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October 26 2013

October 28, 2013




After the Shutdown, Uncertainty Still Plagues Pentagon

By Kevin Baron

October 17, 2013


Now that the shutdown has ended, it’s business as usual again in Washington. At the Pentagon, that’s the problem. In a word: uncertainty.

“I know there are no guarantees in life, but we can’t continue to do this to our people, having them live under this cloud of uncertainty,” said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

Hagel said that the shutdown harmed everything for the Defense Department from training to the trust of key allies. But instead of waking up Thursday to a normal budget cycle, Pentagon planners instead are right back to where they started before the shutdown — under the budgetary thumb of sequester and continuing resolutions that temporarily fund the government weeks or months at a time.

Hagel said he is now worried about the morale of the military and its civilian workforce.

“Morale is a huge part of this,” Hagel said. “We won’t be able to recruit good people. Good people will leave the government. They’re not going to put up with this. Good people have many options.”

Bob Hale, Pentagon comptroller, was blunter as usual.

“When I read the [White House Office of Management and Budget] message about 2:30 this morning saying government was reopened, I felt like I could stop beating my head against a wall,” he said. “But I’ve got to say it would have felt a lot better never to have started beating my head against a wall.”

The shutdown cost the Pentagon, Hale said, $600 million in “lost productivity” just to start. Additionally, DoD accrued higher interest on outgoing payments not being paid. The department also took on huge costs from ordering thousands personnel to return home from travel duty — including those in schools and training programs – who will now head back out again.

The morning after the shutdown only ends one bad dream for Pentagon leaders. Now they go back to waking up to the same day all over again. “It’s a Groundhog Day approach to budgeting,” said Hale.

The Defense Department is still operating under a continuing resolution that funds the government at last fiscal year’s levels and therefore prevents any new starts of weapons programs, Hagel said. Hale said while no major programs are on hold, it does mean, for example, that because Congress appropriates the purchase of each new naval ship, the Pentagon is required by law to purchase the same numbers of ships this year as last year.

Separate from the continuing resolution, Hagel said that Congress still must address the sequester and the Budget Control Act to give the Pentagon a clue of its “long-term” budgeting. The Pentagon has gone right back to staring down at the Budget Control Act mandated cuts of $50 billion next year. If that budget requirement holds, Hale said, “we’re going to have to get smaller. I can’t tell you exactly how much. Yes, that will mean fewer civilians.”

Those civilians that get to stay in their jobs, however, may not want to. The military and its supporting civilian workforce — roughly 3 million people combined — have been stung by Washington politics.

“We’ve had three years of pay freezes,” added Hale. “We’ve had the sequester furloughs, now the shutdown furloughs. I mean, my own people are kind of looking at me and asking the question — most of them are seniors so they’ll probably stick around, but you wonder what the folks out in the field are saying. ‘I’m not so sure I want to work for this government.'”

Hagel, in his opening remarks, said the effect from the shutdown will linger.

“While all of us across the department welcome the fact that the shutdown is now behind us, I know that its impact will continue to be felt by all of our people. All of them, in different ways, had their lives affected and disrupted during this period of tremendous uncertainty. In particular, I am deeply aware of the harm that this shutdown inflicted on so many of our civilian personnel.”

“You can’t take an institution like this, as you all know because you’ve been around it a long time, and turn these things around in a month, in a week. This is the national security of America that we’re talking about, and so it does take thought and it does take planning.”

Outside of the United States, world leaders also have let Hagel know they’re not so sure about American resolve either, Hagel added. He said he has been to Asia three times this year and noted that Secretary of State John Kerry’s latest planned Asia trip was canceled because of the shut down.

“Our allies are asking questions: Can we rely on our partnership with America? Will America fulfill its commitments and its promises? These are huge issues for all of us and they do impact our national security and our relationships and our standing in the world,” said Hagel.


Will the U.S. ‘Rebalance’ Its Contribution to NATO?

By Jorge Benitez

October 20, 2013


Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is on his way to Brussels to have a difficult conversation with his fellow defense ministers in NATO. The point of contention is the continued reduction of the military capabilities of our allies and their growing dependence on U.S. support.

Hagel will repeat to European allies the stark message made by Robert Gates on his last trip to Brussels as defense secretary. Gates made international headlines with his warning of “a dim, if not dismal future” for NATO if it continues to be divided “between those willing and able to pay the price and bear the burdens of alliance commitments, and those who enjoy the benefits of NATO membership… but don’t want to share the risks and the costs.”

Hagel will make many U.S. allies uncomfortable by emphasizing their need to resolve the worsening gap in defense capabilities within NATO. Hagel warned earlier that “as NATO adjusts, it must address the gaps in military expenditures and capabilities of its partners. The tough decisions cannot continue to be deferred.” 

Hagel was even more explicit at the defense ministers meeting in June when he said “over-dependence on any one country for critical capabilities brings with it risks.” One of these risks is that the U.S. will soon tell its allies, if you don’t invest much in your defense, neither will we. The U.S. will “rebalance” its own shrinking defense dollars to allies and partners that share the security burden more equitably. Too many European leaders refuse to realize that this long-festering problem is having a dangerously corrosive effect on the Alliance.

In 2006, the 28 members of NATO agreed to spend at least 2% of their GDP on defense. According to NATO records, by 2012 only four members met this bare minimum standard; the United States, Great Britain, Greece, and Estonia. During the Cold War, the U.S. accounted for roughly 50% of defense spending by NATO members. Now after years of shrinking defense budgets in Europe, the U.S. share is more than 75%.

It is a priority for both President Obama and Hagel to convince our allies to take specific actions to fulfill their alliance commitments. This point will be communicated to them this week and at every top NATO meeting leading up to the summit next year in London. This is not an issue the Obama administration can walk away from. In fact, criticism of the excessive dependence on U.S. capabilities by NATO allies is one of the few issues that enjoys widespread bipartisan support in Congress. If U.S. allies continue to ignore the gravity of this problem, it is inevitable that the day will come when the United States will stop payment on their security credit card.

The Obama administration began moving in this direction when it chose to “lead from behind” in Libya and limited the use of important U.S. enablers such as unmanned aircraft and A-10 war planes. The administration already crossed the threshold, but changed its mind, when it initially asked the French military to pay for the use of U.S. air transports for the French mission in Mali.

The European members of NATO are geographically closer and arguably more vulnerable than the U.S. to the growing violence and instability across the Mediterranean, the Sahel, and the Middle East. Unless significant progress is made to fairly live up to their defense commitments, Europe will have to deal with these threats with a decreasing amount of U.S. military support. It is only a matter of time before the Obama administration turns down future requests for assistance from allies who ignored the dangers in their neighborhood and chose to starve their defense capabilities.

Unless our European allies change course, Gates’ dire warning will soon come true. “The blunt reality is that there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the U.S. … to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources or make the necessary changes to be serious and capable partners in their own defense.”

This can still be avoided if our NATO allies improve their military capabilities and carry their fair share of the defense burden. What cannot be avoided is the end of the status quo. Either our European allies change their defense behavior or the U.S. will, but the current imbalance within the NATO alliance is not sustainable. 


Big data heralds return of the Cray supercomputer

Sun, Oct 20 2013

By Bill Rigby


SEATTLE (Reuters) – “Big data” means big computers, and good news for Cray Inc.

The pioneer of supercomputers in the 1970s stood on the brink of obscurity 20 years ago but is now surging back to prominence. Its shares have almost doubled over the past 12 months.

The explosion of data – measuring weather, traffic, health and countless other areas – coupled with a desire to tease meaning out of it, demands greater computing power than is accessible via standard machines.

“The assumption was that supercomputers were cliche five years ago. People thought, ‘I can run my simulation on my laptop’,” said Barry Bolding, a Cray vice president, at the company’s Seattle headquarters last week. “That may have been true, so long as the data associated wasn’t growing as well. But raw data is being created in exabytes as we sit here. More data means bigger computer, bigger computer means more data.”

Experts estimate that 2.5 exabytes – or 2.5 billion gigabytes – of data are now generated every day, and the world’s capacity to store that data is doubling every 40 months, which all plays to Cray’s strengths.

A basic Cray cabinet costs $500,000 and up and is roughly the size of a refrigerator. Big customers can group 200 or more into massive supercomputers worth hundreds of millions of dollars, such as “Titan” at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Titan, completed by Cray last year, is the world’s third-fastest supercomputer, takes up the size of a basketball court and can perform more than 20,000 trillion calculations a second.

To be sure, most companies will never need that scale, or can process what they need through multiple machines running in tandem on a high-speed network or in the cloud, which for many projects works out cheaper and more power-efficient.

What makes supercomputers different is that they can make a huge number of interconnected calculations at the same time, rather than a consecutive list of unconnected calculations, which makes them good for running complex simulations and mining unrelated data.

For example, weather apps on smartphones are based on vast models run by research agencies on supercomputers. Financial firms can detect online fraud or cybersecurity breaches in seconds rather than days by using supercomputer models, which would take days on standard set-ups.

“Big data is a new term, but arguably the supercomputer market was the original home of big data, and Cray has been dealing with it forever,” said Steve Conway, an analyst at tech research firm IDC.


The Seattle-based company, with just over 900 employees and a market value of around $940 million, has changed ownership several times but was started in 1972 by Seymour Cray, the “father of supercomputing.”

With a recent resurgence in supercomputers, Cray is garnering Wall Street’s attention. This June, it sold one of its new XC30 supercomputers to the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts for $65 million, nabbing a contract from a long-time IBM customer.

That sort of deal is piquing investor interest. Wall Street analysts are expecting revenue of $519 million this year, up 23 percent from 2012, with a gross profit margin around 34 percent. Its shares are up 91 percent over the past 12 months while rival Silicon Graphics International Corp’s are up 90 percent. Cray is now richly valued, with a share price 36 times estimated earnings for the next 12 months, compared with 19 times for SGI.

The global market for computers costing more than $500,000 is on a tear, according to IDC, having more than doubled to $5.6 billion in 2012 from $2.7 billion in 2008.

The whole market for high-performance computing (HPC) – essentially any machine bigger than a desktop used for intense computation – is forecast to grow 7 percent a year through 2017, well ahead of the stagnant business server market.

The U.S. government directly or indirectly accounted for two-thirds of Cray’s revenue last year. But the company is reaching out to new customers interested in big data. Last year it set up a new unit called YarcData – Yarc is Cray backwards – to focus on analyzing huge amounts of information and teasing out unseen patterns in a process known as graph analytics.

“Unstructured databases are becoming more prevalent, gathering raw data from everywhere,” said Cray’s Bolding. “Now you start asking very complex questions, and it starts to create links between sets of data.”

The YarcData unit is helping the U.S. government detect fraud patterns in Medicare and Medicaid payments. Private sector customers include medical research group Mayo Clinic and several financial services, life sciences and telecommunications firms, which Cray cannot name for contractual reasons.

New efforts are working and should boost revenue over time, said Sid Parakh, an analyst at fund firm McAdams Wright Ragen.

