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December 21 2013

December 23, 2013


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Google Buys Pentagon’s Robotics Lab



Big DogGoogle has acquired the robotics company that the Pentagon typically leans on to develop next generation robots doing everything from carrying troops’ gear to searching for IEDs.

Google purchased Boston Dynamics as part of its larger strategy to invest in robotics development. The engineer in charge of developing Android for Google, Andy Rubin, will lead this initiative.

The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency — better known as DARPA — recognized the cutting edge work being done at Boston Dynamics early and has awarded multiple development contracts to the company. Boston Dynamics is working on high profile projects for the military such as the Big Dog, which is now officially named the Legged Squad Support System (LS3) by the Marine Corps.

The Marine Corps Warfighting Lab is working with DARPA and Boston Dynamics engineers to develop the Big Dog to lighten the load for Marines and soldiers. The Big Dog is designed to traverse technical terrain while carrying 400 pounds of gear.

Google officials have said the company will still honor the remaining contracts that Boston Dynamics has with DARPA, but it seems evident that DARPA may have to find a new laboratory to develop their next robotics projects.

Of course, Google’s acquisition could be seen as a boon for military robotics based on the deep pockets Google has and the type of investments into development they plan to make.

Many of the robots that DARPA wants to develop are not specific military robots. The Big Dog is an example. If Google can develop legged robots quicker with more funding, then Marines and soldiers benefit faster potentially.

Notably, Google doesn’t have to worry about sequestration or Congressional budgets. It can use it’s large capital reserve to sink in the money necessary to advance robotics at a rapid pace.


Read more:


Pentagon Reorganizes Intel Office, Adds Cyber Post


The Pentagon’s top intelligence policy office is making staff changes to address new threats and meet expected budget cuts, including creating a director-level position to oversee cybersecurity and other “special programs.”

Marcel Lettre, the Pentagon’s newly confirmed principal deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, on Monday outlined a plan to cut the intelligence budget and staff. There are just under 200 people working for OUDI. Lettre said there will be cuts to both military and civilian personnel, including contractors, but didn’t say how many.

Earlier this month, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered his staff to reduce their budgets by 20 percent over the next five years. In restructuring, the intel office run by Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers will add a new “director for defense intelligence for technical collection & special programs” that will oversee cybersecurity and other programs – a move that illustrates the Pentagon’s attempt to protect important programs even in this new era of fiscal restraint.

Lettre told reporters that with the war in Iraq over and the war in Afghanistan winding down the office is facing “a different set of strategic challenges, many of which are enduring.”

OUDI’s plan to trim 20 percent from its budget includes some “modest structural changes,” including the consolidation of some counterintelligence and security experts to help combat insider threats, such as the shooting that happened at the Washington Navy Yard earlier this year.

The Pentagon’s ISR Taskforce, which had its hands full in Iraq and Afghanistan, will now be merged under the DDI’s Warfighter Support directorate.

Lettre said the changes are part of a move from a “heavy acquisition focus” to an “operational focus” and the Defense Department becomes “leaner and more agile.”


Meet Deborah Lee James, Confirmed as Air Force Secretary



WASHINGTON – Deborah Lee James will be installed as the new Air Force Secretary next Tuesday, following a Senate confirmation vote Friday.

Although Ms. James was not a controversial nominee — winning approval on a 79-6 vote Friday — her confirmation has been held up for months.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R., N.H.) had initially blocked a vote over questions about the Air Force’s plans to retire the A-10, an attack plane used to support troops in combat.

Ms. Ayotte released her hold in October, but Ms. James nomination became entangled in Senate politics as even noncontroversial nominees were held up while Democrats and Republicans debated Senate rules on filibustering presidential nominees.

Ms. James will be the second woman to lead the Air Force. She currently is a president at Science Applications International Corp., a major defense contractor.

She has previously served as the chief operating officer at Business Executives for National Security, a Washington based organization of business leaders who advocate on defense and security issues.

Air Force Undersecretary Eric Fanning had been serving as acting secretary for the last six months after Michael Donley stepped down from the job.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called Ms. James Friday to congratulate her. Air Force leaders praised her at a news conference.

“There is much to celebrate in the Air Force today,” Mr. Fanning said of Ms. James’s confirmation, adding she and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welch “will be the strongest team I have seen and great advocates of the Air Force and airpower.”


Pentagon Seeks Low Cost in High Heavens

Push is on to develop new spaceship to put satellites into orbit


By Mark Thompson @MarkThompson_DC

Dec. 12, 2013





Sky’s The Limit: The Pentagon is wide open to what its new spaceplane might look like.

Getting to space costs too much.

That’s why the Defense Department wants a radical new airship designed to cut the cost of lobbing a satellite into orbit by 90%.

And the Pentagon is going very Star Wars: it doesn’t care whether it’s manned, winged, or even how it’s powered: “New or novel propellants are acceptable providing they can support the DARPA objective of 10 flights in 10 days,” the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency said Thursday, “and the proposer can justify any risk associated with developing such propellants and rocket engines.”

The Experimental Spaceplane—XS-1 to insiders—would be reusable, although an upper stage might be used only once. “This reusable hypersonic X-Plane will demonstrate the potential for low-cost and high operations tempo military flight systems that can operate in the strategic threat environments of the 21st century, both for next-generation space launch and global reach aircraft,” the government says.

Orville and Wilbur—and Wernher, as well—call your office!

Bottom line: dangers to U.S. space operations are mounting, and the U.S. military doesn’t want to be caught with its rockets down. “Current space launch vehicles are very expensive, have no surge capability and must be contracted years in advance,” the Pentagon says. “In an era of declining budgets and proliferating foreign threats to U.S. air and space assets the need for responsive, affordable access to space is increasingly critical.”

Real bottom line: the Pentagon wants to be able to put a two-ton satellite into orbit 100 miles above the Earth for less than $5 million—”one-tenth the cost of today’s launch systems.” It is seeking a new kind of spaceship with “aircraft-like cost, operability and reliability” that can “break the cycle of escalating space system launch and high satellite costs.”

The Government Accountability Office said in September that the U.S. government plans on spending nearly $44 billion launching rockets between 2014 and 2018. “This funding represents a significant investment on the part of the government,” the GAO said.

“It just costs too doggone much,” General William Shelton, chief of U.S. Air Force Space Command, said in July. “We have got to get to the place where we can drive down the cost of space launch.”

Spaceship designers are encouraged to submit their ideas by Jan. 16, the initial November announcement said. The Pentagon plans on awarding multiple contracts for the best designs, and then review their prospects to see if any one warrants an additional investment of up to $140 million. First flight could take place in 2018, assuming someone comes up with a good idea, and the U.S. government can afford it. “Awards,” the cash-strapped Pentagon noted, “are subject to the availability of funds.”

Read more: Pentagon wants new and cheap super spaceship to launch its satellites |


New Cyber Framework Aimed at Small, Mid-Tier Defense Companies

January 2014

By Stew Magnuson,Mid-TierDefenseCompanies.aspx?PF=1


A National Institute of Standards and Technology framework intended to help companies and organizations bolster their cybersecurity may have a big impact for small- and mid-tier defense contractors, experts said.

The draft of the cybersecurity framework was released at the end of October, and NIST was gathering comments until Dec. 13. Its overarching goal is to set up voluntary information sharing regimes for each of the 16 critical infrastructure sectors identified by the Department of Homeland Security.

The framework is mostly directed at smaller companies and can help them implement standards and follow risk management principles and best practices, said Larry Clinton, president of the Internet Security Alliance. That is particularly true in the defense industrial base, where larger companies are seen as being ahead on cybersecrity.

“In general, these organizations do state-of-the-art cybersecurity. They have tremendous resources in scope and scale — among other things,” Clinton said.

However, further down in the supply chain, companies don’t have the same financial wherewithal and expertise, he noted.

The Presidential Executive Order — Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity released in February — called for NIST to create the framework. The executive order was a result of a recalcitrant Congress, which has had difficulty passing major bills such as the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act.

A lot can be accomplished under the framework and executive order without the need for further legislation, cybersecurity executives told National Defense.

The defense and the financial services sectors are seen as two industries that are at the forefront of cybersecurity. Concerned about reports of China-based hacking enterprises stealing vast amounts of intellectual property, the Defense Department initiated the defense industrial base cyber security and information assurance program in 2007.

It was designed to gather reports on network intrusions, scrub the data to ensure the company contributing the information remained anonymous, and then push out reports to other participants. The program, administered by the chief information office, has since expanded, and is now serving as a model for the framework.

The framework includes principles that will reach across all sectors such as risk management, said Tom Conway, director of network security firm McAfee Federal. Companies need to know what assets are most at risk, prioritize, and take action to protect them.

“That is something the DIB has been doing for a while,” he said.

Keith Rhodes, chief technology officer at QinetiQ North America, said perfect security is impossible.

“You have to take a posture of always being under attack. That is just the nature of the beast,” he said. Once a company accepts that fact, then it can move on to identifying its most critical assets and boosting security around them.

“It is about risk. Understanding your threats, the vulnerability and value of assets that may or may not be compromised,” he said.

He lauded the information-sharing regime the framework puts in place.

“We have to be able to tell others, and others have to be able to tell us, what they see, what they know, what’s happening,” Rhodes said. “Without that, you really can’t know what the threat is. You’re looking through your soda straw, but you don’t really have the broader purview.”

Clinton and the others interviewed praised the voluntary nature of the NIST framework, even though it is a result of there not being any legislation to mandate participation.

