Tag Archives: National Defense

2020 NDAA Cyber, IT Personnel And Acquisition Policy Changes



The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act was signed into law Dec. 20, and with it comes a range of cyber, IT personnel and acquisition policy changes.

Here’s some of what FCW will be tracking in the New Year


Consumption-based solutions. A consumption-based acquisition provision was originally recommended by the Section 809 panel’s suite of acquisition reforms. And while most of the panel’s suggestions weren’t expected to make it into the NDAA for 2020, this one did. Doing the study, which is due in March, allows DOD to evaluate how consumption-based solutions, which involve an agency getting billed for how much it uses, would affect its contracts.

Space Force acquisition challenges. Since the 2020 NDAA authorizes the standing up of Space Force, there could be new acquisition changes needed. The bill mandates a report due in March on whether there needs to be a new acquisition assistant secretary for space policy.

Report on edge computing technology. DOD’s acquisition chief will have to report to Congress on commercial edge computing technologies and best practices for warfighting systems.

More cybersecurity oversight is coming to DOD, starting with a mandatory cyber review every four years. This requirement begins in 2022 and includes an assessment of costs, benefits, and whether, possibly like Space Force, a cyber force should be a separate uniformed service. There will also be quarterly reviews on cyber mission force readiness.

Zero-based review for IT and cyber personnel. The Defense Department has until Jan. 1, 2021, to complete a zero-based review of cyber and information technology contractors, military, and civilian personnel.

The review will assess staffing needs and effectiveness and also evaluate whether job descriptions, duties, and “whether cybersecurity service provider positions and personnel fit coherently into the enterprise-wide cybersecurity architecture and with the Department’s cyber protection teams.”

Information operations. The military services have increasingly emphasized the importance of information warfare and operations in the wake of the 2016 presidential election and the aftermath of public and Congressional scrutiny.

The 2020 NDAA affirms this by requesting DOD appoint a “principal information operations advisor” to the secretary on “all aspects of information operations conducted by the Department.” In a separate but somewhat related provision, the bill authorizes research for “foreign malign influence.”


How Will The FY 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) Affect Government Procurement?


2019 NDAA Procurement Impact


“With the filing earlier this week of the Conference Report, H. Rept. 115-863, which embodies the agreement between the Senate and the House, it appears likely that a compromise bill will go forward to the President shortly.

The NDAA contains a number of provisions that would reform the procurement process.”

“Section 816 – Modification of Limitations on Single Source Task or Delivery Order Contracts

For those who have been following the NDAA process, Section 814 of the Senate’s version of the FY 2019 NDAA is now Section 816 in the Conference Report. The provision would amend a justification requirement for certain single award task and delivery order contracts. It states:

Section 2304a(d)(3)(A) of title 10, United States Code, is amended by striking ‘‘reasonably perform the work’’ and inserting ‘‘efficiently perform the work’’.

As noted in a recent FAR & Beyond blog, this proposed change raises significant concerns and risks challenging the pricing and innovation vitality of the procurement system. Specifically, 10 U.S.C. 2304a(d)(3) provides the steps that must be taken should the Department of Defense (DoD) choose to avoid the preference for multiple contractors in the award of a task or delivery order contract. By substituting the word “efficiently” for “reasonably,” Section 816 injects ambiguity into the standard provided by 10 U.S.C. 2304a(d)(3) and establishes a new approach that potentially diminishes the benefits of ongoing competitive pressure.

Section 838 – Modifications to Procurement Through Commercial e-Commerce Portals

Section 834 of the House FY 2019 NDAA, which proposes modifications to the FY 2018 NDAA’s Section 846, is now Section 838 in the Conference Report. The provision, however, is revised slightly relative to the original version proposed by the House, as it would grant the General Services Administration (GSA) with additional authority to develop competitive procedures for procurements made through commercial e-Commerce portals, but it also maintains the current Micro-Purchase Threshold (MPT) of $10,000 for these procurements. Prior to the Senate Amendment, the House bill had proposed increasing the MPT for these purchases to $25,000.

In its comments submitted to GSA last week, the Coalition recommended that, at a minimum, GSA should first collect, evaluate, and share with the public any lessons learned from the recent increases to the MPT prior to implementing any further increases to the thresholds.¹ Likewise, the Coalition recommended that GSA conduct a substantive assessment of the policies underlying the laws that would be waived at the new threshold and why the government’s interests are served by waiving them. The Coalition stands ready to assist the agency in conducting this analysis.