“This is not a commodity market. It takes years of experience,” said Conway at IDC. “It’s easy to build a big computer, but it’s not easy to build a big computer that works.”

(Reporting by Bill Rigby; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)


Cybersecure: Supreme Court Justices Only Send Each Other Memos on Paper

By Garance Franke-Ruta

October 18, 2013


Here’s another one to add to the charming Elena Kagan anecdote files providing a wonderful glimpse into how the least transparent of the three branches of government operates.

Speaking during an interview at the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Washington, D.C., Wednesday night, Supreme Court Associate Justice Kagan elaborated on remarks she’d made in August about how Supreme Court justices don’t use email.

“We don’t to each other. I obviously do to my clerks,” said Kagan about the decades-old communications technology. “But the justices themselves do not communicate by email.”

“So how do you communicate?” senior editor at large Pattie Sellers of Fortuneasked.

“Well, we either talk to each other, which is not a bad thing,” said Kagan, to applause from the well-heeled audience of female CEOs and business leaders.

“Or we write memos to each other,” she continued.

“And you know, you have to remember that the Court is an institution where…we’re not horse trading. We’re not bargaining. We’re reasoning. And we’re trying to persuade people. And often the best way to do that is by putting things down on paper in a kind of careful and deliberate way and saying this is what I think and, and giving people an opportunity to read a memo and to think about it and to reflect on it,” she said.

“And so we do a lot of our communicating by these, it looks, it’s sort of 19th century. It’s very heavy ivory paper—it looks like it came out of the 1800s or something. But it seems to work pretty well,” she added. “And when you think about it, how many emails have you sent that you wished you could take back? So, so we’re careful and deliberative.”

That may be one reason the court works so well. Even though the justices “disagree a lot” and can “express our disagreement in powerful and sharp terms,” they all like and respect each other, Kagan said. That sort of good faith environment of knowing “how to disagree without being disagreeable” keeps the court functioning well as an institution.

And while she didn’t say it, she might as well have: Unlike Congress, which was at that very moment finally signing off on a debt deal and temporary budget plan that today allowed the government to reopen after 16 days.


Cyber Civil Servants Knock on Industry’s Door after Shutdown

By Aliya Sternstein

October 21, 2013


The top executive at Secure Ideas, a cybersecurity firm looking to recruit new talent, broke the ice with a prospective hire at a shooting range the day before the shutdown ended. The applicant, an employed federal information technology engineer, said he is worried about job stability.

He is hardly alone.

There are about 200,000 cyber employees in the federal workforce, according to a recent government survey. Many were exempt, or “excepted,” from the furlough, meaning they had to work but wouldn’t be paid for that work until government reopened and resumed payroll operations. (Congress eventually passed a law authorizing back pay to furloughed federal employees as well.) Between the 16-day shutdown and the possibility of another lapse in funding just three months away, some cyber civil servants are considering jumping ship, according to several industry recruiters, who say they’ve seen an uptick in job inquiries from federal data security specialists.

“Rarely do we receive inbound calls from cybersecurity people who work for the federal government — a lot of times because the job is so secure,” said Mark Aiello, president of Cyber 360 Solutions, a placement firm in Massachusetts. He estimates receiving at least half a dozen such queries since Oct. 1, when the shutdown began.

“The basic motivation for their call is they are concerned over the debt crisis and ongoing furloughs. The vast majority of people were on the job and deemed essential but concerned,” he said. “They recognize they can probably make more money in the private sector [and ask themselves] ‘Why am I going through this if it’s just going to happen every quarter, every election cycle?’ ”

Kevin Johnson, chief executive officer at Secure Ideas, a six-person consultancy, said his new shooting partner contacted him last week about one of two job openings at the company. The IT engineer, who works at a civilian agency, declined to be interviewed.

That applicant “looks at my field and sees that it’s growing by leaps and bounds,” Johnson said. Secure Ideas’ so-called penetration testers are paid by government and industry organizations to fake out physical security and IT staff by posing as legitimate employees and hacking systems to identify cyber vulnerabilities.

Johnson, on Oct. 2, two days into the shutdown, said of the impact on federal cyber operations — “I haven’t seen much except a number of headhunters offering services to the out of work people.”

“Out-of-work cyber professional” typically is an oxymoron. This past weekend, there were 16,662 openings involving cyber or information security responsibilities listed on the major job search website and 16,033 on the tech-focused job site

Johnson cautions those testing the waters outside the government that consulting is very different from working for one agency. At a federal department, the professional knows every system inside and out, whereas at an advisory firm, the individual is constantly changing focus to meet the expectations of new clients.


Angst over Job Stability, Not Security

Most government cyber proressionals are very dedicated to their work, Aiello said. “Beyond their sense of duty, they are feeling a real [need] to help their country,” he added, but “they are looking at their own lives and their families — it’s not like [they’re] living at such a high level that [they] can afford to be out of work for two weeks” without any certainty about when or even if they’ll be paid for that time.

U.S. private sector cyber salaries, which average $111,376, appear to be outpacing government salaries, averaging $104,081, likely due to federal budgetary constraints, according to statistics from (ISC)2, an information security trade group representing industry and government employees.

Traditionally, cyber specialists inside the government have found the work more rewarding than higher-paying private sector positions, but that may be changing.

“There is frustration. There is fatigue . . . I think they are feeling overwhelmed at times,” said Kathy Lavinder, executive director of Maryland-based firm Security and Investigative Placement Consultants, who specializes in information and physical security.


The funding uncertainty, combined with constant policy and programmatic changes, makes them feel like they can’t accomplish anything, she said. “I think they all understand that when they leave they can be snapped up pretty quickly,” Lavinder added.

One of the two federal cybersecurity employees who contacted her said he wanted to take advantage of the “interlude,” Lavinder recalled, laughing at the euphemism. Another told her: “I want to get out. I just need more stability.”

The anxiety has trickled down to federal vendors, whose paychecks also depend on congressional appropriations. One contractor, a technology professional at a three-letter agency, said he wanted to be free of the whims of lawmakers. With his program defunded, his supervisors recommended staff look for other employment.

Some essential information security professionals were possibly too exhausted during the furlough to freshen up their resumes, some recruiters speculated. “I probably get at least seven to ten [cyber applicants] a week and I only got three during that period. I’m convinced it was because they were working,” Lavinder said.


Are They All Talk?

Even before the Oct. 1 shutdown, the budget sequester that went into effect last spring had prompted some government workers to explore other opportunities, said Deborah Page, a principal at the Virginia-based McCormick Group who recruits IT, cybersecurity and risk management professionals.

“Now, the question is how serious are they?” she said. The private sector is “indeed seeking good infosec folks but whether [federal employees] will be able to transition well into those environments is another question.”

Some recruiters say they have not noticed a difference in interest from feds, and pointed to the positive aspects of a lull.

“Being furloughed is one thing but knowing that you’ll get paid for your time off doesn’t really instill fear in people — I don’t think,” said Jeff Snyder, president of Colorado-based “Change is something that most people resist like it is a plague. Getting time off and getting back pay seems like a double bonus to me. Then again, I’ve never had a salary in my entire adult life.”

More government workers likely will start hunting as another potential hiatus approaches in January, compared to the number of employees who picked up the phone last time, Page predicts.

“They were still on the payroll and perhaps, for some, enjoyed a bit of relaxation time to do family chores or update their resumes,” she said. “When it hits once, you may not take it so seriously but when it repeats, you now have to look at yourself and [the] situation to not allow it to happen again.”



Public Sentiment on Takes a Nosedive

By Joseph Marks

October 18, 2013


The public’s impression of, the Obama administration’s online health insurance marketplace, remains deeply negative two weeks after its troubled launch, according to an analysis of Twitter sentiment.


That’s a reversal from what was happening in the weeks leading up to the Oct. 1 launch of the online insurance exchange, when more tweeters expressed positive opinions about than negative opinions, according to an analysis by Topsy, an analytics firm that mines Twitter to gauge public sentiment.

The marketplace’s sentiment score shot up a few days before the public launch, spurred mainly by tweets from news organizations urging people to check the site out, according to Topsy’s analysis. That sentiment score dropped precipitously once the online marketplace was online and has remained low ever since. (See the graph below).

Topsy’s “sentiment score” for has hovered between 10 and 15 on a scale of 1 to 100 since Oct. 3. The company uses a keyword analysis of tweets mentioning to determine whether tweets are positive or negative. A score of 50 out of 100 essentially means there are an equal number of positive and negative tweets, a spokeswoman said.

The sentiment score for the president’s overall healthcare reform, popularly known as Obamacare, suffered a similar decline in sentiment after Oct. 1 but has only dropped to a score of about 30 out of 100.

The analyses don’t measure sentiment since the end of the partial government shutdown on Thursday, after which more of the public’s attention may have been freed up to focus on

After the shutdown ended, the Republican National Committee shifted its focus to the online marketplace’s troubled launch, including a Twitter campaign urging the president to fire Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the Health and Human Services Department, which is largely responsible for implementing the new law.

Software failures have plagued since its launch, drastically reducing the number of people who were able to enroll in insurance programs through the federal site and frustrating some state exchanges that rely on federal data. The federal site also suffered from insufficient server capacity during its first days, according to U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park.

Less than 1 percent of visitors to have successfully enrolled in insurance programs using the site so far, according to figures from the market research firm Millward Brown Digital.

The largest share of people left because their attempts to register with the site — one of the first phases in the enrollment process — failed, Millward Brown found. IT experts have warned there may be more software troubles that haven’t yet been uncovered because people have been halted at the registration phase.

An early version of came online several months ago, but the components of the site that allow uninsured people to research and enroll in insurance plans launched at the beginning of this month. runs insurance marketplaces for 36 states and provides data for 14 states and the District of Columbia, which are running their own exchanges. 


Budget and Travel Restrictions Force Army Conference Online

By Bob Brewin

October 15, 2013


The Army will live stream nearly every discussion panel from its 2013 Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington next week.

The Army decided to use the Web to provide remote access to the Oct. 21-23 conference for those who will not be able to attend in person “due to lack of budget and restrictions on travel.”

The Army views the conference as a professional development opportunity, spokeswoman Alison M. Hamilton said. “Live streaming these forums gives the opportunity to hear senior-leader priorities, learn how they view changes in the force over the next 10 years and hear about important policy decisions and the Ready and Resilient Campaign,” she said.

Conference streams will be available on a microsite at , she said. Soldiers and family members will also be able to ask questions of the speakers at appropriate times through social media, with on-site moderators passing questions from remote viewers to the speakers, Hamilton said.

David Liddle, an AUSA spokesman, said the conference live streams will also be viewable at .

The Army has live-streamed AUSA panels in the past. But last year, for instance, only the “family forums” allowed for interaction. This year, all panels will allow for virtual engagement, Hamilton said.

“This is a cost-effective way to be able to reach a larger sort of total Army audience,” Hamilton said. “We’re trying to increase support to the soldiers who can’t travel, so they still can benefit from professional development.”