“A lot of the larger organizations are probably already doing — or are in some cases — doing more than what is in the framework. They will raise their hand,” Clinton said. “But we want those small- and mid-size firms to adopt the framework. They are perhaps the target audience.”

However, these smaller companies have to see that volunteering their time and resources is worth their while, he added.

“If you want the framework to be sustainable as a voluntary system, which is what the administration is committed to, then it has to be cost effective,” Clinton said.

“It is clearly unsustainable to expect smaller firms to be continually making uneconomic investments in security. They won’t do it. Nobody can do it,” he added.

Conway said there are potential cost savings to participating in information sharing when companies don’t have to build or buy redundant infrastructure. Plus, there is also a shortage of cybersecurity personnel. Smaller firms “can leverage somebody else’s smart person.”

There is also the question of incentives, which may assist some of these lower-tier companies in achieving their cybersecurity goals. Those may require legislation, though.


There could be accelerated depreciation for network security products, tax credits for companies that agree to put cybersensors in place, limits on liability and insurance reform, Conway said.

Rhodes said it’s the government’s responsibility to make sure these small companies have the incentives to participate in a voluntary system.

“That means there has to be a good carrot and stick, and right now, there seems to be neither,” he said.

Incentives for defense firms to strengthen their cybersecurity, especially on certain sensitive programs, can be built into contracts, Rhodes said. That is what they do after all — compete for Defense Department business. The government has to choose which parts of the standards apply to defense contracts and insert them into requests for proposals.

Those who write the RFPs should state: “Prove to all of us that you won this contract because you had the smartest approach to security based on the evaluation criteria that we put in,” Rhodes said.

That kind of “carrot” would not require additional legislation, he added.

Defense Department agencies can show they are “serious about this by putting specificity into the evaluation criteria and actually evaluating based on those criteria,” Rhodes said. “Then I have all the incentive in the world. Because that’s the business I’m in.”

Conway said, “‘Fast moving and fluid’ are usually not used to describe regulations.” A voluntary system builds in flexibility.

Prescriptive or regulatory based measures restrict progress, he said.

“Look at where the technology has gone over the past three years with all the iPads and Android equivalents,” he noted.

Since the draft framework was released, Clinton has been a vocal advocate of beta testing the information sharing system. The purpose would be to avoid a fiasco similar to the rollout of the Affordable Care Act insurance exchange website.

“We do what any large firm would do when launching a large product and service. We reach out directly into the target audience and conduct a systematized beta test,” he said.

All sorts of unexpected difficulties will come up, he said. “We know that because that’s what always happens.”

After the bugs are worked out, then there can be a systematized cost-benefit analysis, and some key questions can be answered for the small- and mid-sized firms that are worried about their bottom lines.

What is it going to cost a company to implement the framework? How beneficial is it? How much security do you get? A beta test with agreed upon metrics can determine what is cost effective and what isn’t, Clinton said.

The biggest threat to small businesses is uncertainty, he added.

“If you’re not sure what you’re going to get … firms tend not to make those kinds of investments,” Clinton said.

A beta test can go forward without legislation, he said. Afterwards, there needs to be an independent assessment carried out jointly by industry and government, he said.

“We don’t want somebody putting their thumb on the scale here making it seem more cost effective than it is for political purposes,” he said.


Clinton said the Department of Homeland Security, which will be charged with setting up the system, can get the ball rolling on the beta test soon after the final framework is released in February.

DHS has coordinating councils comprising government and industry members for all 16 sectors, so the organizations are already in place, he added.

It needs to be a true collaboration, with government as a partner, and not trying to manage the whole enterprise by sending out orders, Clinton said.

“We’ve got the structures in place to do this, and do it properly. It will cost a little money, but not a lot,” he added.

Rhodes agreed. “It’s a paper exercise if you don’t test,” he said.

That calls up the question of whether there will need to be costly cybersecurity centers for each of the sectors. The financial services sector and some state and local governments are already doing this. The Defense Department’s chief information office has located its DIB cyber security information sharing program in Arlington, Va., less than a mile from the Pentagon.

Conway said: “At the end of the day, I think it is beneficial to have people in the same location, eating bad pizza in the middle of the night, rolling up their sleeves to solve a problem. That is always going to be needed.”

But ultimately it should move to machine-to-machine communication, where networks can respond automatically to a threat similar to a body’s immune system. The network identifies a threat and takes action without people in the loop, he added.


Air Force to managers: Prepare for flat budgets

Dec. 15, 2013 – 06:00AM | By NICOLE BLAKE JOHNSON | Comments


With no long-term budget in place yet to fund defense programs through Oct. 1, the Air Force has directed all program managers to assume their top line budgets will remain flat.

For contractors, that will mean more intense competition for future programs, more scrutiny of whether costs are fair and reasonable and more dialogue up front about what the Air Force is willing to pay for certain capabilities.

Congress has yet to give final approval of a bipartisan budget deal announced last week by House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. The deal, which passed the House Dec. 12, would provide agencies some relief from sequester budget cuts and cap the government’s discretionary spending at $1.012 trillion this fiscal year.

The deal would restore about $22.5 billion to the Defense Department’s 2014 budget and $9 billion in 2015. But “tough decisions will still be necessary going forward in order to achieve the right balance in military capacity, capabilities and readiness,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said last week about the deal.

If budgets were to increase, “we’re going to restore some readiness into the services, that means the investments will probably stay flat,” said Lt. Gen. Charles Davis, the military deputy in the office of the secretary of the Air Force for acquisition. “If there is a budget deal reached, we’re probably not going to see as much as you think,” Davis said at an AFCEA Air Force IT Day in Virginia last week.

“We’ve asked all our program managers to tell us what that flat line means and tell us how you execute to that,” he said, adding that, “there are no longer budgets we have anywhere within our programs that do not have some level of sequestration applied to them.”

That means the Air Force will have to curb its requirements and appetite for capabilities that cannot be met with mature technologies and be very judicious about the technological capabilities it can afford, Davis said.

The Air Force has also been asked to take risks, the Pentagon euphemism for cutting, in systems that have limited, single-use missions or are more suited for an area where forces are not involved in contested operations, Davis said. Major programs, including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and Space Based Infrared System, will more or less be protected in future budgets. The Air Force is also working to protect investments in cybersecurity, IT networks and areas that provide healthy returns.

Davis said the Air Force traditionally loses about $600 million a year because programs may have been canceled or delayed and, subsequently, funding expired. Last year, the Air Force lost about $200 million because of poor execution.

One area in particular the service is clamping down on is what it spends on knowledge-based services. “What do we do with all these people, not only on the government side but on the industry side?” Davis said. “You need them around through the next program. You need some of the expertise that’s there.”


Congress Limits Russian Sat Nav Monitor Stations in U.S.

By Bob Brewin

December 17, 2013

Russia may not install satellite-monitoring ground stations in the United States unless construction, operation, and maintenance of those stations is managed by U.S. citizens, according to language in the 2014 Defense Authorization Act passed by the House last week and up for a Senate vote this week.

Russia in 2012 requested permission to install those stations to monitor the performance of its Global Navigation Satellite System, or GLONASS; the State Department still has that request under consideration.

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., who helped author the GLONASS monitor station language, said last month he was concerned. “These ground monitor stations could be used to gather intelligence,” he said. “Even more troubling, these stations could actually improve the accuracy of foreign missiles targeted at the United States.”

The bill also mandates that the U.S. approve all gear installed in those stations, and “appropriate actions are taken to ensure that any such ground monitoring stations do not pose a cyber-espionage or other threat, including intelligence or counterintelligence, to the national security of the United States.”

Any data transmitted from those stations must be unencrypted, the bill said.



Keystone XL southern leg’s oil shipments to begin in January

Posted on December 17, 2013 at 12:41 pm

by Zain Shauk


HOUSTON — TransCanada expects to begin shipping oil on the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline on Jan. 22, the company said Tuesday.

The notices went out late Monday, TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard said in an email.

“This is another important milestone for TransCanada, our shippers and the refiners on the U.S. Gulf Coast who have been waiting for this product to arrive,” Howard said. “Providing this notice gives our customers time to ensure that they have the appropriate volumes of oil to move into our system when the pipeline is ready to go into full commercial operation.”

The Canadian pipeline owner currently is filling the new system with 3 million barrels of oil. Once it begins operation, the pipeline and associated storage units and pumping stations will be able to move up to 700,000 barrels of oil per day from Cushing, Oklahoma to Nederland, Texas. From there, it will be able to move through lines to refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Keystone XL director: Mandate on Obama delayed pipeline

The southern leg of Keystone XL was built despite a regulatory hold up over the northern leg of the pipeline, which would extend into Alberta, Canada. That portion of Keystone XL, which would move crude from oil sands fields toward Gulf Coast refineries, requires presidential approval since it crosses an international border.

President Obama has once rejected a permit application for the northern leg of the pipeline because an environmental review of the project was not yet complete. A new review is nearing completion and will again present the project to the Obama administration for approval.


Congress Directs the Pentagon to Appoint a Cyber Czar

By Bob Brewin

December 17, 2013

In the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act passed by House lawmakers last week, Congress required the Defense Department appoint a high level Principal Cyber Advisor with a broad oversight portfolio that includes offensive and defensive cyber missions, resources, personnel, acquisition and technology. A Senate vote on the bill is expected this week.

The new cyber advisor will have “overall supervision” of all Defense cyber operations and will oversee a team that will integrate the cyber expertise of the four services, combatant commands and Defense agencies. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is to select the new cyber advisor from the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. Earlier this week, the Pentagon announced its intention to add a new high-level cyber post, Defense One reported yesterday. Nextgov and Defense One are both Atlantic Media publications.

