit collection of individuals, a Russian or Iranian proxy army, or perhaps just chaos itself.

We’ve also lost any coherent basis for distinguishing between combatants and civilians: Is a Chinese hacker a combatant? What about a financier for Somalia’s al-Shabab, or a Pakistani teen who shares extremist propaganda on Facebook, or a Russian engineer paid by the Islamic State to maintain captured Syrian oil fields?

When there’s a war, the law of war applies, and states and their agents have great latitude in using lethal force and other forms of coercion. Peacetime law is the opposite, emphasizing individual rights, due process, and accountability.

When we lose the ability to draw clear, consistent distinctions between war and not-war, we lose any principled basis for making the most vital decisions a democracy can make: Which matters, if any, should be beyond the scope of judicial review? When can a government have “secret laws”? When can the state monitor its citizens’ phone calls and email? Who can be imprisoned and with what degree, if any, of due process? Where, when, and against whom can lethal force be used? Should we consider U.S. drone strikes in Yemen or Libya the lawful wartime targeting of enemy combatants or nothing more than simple murder?

When we heedlessly expand what we label “war,” we also lose our ability to make sound decisions about which tasks we should assign to the military and which should be left to civilians.

Today, American military personnel operate in nearly every country on Earth — and do nearly every job on the planet. They launch raids and agricultural reform projects, plan airstrikes and small-business development initiatives, train parliamentarians and produce TV soap operas. They patrol for pirates, vaccinate cows, monitor global email communications, and design programs to prevent human trafficking.

Many years ago, when I was in law school, I applied for a management consulting job at McKinsey & Co. During one of the interviews, I was given a hypothetical business scenario: “Imagine you run a small family-owned general store. Business is good, but one day you learn that Walmart is about to open a store a block away. What do you do?”

“Roll over and die,” I said immediately.

The interviewer’s pursed lips suggested that this was the wrong answer, and no doubt a plucky mom-and-pop operation wouldn’t go down without a fight: They’d look for a niche, appeal to neighborhood sentiment, or maybe get artisanal and start serving hand-roasted chicory soy lattes. But we all know the odds would be against them: When Walmart shows up, the writing is on the wall.

Like Walmart, today’s military can marshal vast resources and exploit economies of scale in ways impossible for small mom-and-pop operations. And like Walmart, the tempting one-stop-shopping convenience it offers has a devastating effect on smaller, more traditional enterprises — in this case, the State Department and other U.S. civilian foreign-policy agencies, which are steadily shrinking into irrelevance in our ever-more militarized world. The Pentagon isn’t as good at promoting agricultural or economic reform as the State Department or the U.S. Agency for International Development — but unlike our civilian government agencies, the Pentagon has millions of employees willing to work insane hours in terrible conditions, and it’s open 24/7.

It’s fashionable to despise Walmart — for its cheap, tawdry goods, for its sheer vastness and mindless ubiquity, and for the human pain we suspect lies at the heart of the enterprise. Most of the time, we prefer not to see it and use zoning laws to exile its big-box stores to the commercial hinterlands away from the center of town. But as much as we resent Walmart, most of us would be hard-pressed to live without it.

As the U.S. military struggles to define its role and mission, it evokes similarly contradictory emotions in the civilian population. Civilian government officials want a military that costs less but provides more, a military that stays deferentially out of strategy discussions but remains eternally available to ride to the rescue. We want a military that will prosecute our ever-expanding wars but never ask us to face the difficult moral and legal questions created by the eroding boundaries between war and peace.

We want a military that can solve every global problem but is content to remain safely quarantined on isolated bases, separated from the rest of us by barbed wire fences, anachronistic rituals, and acres of cultural misunderstanding. Indeed, even as the boundaries around war have blurred and the military’s activities have expanded, the U.S. military itself — as a human institution — has grown more and more sharply delineated from the broader society it is charged with protecting, leaving fewer and fewer civilians with the knowledge or confidence to raise questions about how we define war or how the military operates.

It’s not too late to change all this.

No divine power proclaimed that calling something “war” should free us from the constraints of morality or common sense or that only certain tasks should be the proper province of those wearing uniforms. We came up with the concepts, definitions, laws, and institutions that now trap and confound us — and they’re no more eternal than the rituals and categories used by any of the human tribes that have gone before us.

We don’t have to accept a world full of boundary-less wars that can never end, in which the military has lost any coherent sense of purpose or limits. If the moral and legal ambiguity of U.S.-targeted killings bothers us, or we worry about government secrecy or indefinite detention, we can mandate new checks and balances that transcend the traditional distinctions between war and peace. If we don’t like the simultaneous isolation and Walmartization of our military, we can change the way we recruit, train, deploy, and treat those who serve, change the way we define the military’s role, and reinvigorate our civilian foreign-policy institutions.

After all, few generals actually want to preside over the military’s remorseless Walmartization: They too fear that, in the end, the nation’s over-reliance on an expanding military risks destroying not only the civilian competition but the military itself. They worry that the armed services, under constant pressure to be all things to all people, could eventually find themselves able to offer little of enduring value to anyone.

Ultimately, they fear that the U.S. military could come to resemble a Walmart on the day after a Black Friday sale: stripped almost bare by a society both greedy for what it can provide and resentful of its dominance, with nothing left behind but demoralized employees and some shoddy mass-produced items strewn haphazardly around the aisles.”

How the Pentagon Became Walmart

 

A Hidden World Growing Beyond Control

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“WASHINGTON POST”

“The top-secret world created in response to Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs or how many programs exist within it.

The system put in place to keep the United States safe is so massive that its effectiveness is impossible to determine.

These are some of the findings of a two-year investigation by The Washington Post that discovered what amounts to an alternative geography of the United States, a Top Secret America hidden from public view and lacking in thorough oversight.

The investigation’s other findings include:

* Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States.

* An estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances.

* In Washington and the surrounding area, 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2001. Together they occupy the equivalent of almost three Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings – about 17 million square feet of space.

* Many security and intelligence agencies do the same work, creating redundancy and waste. For example, 51 federal organizations and military commands, operating in 15 U.S. cities, track the flow of money to and from terrorist networks.

* Analysts who make sense of documents and conversations obtained by foreign and domestic spying share their judgment by publishing 50,000 intelligence reports each year – a volume so large that many are routinely ignored.”

http://projects.washingtonpost.com/top-secret-america/articles/a-hidden-world-growing-beyond-control/