The Case for Computer-Based Health Care

By Darius Tahir

October 16, 2013


The victory of Watson, an artificial-intelligence system designed to dominate the quiz show Jeopardy!, over the country’s best nerds in 2011 may not be the equal of John Henry struggling against a steam-powered drill in the annals of man versus machine. But the replacement of Jeopardy!’s human competitors with a computer algorithm may signal a trend that could soon spread through the health care sector as Obamacare is implemented.

That’s the prophecy of venture capitalist Vinod Khosla. The prominent Silicon Valley investor has predicted that computers will replace 80 percent of what doctors do in a couple of decades. The shift could counter another health-sector trend: stagnant productivity, which the Affordable Care Act aims to address with financial incentives for effective, efficient care, and which could encourage a move toward digital doctoring.

Between 1990 and 2010, productivity in the health care sector declined by 0.6 percent annually as employment increased by 2.9 percent, according to Robert Kocher, now a venture capitalist at Venrock, in an October 2011 editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine. Increasing productivity might bridge this disconnect, and computers could be part of the solution.

Khosla, who supports the move to computer-based health care, notes the human frailties that weaken doctors’ diagnoses and treatment: The brain is biased, forgetful, and limited. As a result, diagnoses are often inconsistent. Khosla cites a study in which psychologists were asked to diagnose patients’ major depressive disorder. On a scale where 0 represented total disagreement and 1 represented total agreement, the psychologists rated 0.3.

Human brains take in less data than their digital counterparts. “It’s a simple fact that most doctors couldn’t possibly read and digest all of the latest 5,000 research articles on heart disease,” Khosla writes. “In fact, most of the average doctor’s medical knowledge is from when they were in medical school, and cognitive limitations prevent them from remembering the 10,000+ diseases humans can get.” As the amount of information increases–there’s more research, and more sensors to collect it–digital support processing the data could be a big help.

Khosla predicts that computers will take over large portions of the medical process, leaving humans to do empathic tasks, such as reassuring and coaching patients. The beginnings of that trend are here already. Several start-ups offload doctors’ tasks onto computers; EyeNetra, which Khosla has invested in, uses software and a device that attaches to a smartphone to determine the strength of prescription lenses a patient requires.

This summer, the National Institutes of Mental Health funded a round of grants to explore using mobile devices to treat mental health problems. Akili Interactive, a video-game maker that received NIMH funding, combines tasks that require fine motor skills and visual attention. The games “actually become a very sensitive measure of cognition,” company cofounder Eddie Martucci said at a May conference. Akili is also hoping to treat major depressives, who tend to struggle with problem solving. Solving problems in a game might condition these patients to better solve problems in real life, without a doctor’s intervention.

Other algorithmic software aims to aid physicians’ decisions rather than replace them. “Clinical decision support software” analyzes data, often from a patient’s electronic health records, and advises doctors as they prescribe a treatment course. The software could note, for example, that two drugs shouldn’t be administered together due to their harmful interactions.

Software can also be used to improve doctors’ adherence to clinical guidelines. The HealthPartners hospital system in Minnesota found limited success with a software tool that showed doctors how well their order of a scan for a patient stacked up to American College of Radiology guidelines. The tool brought only modest increases in the doctors’ ordering of evidence-based scans, according to a study published in theAmerican Journal of Managed Care in 2010, but there were no incentives for the doctors to order more of these appropriate tests. Hospitals could offer more rewards to ensure adherence to best practices.

Health care workers have also started performing empathic tasks based on algorithmic advice. Jeffrey Brenner, executive director of nonprofit Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers, received a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” for his approach to delivering better care at lower cost. Brenner sent social workers to certain “hot spots,” which were identified by software as places where a small minority of patients consumes a disproportionate amount of health care resources. These patients often have chronic diseases that aren’t treated properly, and these patients frequently end up in the hospital. The goal of “hot spotting” is to intervene early before problems flare, making the patient healthier despite using fewer resources. Social workers can assist by forming relationships with patients and helping them manage their illnesses.

Providers are adopting this approach in response to new payment incentives ushered in by the 2010 health reform law, which imposes penalties on hospitals with high readmission rates. Mount Sinai in New York is one institution sending social workers to troubled patients. A 600-patient pilot study cut emergency-room visits in half between September 2010 and May 2012, the hospital says.

So instead of being replaced–what John Henry fought against when he raced the steam drill–health care workers can perhaps work alongside the new computer overlords.


Budget cuts leave US Army with only 2 fully-trained brigades

Published time: October 22, 2013 12:23


Massive budget cuts in the US have forced the Army to cut corners on training, leaving only two brigades prepared for war. Military commanders have warned of a serious backlash if the White House continues to slash budgets.

At an annual conference for the Association of the US Army, military leaders voiced criticism of the spending cuts that are having a detrimental effect on the armed forces.

General Ray Odierno, the Army’s chief of staff, attacked the government for the climate of economic instability that has forced the military to cut corners.

“And there’s going to come a time when we just simply don’t have enough money to provide what I believe to be the right amount of ground forces to [carry out]… contingency operations,” Odierno told the media.

He stressed that because of the cuts to the military budget they were forced to cancel six months of military training, leaving the US Army with only two fully-trained brigades. A brigade can contain between 3,500 and 5,000 soldiers.

With the onset of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts the US military grew by about 570,000 personnel over the last decade. As the Obama Administration withdraws forces from these countries, officials are planning to scale down the military, cutting the number of brigades from 45 to 33.

“The worst-case scenario is you ask me to deploy thousands of soldiers somewhere and we have not properly trained them to go because we simply don’t have the dollars and money because of the way sequestration is laid out,” Odierno said, referring to automatic budget cuts.

The next government sequester is set to take place in January of next year and it could potentially see the Defense Department’s budget slashed by $21 billion.


Technology vs. manpower

The Department of Defense is currently carrying out the ‘Quadrennial Defense Review’, a study that assesses Pentagon spending. Odierno said that had been suggested that manpower could be replaced with technology.

“There are lots of different opinions out there. There are people that want to change how the Army fights, and they believe we don’t need ground forces, that we can do everything with technology, stand-off weapons, missiles,” he said.

However, Army Secretary John McHugh, who also spoke at the conference, said that the budget cutbacks had also caused big delays in weapons and military equipment orders, including “high priority projects for a new armored vehicle and new communications networks.”

US finances were put under further strain by the government shutdown that could have a knock-on effect on next year’s military budget.

Last week the US brought an end to the three-week deadlock that did significant damage to the economy. Moody’s Analytics estimate that the shutdown could cost the US up to $50 billion.


With U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, American military gear sold as scrap

By Kevin Sieff, Published: October 20


IN BAGRAM, Afghanistan — The armored trucks, televisions, ice cream scoops and nearly everything else shipped here for America’s war against the Taliban are now part of the world’s biggest garage sale. Every week, as the U.S. troop drawdown accelerates, the United States is selling 12 million to 14 million pounds of its equipment on the Afghan market.

Returning that gear to the United States from a landlocked country halfway around the world would be prohibitively expensive, according to U.S. officials. Instead, they’re leaving behind $7 billion worth of supplies, a would-be boon to the fragile Afghan economy.

But there’s one catch: The equipment is being destroyed before it’s offered to the Afghan people — to ensure that treadmills, air-conditioning units and other rudimentary appliances aren’t used to make roadside bombs.

“Many non-military items have timing equipment or other components in them that can pose a threat. For example, timers can be attached to explosives. Treadmills, stationary bikes, many household appliances and ­devices, et cetera, have timers,” said Michelle McCaskill, a spokeswoman for the Pentagon’s Defense Logistics Agency.

That policy has produced more scrap metal than Afghanistan has ever seen. It has also led to frustration among Afghans, who feel as if they are being robbed of items such as flat-panel televisions and armored vehicles that they could use or sell — no small thing in a country where the average annual income hovers at just over $500.

In Afghanistan, nicknamed the “graveyard of empires,” foreign forces are remembered for what they leave behind. In the 1840s, the British left forts that still stand today. In the 1980s, the Russians left tanks, trucks and aircraft strewn about the country. The United States is leaving heaps of mattresses, barbed wire and shipping containers in scrap yards near its shrinking bases.

“This is America’s dustbin,” said Sufi Khan, a trader standing in the middle of an immense scrap yard outside Bagram air base, the U.S. military’s sprawling headquarters for eastern Afghanistan.

The scrap yard looks like a post-industrial landfill in the middle of the Afghan desert, a surreal outcropping of mangled metal and plastic. There’s a tower of treadmills 50 feet high and an acre of American buses, trucks and vans, stripped of seats and engines. An ambulance is perched unsteadily atop a pile of scrap, as if it fell from the sky. A mountain of air-conditioning units sits next to a mountain of truck axles.

Some of the scrap still shows signs of its previous owners — vehicles spray-painted with American names, mattresses sunken from 12 years of use, bumper stickers from Hawaii or Oklahoma.


A torrent of scrap

The Bagram scrap yard is owned by Feda Mohammad Ulfat, who helped build the neighboring base more than a decade ago, transporting gravel and concrete. Now Ulfat is helping to dismantle the base, taking in thousands of pounds of American scrap metal every day.

“I never imagined we’d be getting this much stuff,” he said.

Not all of the equipment reaching the scrap yard was deliberately damaged: Some was already broken after a decade of use. Ulfat decided several years ago that he would invest in it anyway.

Some of his friends thought he was crazy, but Ulfat had an idea: The expensive American gear could be melted and reconstituted as raw material for an Afghan building boom. He’d gotten rich on dozens of other contracts with the U.S. military, and he assumed that this one would be no different.

When he signed the contract, the scrap metal was only trickling in. But over the past six months, the U.S. drawdown has reached a fever pitch in eastern Afghanistan, with dozens of bases being closed. Suddenly, a torrent of scrap metal was being delivered to Ulfat’s farm. He had to buy more land. Scrap was piled atop scrap. He now spends up to a half-million dollars a month on gear that has been shredded or flattened.

When U.S. officials began planning for their exit, the idea was to ship home the majority of their equipment, especially expensive military gear such as mine-resistant vehicles. That calculus has changed.

The Pentagon has budgeted $5 billion to $7 billion to ship gear back to the United States. But that sum isn’t enough to take everything currently in Afghanistan.

Wanting at least a small return on its investment, the U.S. military decided to sell the leftovers for pennies on the pound. That’s where Ulfat came in.

He has now opened his scrap yard for the public to rummage through. Small groups of men wander around, buying broken air conditioners that can be stripped of their copper wiring or sheets of corrugated iron that can be sold to Pakistani traders. Many of the supplies that the U.S. military used to fight its longest war have begun their second lives in South and Central Asia.


This month, Haji Montazer paced the scrap yard with his son. They were looking for generators that might be repairable or really anything that they could sell in Kabul or Pakistan. One of their customers makes bed frames out of the metal beams that once held up American military structures. Another takes metal pieces — parts of military vehicles and barbed wire — to Lahore, where they are melted and sold as corrugated rooftops for cheap Pakistani homes.