Congress also directed the Pentagon to conduct a broad analysis of its cyber operations to include manpower requirements, education and training, the potential for offering bonuses for cyber personnel and the use of “virtual deployments” to support operations.

The mission analysis also should assess cyber forces’ current and future equipping needs as well as the department’s dependence on industry partners, foreign allies and other outside entities to perform cyber operations.

The bill calls for the services, in conjunction with Cyber Command, to determine whether cyber missions could be performed by National Guard and Reserve units and personnel, including domestic cyber missions.




UDRI sensors director sees soaring UAS possibilities

by Press • 18 December 2013

Tristan Navera Staff Reporter-Dayton Business Journal


A Federal Aviation Administration decision could bring unmanned aerial systems jobs and research to Dayton in coming years, but the University of Dayton Research Institute has been ahead of the curve.

Larrell Walters, head of UDRI sensors systems division and director of IDCast, has overseen an organization that is already hard at work developing sensor systems and technology for the emerging UAS industry, and he says the developments coming out of UDRI even now show real promise. Since 2009, when it received a $3 million grant to create the center for UAV exploitation , UDRI has worked to build the sensor technology into unmanned air vehicles.


Q: What kinds of sensor technology have you been working on since then?

A: If you think of an unmanned air system without a sensor, it’s basically just a target. You really can’t do anything with an unmanned air system without a sensor. There’s two functions the sensors play. One, the ability of the aircraft to see what it’s doing and make sure it’s flying level and sees trees and things, but also to complete the mission. It’s a different set of sensors to fly — the GPS and visual systems to help the pilot see what’s going on around it — compared to complete the mission, like finding disease in crops.


It does not concentrate on designing UAVs or engines or power, but it’s all about the payload integration. The payload on a UAV would be the sensors, the things to make those sensors communicate, and to power the sensors. It might change; if I have a 20-pound battery-powered UAV, and I change from a single photo camera to a movie camera with a gimbal that can pan and zoom, then I have to have different types of controls communicated to and from the UAV. Maybe the bandwidth being sent down is a lot greater, taking video. It might also hang out of the aircraft and create more aerodynamic drag, or affect its battery power. Figuring out the combination of all of these things is what payload integration is all about.


Q: What other kinds of UAV technology do you develop?


A: There’s the idea of a UAV perching on a power line and recharging its batteries while perched on the power line, and then continuing its mission. This would allow UAVs to extend their useful time on mission by being able to find places where they can recharge through induction.

We’ve done work in the area of compression technologies, when we take video and pictures, they’re big and it’s expensive to send data and video to the ground, so there’s a need to optimize the information to be as small as possible so you can get more down the data link. We’ve worked to maximize the utility of data links, and now we’re building chambers where we’ll explore the best way to verify and validate unmanned systems. If they lose their control and communication link, it’s flying without receiving signals. We also work on algorithms, what the pictures tell you, how you find the disease in the crop field, or the bad rails or spikes on a railroad track? Being able to automate the image processing to not only create the picture but to discern what it can tell you without people sitting there at each little picture marking it up.


Q: How would the UAS test center designation change business for UDRI?

A: At UDRI, we’re externally sponsored 100 percent, so we’re always writing proposals to do work for people, engineering and research and development. If more companies come to town looking for UAS-work, they’ll find UDRI, and Wright State and Sinclair, all to be organizations the companies can use to move along faster. When I worked for Goodrich, we were looking outside of the state for this expertise, and now it’s just 20 miles down the road. As companies come to Dayton they’ll see the capabilities … we’re one of several entities that those companies will be able to benefit from.


It’s Time to Sort Fact From Fiction on Drones

by Press • 18 December 2013

Philip Dunne


For too long, the term “drone” has been used to scandalise and smear the activities of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS). The most commonly propagated falsehood is that UAS are robots flying around the world indiscriminately firing on, often innocent, targets. It’s time to sort the fact from the fiction.

There is no doubt that UAS save lives. Not just those of our brave troops, but the lives of civilians in Afghanistan. Providing vital intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance, Commanders are able to see whether roads are safe for our troops to drive down, whether there is a massing of munitions at a particular location, and the general pattern of life in a village or area to identify any change in behaviour that may pose a threat.

Yesterday, for the first time, the Ministry of Defence opened the doors of its Remotely Piloted Air Systems control centre at RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire. From this base, members of XIII Squadron remotely pilot the RAF’s Reaper aircraft in Afghanistan. Although physically unmanned, the Reaper aircraft, like all the UK’s UAS assets, are remotely operated at all times by highly trained members of the Armed Forces. Their pilots are subject to the same strict rules of engagement as the crew of traditional aircraft.

Of the six types of UAS that the UK operates, only Reaper carries weapons. Reaper has flown 54,000 hours and has fired 459 precision weapons. That is just one weapon deployed for every 120 hours of flying. Clearly, this dispels the myth that drones are laws unto themselves and drop bombs indiscriminately over Afghanistan.

In fact, one of the most common myths I want to debunk is that UAS are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of civilians in Afghanistan. Let me be clear, the majority of civilian deaths in Afghanistan are caused by insurgents, not UAS. In over 50,000 Reaper flying hours, there has only been one single operation that resulted in the deaths of civilians. In March 2011, a significant quantity of explosives was destroyed in an attack on two pick-up trucks that killed two insurgents. Sadly, the destruction of the explosives also resulted in the deaths of four Afghan civilians. These are four deaths too many and are deeply regrettable. An independent investigation concluded that the RAF crew acted in full accordance with the rules of engagement that both they and pilots of manned aircraft adhere to.

I can understand that it might be difficult to fathom how complex Reaper operations in Afghanistan can be run from Lincolnshire. Questions such as ‘surely it cannot be safe’, and ‘the distance must desensitise pilots’ naturally arise. At the extreme, critics claim that UAS are too akin to video games for pilots to recognise the seriousness of the work they are undertaking. This could not be more untrue and ignores the extensive training and personal experience of the highly skilled personnel who have been chosen for this critical role.

The pilots and specially trained members of the Armed Forces who remotely operate UAS do not face the same level of direct danger as crews of manned aircraft. This allows them a greater amount of time in the air to assess the situation and exercise their judgement in a more measured way, free from concerns about their survival.

The use of UAS decreases, not increases, the likelihood of civilian casualties. UAS can monitor areas of interest for a considerable period of time, giving crews vital intelligence to conduct detailed assessments of potential targets and the wider environment. Crews use the invaluable intelligence to minimise the risk of civilian casualties or unnecessary damage to property. There is no doubt that the reconnaissance they provide reduces the risks to ground forces and civilians.

Looking ahead, the MoD has no plans to create weapons that operate without human control. It is imperative that trained members of the Armed Forces are always involved in the command and control of UAS.

In the past, the important role that UAS play in saving the lives of civilians and Armed Forces personnel has not been explained clearly enough. I hope this has gone some way to dispel many of the commonly held myths and misunderstandings around their capability and use. The work of our UAS crews, both here and in Afghanistan deserves the recognition and support of the public.



White House review group issues intelligence reform report

By Amber Corrin

Dec 18, 2013

The White House on Dec. 18 released the recommendations of an advisory group that call for the overhaul of national intelligence and surveillance activities, including eliminating the collection of Americans’ telephone records and the database maintaining them, as well as establishing new oversight processes.


The Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies, created by President Barack Obama in August after National Security Agency electronic surveillance activities were leaked, issued in a 300-page report with 46 recommendations that its members say will protect national security as well as privacy and civil liberties.

“Because our adversaries operate through the use of complex communications technologies, the National Security Agency, with its impressive capabilities and talented officers, is indispensable to keeping our country and our allies safe and secure,” the panel wrote in the report’s executive summary. “At the same time, the United States is deeply committed to the protection of privacy and civil liberties — fundamental values that can be and at times have been eroded by excessive intelligence collection.”

The panel recommended that the government not be allowed to collect and store mass personal data for the purpose of future queries, and that either private providers or a private third party, not the federal government, should store any bulk meta-data the government needs, accessible only when justified. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court would face restrictions on compelling third parties, such as telephone or Internet service providers, to disclose private information to the government.

The report also calls for increased transparency to promote public trust, including legislation that would make information about surveillance programs and their activities public.

The group additionally calls for the creation of a new approval process for intelligence activities and for organizational reforms. Under the recommendations, the NSA director would become a Senate-confirmed position, possibly a civilian, and would not be the dual-hatted head of U.S. Cyber Command, as is the case now, with Gen. Keith Alexander.

A new oversight board and a public interest advocate to Congress also are among the provisions, along with reforms to the security clearance process for personnel and to government data security practices.

The report’s release came the same day that the president met with the review board, and White House press officials say work has begun to determine the way forward.

“Over the next several weeks, as we bring to a close the administration’s overall review of signals intelligence, the president will work with his national security team to study the Review Group’s report, and to determine which recommendations we should implement,” a statement from the White House said. “The President will also continue consulting with Congress as reform proposals are considered in each chamber.”



Cool War Rising

With Washington and Moscow caught in a deteriorating relationship, is conflict inevitable?



Rising tensions in the relationship between the United States and Russia are beginning to cause a “Cool War” — a sort of Cold War-lite — that threatens both Washington and the entire global geopolitical system. Without a functioning relationship between Washington and Moscow, the chances of solving major challenges — from Iran to Syria, the Arctic to Afghanistan — decreases dramatically. Rather than accept the arc of a deteriorating relationship, the United States should actively seek every possible zone of cooperation we can find with Russia, despite the frustrations and setbacks.