The report also included additional language amplifying the prohibitions on the use of data by portal providers contained in Section 846 of the FY 2018 NDAA. In contracts awarded to providers, GSA must require that each provider:

“agree not to use, for pricing, marketing, competitive, or other purposes, any information, including any Government-owned data, such as purchasing trends or spending habits, related to a product from a third-party supplier featured on the commercial e-commerce portal or the transaction of such product, except as necessary to comply with the requirements of the program established in subsection (a).’’

Further, the report affirmed that GSA’s implementation should be carried out utilizing multiple contracts with multiple providers.

Section 875 – Promotion of the Use of Government-Wide and Other Interagency Contracts

Pursuant to Section 875, Section 865(b)(1) of the FY 2009 NDAA would be amended to remove the requirement for agencies to complete a determinations and findings prior to using an Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approved Government-Wide Acquisition Contract (GWAC). The Coalition applauds Congress’ decision to remove this burdensome requirement. As many of you know, the Coalition included a similar suggestion for legislative change as part of the 29 line-in, line-out recommendations that it submitted to the Section 809 Panel last Fall. Eliminating the requirement to conduct determinations and findings for GWACs will encourage agencies to leverage existing contracts to reduce unnecessary contract duplication and produce savings for the government.

        On DoD: Here’s what acquisition experts say about other transaction authorities

Section 876 –Increasing Competition at the Task Order Level

Section 876 would allow prices to be established through competition for specific requirements at the task order, rather than the contract, level for services that are the same or similar. Specifically, when issuing a solicitation, heads of agencies would have the discretion not to include price or cost as an evaluation criterion for contract award.

The establishment of a so-called “unpriced” Schedules contract, which drives competition for agency specific service requirements at the task order level, has long been supported by the Coalition. This reform would streamline the procurement process, enhance competition, and empower the Federal government to leverage technology and improve its efforts to meet end mission goals. Accordingly, the Coalition commends Congress and the Administration for their leadership and support for the innovative acquisition approach.

These are some initial thoughts and observations regarding the Conference Report. The Coalition will provide additional insights on the FY 2019 NDAA and its complexities in the coming weeks.

¹ We note that the FY 2019 increases the MPT for DoD from $5,000 to $10,000, which is consistent with the current MPT for civilian agencies.”



Hard National Security Issues for the Next President


Candidates Not Talking

“THE CIPHER BRIEF” By Walter Pincus

“The public should have some indication – beyond bumper sticker slogans – of how candidates see and will deal with the broader national security issues they will face.

The candidates need to speak publicly about this most important part of the role they are seeking.

Too bad the Republican and Democratic Presidential candidates weren’t present to hear former Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies last Tuesday after receiving the inaugural Zbigniew Brzezinski Annual Prize.

Gates described the responsibility of political leaders, “presidents in particular,” to educate the American public as to why “the rest of the world is important to us.” That’s because, as Gates frankly put it, “most American people have never been interested in engagement with the rest of the world. Most Americans essentially want to tend to their own affairs and to the degree they are involved in public or political affairs or have an interest – it’s more local.”

What’s been missing recently, Gates said, “is presidents who try patiently to educate other political leaders as well as the American people on why they need to be engaged.”

He described how U.S. leaders dealt with past foreign policy challenges that, much as today, involved choices between spreading American democratic values, such as freedom – or defending U.S. national interests, starting with our own security.

He talked, in short, about the historic dilemma between American leaders being realists or idealists, allying with dictators in order to defeat a more threatening common enemy, or opposing tyrants while aiding internal groups seeking to overthrow them, or at times standing aside for fear of not knowing what would come next.

Listening to Gates’ thoughtful analysis, one could not help but put it into sharp contrast with the superficiality of the current presidential rhetoric, the few times foreign policy or national security has even been discussed. Often it focused on making America “stronger,” or withdrawing from the world at large, or who voted 14 years ago to use or not use force in Iraq.

While Gates was dealing with the broader ideas growing out of “strategic thinking with a moral purpose,” that same day the Senate Armed Services Committee heard testimony on how the Defense Department was planning to spend $3.6 billion in the coming year and $18 billion over the next five years seeking new generations of sophisticated weaponry – another matter that has drawn minimal public attention and none from the presidential candidates.

“Today, we see the emergence of increasing technological symmetry. And that’s why the Department is discussing the need for a new offset strategy,” Assistant Defense Secretary for Research and Engineering Stephen Welby told the panel last Tuesday. In Pentagon terminology, that means seeking to find new military advantage over a potential enemy through advanced technology or unique operational concepts.