Not like the Russians

Montazer once bought equipment from the Soviet forces, which began their withdrawal in the late 1980s.

“But the Russians didn’t break their things before they sold them to us,” he said.

That bitter sentiment is shared by many who visit Ulfat’s scrap yard. The United States has not publicly explained why its gear is destroyed before being sold. U.S. officials are quick to point out that the Afghan government typically has an opportunity to express interest in American military equipment, which is sometimes handed over intact.

Lately, Ulfat’s dream of getting rich off the U.S. scrap has started to fade. Kabul’s real estate boom is over, he said. All he hears from Afghans are concerns about what will happen to the country after the U.S. withdrawal. His scrap yard tells the story of the drawdown.

“What will we do with all of this? Right now, no one will buy it. And if the future is as bad as people say it will be . . . .” His voice trailed off. “It could be bad.”

Hafizullah, an employee of Ulfat’s who goes by one name, wandered through the scrap yard one day this month, overseeing the latest delivery — a mix of blast walls and carburetors. With Bagram still the most active base in eastern Afghanistan, aircraft flew over his head incessantly.

One helicopter flew particularly close, hovering near the scrap yard. Hafizullah pointed to the Black Hawk and laughed.

“I can’t wait until they start selling those here,” he said.



AFMC 5-center construct reaches full operational capability

Published October 22, 2013

Air Force Materiel Command



The Air Force Materiel Command commander announced the full operational capability of the command’s 5-center construct Oct. 22, 2013, a major milestone in AFMC history.

“The 80,000-plus men and women of AFMC have repeatedly raised their own bar for success,” said Gen. Janet Wolfenbarger. “This world-class workforce continues to display the dedication and innovation that are hallmarks of Air Force professionals. As a result, we leveraged an historic opportunity to more efficiently and effectively equip the Air Force for world-dominant airpower. I am incredibly proud to stand with them today as I declare full operational capability.”

Birthed from former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates’ 2010 “efficiency” directive in anticipation of substantially reduced resources, this is the largest reorganization within AFMC since its establishment 21 years ago.

Wolfenbarger pointed out that AFMC’s reorganization maximizes mission-effective and cost-effective operations to provide global vigilance, global reach and global power for America through:


Unity of purpose — One center, one mission, one commander across multiple locations;

Standardized processes across all mission areas;

A streamlined organizational structure; and,

A single weapon system face to the warfighter and industry.


Wolfenbarger also said there are several quantifiable successes the reorganized AFMC has realized in the past year since initial operational capability was declared Oct. 1, 2012. They include the following:

Reduced costs and improved readiness, marked by a substantial increase in depot aircraft production, and a reduction in critical parts shortages and depot backorders;

Collaboration across maintenance, repair, overhaul/supply and lifecycle management to reduce depot rates by 5 percent for the first-time ever — driving a fiscal 2015 savings of $515 million;

Implementation of a standard Should Cost process that captured the life cycle of weapon systems for Acquisition Category 1 programs — more than $2 billion savings projected to date, with potential to save more than $5 billion when employed across all ACAT programs, sustainment programs, and services; and,

Creation of the Weapons System Enterprise Review to provide senior leaders comprehensive, integrated, and timely data focused on fielded weapon system support, modernization, and future risk areas.

Prior to the reorganization, AFMC was made up of 12 centers across the command. The reduction to five centers immediately netted an operating efficiency through reduced overhead of more than $109 million per year.

The command’s five centers are the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, both headquartered at Wright-Patterson AFB; Air Force Test Center, headquartered at Edwards AFB, Calif.; Air Force Sustainment Center, headquartered at Tinker, AFB, Okla.; and the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center, headquartered at Kirtland AFB, N.M.



US government releases draft cybersecurity framework

NIST comes out with its proposed cybersecurity standards, which outlines how private companies can protect themselves against hacks, cyberattacks, and security breaches.

by Dara Kerr

 October 22, 2013 8:09 PM PDT

According to NIST, all levels of an organization should be involved in cybersecurity.

(Credit: The National Institute of Standards and Technology)

The National Institute of Standards and Technology released its draft cybersecurity framework for private companies and infrastructure networks on Tuesday. These standards are part of anexecutive order that President Obama proposed in February.


The aim of NIST’s framework (PDF) is to create guidelines that companies can use to beef up their networks and guard against hackers and cybersecurity threats. Adopting this framework would be voluntary for companies. NIST is a non-regulatory agency within the Department of Commerce.

The framework was written with the involvement of roughly 3,000 industry and academic experts, according to Reuters. It outlines ways that companies could protect their networks and act fast if and when they experience security breaches.

“The framework provides a common language for expressing, understanding, and managing cybersecurity risk, both internally and externally,” reads the draft standards. “The framework can be used to help identify and prioritize actions for reducing cybersecurity risk and is a tool for aligning policy, business, and technological approaches to managing that risk.”

Obama’s executive order in February was part of a government effort to get cybersecurity legislation in place, but the bill was put on hold after the National Security Agency’s surveillance program was revealed.

Some of the components in Obama’s order included: expanding “real time sharing of cyber threat information” to companies that operate critical infrastructure, asking NIST to devise cybersecurity standards, and proposing a “review of existing cybersecurity regulation.”

Critical infrastructure networks, banks, and private companies have increasingly been hit by cyberattacks over the past couple of years. For example, weeks after the former head of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, announced that she believed a “cyber 9/11” could happen “imminently” — crippling the country’s power grid, water infrastructure, and transportation networks — hackers hit the US Department of Energy. While no data was compromised, it did show that hackers were able to breach the computer system.

In May, Congress released a survey that claimed power utilities in the U.S. are under “daily” cyberattacks. Of about 160 utilities interviewed for the survey, more than a dozen reported “daily,” “constant,” or “frequent” attempted cyberattacks on their computer systems. While the data in the survey sounded alarming, none of the utilities reported any damage to their facilities or actual breaches of their systems — but rather attempts to hack their networks.

While companies are well aware that they need to secure their networks, many are wary of signing onto this voluntary framework. According to Reuters, some companies are worried that the standards could turn into requirements.

In an effort to get companies to adopt the framework, the government has been offering a slew of incentives, including cybersecurity insurance, priority consideration for grants, and streamlined regulations. These proposed incentives are a preliminary step for the government’s cybersecurity policy and have not yet been finalized.

NIST will now take public comments for 45 days and plans to issue the final cybersecurity framework in February 2014.


Wireless Electric Buses Developed In Utah

By Chris DeMorro

It’s easy to understand why some people hate public transportation. Most city buses use large diesel engines that are are loud and smelly, but pure-electric buses are too expensive for most cash-strapped cities to afford. Utah-based electric bus company WAVE might have a solution for electric buses, using a clever wireless-charging system that drastically reduces battery size and cost.

Developed in conjunction with the University of Utah and commercialized first in Park City, Utah, WAVE got its start powering buses around the university campus. The technology uses inductive charging to wirelessly transfer energy between the charger and the bus. This is nothing exactly groundbreaking here, with other projects in places like South Korea displaying similar ideas.

The difference is that wave uses very small, limited-range batteries with wireless chargers are regular intervals. This cuts down on battery size, which cuts down on cost, and also reduces charging times as well. The batteries are big enough to last a full 16-hour workday with just a few stops over charging pads. Keep in mind that even though buses are big, electric motors provide full-torque at 0 RPM, and most buses never see speeds higher than 40 mph.

As it stands, WAVE currently has test fleets in several U.S. cities, and is working on the installation of a ten-bus system in Long Beach, California. WAVE is looking to expand offerings in another 10 to 20 U.S. cities in the next year, and it could do that thanks to the most-appealing aspect of the system; the ability to retrofit old city buses. With a gallon-equivalent of electricity selling for 65-cents, compared to almost $4 a gallon for diesel, cities that convert their buses to electric systems could save millions of dollars per year with ease.

Could WAVE’s business model be the breakthrough electric buses have been waiting for?


Obamacare exchange contractors had past security lapses


Hackers exposed data on 123,000 people at one, another put personal data of 6 million Medicare beneficiaries at risk

Jaikumar Vijayan

October 23, 2013 (Computerworld)

Two of the contractors involved in developing the Affordable Care Act healthcare exchanges have had fairly serious data security issues, a Computerworld review of publicly available information has found.

The incidents involving Quality Software Services (QSS) and Serco are not related to the ongoing glitches in, the ACA’s troubled website.

Even so, the information is relevant in light of the ongoing scrutiny of the companies involved with the problem-plagued exchange.

Since going live on October 1, Obamacare’s site has been bedeviled by problems that are keeping people from shopping for and enrolling in ACA health insurance plans. So far, none of the problems appear security related.

However, critics say the exchanges and the underlying data hub connecting health insurers to federal eligibility verification systems could face security problems, given the complexity and the sheer volume of highly sensitive personal information flowing through the systems.

Systems integrator Quality Software Services developed the software code for the ACA data services hub and oversaw development of tools to connect the hub to databases at the Internal Revenue Service, the Social Security Administration and other federal agencies.

The company is also charged with helping the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) maintain and administer the data hub.

The company in June was the subject of an audit report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General for failing to adhere to federal government security standards in delivering, what appears to be unrelated, IT testing services for the CMS.

The 16-page report noted that the systems QSS used for testing purposes at CMS did not include controls for protecting against misuse of USB ports and devices as required by the CMS.

Specifically, QSS failed to disable USB ports or put other measures in place for preventing unauthorized use of USB devices and ports, the report said. The company had also not listed essential system services or ports in its security plan, it said.

“As a result of QSS’s insufficient controls over USB ports and devices, the [Personally Identifiable Information] of over 6 million Medicare beneficiaries was at greater risk from malware, inappropriate use, access or theft,” the report warned.

QSS officials did not respond to a request for comment on the report.

However, in a response to the Inspector General’s findings, the company said it revised corporate network access control polices to put restrictions on the use of USB ports and devices. It also said it planned to implement “Read Only” restrictions for USB ports in all laptops along with controls to prevent USB devices from automatically executing code.

Testifying before the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health in September, a QSS executive said the design and development of the ACA Data Services Hub complies with federal security standards.

Services firm Serco in July won a five-year $1.3 billion contract to process and verify paper applications submitted by individuals seeking health insurance via the online exchanges.

A Serco executive told lawmakers earlier this year that the company has taken many steps to ensure that the data it handles meets CMS and Federal Information Security Act security requirements.

Serco had made the news in 2012 whn it disclosed a data breach that exposed sensitive data of more than 123,000 members of the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), a $313 billion retirement plan, run by the U.S. Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board.

The exposed data included full names, addresses, Social Security Numbers, financial account information and bank routing information.

The compromise resulted from an intrusion into a single desktop computer used by a Serco employee to support the TSP.