The list of key disagreements is long: One of the more nettlesome challenges is Syria, where the United States believes in an international solution with intervention as an option and the removal of Russia’s ally Bashar al-Assad. Syria represents Russia’s strongest link to the region and access to the strategically important Eastern Mediterranean, as well as a market for arms and intelligence cooperation.

Likewise, the United States and Russia are at loggerheads about NATO missile defense systems being deployed to Eastern Europe, initially to Romania and Poland to defend against Iran’s growing ballistic missile capability. Russia believes the system is actually directed against their strategic intercontinental ballistic missile systems, despite repeated U.S. assurances to the contrary.

Additionally, disagreement continues over Russia’s continuing occupation of Georgia, following a short, sharp conflict between the two nations in 2008. At the same time, there is a tense dispute over continuing sanctuary afforded to NSA leaker Edward Snowden, as well as disagreements over Moscow’s bullying of Ukraine, Serbia, and Moldova concerning their potential for integration in the Euro-Atlantic world of the EU and NATO. Finally, recent large military exercises on the part of both Russia and NATO in Eastern Europe have not been helpful in terms of US-Russian tensions.

All of this occurs against two important and challenging backdrops.

The first is the declining state of Russian society in terms of demographics (population declining swiftly over the past decade); tragically high rates of alcoholism and drug abuse (heroin as easy to get as “a snickers bar” according to Russian counternarcotics chief Victor Ivanov); and the ongoing rise of a radical Islamic insurgency within Russia’s borders (especially in the war-torn province of Dagestan).

The second, of course, is President Vladimir Putin — who clearly holds long-standing antipathy toward the United States and recently wrote in the New York Times about the arrogance of American exceptionalism. To say that he tends to bring the animus of his long career in the KGB into the U.S.-Russian dialog understates the case — at times he seems to truly despise the United States.

Taken together, there is a sense of a Cool War mentality at work. On the positive side, however, it is a bit of a mixed picture, with some existing areas of cooperation.

First, and somewhat surprisingly, is Afghanistan. Despite their own failures in Afghanistan, Russia has been generally helpful to the United States and the NATO-led coalition there — sharing intelligence, cooperating on counternarcotics, selling rugged Russian-built helicopters, and donating small arms and ammunition to the Afghan security forces.

Russia has also been a good partner in counterpiracy operations off the east coast of Africa. They have provided several warships to the international effort, shared information, and even linked up via a command-and-control network with the Western forces in place. And, as a general proposition, there has been cooperation on counterterrorism and counternarcotics.

Another area of cooperation, at least to date, has been in the Arctic, the so-called “High North.” Russia has been an active and generally positive interlocutor with the United States through the mechanism of the Arctic Council. As the largest nation in terms of footprint in the Arctic, Russia wants to find ways to enhance cooperation in scientific research, search and rescue, environmental protection, and rationale exploitation of resources. While there is always potential for conflict up north, at this point it appears to be an area of cooperation opportunity.

There has also been progress on strategic arms control with the signing of the START II agreement, and some minimal discussion of possible follow-on strategic talks designed to further reduce the level of nuclear weapons — assuming the knotty issue of missile defense in Europe can be solved.

The key is to find new zones where there can be further cooperative activity to reduce the possibility of drifting further toward a Cool War scenario. Here are several to consider:

Cultivating top-level leadership meetings: In addition to the regular contact between newly installed Secretary of State John Kerry and his counterpart, Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov, other top-level contacts should be a priority. With a new national security advisor, United Nations ambassador, supreme allied commander for operations at NATO, and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the United States has a relatively fresh cast of characters to engage with Russian counterparts.

Exploring track II engagement: Using non-governmental diplomatic forums to engage with Russia could be very promising. The work by Sen. Sam Nunn and the Nuclear Threat Initiative is a good example, but there are many academic and think-tank options that could be explored. One additional idea would be to have partnered think tanks sponsor “smart power” conversations with former senior policy makers and military commanders to create tactical recommendations for joint peacekeeping and disaster-relief operations.

Establishing joint data exchange centers: This has the possibility to help unclench the locked-up discussions involving missile defense in Europe by building physical locations, manned jointly, where monitoring of sites and radar information could occur, which in turn would help build confidence.

Looking for economic cooperation: Russia is a large, hydrocarbon-based economy, among the top 10 in the world. Yet we have very little relative economic cooperation for a variety of reasons, many of them political. Exploring opportunities for joint investment, perhaps in the Arctic, might be a means of finding a new zone of cooperation. This would require easing sanctions in the United States and better rule-of-law attitudes in Russia.

Sharing intelligence and information more fully: With the Winter Olympics around the corner, there are many situations globally where it is in both U.S. and Russian interests to share what we know. Sochi could be a test bed for some of this, which already occurs in certain scenarios but not broadly.

Syria and Iran: While not fully in synch in either scenario, there is both challenge and potential opportunity in terms of supporting international norms. In Syria, the work by the international community to remove the chemical weapons is a starting point of agreement, which might be built upon in a Geneva II round. On Iran, we need Russia’s support as we hammer out an agreement that at least freezes and hopefully eventually dismantles the Iranian nuclear weapons program. These will be difficult areas, to say the least, but are worth examining for opportunities as well.

All of this will be challenging, especially for some on both sides of the U.S.-Russian relationship who favor a hard line. It would be easy, frankly, to drift from the current “Cool War” back toward the dim twilight of the long Cold War. Ivan Turgenev, the iconic Russian writer, said, “Circumstances define us; they force us onto one road or another, and then they punish us for it.” We are not forced to walk either the path of endless tension or total cooperation. The trick for both the United States and Russia is to overcome the circumstances of our disagreements to find the path to better overall relations through specific zones of cooperation — recognizing there will always be areas where we will not see things in the same way.

– See more at:




Air Force on lower end of best fed jobs




The Department of the Air Force ranks 14th among the 19 largest agencies in this year’s “Best Places to Work in the Federal Government” list released today.

According to the agency list – indexed by scores that measure overall performance related to employee satisfaction and commitment – the Air Force’s ranking fell by 4.30 points and from 13th place in last year’s ranking.

The Navy took 10th place this year, and the Army tied for 17th with the Department of Labor; the Office of the Secretary of Defense ranked 15th.

The Department of Homeland Security ranked lowest once again, and NASA ranked first once again, jumping 1.20 additional points from last year’s score.

The “Best Places to Work” list is generated by the Partnership for Public Service from data collected in a questionnaire given to 376,000 federal employees. The list is calculated based on responses to three questions in the Office of Personnel Management’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.

According to the partnership, the index is weighted according to the extent to which each question predicts employees’ “intent to remain.” Agencies are also scored in categories such as effective leadership, empowerment, fairness, employee skills, pay and more. And scores are further broken down by respondents’ race, gender and age.

The Partnership for Public Service is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization based in Washington, D.C., that works to transform the way government works. This is its 10th year generating the list.

Learn more about how the Air Force scored here.



Running the Pentagon Right

How to Get the Troops What They Need

Foreign Affairs

By Ashton B. Carter



War inevitably presents unexpected challenges. From Germany’s use of mustard gas during World War I to North Vietnam’s surprisingly effective use of its air defense system during the Vietnam War, the United States has always faced unanticipated threats in combat that have required agile responses. U.S. troops on the ground continually adjust to changing enemy tactics with the capabilities they have at hand. Yet the part of the Defense Department that trains and equips those troops has rarely been as flexible.

This is a paradox that would surprise most people outside its walls: the Pentagon is ill equipped to address urgent needs that arise during wartime. The Department of Defense has a fairly good track record of making smart and deliberate long-term acquisitions, as evidenced by the substantial qualitative advantage the United States holds over any potential adversary. Although the department still struggles to contain the costs of military systems, it has come a long way in providing better buying power for the taxpayer. The Pentagon has also, by sad necessity, pioneered advances in medical technology, particularly in such areas as prosthetic limbs and the treatment of traumatic brain injuries and posttraumatic stress disorder.

But the same system that excels at anticipating future needs has proved less capable of quickly providing technology and equipment to troops on the battlefield. I have spent much of the past five years, first as undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics and then as deputy secretary of defense, trying to address this shortfall. With the Iraq war over and the war in Afghanistan coming to a close, it is important to understand what prevented the Pentagon from rapidly meeting immediate demands during those wars, what enduring lessons can be learned from its efforts to become more responsive, and how to put in place the right institutions to ensure success against future threats when agility is crucial.


In Afghanistan and Iraq, the Pentagon saw little value in making acquisitions that would be irrelevant by the time they were ready.

Introducing a new capability on the battlefield involves three main steps: deciding what is needed and selecting what to acquire from various alternatives, coming up with the money to pay for it, and fielding the capability (which includes delivering it to the troops and training them in how to use it). Over the course of the last decade, attempts to fast-track each of these steps ran up against a number of obstacles, ultimately hindering the Pentagon’s responsiveness to the needs of American forces on the ground.

At the outset of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Pentagon made two fatal miscalculations. First, it believed these wars would be over in a matter of months. Accordingly, since it normally takes years to develop new capabilities, the Pentagon saw little value in making acquisitions unique to the environments of Afghanistan and Iraq that would be irrelevant by the time they were ready. Second, the Pentagon was prepared for traditional military-versus-military conflicts — a characterization that applied only to the early stages of the Iraq war. As a result, the military was not well positioned to fight an enemy without uniforms, command centers, or traditional organizational structures. The Pentagon initially failed to see the conflicts as requiring entirely new technologies and equipment, even as it became clear that improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and other makeshift tactics of an insurgency were more than nuisances — they were strategic threats to U.S. objectives.