Welby described how the first offset strategy occurred in the 1950s, when in the Cold War, “President Eisenhower sought to overcome the Warsaw Pact’s numerical [tank and manpower] advantage by leveraging U.S. nuclear superiority to introduce battlefield nuclear weapons, which shifted the axis of competition from competing on conventional force numbers to competing in an area where the U.S. had an advantage.”

It was in the 1980s, when it became clear the Soviet Union had achieved nuclear parity, that a second offset strategy was developed. Through it, the U.S. “sought to create an enduring advantage by pursuing a brand new approach to joint operations, leveraging the combined effects of near-zero-miss-distance weapons, real-time targeting, and joint battle networks to create a new era of conventional precision engagement,” Welby said. “The second offset strategy…gave the U.S. a fundamental advantage that we sustained for the last 30 years, capabilities that provide the U.S. and its allies with an asymmetrical advantage in every fight.”

Today, there are only plans for a third offset strategy, to be achieved in coming years “by spurring research, development, and procurement of advanced capabilities” that will result in quicker “decision-making and enabling faster-than-human reaction time in new and emerging areas of conflicts such as cyber and electronic warfare,” Welby said.

It will also require “supporting new models of manned, unmanned combat teaming and finally, permitting new weapons concepts that can operate in critically challenging cyber and electronic warfare constrained environments,” he added.

Arati Prabhakar, director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), pointed out that in the past decade, his agency had put intense focus on the ground war in counter insurgency, developing technologies to track insurgents’ pick-up trucks from the air to offset adversaries’ capabilities.

At that time, “there was a very limited appetite in the department to move ahead with the kinds of technologies that are going to be necessary to deter and defeat a very sophisticated nation state adversary,” Prabhakar said.

In the third offset era that has changed, he said, pointing to the April 7 christening of the U.S. Navy’s new unmanned vessel, the Sea Hunter. Prabhakar described it as “the world’s first ship that’s able to leave the pier, to navigate thousands of miles across open seas without a single sailor on board.”

That will mean missions can be carried out “for a tiny fraction of today’s operating cost,” but beyond that he said, “This kind of unmanned ship now allows us to invent whole new ways to exercise the [Navy’s] influence across the vastness of the oceans.”

While it faces at least two years of further testing, the Sea Hunter prototype, which took six years to develop, eventually could be used to track other vessels, including diesel-electric submarines.

William Roper Jr., director of the Strategic Capabilities Office, told the Senators that a weapon previously used for one purpose, can also, with added new technology, take on a new role. He cited the “Navy’s Standard Missile-6 [that] was originally designed to defend our ships. We partnered with the Navy to give it an offensive anti-ship role.”

That’s been expanded to doing “unconventional defense,” Roper said where “Army howitzer, Navy projectiles, Air Force radars [that] weren’t designed to be a defensive system but we’re partnering to Frankenstein these into a low cost supersonic missile defense shield.”

He also talked of using stealth fighters, originally designed to fire their own weapons, with large Air Force standoff arsenal planes to turn them into what Roper described as “unconventional teams or kill chains” so that the stealth fighters “don’t have to go land and resupply during a fight.”

Finally, Roper warned that there will be new threats to space, where key elements guiding most of American weaponry and communications exist. The U.S. will need “distributed space architectures in a future where maybe individual satellites are contestable, but the architecture as a whole isn’t.”

He predicted that “war fighting is going to be messy… Satellites that are available won’t be. Networks that are available won’t be. And if we’re wise, we’ll have architectures in place where we hop between different assets that are available.”

No presidential candidate today is talking about the complicated issues brought up at that Senate hearing – and that is understandable, because future weapons research is too much in the weeds for most politicians.   However, those issues will be important to decisions made by whomever is the next commander-in-chief.   He or she will have to know and understand them.

Gates recognized the absence of such a serious discussion when he said early in his remarks that he was discussing his own realist views “at the risk of introducing historical context and strategic substance into a current political environment notably lacking both.”



Walter Pincus is a Columnist and the Senior National Security Reporter at The Cipher Brief. He spent forty years at The Washington Post, writing on topics from nuclear weapons to politics.  In 2002, he and a team of Post reporters won the Pulitzer Price for national reporting. He also won an Emmy in 1981 and the 2010 Arthur Ross Award from the American Academy for Diplomacy.