Though the breach occurred in July 2011, Serco did not discover it until April 2012 after being notified about it by the FBI. The incident, and Serco’s subsequent handling of the breach notification process, prompted some lawmakers to demand a clear timeline from the company on the initial intrusion, its subsequent discovery and the steps taken to prevent another breach.

In a lengthy e-mail to Computerworld Tuesday, Serco spokesman Alan Hill downplayed the significance of the breach and maintained that the company has since thoroughly reviewed its security program and infrastructure protection mechanisms. For instance, the company redesigned its network and data management infrastructure and revised security risk management policies, controls and procedures, Hill said.

Serco executives are working with the CMS to ensure that information security controls are built into the ACA paper application processing system, the spokesman said.

“We are committed to applying and enforcing a strong information security program and strict controls across all of our contracts and operations,” Hill said. “Protecting the privacy of consumers through the paper application process is top priority for Serco and CMS.”

Richard Stiennon, principal at security consultant IT-Harvest, predicts a lot of finger pointing at the contractors if there’s a breach into ACA systems.

“That said, often having made mistakes in the past will lead to improved coding and security practices in the future. Here’s hoping that is the case,” he said.

However, bringing in a slew of experts to fix the system “will probably lead to short cuts, which usually lead to bad security hygiene,” he said.


Cramer: N.D. is 2nd or 3rd choice for drone test site

by Press • 22 October 2013

By: Tu-Uyen Tran

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — It’s very likely North Dakota will be one of the six states to host a test site for unmanned aircraft, but it is also very likely not the Federal Aviation Administration’s top candidate, Rep. Kevin Cramer said this past week in Grand Forks.

The top candidate appears to be Alaska, he said.

Next best or third best appear to be North Dakota, home to Grand Forks Air Force Base and its unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), he said. “I’m optimistic about North Dakota.”

Cramer, R-N.D., bases his belief on background discussions with analysts working for the FAA, he said.

It’s a privilege he has as vice chairman of a House subcommittee that has held hearings on the test sites with the FAA, he said. “That position has given me a rather good view of the whole program.”

He expects the FAA will announce Alaska as a test site “fairly soon,” and it may be months before North Dakota is added to the list with a test site near Grand Forks.

Local leaders are pushing to get the area selected as a UAS test site because they believe it would bolster the UAS industry here, which has already received a leg up because of the presence of Global Hawk and Predator UAS at the base and a UAS research center at the University of North Dakota.

But there’s a big field candidates to deal with. According to the FAA, it has received 25 applications from 24 states.


Untapped potential

The FAA currently forbids unmanned and manned aircraft to mix for fear of collisions, but that also hampers development of civilian uses for UAS technology, which experts say could benefit fields as far apart as agriculture, telecommunications and law enforcement.


A test site would allow the two kinds of aircraft to mix. UAS boosters in Grand Forks believe having one would attract UAS firms from all over, making the area an industry hub.

The analysts Cramer said he has spoken with are impressed with what the area and the state has to offer the FAA. Basically, he said, they’re saying “Wow, how do you beat what North Dakota has to offer in terms of airspace, climate, not the least of which is the cooperation of the entire state.”

All are talking points for him and many other UAS boosters from North Dakota, but he said it’s coming from “people who don’t have any skin in the game or really care except they’re part of the analysis team.”

By airspace, he means that North Dakota’s is mostly empty which decreases the chance for collisions considerably. It can also be very cold, allowing for testing under cold weather conditions.


But the business climate can be warm.

Cramer cites the example of the UAS tech park Grand Forks County is trying to build at the Air Force base, which recently agreed to let the county lease 217 acres. “I don’t think we can understate the value of this lease, not only local and state cooperation, but now you throw in the United States Air Force.”


Shutdown setback

The FAA had earlier said it would announce the six test sites in December, but Cramer said he doesn’t believe it will happen. The recent government shutdown likely set the agency’s schedule back, he said.

It’s also likely that the FAA will announce one site at a time rather than all six at once, as expected earlier, he said.

UAS boosters here will have to wait in suspense longer than expected.


Future uncertain for Ground Combat Vehicle, Armed Aerial Scout

October 22, 2013

David Vergun

Heidi Shyu, assistant secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, and Gen. Dennis Via, commander, Army Materiel Command, speak Oct. 21, 2013, at a modernization press conference at AUSA’s 2013 Annual Meeting, at the Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C.


WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 22, 2013) — As a result of fiscal “belt tightening, the Ground Combat Vehicle and the Armed Aerial Scout could be delayed, continued or terminated,” said the Army’s top acquisition professional.

“We’re lurching” ahead with deciding which programs stay, are postponed, canceled or not started “because our budget is lurching,” said Heidi Shyu, assistant secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology.

Shyu, along with Gen. Dennis Via, commander, Army Materiel Command, spoke Oct. 21, at a modernization press conference at the Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting and Exposition.

It’s especially hard on the Army’s industry partners, Shyu acknowledged, but it’s been a “perfect storm of continuing resolutions, sequestration and government shutdown” with no end in sight and the impacts will be even greater next year.

Deciding which capability is most important, what’s good enough and what to sacrifice “is not an easy one. It’s a decision not taken lightly,” she continued. “We’re in a belt-tightening mode.”

The Army is looking closely at every one of its portfolios and is receiving input from U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command to determine the future status of each of its programs as sequestration in 2014 and beyond will have a significant impact on all of them, she continued.

Last year, the Army was criticized by Congress for its Program Objective Memorandum, or POM.

“Last year we were blamed for having just one POM,” she said, indicating there was no backup POM. The POM provides the Army with budgetary decisions over several years.

“This year, the Army’s producing two POMs,” based on what the budget might or might not look like. “One is a good POM and the other is a bad POM,” the latter being a worst-case budget scenario or lack of a budget.

It’s not just portfolios that are affected, she said. So are science and technology, research and development and operation and maintenance of equipment. On top of that, “we can’t get the force structure down fast enough” to keep up with cuts to readiness and modernization.

Shyu said the “budget morass” is so significant, she wouldn’t be surprised if the force structure is brought down below the planned 490,000 target.

The budget woes also threaten to disrupt “our efforts to regain expeditionary capability,” said Via.

The Army had large, fixed bases with infrastructure in Iraq and Afghanistan. Future operations “may not have that luxury and may be austere,” he explained. As forces draw down from Afghanistan and become more U.S.-based, that expeditionary capability becomes critical from “kinetic to disaster-relief” missions.

Besides future threats, the Army still has a war on its hand in Afghanistan, Via reminded the audience. Logistical support is still needed there as well as the need to retrograde equipment from Afghanistan to the U.S. where it needs to be reset and delivered to units so they’re prepared for future contingencies.

To address these growing concerns, Shyu said the Army has four logistical strategies:

First, since the force structure is coming down, the Army will purchase less equipment.

Second, existing legacy equipment not needed and too expensive to maintain will be eliminated.

Third, any new equipment purchases will likely be done using more efficient contracts such as multi-year contracts, since these have the greatest discounts that will drive cost savings.

And fourth, the Army will continue to incrementally improve and modernize its aging systems and platforms like the Apache, Chinook and Black Hawk helicopters; Bradley Fighting Vehicles; M113 Armored Personnel Carriers, which will be upgraded to Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicles; Paladins; and Abrams tanks.

“We also have to prepare ourselves to fight in a much more contested environment,” she said.

To do this will cost money, but it’s a necessary investment, she continued, giving some examples such as better integrating sensors, missiles and manned and unmanned aviation assets together so they’re networked and visible across the battle space.

Another example would be providing special capabilities to pilots so they can navigate and land in “degraded visual environments such as smoke, fog sandstorms and whiteout conditions.”

Science and technology investments will also continue, she said. For example, if the enemy jams GPS, Soldiers would need a reliable backup system, since its weapons and people are so reliant on satellite positioning.

Another program that will continue through its testing phase is the Enhanced Medium Altitude Reconnaissance and Surveillance System, which is a signals intelligence gathering system used on aircraft.

The Army is also interested in keeping tabs on the underlying sensor technology that drives systems like EMARSS, so it will continue to invest in science and technology, she said, noting that systems become obsolete in just a few years as they keep evolving at a rapid-fire fashion.

On a different topic, Via provided some good news on current equipment retrograde efforts in Afghanistan, which had sometimes bogged down over the long, tortuous road through Pakistan over the last few years.

“Retrograde is proceeding on plan,” he said. “The Pakistan ground lines are open so each week there’s an increasing throughput and velocity in pushing equipment back. We don’t know what the final security agreement will look like or how many forces will remain, so we’re watching that.”

Via added that the Army is using lessons learned in Iraq to do a smarter drawdown in Afghanistan, not just for retrograde procedures, but for disposing of excess gear. For instance, some countries have expressed an interest in acquiring it, he said. And some of it that’s not economically feasible to bring back is being scrapped and dismantled in ways that will make it difficult for anyone who wants to do harm to use.

RPAs Part I: Reaching 2 million hours

Posted 10/23/2013

by Senior Airman A.K.

432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

The U.S. Air Force’s MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft accumulated 2 million flight hours Oct. 22, 2013, not only marking a significant milestone, but also demonstrating the evolution of the program.

The RPA program began in the mid-1990s. It took 16 years for the community to reach 1 million hours and a mere two and a half years to double those flight hours.

“There is just no way to describe what an amazing event that was,” said Col. James Cluff, 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing commander. “The community really had some very humble roots flying out of what used to be Indian Springs Air Force Auxiliary Field here almost 20 years ago.”

Although it was a crew from Creech Air Force Base to actually fly the mission that reached the 2 millionth flight hour marker, it is was a team effort that made the mission possible.

Cluff said it was really an enterprise-wide event for the men and women of the RPA community.

“Air Force Special Operations Command, Air Force Materiel Command, 480th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing, our guard and reserve partners, and many others all contributed to this – not just the 432nd Wing or Air Combat Command,” said Cluff. “The whole team is represented here by this amazing achievement, and we couldn’t be prouder.”

Lt. Gen. John Hesterman, Commander of the U.S. Air Forces Central Command, Southwest Asia, noted the importance of RPAs and said it’s the men and women of the community who have helped achieve such great success over the years.

“The fact that commanders have had this ISR and precision-strike capability from remotely piloted aircraft when and where they have needed it for so long is a remarkable milestone, and should be noted,” Hesterman said. “But perhaps the bigger story and true achievement has been the unwavering dedication of the men and women who have made this capability available for such a sustained period of time. They have saved lives and made us and our coalition partners safer and more secure.”

Chief Master Sgt. Butch Brien, 432 Wing/432nd AEW command chief, noted the dedication of the Airmen, both past and present, behind the mission is unmatched.

“People are going to be talking about us for years and years to come – it’s great to be part of this elite team,” Brien said. “I think about the 24/7, 365 operations capability that we have working with our partners across the United States and overseas making this happen, and how advanced the technology has become since the beginning … what we’re achieving right now, you can’t touch that.”

The crew chosen to fly the mission was hand-picked directly by their commander for a multitude of reasons.