The unexpected length and nature of the wars — particularly their evolution into protracted counterinsurgencies — demanded materiel solutions that the Pentagon had not planned for. The usual process of writing “requirements,” an exhaustive process to determine what the military needs based on an analysis of new technology and future threats, would not suffice in Afghanistan and Iraq. That is because the system known inside the Pentagon as “require then acquire” demands complete information: nothing can be purchased until everything is known.

Additionally, the division of labor between the military services and the combatant commands complicated the Pentagon’s ability to fund urgent needs. The services generally focus their investments on future capability requirements, force structure, and modernization, whereas the combatant commands are charged with fighting today’s wars with current equipment using funds primarily appropriated for operations, not for equipment development or procurement. There was essentially no structure within the department to bridge the gap between immediate and longer-term requirements.

Next came delays in funding. The Pentagon usually crafts its requests for funding as far as two years in advance. It must submit detailed budgets to Congress and then wait until the money has been authorized and appropriated before getting any program off the ground. This lengthy lag time makes it difficult to pay for urgent needs. Furthermore, the Pentagon has little flexibility to finance new needs that arise outside the budget cycle. Any significant movement of funds requires securing permission from Congress, which can take months. The process can also lead to an unproductive competition for resources within the Pentagon and around the country, where those whose money is transferred make their voices heard in protest.

The difficulties do not end as soon as Congress sets aside the money. To actually purchase anything, defense officials must navigate an intricate web of laws, regulations, and policies that are geared toward the acquisition of complex weapons systems and equipment in large quantities over years. The system was designed to foster fair competition among manufacturers and to maximize the buying power of taxpayers’ dollars — but not to move quickly. Moreover, the officials responsible for acquisitions are loath to take risks, since they can be held personally accountable if something goes wrong. So when balancing cost, performance, and schedule for major acquisition projects, the last is often the least risky variable to compromise. The problem is that if an acquisition is necessary for the battlefield, every day of delay can risk the lives and safety of the troops.

Finally, in order to quickly field new capabilities, the Pentagon needed rapid contracting to transport the equipment and all the supplies and personnel necessary to sustain it. In landlocked Afghanistan, with primitive roads and few railways, this was especially challenging. The troops also had to be trained to use the new equipment in the field, since it did not exist when they were preparing for deployment.


In 2004, the Pentagon, faced with dynamic enemies in Afghanistan and Iraq, finally realized that it needed a better way of doing business. That year, Paul Wolfowitz, then the deputy secretary of defense, formed the Joint Rapid Acquisition Cell, a collaborative body that ascertained the needs of troops on the battlefield from information provided by U.S. Central Command, which oversees both Afghanistan and Iraq, and facilitated the responses of the military services. JRAC acted as the focal point within the Department of Defense for prioritizing among different requirements, identifying solutions, and enabling the funding and fielding of new equipment.

Wolfowitz also expedited the usually slow and deliberate system for determining needs and allocating resources. He established the Joint Urgent Operational Needs process to fill gaps in the troops’ capabilities across the services that, if left unaddressed, could threaten lives and combat missions. JRAC then helped identify funds and make sure the right equipment got to the battlefield by assigning a military service or agency as a sponsor. Nonetheless, as the wars ground on, it became clear that the normal system, even with JRAC facilitating a new requirements process, was neither responding fast enough to the needs of the combatant commands nor taking advantage of impressive new technologies. As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates later said, “The troops are at war, but the Pentagon is not.”

In urgent situations, the Pentagon will have to settle for an imperfect solution that nonetheless fills a gap.

One of the first emerging threats in Afghanistan and Iraq to highlight this weakness was the IED, a kind of crude homemade bomb that insurgents often placed alongside roads to target troops when they were most vulnerable. IEDs have caused more than 60 percent of U.S. combat casualties in the two wars. What makes them such a formidable weapon is that they are easy to construct and can be assembled with readily available commercial materials, such as fertilizer. They are also difficult to detect and easily disguised in the surrounding terrain, such as in trash heaps or even animal carcasses. Long before these wars, IEDs had become the weapon of choice for guerillas and terrorists from Northern Ireland to Chechnya, and their use in asymmetric warfare had been extensively studied. But the widespread availability of new technologies, such as wireless transmitters, electronic triggers, and longer-lasting batteries for detonators, rapidly increased their efficiency and potency in Afghanistan and Iraq. The sheer scope of their use in those wars caught the Pentagon off-guard and posed a grave risk to both campaigns, particularly since the American public’s tolerance for casualties was tempered by expectations of short and easy wars.

In 2006, to better protect U.S. forces against this threat, then Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England, building on efforts in the army, established the Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO), which reported directly to him. Congress endorsed the idea and appropriated over $22 billion to combat IEDs — one of the few pockets of relatively flexible funding that legislators provided for rapid-response projects. Since then, JIEDDO has saved lives with such solutions as sensors that detect IEDs in the ground and electronic jammers that prevent their detonation. The organization has also covered the cost of critical counter-IED training for service members and, what is perhaps most valuable, funded the analysis of the enemy networks responsible for IED attacks, allowing U.S. forces to go on the offensive against what previously seemed a faceless threat.

JIEDDO helped double the number of counter-IED systems fielded by the Pentagon and cut in half the average amount of time it takes to get them to the battlefield. These efforts have contributed to lowering the rate of IED attacks that result in casualties by as much as 500 percent. And JIEDDO has helped reduce the severity of those IED attacks that do occur. By funding new protective undergarments, for example, JIEDDO made possible the roughly 32 percent drop from 2010 to 2011 in the number of catastrophic genital injuries to U.S. soldiers who were the victims of IEDs. At the Walter Reed medical center, I met the father of one soldier who had been wearing the undergarments when he stepped on an IED. The father approached me in the hallway, gave me a hug, and said, “My son will always have to use prosthetics to walk, but at least I still have a chance of being a grandfather.”

Despite these significant successes, the increased attention and money provided by JIEDDO were not enough. Although the military deployed jammers and increased the armor on its Humvees, the insurgents found ways of building more effective IEDs, making U.S. vehicles and the troops inside them unacceptably vulnerable. Early on, field commanders had urged the creation of a new and more protective vehicle, but the perception within the Pentagon was that such a vehicle could not be funded and built before the wars ended and were thus unnecessary.

That skepticism was not limited to defense officials. In 2012, Vice President Joseph Biden recalled that when he was a senator, many of his colleagues on Capitol Hill opposed the development of an expensive counter-IED vehicle. He recounted one senator arguing that since the vehicles would not be needed once the wars were over, they were a total waste of money. Biden commented, “Can you imagine Franklin Roosevelt being told, ‘We need x number of landing craft on D-Day, but once we land, we’re not going to need them all again. So why build them?'”

It wasn’t until 2007 that Gates decided — at the urging of then Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, commander of the Multinational Corps in Iraq — to find a way to mitigate the threat to troops on the roads, regardless of the cost. Gates dubbed it “the highest-priority Department of Defense acquisition program” and immediately created a task force to accelerate the development and fielding of what became known as MRAPs: “mine-resistant, ambush-protected” vehicles. First led by John Young, who was undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics, and then by me when I served in that position, the MRAP Task Force was charged with taking “extraordinary steps” to cut through red tape, rally the defense industry, and deliver the vehicles.

With the support of Congress (including substantial flexible funding) and the attention of the most senior Pentagon officials, we decided to focus above all on getting MRAPs made quickly, accepting significant tradeoffs on less important parameters, such as the number of troops each could carry and their suitability for other kinds of conflicts. We considered only mature technology and chose manufacturers based on their ability to deliver the vehicles as soon as possible. The task force anticipated and helped alleviate potential industry bottlenecks that could have held up the process — for example, by paying to boost the production capacity of two tire-makers and by waiving regulations to allow the army to purchase specially hardened steel. The group also worked to standardize the vehicle’s parts, such as turrets, jammers, and communications systems, across the various military services in order to expedite the fielding while also building a flexible design that could accommodate upgrades and improvements.

As a result of these efforts, we were able to build and ship more than 11,500 MRAPs to Iraq in 27 months and to build more than 8,000 all-terrain MRAPs for Afghanistan in only 16 months. Ultimately, we sent more than 24,000 MRAPs to the two theaters of war — the largest defense procurement program since World War II to go from decision to full industrial production in less than a year. Not only did these vehicles save thousands of lives; they also showed just how much can be accomplished with the full backing of leaders in Congress and the administration.

Task forces became the model of choice to address needs that could be met only outside the traditional processes. Another example of their effective use was for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities. The Department of Defense had well-established procedures for managing and allocating the ISR capabilities it had already developed, but it had limited experience in rapidly developing and fielding new ISR capabilities, especially down to the tactical level. To do so required thinking of aerostats and unmanned aircraft as consumable goods, more like body armor than satellites — that is, seeing them as tools that could be fielded quickly and operated by units in the field rather than by the intelligence agencies. Gates thus established the ISR Task Force in 2008, which successfully helped identify emerging urgent needs and technological opportunities and then bypass the normal roadblocks to procuring and fielding the resulting ISR tools.

Task forces worked well for specific individual problems, but few problems in wartime are narrowly defined, since military conflicts erase the boundaries between previously separate issues. Gates thus became frustrated with the Pentagon’s inability to support the troops through the normal processes. Accordingly, in November 2009, he created the Counter-IED Senior Integration Group (SIG), which I headed alongside the director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The group consisted of senior defense officials who met every three weeks to prioritize requirements and take stock of all counter-IED initiatives. Gates soon realized that this kind of high-level attention was needed for all urgent war-fighting requirements, not just counter-IED measures. So in June 2011, he converted the Counter-IED SIG into the Warfighter SIG, which became the Pentagon’s central body for senior officials to weigh solutions to battlefield problems, locate the necessary resources to pay for them, and make the right acquisitions.

Gates soon expanded the Warfighter SIG’s mandate further, to include what are called Joint Emergent Operational Needs. These are needs that arise in theaters where there are not ongoing wars but one could come at any moment, such as on the Korean Peninsula. We called the whole system of Joint Emergent Operational Needs and Joint Urgent Operational Needs “the fast lane.” Even when the precise cost and ultimate specifications of a fast-lane project couldn’t be fully known in advance, we got started anyway, standing the system on its head. In other words, instead of “require then acquire,” this was “acquire then require.”

According to a 2012 Government Accountability Office report, the heightened level of visibility within the Pentagon provided by the Warfighter SIG, together with the fast-lane process, decreased the median time needed to locate funding for projects from nine months to one month. The report found that initiatives that enjoyed attention from the top of the department were four times as likely to receive adequate funding as those that did not. The system is far from perfect, but it has injected some badly needed agility into the Pentagon’s notoriously slow bureaucracy.


The challenge for the Pentagon now is to lock in these gains and make sure that the lessons of Afghanistan and Iraq are not forgotten. The clearest takeaway, as the Warfighter SIG has shown, is that wartime acquisition works best when senior leaders are paying attention. That’s because only top officials can assume the risks that come with sidestepping general procedures. In practice, this means that the upper echelons of the department cannot simply issue policy guidance; they need to focus on specific threats and capability gaps. They must be willing to do so even when the projects are small in size and scope compared with the issues they normally deal with, given that winning wars and saving lives are at stake.

Furthermore, there must be a structure to the way senior officials grant their time and attention to such projects. Methods that bypass the normal acquisition process cannot be sustained if they rely solely on the support of a particular individual. And even the best ideas will remain unrealized if there are not clear procedures for bringing them to fruition — especially in the Department of Defense, which thrives on order and discipline. At the very least, the department ought to retain the nascent institutions that ultimately proved successful in Afghanistan and Iraq, such as the Warfighter SIG and JRAC.

Of course, the Pentagon cannot acquire any equipment or technology without adequate funding. And the current budget process simply does not allow for the development and deployment of solutions to urgent problems on the battlefield. The Department of Defense has developed several mechanisms for addressing such needs, and it must keep all of them in place.

First, Congress should continue to approve funds in limited quantities for general overall goals, such as the funds that paid for the MRAPs and other counter-IED initiatives, a process that offers the military the necessary flexibility to get capabilities from the laboratory all the way to the battlefield. The authority for this approach currently exists but is set to expire in 2015.

The ability to rapidly move a small percentage of the defense budget — known in the Pentagon as “reprogramming” — has allowed the department to pay for many capabilities not covered by a specific fund. Reprogramming enables crucial projects to move forward in weeks and months, rather than years, while still preserving Congress’ role in approving funding. Another key tool that the Pentagon must retain is its congressionally authorized “rapid-acquisition authority,” which allows the secretary of defense to repurpose up to $200 million a year from the $500 billion defense budget for the most urgent needs. Congress could help bolster the Pentagon’s quick-reaction capabilities by expanding the scope of allowed acquisitions and increasing the funding available under this authority.

In this era of tight resources, some in Congress have legitimate concerns about giving the Department of Defense more budgetary discretion. However, the amount needed for an effective flexible fund is a tiny fraction of the department’s total budget — just enough to kick-start urgent initiatives while still taking the customary months to navigate the usual channels for the full funding of projects. The Pentagon’s successful management of previous flexible funds demonstrates its ability to responsibly manage this flexibility.

Even with flexible funds and the right structures in place, the Pentagon also needs to get better at identifying threats as early as possible. This does not mean war-gaming for five to ten years down the line — something the department currently does in its Quadrennial Defense Reviews. Rather, it means determining what troops in the field need at any given moment. Staff at the command or headquarters level are often slow to recognize when a new threat becomes truly dangerous. During a war, the Pentagon must continuously scan the tactical environment and analyze how new dynamics impact the campaign. Initiatives such as the Warfighter SIG create a real-time bridge between ground-level troops and the department’s senior leadership, allowing battlefield challenges to be quickly brought to the attention of the highest levels so that they can execute solutions accordingly. One example was the rapid processing of a Joint Urgent Operational Need to design and deploy a new type of body armor, based on insights from the ground, to correct for a battlefield vulnerability before insurgents were even aware of it. Another was the constant adjustment of MRAPs in response to feedback from troops. No detail, even the positioning of windows, was too small for the Warfighter SIG.

Moreover, the Pentagon must always have a watchful eye on the horizon, anticipating needs and gaps in capabilities before they become dire. These findings should drive rapid research and development, particularly experimentation with new or improved technologies and the building of prototypes. Investing in science and technology early on ensures that the Pentagon will have something on the shelf when it needs it, so that it does not have to start from scratch when it is too late. Technology that the Pentagon has already invested in has allowed it to respond rapidly through the Joint Emergent Operational Needs process to potential new threats in the Middle East and Asia. These technologies include improvements to weapons systems that allow them to operate in an electronically jammed environment, modified radars to improve detection and warning capabilities, and better methods of preventing electronic detection by enemies. Similarly, the department was able to quickly initiate the development of improvements to the Patriot missile defense system to keep pace with emerging threats in the Asia-Pacific region.

Once the Pentagon identifies emerging threats, its leaders need to approve responses to them, since those in the thick of combat cannot be expected to have all the insight needed to judge and prioritize requests. Time is of the essence at this stage; the need for the MRAP, for example, was identified by forces in the field soon after they started encountering roadside bombs, but leaders let the request linger for too long before acting on it. As soon as a need has been identified as urgent, the Pentagon must improve the way it assesses potential solutions. Normally, such evaluations require a series of time-consuming steps, such as conducting market surveys, hosting events at which the military can inform vendors of its needs, requesting bids, and conducting months-long selection processes. In normal times, this system allows the Pentagon to acquire the best technologies on the market at the best prices. In urgent situations, it will have to settle for something that is good enough — an imperfect solution that nonetheless fills a gap.


Afghanistan and Iraq provided much of the impetus for the Pentagon to sidestep its traditional ways of doing business. After all, it is difficult for anyone in Washington to deny funding or prevent initiatives when the men and women at war need them. But what happens when the last troops have left Afghanistan, and the slowness of the acquisition process no longer appears to be a life-and-death problem? Simply learning the lessons of the wars is not enough; the Pentagon must institutionalize those lessons so that it does not have to start anew the next time they are relevant. In fact, many of these changes need to happen immediately, as the country faces potential new threats.

In my final year at the Pentagon, under the leadership of Leon Panetta and then Chuck Hagel, we considered various models for how to build on the successful initiatives of the past decade. The first possibility we considered was to tweak, but largely leave in place, the way the Pentagon operated before the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, with the military services remaining solely responsible for their own forces. That approach would allow the Pentagon to avoid creating any new permanent organizations, a significant plus during a time of austerity. Distributing responsibility across the services would also enable each of them to draw on their deep knowledge of land, air, and naval warfare. The downside is that the military services tend to prioritize investments in their own long-term modernization requirements — unlike the combatant commands, which are primarily concerned with immediate battlefield needs — and thus may not be best equipped to move quickly and take risks. Under this plan, there would still not be a clear mechanism for adjudicating conflicts between the services and the combatant commands. Spreading the responsibility for acquisitions across the military could also result in redundancies or gaps.

An alternative model would be to create an entirely new agency with rapid-acquisition and contracting authorities. Such a body would directly support the combatant commands by anticipating battlefield needs, determining the appropriate responses, and procuring the necessary technology and equipment. Although this approach would correct for many of the shortfalls of the first model, creating a brand new organization, with its own bureaucracy and overhead costs, would strain the Pentagon in an era of tight budgets. A new centralized agency might also find itself disconnected from the rich expertise of the military services.

We ultimately decided to pursue a hybrid approach that draws on the advantages of both models. The Warfighter SIG will continue to meet regularly, supported by JRAC, to ensure that the Pentagon’s senior leadership remains focused on responding quickly to battlefield needs. JIEDDO and the ISR Task Force will get smaller but will be retained to meet the Pentagon’s enduring requirement for fulfilling urgent needs. The comptroller’s office is also working to institutionalize funding mechanisms for both Joint Urgent Operational Needs and Joint Emergent Operational Needs. These mechanisms should allow department leaders to quickly reprogram funds and make use of the rapid-acquisition authority.

By making these structures more permanent, the Pentagon hopes to retain the ability to meet the urgent needs of the troops long after the end of operations in Afghanistan. It is already using the Joint Emergent Operational Needs process to upgrade munitions and targeting systems for operations over water, in order to respond to the potential use of speedboats by Iran to swarm U.S. naval vessels in the Persian Gulf. The military has also developed and built prototypes for improvements to a penetrating bomb that would allow it to target hardened, deeply buried facilities. And last year, the Department of Defense decided to build the Field Deployable Hydrolysis System, a transportable system that can destroy chemical weapons stockpiles wherever they are found. This system was developed as part of the Joint Emergent Operational Needs process months before the United States knew it would be discussing the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons. It is now ready for deployment whenever required — a capability that enabled the U.S. government to include this possibility in its recent UN negotiations.