“The decision was based on several things such as qualifications, merit, and experience,” said Capt. Ben, 18th Reconnaissance Squadron RPA pilot who flew the 2 million hour mission. “We are continuing a legacy of flying of all the RPA pilots and sensors before us. However, it’s a combined ‘one team, one fight’ effort. We depend on our counterparts like communications, maintenance, launch and recovery teams, and other RPA Airmen to be able to conduct and complete our missions.”

Staff Sgt. Tabitha, 18th RS mission intelligence coordinator, said the community has experienced an increase in the number of combat air patrols over the years but the dedication of the team is what makes the difference.

“Even though it’s been hard, we’ve always found a way to meet the increasing demands,” she said.

Senior Airman Travis, 18th RS sensor operator, gave one piece of advice for all the Airmen who play a part in keeping the mission capabilities going.


“Stay flexible,” he said. “At one point I was flying eight hours each day for nearly three months, but the flexibility and dedication of our people makes anything possible.”

Although the aircrew members are the ones flying the planes, there are hundreds of people involved every day in RPA operations.

“There is really nothing ‘unmanned’ about RPAs, other than the fact that there isn’t a pilot in the cockpit,” said Maj. Gen. John Shanahan, Air Force ISR Agency commander. “From the maintenance personnel, to the pilots and sensor operators, to the communications experts, to the ISR professionals who exploited every signal and every second of every video, this is a team business. I am incredibly proud of the Airmen across the Air Force ISR Agency who have been involved in the RPA success story since day one. They take information from the RPAs and turn it into intelligence that allows someone to make a better decision – in peacetime and war.”

Achieving such great heights commemorates more than just a proud moment, it also demonstrates how valuable the program has become in just two decades.

Today, the RPA community continues to aid in missions worldwide while concurrently assessing and improving the capabilities of both the program and aircraft.

“I carried the first Predator to Tazar, Hungary, in 1996 at the direction of Secretary of Defense William Perry,” said retired Maj. Gen. Kenneth Israel. “Dr. Perry’s guidance was ‘if Predators save one soldier’s life, they are worth deploying now.’ No one could have envisioned the unprecedented success these systems have had during the last two decades.”


Defense Cuts Conundrum: Weighing the Hard Choices Ahead

September 29, 2013

By Todd Harrison

The main strategic choice the military now faces is essentially one of timing — that is, when to take risks. Should it protect near-term capacity and accept a higher degree of long-term risk by cutting funding for future capabilities? Or should it focus on developing future capabilities and accept a higher degree of near-term risk by cutting the current capacity and readiness of the force? As budgets come down, the military cannot do both, at least not to the degree it had previously planned. Most likely, policymakers will attempt to protect near-term capacity and readiness as much as possible and sacrifice modernization programs to meet budget targets. This approach is already beginning to play out in response to the 2013 sequester. For example, U.S. President Barack Obama exempted $150 billion in military personnel accounts from sequestration, and the Defense Department sought permission from Congress to transfer some $4.1 billion from modernization accounts to restore funding for near-term readiness activities such as flying hours and training exercises.

The near-term approach is appealing because the current security environment is unpredictable. The military does not know when or where it may be called upon next, and senior leaders, whose tenures are relatively short, are naturally reluctant to risk a readiness crisis occurring on their watch.

Moreover, one could argue that in a few years the budget environment could be less constrained than currently projected.

Adopting a near-term approach, the military would focus cuts disproportionately on modernization programs, since the capabilities these investments produce will not be available for years, if not decades. Even with deep cuts in modernization programs, however, the Defense Department would still be forced to make modest reductions in the size and readiness of the current force. Given the uncertain threat environment, a likely way of doing this would be to make relatively uniform reductions across the military — a so-called haircut approach — to minimize the risk of being too unprepared in any one area.


Just as important as what the military would do with a near-term focus is what it would not do. Taking this approach, the Defense Department and Congress would not have a strong incentive to make internal reforms to how the Defense Department operates and manages its resources. Such changes typically require up-front costs, both financially and politically, in exchange for long-term savings.

Closing excess bases and facilities, for example, would cost billions in the near term before it would begin to yield annual savings. Likewise, both Congress and the military would not have an incentive to pursue serious reforms in the military compensation system or alter the size and structure of the Defense Department’s civilian workforce, because these efforts would carry significant political repercussions.

A likely result of the near-term approach is a military that looks and operates much as it does today. It implicitly assumes that future conflicts will require capabilities similar to those the military already possesses, many of which were designed for counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations or for more conventional military conflicts such as the 1991 Gulf War. As threats evolve, however, and more advanced technologies proliferate, current capabilities may increasingly become less effective and less relevant. For example, the Predator and Reaper drones that the military has used extensively in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan are designed to operate in undefended airspace. These systems would not be effective against an adversary that attempts to keep U.S. aircraft out with even modest air defenses. The development of new or evolved weapons systems, such as stealth drones that can evade air defenses, requires investments of both time and funding. If such investments are not made now, these advanced capabilities may not be available to the U.S. military when needed, no matter how much funding is available in the future.

More important, the near-term approach would avoid politically difficult internal reforms. The growth in personnel and peacetime readiness costs has effectively reduced the buying power of each defense dollar. If these costs continue to grow at the rates experienced over the past decade and the military attempts to maintain a force of 1.4 million on active duty, as currently planned, they could consume the entire defense budget by 2024, leaving no money for research and development or the procurement of new equipment. Alternatively, the Defense Department could reduce the overall size of the military to compensate for internal cost growth, but it would have to continue getting smaller as costs continued to mount. Either way, rising internal costs make the near-term approach unsustainable without significant reforms.


A long-term approach, in contrast, would protect funding for future capabilities and require near-term risks in capacity and readiness to meet budget targets. For those who see the threats to U.S. interests as dangerous now and growing worse over time, it makes sense to take more risks today rather than in the future, when threats will be more challenging. Alternatively, if one views the current situation as relatively safe for the United States, then the future security environment could be worse — meaning it would still be better to take risks sooner than later.

Taking a long-term approach, the military should first identify the capabilities the current force lacks but is likely to need in the future and plan investments accordingly. The idea is to make strategically informed bets on technologies and programs that could lead to significant improvements in future capabilities. New investments could include increasing budgets for existing programs, funding technologies the Defense Department previously abandoned, or starting new development programs.

While many of these investments could fail or end up addressing the wrong threats, the ones that succeed would be prerequisites to developing advanced capabilities down the road. To pay for these new investments, the military would need to capabilities that are likely to be less relevant in the future. While strategists and planners can disagree about what the ideal future force should look like, it will not likely look like the force of today. The nature of warfare is constantly evolving, as evidenced by advances in unmanned systems, guided munitions, and the increasing role of networks and cyber-operations in conventional conflicts. Given these technological advancements, parts of the force structure that have been important for decades may not be as important in the future.

The idea is to begin divesting from lower priority capabilities to make room for higher-priority ones. A long-term approach must also begin the process of making systemic internal reforms in the Pentagon, including slowing the growth of military compensation costs, reshaping and resizing the Defense Department’s civilian workforce, and eliminating excess bases and infrastructure. Despite the upfront costs and political risks involved, the sooner such reforms are implemented, the sooner savings can begin to accrue. Savings from structural reforms, such as reducing the size of U.S. forces, will improve the effective buying power of defense dollars, enabling the United States to afford a larger and more capable military than would otherwise be possible.

The bulk of the required savings under the long-term approach would come from near-term reductions in capacity and preparedness, which, while never ideal, could be mitigated somewhat by adopting tiered readiness within the services or dissimilar readiness levels across the services. Moreover, the long-term effectiveness of U.S. forces could be enhanced by the advanced technologies and weapon systems funded by a near-term reduction in readiness.

Policymakers will understandably be reluctant to pursue the long-term approach because it requires stepping on many of the so-called third rail issues in defense. Reforming military compensation and cutting the Defense Department civilian workforce, for example, would anger the many veterans’ service organizations and federal employee unions whose members could be affected. Supporting another round of base closures would require many members of Congress to vote against their own parochial political interests. Making targeted reductions in acquisition programs and force structure would upset the status quo in the defense industry. More important, the long-term approach would also require policymakers to accept a higher degree of risk that the military may not be adequately prepared for a major war in the next few years. This lack of readiness could constrain U.S. foreign policy if potential adversaries are less deterred by the threat of military force. And if military action becomes necessary in the near future, reduced preparedness could compromise the performance of U.S. forces in battle.


In congressional testimony following the release of the SCMR results, Admiral James Winnefeld, Jr., vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted that readiness “has no constituency other than the young soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine putting his or her life on the line for our nation’s security interests.” Winnefeld’s statement reveals that readiness does indeed have a constituency. The current force and those who lead it are strong and vocal proponents of preparedness for good reason: If readiness suffers, they are the ones who will bear the consequences. But senior leaders should instead be concerned that the future may not have a strong constituency. The next generation of service members — our children and grandchildren — have no say in the decisions made today, yet they are the ones who will live with the repercussions. Who will speak for their interests, and what type of military will they inherit?

The usefulness of framing the Pentagon’s upcoming strategic choice as a near-term versus long-term dichotomy is that it explicitly acknowledges the trade-offs senior leaders face in the thousands of lower-level decisions they must make over the coming years. These thousands of decisions, at times going in opposite directions and made by scores of senior leaders in the executive and legislative branches, will ultimately coalesce into what in hindsight appears to be a defense strategy, however flawed, disjointed, and ugly it may be. The key question is which way that strategy will lean.

A strategy that is more inclined toward a near-term approach would leave the next generation a military with capabilities similar to those it has today, and with excellent pay and benefits. But that military would be less technologically advanced and also unsustainable due to internal cost growth. A strategy geared more toward a long-term approach would give the subsequent generation a military that is smaller but more modernized and more easily scaled in size if needed, albeit with less generous pay and benefits.

The strategic choices facing the U.S. military today are not easy, but it would be naive to blame this difficulty entirely on fiscal constraints. As the military strategist Bernard Brodie wrote in 1959, “We do not have and probably never will have enough money to buy all the things we could effectively use for our defense. The choices we have to make would be difficult and painful even if our military budget were twice what it is today.” The budget constraints the Defense Department currently faces, no matter how difficult and painful they may seem, should be viewed as more of an opportunity than a burden. The Defense Department should seize this opportunity and the compelling force it provides to reshape the military fundamentally and make internal reforms that are long overdue. Writing nearly a decade after Brodie, the Rolling Stones perhaps summed it up best: “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.”


Hagel Could Remove One of the NSA’s Key Duties: Running Cyber Command

By Aliya Sternstein

October 25, 2013

Here’s a tough call for any person to make: An Air Force general conducting a drone strike on an Al Qaeda leader abroad overhears communications between the terrorist and his subordinates about a plot to blow up an American subway line. Does the general keep eavesdropping to identify the imperiled subway system or kill the high-value target?

This should not be one person’s call to make, but that’s exactly how it works today at the Defense Department’s National Security Agency.