Institutionalizing these practices will also allow them to be applied beyond Central Command, which has overseen most of the fighting during the past decade — a particularly relevant factor as the Obama administration continues its “rebalance” to the Asia-Pacific region and focuses more on threats from other parts of the world, such as Africa. For example, JIEDDO has already begun to support missions of U.S. Africa Command, and its expertise will help combat IED threats in such countries as Mali and Somalia.

When wars end, leaders are often eager to move on to the next challenge. That is why it is crucial to make permanent the institutional innovations resulting from the hard-earned lessons of Afghanistan and Iraq, while the experiences are still fresh. Too many lives were lost in the early years of those wars because the Pentagon failed to keep up with a changing battlefield. Never again should it make the same mistake.



Now the Hard Part: 3 Weeks to Apportion $1 Trillion

By David Hawkings

Posted at 5:23 p.m. on Dec. 19


Appropriators from both parties and both sides of the Capitol have opened intentionally secretive negotiations on the mammoth and complex measure necessary to make good on the budgetary truce just called by Congress.

The four-dozen or so members involved have given themselves less than three weeks to agree on the several thousand line items in the bill, which will be written as non-amendable legislationdictating all of the government’s discretionary spending for the final 37 weeks of this budget year.

The enormity of the task and the extraordinarily tight time table would normally present significant obstacles to a smooth or successful outcome. But the lawmakers who have taken the assignment are betting that those challenges will be eased by several factors:

•    The fiscal deal the Senate cleared Thursday, which President Barack Obama will sign before leaving this weekend to spend the holidays in Hawaii, sets a grand total of $1.012 trillion for the package that both parties’ negotiators say they can live with. The figure is $45 billion, or 4.6 percent, more than would have been allowed if the sequester had remained fully on the books.

•    The vast majority of lawmakers, not to mention hundreds of lobbyists and advocates, will be away from Washington during the next two work weeks. That should afford the negotiators and their aides an opportunity to set their priorities and make their tradeoffs without the usual volume of importuning — a tiny silver lining, also, for having to work through Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

•    The leaders of the talks, Kentucky’s Harold Rogers for the Republican majority in the House and Maryland’s Barbara A. Mikulski for the Democratic majority in the Senate, have agreed to draft the bill as a take-it-or-leave it package deal. Their bet here is that substantial numbers from the rank and file in all four caucuses will be willing to set aside their reservations about the content and their annoyance about the process and vote “yes” — because they know defeating the measure would threaten another government shutdown as the first congressional action of the midterm election year.

The timetable for the next three weeks sketched by Rogers and Mikulski, the chairmen of the two Appropriations committees, begins with a deadline they have set for themselves for the end of the week: apportioning the spending grand total into a dozen slices — the so-called 302(b) spending caps for the subcommittees that are supposed to write 12 different spending bills every year.

This is an immensely important first step, because it means choosing winners and losers at a macro level. A relatively generous number for the subcommittees with jurisdiction over labor, health and education programs, for example, would provide some relief from social spending limits that Democrats would embrace. But that money would mean somewhat smaller top lines for subcommittees in charge of the domestic programs Republicans typically favor, which cover such things as water projects, law enforcement and homeland security.

There was word Thursday evening that they had come to an agreement. But, as an indication of the sensitivity of these initial decisions, Rogers and Mikulski have decided to break with longstanding practice by not making public the 302(b) allocations.

Instead, the top Democrats and Republicans on each House and Senate subcommittee will be told of their cap and then given until Jan. 2 to come up with as much of a plan as they can agree on for dividing that pot of money and altering any policies along the way.

The challenge will impose especially dicey political challenges on three senior Republicans: Thad Cochran of Mississippi, his party’s second-most-senior Senate appropriator, faces an intense primary challenge on his right next year, as does Mike Simpson of Idaho, a subcommittee chairman in the House. Jack Kingston, the third-most-senior House appropriator, is in a hot primary against several fiscal conservatives for Georgia’s open Senate seat. All will face pressure to use their work on the bill as a way to say they’re cutting excessive spending and otherwise tacking to the right.

As a starting point, the appropriators will all presumably use the bills they advanced to various stages of completion earlier this year. Eleven bills got through Senate Appropriations, but none was passed on the floor. The House passed four of its bills, but only five others won endorsement from the full Appropriations Committee.

Because of the way the sequester law works, measures related to national defense have their own limit, now $520 billion for this year — more than before this month’s deal to ease the across-the-board limits, but still about $30 billion less than what House and Senate appropriators wrote into their bills several months ago. The limit on all non-defense spending for fiscal 2014 is $492 billion — the “pie” over which the bulk of the haggling will take place.

In addition to spending totals, any compromise omnibus would have to resolve intense and partisan differences on the use of federal funds to implement an array of policies — starting with, but hardly limited to, the health care law, environmental regulations and the rules to carry out the Wall Street oversight law. Some appropriators may want to push for legislative riders to address matters that have cropped up since the regular spending process stalled out this summer — for example, by making sure all the revenue from the budget deal’s new airline ticket fee goes to aviation security.

Any programmatic totals or policy disagreements that still remain after the first weekend in the new year will be taken out of the hands of the subcommittees and turned over to the big four appropriators: Mikulski, Rogers, top Senate Appropriations Republican Richard C. Shelby of Alabama and top House Appropriations Democrat Nita M. Lowey of New York.

The quartet will convene early the week of Jan. 6, when Congress reconvenes for the new year, with a goal of finalizing the entire package quickly enough that it can be put before the House for an up-or-down vote by Friday, Jan. 10. (The parliamentary sleight-of-hand that will be deployed to move the package along without amendment has not yet been settled on.)

That would allow the Senate to begin debating the legislation Jan. 13 and – assuming no one insists on a filibuster-busting cloture vote — send it to Obama before the current stopgap continuing resolution lapses at midnight on Jan. 15.

For now, the lawmakers driving the process are refusing to countenance the notion that the schedule is too unforgiving, and that another CR might be needed to patch the budget for a while beyond the middle of January.

“We’re all up to the task,” Mikulski told reporters Wednesday. “Our problem is it’s a very tight timeline.”


Defense News

DoD to Submit 2015 Sequester Budget with Buybacks

Dec. 19, 2013 – 03:45AM | By MARCUS WEISGERBER


WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is preparing to put forward a 2015 budget proposal that was built assuming billions of dollars in sequestration spending cuts, however it will use $30 billion in restored funding over the next two years to buy back readiness shortfalls and critical modernization programs.

US Defense Department officials had been preparing as many as four 2015 budget plans, ranging from one that built on the Obama administration’s 2014 budget plan to another than encompassed cuts of about $50 billion per year over a five-year period. The sequestration budget is called the Alt POM, which stands for alternative program objective memorandum. The House and Senate have passed — and the president is expected to sign — a two-year federal spending plan, that raises DoD’s 2014 budget cap by $21 billion and 2015 spending cap by nearly $10 billion.

“We know what the bottom looks like; the money that’s coming back, we’re buying it back,” Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during a briefing at the Pentagon Thursday. “We’ll buy it up to the level we can buy it and there will still be a delta. The work is done.”

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met with the chiefs of the military services on Wednesday where they discussing areas to use the money that is being restored in 2014 and 2015. Hagel said DoD will “work to minimize disruption to our most critical modernization efforts” in addition to readiness.

The Pentagon’s $527 billion fiscal 2014 budget proposal was $52 billion above federal spending caps. Under the compromise budget passed by Congress, DoD spending is capped at about $498 billion. DoD still faces full sequestration-level budget caps from 2016 into the next decade.

The budget deal gives DoD predictability for the next two years, Hagel noted. The secretary called the compromise budget — developed by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. — “a step in the right direction,” but noted the Pentagon still “faces very difficult budget decisions,” particularly how to reduce its force structure and reform military compensation.

“As we head into 2014, I think we’re beginning to turn the page on a prolonged period of fiscal uncertainty,” he said at the same briefing. “The budget deal … provides some relief from DoD and the devastating cuts of sequestration in fiscal years 2014 and 2015.


USAF Looks to Boost Readiness

The Air Force hopes to use its extra cash on readiness, according to a service spokeswoman.

“Air Force leadership would recommend that additional funding first be used to restore flying hours and weapon system sustainment levels, allowing units to begin to recover from the readiness damage done by sequestration,” Ann Stefanek, an Air Force spokeswoman, wrote in an emailed statement. “Additionally, we would seek to protect our top three investment programs [the Lockheed Martin F-35 joint strike fighter, Boeing KC-46 tanker replacement program, and new long-range strike bomber] and fund readiness enablers and critical installation requirements such as new mission beddowns, ranges, radars, airfields, taxiways and compliance deficiencies.”

Stefanek cautioned that “until an appropriation is signed, the Air Force does not know yet how much funding it will receive and the Congress will ultimately decide where those dollars are spent,” meaning plans could change. And even with the funds, the service still expects to feel “significant impacts” to investment programs.

Eric Fanning, Air Force Acting Secretary, said at a Nov. 18 event that the service would focus on readiness investments if it received any unexpected funds.

“What really suffers is readiness. That’s been a very hard thing to describe,” Fanning said. “We’re going to have a real hole in our readiness accounts the next five years if we stay under the sequestered numbers. So there’s a lot of risk there.”

Fanning added that he would also like to buy back delayed F-35 purchases.



Military Times

Senate approves defense policy bill

Dec. 20, 2013 – 08:23AM |

By Patricia Kime

Staff writer

The Senate voted overwhelmingly late Thursday night to approve the defense authorization act, an 84-15 vote that paves the way for troops to receive a 1 percent raise beginning Jan. 1.