Since 2010, one individual — the agency’s director – has had to decide whether to destroy adversary computer networks or continue spying on those networks. This is because NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander also leads Cyber Command, a Defense organization that attacks adversary computer systems.

With Alexander expected to depart by April, many former administration officials are urging a division of power.

It wouldn’t require navigating Capitol Hill gridlock. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel need only consult with President Obama to divide the directorship.

“It is a DoD policy decision, not law, that defines and establishes the command structure for Cyber Command and the National Security Agency,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Damien Pickart said.

In 2009, then Defense Secretary Robert Gates recommended that Obama reassign then NSA Director Alexander to the role of joint NSA-Cyber Command chief, he added.

“The process for selecting his successor is ongoing,” NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines said of what will happen after Alexander leaves next year.

Some former officials say the current dual-hatted role harms U.S. military strategy.

“You’ve got a tension between the intelligence people who want to learn and the war people who want to win,” said Jason Healey, former White House cyber infrastructure protection director. “The intelligence people don’t want you to act on that information, because you’re revealing the fact that you know it,” and “the warfighting commander will say, ‘But by leaving that [communication line] open, it’s helping the enemy.”

Concern about the concentration of decisionmaking power within NSA has become part of a larger debate over surveillance overreach at the agency. This spring, ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden ignited the discourse by revealing classified cyberspying operations on American citizens and allied leaders, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Vines said Alexander’s departure “has nothing to do with media leaks; the decision for his retirement was made prior.”

Former NSA and CIA Director Michael Hayden told Nextgov he expects the administration will appoint a dedicated Cyber Command chief either after Alexander exits or after his successor exits.

“As the role or cyber in military and intelligence operations grows, it is inevitable that the two jobs – director of NSA and head of Cyber Command — will be split if not now then in the next cycle,” he said.

Cyber Command and NSA both operate in the same military domain, so they have had the advantage of being able to share resources and approaches — but each deserves its own powerful leader, said Peter W. Singer, a Brookings Institution senior fellow, who researches current and future defense needs.

“They are both crucially important, and dividing one’s time between them is not ideal,” he said. “You’d never propose the head of the Marine Corps also be simultaneously the CIA director. To put it in sports terms, many a good sports team has made the mistake of dual hatting a skilled coach and GM. The same holds here, all the more so, given while it was certainly within the letter of the law, it wasn’t truly in the spirit.”

It remains to be seen whether lawmakers will pressure the White House to change the organizational chart.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., recognizing the benefits and drawbacks of the dual-hatted role, directed the Pentagon to study the issue and report back later this fall, a committee aide said.

The 300-day report, called for in the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act enacted Jan. 2, must examine, among other things, “the ability of the existing management structure of the command and the agency to identify and adequately address potential conflicts of interest between the roles of the commander of the United States Cyber Command and the director of the National Security Agency.”

Staff for Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said they are reviewing the issue, but have no other comment. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, declined to comment on her stance, as did her counterpart on the House Intelligence Committee, Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich.


Merkel: U.S. spying has shattered allies’ trust

Oct. 24, 2013 – 03:30PM |

By Geir Moulson and John-Thor Dahlburg

The Associated Press

BRUSSELS — European leaders united in anger Thursday as they attended a summit overshadowed by reports of widespread U.S. spying on its allies — allegations German Chancellor Angela Merkel said had shattered trust in the Obama administration and undermined the crucial trans-Atlantic relationship.

The latest revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency swept up more than 70 million phone records in France and may have tapped Merkel’s own cellphone brought denunciations from the French and German governments.

Merkel’s unusually stern remarks as she arrived at the European Union gathering indicated she wasn’t placated by a phone conversation she had Wednesday with President Obama, or his personal assurances that the U.S. is not listening in on her calls now.

“We need trust among allies and partners,” Merkel told reporters in Brussels. “Such trust now has to be built anew. This is what we have to think about.”

“The United States of America and Europe face common challenges. We are allies,” the German leader said. “But such an alliance can only be built on trust. That’s why I repeat again: spying among friends, that cannot be.”

Other leaders arriving for the 28-nation meeting echoed Merkel’s displeasure. Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt called it “completely unacceptable” for a country to eavesdrop on an allied leader.

If reports that Merkel’s cellphone had been tapped are true, “it is exceptionally serious,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told national broadcaster NOS.

“We want the truth,” Italian Premier Enrico Letta told reporters. “It is not in the least bit conceivable that activity of this type could be acceptable.”

Echoing Merkel, Austria’s foreign minister, Micheal Spindelegger, said, “We need to re-establish with the U.S. a relationship of trust, which has certainly suffered from this.”

France, which also vocally objected to allies spying on each other, asked that the issue of reinforcing Europeans’ privacy in the digital age be added to the agenda of the two-day summit. Before official proceedings got underway, Merkel held a brief one-on-one with French President Francois Hollande, and discussed the spying controversy.

The Europeans’ statements and actions indicated that they hadn’t been satisfied with assurances from Washington. On Wednesday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama personally assured Merkel that her phone is not being listened to now and won’t be in the future.

“I think we are all outraged, across party lines,” Wolfgang Bosbach, a prominent German lawmaker from Merkel’s party, told Deutschlandfunk radio. “And that also goes for the response that the chancellor’s cellphone is not being monitored — because this sentence says nothing about whether the chancellor was monitored in the past.”

“This cannot be justified from any point of view by the fight against international terrorism or by averting danger,” Bosbach said.

In the past, much of the official outrage in Europe about revelations of U.S. communications intercepts leaked by former NSA contract worker Edward Snowden seemed designed for internal political consumption in countries that readily acknowledge conducting major spying operations themselves. But there has been a new discernible vein of anger in Europe as the scale of the NSA’s reported operations became known, as well as the possible targeting of a prominent leader like Merkel, presumably for inside political or economic information.

“Nobody in Germany will be able to say any longer that NSA surveillance — which is apparently happening worldwide and millions of times — is serving solely intelligence-gathering or defense against Islamic terror or weapons proliferation,” said Hans-Christian Strobele, a member of the German parliamentary oversight committee.

“Because, if you tap the cellphone or the phone connection of the presidents of France or Brazil, or the cellphone of the chancellor, then this is no longer about collecting intelligence about international terrorism, but then that is about competition, about getting advantages in this competition and winning. That’s why today is a watershed moment.”

European Union Commission President Jose Manuel Borroso said for many Europeans, eavesdropping on their phone calls or reading their emails is particularly objectionable because it raises the specter of totalitarian regimes of the recent past.

“At least in Europe, we consider the right to privacy a fundamental right and it is a very serious matter. We cannot, let’s say, pretend it is just something accessory,” Barroso told a presummit news conference.

Referring to the East German Communist secret police, the feared Stasi, Barroso said, “to speak about Chancellor Merkel, in Germany there was a part of Germany where there was a political police that was spying on people’s lives every day. So we know very recently what totalitarianism means. And we know very well what comes, what happens when the state uses powers that intrude in people’s lives. So it is a very important issue, not only for Germany but for Europe in general.”

In Berlin, the German Foreign Ministry summoned the U.S. ambassador to stress how seriously it takes the reported spying on Merkel. Germany’s defense minister said his country and Europe can’t return “to business as usual” with Washington, given the number of reports that the United States has eavesdropped on allied nations.

“The Americans are and remain our best friends, but this is absolutely not right,” Thomas de Maiziere, who served as Merkel’s chief of staff, told ARD television. “I have reckoned for years with my cellphone being monitored, but I wasn’t reckoning with the Americans.”

A German parliamentary committee that oversees the country’s intelligence service met to discuss the spying allegations. Its head, Thomas Oppermann, recalled previous reports to the panel that U.S. authorities had denied violating German interests, and said, “we were apparently deceived by the American side.”


What makes so complicated?


10/24/13 8:25 AM EDT

Building a website in 2013 should be as easy as U-R-L, so what’s the deal with

The White House billed the Obamacare portal as the of health coverage — only instead of plane rides, it was selling health insurance. It was supposed to be a one-stop click and shop place to compare and buy health plans in the 36 states not running their own insurance exchanges — and for the millions who are eligible, get federal subsidies.

Hundreds of millions of dollars later, it’s fundamentally broken and a frantic fix is underway.

What made it so complicated?

The Obama administration has done little to give outsiders a peek under the hood — although it promises daily briefings from the Department of Health and Human Services starting Thursday.

But it’s way more complicated than tweaking a simple commercial site.

“This is one of the most complex IT projects the federal government has ever undertaken,” said Dan Schuyler, senior technology expert at Leavitt Partners.

With the contractors who built the system preparing for a grilling from House Republicans today, here’s a quick guide to all the things that have to go right for to start humming.

By all accounts, and the programs it’s built upon include tens of millions — if not hundreds of millions — of lines of code. When major portions are rewritten, it usually takes time and testing to ensure that the fixes worked. But in the political pressure-cooker surrounding the health law, time isn’t really an option. Fixes are happening on the fly.

“It’s almost like test riding a 747 while writing a manual from the cockpit seat,” said Bryce Williams, managing director of exchange solutions for Tower Watson.

The code directs all the big parts of the enrollment process — creating online accounts, managing reams of personal and demographic data, determining whether someone get a tax credit, or qualifies for Medicaid.

“If you take a look at the work involved in this particular project, it’s at least five different transactional functions,” said Aneesh Chopra, the Obama administration’s former chief technology officer. “What that really means is it’s performing a series of application functions. Each of those functions has a level of complexity and stitching them together has a level of complexity.”

Not only does everything have to work, it has to work well with thousands — if not millions — of people interacting with the site simultaneously, putting pressure on different aspects of the system. That’s a situation that’s barely come up yet because most visitors to the site can’t get past the early stages. More problems may lurk once the first wave is solved.

The data hub

The hub is what a lot of people worried about, but the early indications are that it actually works quite well. The hub can be thought of as the heart of the system, linking five federal agencies to process information about people who sign up for health insurance through as well as in the states running their own enrollment systems.

When a person seeks coverage through the new Obamacare marketplaces, the hub draws data from the Department of Health and Human Services, Social Security, the Department of Homeland Security, the IRS and the U.S. Treasury to determine eligibility for subsidies.

“The accuracy and the effectiveness and the quality with which it is pulling information from various systems appears to be working,” Chopra said.

More tests will come as more applicants reach this point in the signup process.

The federal-state connection

Not only do federal agencies have to work in concert, the enrollment system has to talk to 50 states with 50 diverse Medicaid programs. Each state has different eligibility rules and years of regulation, so connecting them all to the same system has been a challenge.

The National Association of Medicaid Directors said Monday that states are reporting vastly different experiences. Some have experienced seamless connectivity to the federal system. Others — not so good. “Communication between states and marketplaces continue to contain challenges,” the association said.

“With this many agencies, this many states, there are a whole lot of cooks in the kitchen,” said Williams of Towers Watson.

Talking — and listening — to insurers

The crux of the new enrollment system is the marketplace — getting health plans sold by private insurers. But to complete that process, the system has to be able to transfer massive amounts of data — subsidy calculations, personal information of enrollees and application files.

Some applications have made it to insurers without a hitch. But sometimes the system is spewing out files that are garbled, incorrect or repetitive.

And for people who wish to bypass and purchase plans directly from an insurer, they’re running into the same brick wall. Some insurers are directing people back to because of their own problems calculating subsidies and interacting with the federal system.

The rules

Sites like don’t have to deal with an Obamacare-sized thicket of federal rules and regulations. The health law passed in March 2010, but the final regulatory framework for wasn’t really in place until earlier this year.

“HHS was slow in distributing and promulgating the necessary rules and regulation,” Dan Schuyler of Leavitt Partners said. “Had the federal government initiated the legislation in March 2010 … we wouldn’t be having these problems today. The rules, the regs, the guidance are, in essence the business processes, if you will, of how the exchanges are supposed to function.”

Some allies of the administration point back to the way the law was passed — after Republican Scott Brown was elected to the Senate in early 2010, the Democrats couldn’t merge the House and Senate bills, a process that could have purged some of the kinks. They ended up enacting the Senate bill — and regulators had more work to fill in some gaps.

The threat of the Supreme Court overturning the law and the 2012 election also may have slowed some of the implementation.

But Schuyler has a simpler theory: “Poor design and poor planning. There is no other reason.”


Analyst: Pentagon Budget Could Drop To $415 Billion

By Michael Bruno

Source: Aerospace Daily & Defense Report

October 25, 2013

The Pentagon’s baseline budget could dip to $415 billion in coming years, with as little as $62 billion in annual authorized procurement, while the active military force shrinks to about 1 million uniformed personnel, according to analyst Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

Harrison provided Washington reporters an outlook Oct. 24 on the effects of the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) and its annual threat of automatic, widespread sequestration cuts in fiscal 2014 and beyond. While he did not necessarily see each of the outcomes as probable, when looking at historical trends and accounting for how the 2011 law is written, Harrison said the nadirs in defense spending and capability were nonetheless plausible.

Indeed, one of the unintended consequences of the law and sequestrations is the turnabout that will occur in the ratio of Defense Department procurement to research, development, testing and evaluation (RDT&E), according to Harrison’s report, “Chaos and Uncertainty: the Fiscal 2014 Defense Budget and Beyond.” Since fiscal 1955 the ratio has averaged 2.1, meaning the Pentagon was spending more than $2 in procurement for every $1 of RDT&E. While the actual figure has vacillated and dropped over the decades, it never got below a fiscal 2006 nadir of 1.1. But under decade-long spending caps mandated by the BCA, that ratio will drop below 1.0.

“For the first time in modern history, [the Pentagon] would be spending more on developing new technologies and systems than procuring equipment,” Harrison says in a report on sequestration in fiscal 2014 and beyond.

The day before, leading generals, admirals and civilian officials were testifying to Congress and in public about the so-called “procurement holiday” on the horizon under the 2011 law.

In a hearing before a House Armed Services subcommittee Oct. 23, top acquisition officials from the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps and Navy noted how the next round of sequestration, slated to begin Jan. 15, will demand the Air Force cull four or five of 19 planned F-35A Joint Strike Fighters, while the Marines cut an F-35B and the Navy cuts an F-35C.

That came two days after the Army chief of staff spoke at the annual Association of the U.S. Army conference of damage to about 485 acquisition programs. “Some we will have to cancel,” said Gen. Raymond Odierno. “Ground Combat Vehicle, name your favorite acquisition developmental program, it’ll probably be affected.”

Harrison said historical trends point to a low in annual authorized defense procurement of just $62 billion. As the years go on and cuts to once-planned procurements mount, it could devastate many programs as they find the new economics of reduced purchases or the subsequent lack of military capability due to smaller numbers — or both — not to be worthwhile. The Joint Chiefs have warned about the risks of having a smaller military with regard to capabilities, especially compared with existing national security strategy and expectations (Aerospace DAILY, Sept. 26).

Pentagon Weapons Buyers Say Cuts May Delay Aircraft Plans

By Tony Capaccio – Oct 23, 2013 4:45 PM ET .

Chief weapons buyers for the U.S. military services outlined the impact of continued defense budget cuts, including a delay of 25 aircraft for the Navy and Marine Corps that would have been purchased this fiscal year.

Written testimony submitted today for a House subcommittee hearing from Sean Stackley, the Navy’s assistant secretary for acquisition, his Army counterpart Heidi Shyu and the Air Force’s William LaPlante represented worst-case estimates of budget cuts facing the Pentagon in the year that began Oct. 1.

While the Pentagon has tried to shelter from cuts its costliest weapons systems, led by Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT)’s F-35 fighter, pressure is growing for reductions in weapons accounts because President Barack Obama has for the second year exempted the accounts that pay military personnel. Compensation amounts to about $137.1 billion of the president’s proposed $526.6 billion defense budget, not including war costs.

The first obstacle facing the Pentagon is the impact of a stopgap funding measure that freezes defense spending at current levels and would require a reduction of about $20 billion if continued throughout the fiscal year. The current stopgap measure goes through Jan. 15.

The second obstacle is a full round of automatic cuts, known as sequestration, requiring a reduction of about $52 billion.

Unless Congress and Obama reverse the sequestration cuts, the Navy may have to delay plans to purchase aircraft, Stackley said in testimony submitted to the House Armed Services subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces.

Growler, Osprey

Some of the affected aircraft include four Boeing Co. (BA) EA-18G Growler electronic warfare planes, two Boeing P-8 reconnaissance aircraft and as many as three V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft made by Textron Inc. (TXT) and Boeing, Stackley said. Two Navy or Marine Corps F-35s wouldn’t be bought out of the 10 planned, he said.

Shyu said in her statement that sequestration at the current level may require delaying the purchase from Chicago-based Boeing of 12 Apache helicopters in addition to 13 cut last year. The Army wouldn’t pay General Dynamics Corp. (GD) to modify as many as 50 Stryker vehicles into a “Double-V” model that improves their capability to withstand roadside bomb blasts, she said.

LaPlante said in his testimony that the Air Force may have to cut as many as five of 19 F-35s it planned to buy from Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed this year.

“Our modernization forecasts are bleak” if sequestration continues into fiscal 2015, LaPlante said.

“Program disruptions will cost more taxpayers dollars to rectify contract breaches, raise unit costs and delay delivery of critical equipment,” he said.

The biggest U.S. defense contractors are reporting third-quarter earnings this week that showed they have endured federal budget cuts so far with little harm to their profits.

Rasmussen Reports

What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls

Bottom of Form

Saturday, October 26, 2013


Voters have lurched in recent days from a government shutdown to an Obamacare breakdown and aren’t hugely optimistic about putting either behind them.

Following the short-term deal to end the partial government shutdown, voters are more concerned than ever that the federal government will not do enough responding to the weak economy. Sixty-two percent (62%) think the best thing the government can do is cut spending.

Fifty-four percent (54%) of voters want a long-term federal budget deal that cuts spending, but only 30% think Congress is even somewhat likely to reach such a deal and avoid another government shutdown in mid-January

Fifty-one percent (51%) say the government shutdown had some impact on their personal lives, but that includes just 11% who say it had a major one. Forty-six percent (46%) say the shutdown did not personally impact them at all.

Voters are narrowly divided over whether the Obama administration can fix within the next six months the problems plaguing the new government exchange websites set up to provide health insurance. Because of these problems, 51% think the administration should delay the new health care law’s requirement that every American have health insurance by January 1.  But that’s down from the 56% who favored delaying the so-called individual mandate in July.

Perhaps in part that’s because voters are almost evenly divided in their views of the health care law for the first time since the beginning of the year: 46% have a favorable opinion of Obamacare, while 48% view it unfavorably.

Perceptions of the law have improved in recent weeks as the shutdown debate focused on funding for it and despite the glitches experienced by the health insurance exchanges.

Democrats appear to still be benefiting from the shutdown as well. For the second week in a row, they lead Republicans by seven points on the Generic Congressional Ballot. Two weeks before, the parties were tied.

President Obama’s job approval ratings also appear to be unscathed by the shutdown and the health insurance exchange problems.

Just 17% of voters think the country is heading in the right direction, though. Still, that’s up slightly from 13% the week before, the lowest finding in five years. Confidence in the country’s direction fell 15 points during the government shutdown and is still well below its high of 43% the week before Election Day a year ago.

Consumer confidence also seems to have rebounded slightly since the shutdown ended but remains near the lowest levels of the year.

Thirty-five percent (35%) of Americans think now is a good time for someone in their area to sell a house, down from last month’s high of 39%.

The president has turned his attention to the immigration reform plan that passed the Democratic-controlled Senate but is stalled in the Republican-led House of Representatives. Obama wants to move ahead with a pathway to citizenship for the illegal immigrants who are now here, but 62% of voters continue to believe securing the border has to come first. However, fewer voters than ever (25%) believe the federal government is even somewhat likely to secure the border to prevent future illegal immigration if it’s part of legislation that would give legal status to those here illegally. This includes only five percent (5%) who think stricter border control is Very Likely.

Seventy percent (70%) feel that when people move to this country from other parts of the world, they should adopt America’s culture, language and heritage. Only 15% believe new immigrants should maintain the culture, language and heritage of their home country instead.

Not that voters express much confidence in the next generation already here at home. Sixty-six percent (66%) continue to believe most high school graduates in this country lack the necessary skills for college or a job.

Fifty-two percent (52%) of Americans think there’s not enough religion in the public schools. Fifty-seven percent (57%) favor prayer in school.

Only 36% of voters believe the United States and its allies are winning the War on Terror. That belief is down from 40% in July and is the lowest measured since April 2011, just before U.S. Navy SEALs killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Voters generally agree that national security is a federal government priority, but just 35% think laws about marriage should be set by the feds. Forty-five percent (45%) see that as a state or local function. Views on gay marriage differ greatly depending on whether voters see marriage laws as a federal or state/local responsibility.

In other surveys last week:

— As the country debates whether every American should be required to have health insurance, 11% say they have health insurance for their pets.

— Democrat Terry McAuliffe has jumped to a 17-point lead over Republican Ken Cuccinelli in the Virginia gubernatorial race following the federal government shutdown that hit Northern Virginia hard and Hillary Clinton’s weekend visit to the state.

— Twenty-six percent (26%) think we will find a cure for cancer within the next 10 years.

— Fifty-six percent (56%) think the eligibility age for a driver’s license should be higher than 16. Twenty-six percent (26%) support a complete ban on cell phone use while driving, but that’s down from 38% four years ago. 

 — Consider it a classic example of “do as I say, not as I do.” Only 16% of Americans believe someone who is sick should go to work anyway, but three times as many (47%) say they generally go to work when they are under the weather.

— Twenty-nine percent (29%) are more likely to shop at a consignment store these days due to the weak economy.


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