The $632.8 billion bill bill extends a number of expiring special pays and bonuses that would otherwise have ended on New Year’s Day and also includes prohibitions against any fee increases for Tricare or new user fees for the military health program by more than 1.7 percent next October.

Among the bill’s key provisions are a restriction on the Defense Department from transferring to the U.S. anyone held as a suspected terrorist at the Navy detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as well as allowances for detainees to be transferred under some circumstances to foreign countries.

The bill also includes about 30 provisions related to sexual assault in the military, including removing the authority of commanders to dismiss a court-martial finding, eliminating the current five-year statute of limitations on rape and sexual assault and establishing minimum sentencing guidelines for sex crimes.

There also are several provisions aimed at protecting victims of rape and sexual assault, including allowing victims to apply for a transfer to a new unit or a new base and creating a specific criminal charge in the military justice system for retaliating against a victim who comes forward.

Other adds include a provision to overhaul the military’s Article 32 process of pretrial hearings to expand rights of sexual assault victims and to reduce consideration of the military record of the accused as a reason not to press charges.

The bill also gives 171,000 military retirees and family members forced from Tricare Prime on Oct. 1, the option to return to the program if they choose.

And it changes eligibility rules for selective early retirement boards so that officers passed over just one time for promotion to O-6 would be considered by selection boards for involuntary retirement.

Notably, the bill contains no provisions for a military pay raise, setting up enactment of a presidential order issued in August that decided troops would receive a 1 percent raise.

The absence of any specific pay raise language paves the way for execution of the executive order capping next year’s increase at 1 percent.

Under a federal pay formula that remains part of permanent law, service members would have been due a 1.8 percent pay increase, and the House had approved that percent raise as part of its version of the bill approved in June.

But the Senate Armed Services Committee backed the White House proposal, and the compromise — to remain silent on the issue in the compromise version — left the decision to the administration.

In a letter to Congress in August, President Obama said he is “strongly committed to supporting our uniformed service members, who have made such great contributions to our nation over the past decade of war.”

But, he noted, the U.S. is recovering “from serious economic conditions affecting the general welfare” that require tough decisions to stay “on a sustainable fiscal course.”

The White House issued a statement Thursday before the Senate vote indicating it will support the bill as written. Singling out issues including the transfer of Guantanamo detainees and changes to military sexual assault prosecution and protection, administration officials said they were “pleased with the modifications and improvements” that addressed their objections to earlier iterations of the legislation.

“Although the bill includes a number of provisions that restrict or limit the Defense Department’s ability to align military capabilities and force structure with the President’s strategy and implement certain efficiencies … the Administration supports passage of the legislation,” the White House according to the White House statement.

The bill, H.R. 3304, provides $552.1 billion for the military budget and $80.7 billion for overseas contingency operations.

It passed the House last week, 332-94.

Bill negotiator Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman, described the bipartisan legislation as “good for national security” as well as for the men and women of the armed forces.

“This bill ensures that important pay and benefits, including combat pay, will continue; includes powerful and important new tools in our fight against military sexual assault; and makes progress toward the day we can close the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay,” Levin said.


New DoD Acquisition Guidelines Emphasize Cost of Programs

Dec. 18, 2013 – 11:18AM | By MARCUS WEISGERBER | Comments


WASHINGTON — A major update of the Pentagon’s acquisition bible makes cost control and cost management a higher priority during the procurement process.

The new guidance focuses heavily on setting realistic program goals by aligning weapons requirements with long-term spending realities.

The plan is to “get the programming community and the requirements community to sit down and figure out what kind of cost constraint they’re going to have to live in based on future budgets they can expect,” Frank Kendall, undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, said during a Dec. 13 interview at the Pentagon.

Kendall recently completed a laborious two-year rewriting of a document know as DoD Instruction 5000.02, frequently called “Five-thousand two” by defense insiders.

In addition to the long-term spending emphasis, the new guidance formalizes Better Buying Power acquisition initiatives developed by Kendall and his predecessor Ashton Carter.

The 5000.02 update calls for locking in program requirements sooner by adding a new decision point earlier in the acquisition process, Kendall said. It also puts forth “much more specific guidance” about affordability analysis and spending caps.

“Basically it tells the services, and … the operational communities and the programming communities that they need to do long-term capital planning before they start down a program [and] that cost is a requirement, ” Kendall said. “We can’t afford to pay whatever people want in terms of capabilities. We have to limit our reach to stay within our grasp.”

Looking at costs over a 30-year period, Kendall feels, will force those developing requirements to exercise design restraint when developing new systems.

“I think that will help us avoid a lot of cancellations,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of program cancelations where we discovered after we got into development or early production, that the product wasn’t affordable.”

DoD has spent billions of dollars over the past decade on programs that never entered production. The most recent example of this is the Marine Corps Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, an amphibious assault craft.

“Program managers have a fundamental responsibility to understand their cost and to act to try to control their costs to drive them down,” Kendall said. “That’s a cultural change that’s going to take a little time, but that’s something fundamental of what I’m trying to accomplish.”

The new guidance also tackles tailoring and alternative models for how structuring programs.

“I’m trying to make a very big point that there’s not just one size or one way to set up a program,” Kendall said. “There are some basic things that you have to do in almost every program, but beyond that you have to look at the nature of the product and determine based on the nature of the product and factors like the operational urgency … then lay out a program that makes sense for that product and those constraints that apply to that particular program.”

Much of the information in the new 5000.02 is already being used throughout DoD’s acquisition programs, however the new guidance formalized it.

“It’s a combination of a document that can be used by somebody who is new to this business to try to understand it more thoroughly,” Kendall said. “It’s also a document that somebody who is a serious, experienced professional can go back to as a reference to understand what the rules are that he’s going to have to follow and some of the fundamentals that he’s going to have to apply.”

Kendall’s revisions to 5000.02 have been implemented through an interim document, though he expects no major changes are expected in the finalized version. He is planning to get feedback on the changes during a program executive officer conference in January.

“All of this is a work in progress,” Kendall said. “I do expect that there will be changes in the future; there will be continuous improvement in this area as there is in other areas of acquisition.”



Rasmussen Reports

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


Saturday, December 21, 2013


Americans need a little holly jolly time as the year comes to an end.

Just 26% of Likely U.S. Voters now think the country is heading in the right direction. A year ago, 37% felt that way.

More voters than ever (66%) believe the economy is unfair to the middle class.

Fifty-eight percent (58%) now oppose the new national health care law’s requirement that every American must have health insurance. That’s the highest level of opposition to the individual mandate to date.

Positive reviews of President Obama’s leadership fell again this month and now stand at their lowest level in two years. Only 39% of voters give the president good or excellent marks for leadership, down 16 points from a year ago.

Obama’s daily job approval ratings appeared to be improving slightly after weeks at the lowest levels of his presidency but in the last few days have fallen lower again.


Despite his support of the new bipartisan budget deal, nearly half (49%) of voters now rate the president poorly on his efforts to reduce the deficit, and he only fares marginally better when it comes to policies related to economic fairness.

Sixty-eight percent (68%) now view the federal government unfavorably, a new high.

Sixty-one percent (61%) still prefer a smaller government with fewer services and lower taxes over a larger one with more services and higher taxes.

Sixty-one percent (61%) also favor a federal budget that cuts spending, although voters are more closely divided over the new budget deal that restores billions in across-the-board sequester spending cuts from earlier this year.

The budget deal includes no new taxes but does raise some user fees. Only 22% of voters believe additional tax hikes are needed to fund the federal government.

Just 15% of voters think the House of Representatives is doing a good or excellent job, while 13% say the same of the Senate. Still, that’s an improvement over the seven percent (7%) who rate the overall performance of Congress as good or excellent.

Republicans and Democrats are running even on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot.

But for the next few days, the unhappiness with the national political scene will take a backseat as 92% of Americans celebrate Christmas with their families. After all, for many, it’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Most Americans (53%) continue to have no problem getting into the holiday spirit, unchanged from last season. Still, while 45% consider the season joyous, just as many (43%) say it is generally stressful for them.

It probably doesn’t help that at the beginning of the week, just one-in-three had finished their holiday shopping. The level of gift-buying appears little changed from recent years, despite the lukewarm level of investor confidence.

An overwhelming majority of working Americans say they have time off for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but 40% have to work at least some major holidays.

Twenty-four percent (24%) of all Americans plan on traveling away from home this holiday season, and 84% of those travelers will be visiting family and friends.

Forty-nine percent (49%), however, believe airline deregulation has made flying more expensive. But regular fliers are less critical of deregulation and more likely than non-fliers to think it has made air travel cheaper.

Thirty-three percent (33%) are still concerned about the safety of most toys being sold this holiday season, but that’s the lowest level of concern measured in yearly tracking since 2009.


In other surveys last week:

— While 2013 will be known for plenty of domestic matters, U.S. foreign policy was also in the spotlight for much of the year.

— Just 21% of voters think the federal government should grant NSA leaker Edward Snowden full amnesty from prosecution in exchange for the return of all classified information that he still possesses.

— The Federal Communications Commission is considering lifting the ban on in-flight cell phone use, but 65% of Americans don’t think people should be allowed to chat on their cell phones during a flight.


— The Chinese landed a lunar probe earlier this week, the first manned landing on the moon in nearly 40 years, but just 42% of voters believe the United States should resume manned space missions to the moon within the next decade. That’s unchanged from a year ago.

— Time magazine named Pope Francis its “Person of the Year” earlier this month, and nearly one-in-four Americans agree that the pope was the year’s most influential person. The president was a close second.


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