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May 21 2016

June 2, 2016




21 May 2016


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Inside the Pentagon personnel feud that’s roiled the military’s most senior leaders

Andrew Tilghman, Military Times 11:15 a.m. EDT May 15, 2016


Internal Pentagon drama is strangling Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s signature initiative to make the military’s promotion system function more like a Fortune 500 company, leaving the controversial reform effort unlikely to succeed during the Obama administration’s final months.

The Defense Department’s most senior military and civilian leaders have spent months debating a detailed plan to rewrite the policy governing how military officers are promoted, part of a slate of reforms known as “Force of the Future.” The idea is to end the “up-or-out” rules that force mid-career officers to leave the military if they fail to be promoted along rigid timelines, providing flexibility to pursue non-traditional career tracks or focus on developing technical expertise. But now the effort has stalled amid acrimony, finger pointing and disagreements.

The standoff is outlined in a recent internal memo, a copy of which was obtained by Military Times. In a series of follow-on interviews, several insiders elaborated on the strife. All spoke on the condition of anonymity because the matter remains unresolved. It’s evidence, they say, of the Pentagon’s crippling bureaucracy, especially on personnel matters, which historically have been relegated to the services to manage independently.

Some officials blame the breakdown on opposition from the military service chiefs, who generally support the traditional personnel system that defined their own careers. They reject the premise that today’s system is “broken.” Others say it’s due to Carter’s waning interest, that he underestimated the deep controversy his efforts have fueled. Critics also fault the Pentagon’s former personnel chief, Brad Carson, who resigned abruptly in April after spending much of the past year aggressively pushing these reforms and attacking the current system.

A spokesman for the Joint Staff declined to comment for this story, as did Carson.

A spokesman for the secretary said that Carson’s departure will not slow the reform effort.

“Secretary Carter is full speed ahead on Force of the Future,” said Peter Cook. “He very much appreciates Brad Carson’s substantial contributions to this effort, but this has always been about more than any one individual. This is about making sure the secretary’s successors have the same access to great talent that he does currently.”



Carson, the memo’s author, spent months urging senior military leaders to agree on a compromise, leading a complex coordination effort with all of the individual military leaders, including the four-star service chiefs, the three-star personnel chiefs and their staffs. A former Navy officer as well as former U.S. Representative for the state of Oklahoma, he left in frustration after Carter refused to sign off on his final reform recommendations, according to several defense officials familiar with the internal deliberations.

His memo advocated the following:

•Formally asking Congress to suspend laws imposing across-the-board up-or-out rules. The recommendation says the defense secretary should seek to shift this authority to the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, allowing each to determine how many times an officer can be passed over for promotion before mandatory separation. The changes would offer flexibility for non-traditional career paths, especially for those officers who want to spend more time developing technical expertise rather than preparing for high-level command assignments.

•Formally asking Congress to grant the Pentagon more flexibility regarding how many years of service an officer must accumulate before facing a promotion board. This would allow individuals more flexibility to pursue non-traditional assignments — such as being a Rhodes Scholar (as was Carson); spending several years working in the private sector or taking family leave — without jeopardizing their careers. It would also clear the way for top performers to receive early promotions.

•Formally asking Congress to suspend its caps on the number of officers allowed to serve in the military’s “control grades,” or the O-4 through O-6 paygrades, and shift authority to the individual services to shape the force based on individual needs.

•Formally asking Congress to lift the requirement that officers must retire at 30 years of service if they are not promoted to general or admiral, and instead grant the individual services authority extend careers up to 40 years.

At West Point, millennial cadets say rigid military career tracks are outdated

The secretary has said the reforms are necessary to appeal to millennials and ensure the military continues to recruit and retain the best and brightest young people. But the effort fueled an internal battle that centered on two distinct schools of thought.

It found supporters in the Navy and the Air Force, where officers want time to develop more technical expertise and some prefer honing those skills rather than preparing for senior-level commands. Those services have a diverse array of career fields, many with professional counterparts in the civilian sector that invite non-traditional career paths.

Yet the reforms were opposed by many leaders in the Army and the Marine Corps, where the service cultures focus more on traditional leadership. The combat arms career fields are more homogeneous, have fewer counterparts in the private sector and arguably do little to encourage alternative career paths.

In his memo, Carson, 49, said those disagreements were resolved, telling the secretary these detailed proposals were “agreed to by all the military and civilian leadership of the military departments.”

Some Pentagon officials say that’s false, and that concerns and disagreements remain. “There are still some people in the services who are uncomfortable with this,” said one senior defense official. “Fairly or unfairly, some viewed Brad as trying to jam them.”

Amid the internal battle, the secretary appointed a new personnel chief, Peter Levine. A longtime Capitol Hill staffer, he spent years smoothing over disagreements created by annual defense spending.

Levine is revisiting substantial pieces of the personnel reforms, going back to the individual service leaders to rehash their concerns and potentially rework the proposals that Carson left on the secretary’s desk.

“That is going to take time,” said one Pentagon personnel official. Levine plans to “make sure we have a package that not only people in the department feel that they’ve had a chance to work on and contribute to, but that they’re happy with.”

Major changes would require approval from Congress, where things have not gone well to date. Carson received a hostile reception at a February appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Republican Sen. John McCain, committee chairman, blasted the proposed personnel reforms as “an outrageous waste of official time and resources” and several times during the hearing accused Carson of lying.

Now the clock is ticking. Congress has begun drawing up its annual defense authorization bill, and so far its plans do not include any of these personnel reforms.

The Pentagon is acutely aware the window of opportunity is closing. Officials have initiated back-channel communication with Congress in case there’s a last-minute shot at fast-tracking the legislative process if and when the defense secretary makes a decision.

“We’ve talked to Capitol Hill about it and let them know what may be coming so that we can preserve the option of working on it. … I don’t think we’re foreclosed from taking legislative approach where we need to [this year],” the personnel official said.


What went wrong?

Carter’s focus on personnel reform initially came as a surprise. A lifelong civilian with a doctorate in physics, the secretary spent much of his career in the Pentagon’s business and policy divisions.

Yet shortly after taking over the Defense Department’s top job, Carter began talking about overhauling the military personnel system to appeal to millennials. He signaled a desire to change the up-or-out rules proscribed under the 1980 law known as the Defense Officer Personnel Management Act, or DOPMA.

Carter also expressed displeasure with the military’s joint billet requirements mandated under the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act, which Congress passed in the wake of the Vietnam War in an effort to force the parochial services to coordinate more effectively on the battlefield. Many experts believe today’s joint force functions well and that the law is outdated. The law requires mid-career officers to spend at least 36 months in a job assignment officially designated as “joint” before they can be eligible for promotion to general or flag officer.

He questioned the traditional military rank structure and said mid-career civilians should be allowed to join the military without starting at the lowest rungs of the personal system. He said he wanted to create a military personnel system that “let people pause their military service for a few years — while they’re getting a degree, learning a new skill, or starting a family.”

Yet those ambitious goals have largely faded from his public remarks during the past several months. Some say the secretary bit off more than he could chew and underestimated how passionately career military professionals were going to feel about these personnel policies.

Coincidentally, the personnel reform effort came to a head at about the same time that Carter was signing off on new rules allowing women to serve in combat for the first time. Although it was a policy change initiated by a predecessor, Carter made the final call on that controversial issue, a move that strained his relationship with some senior military leaders. Some personnel experts inside and outside the military think that may have limited his willingness and ability to lobby in favor of his own personnel reforms.

In addition, Carter has had his hands full managing President Obama’s controversial strategy for fighting the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria while balancing several other sensitive operations around the world — in Afghanistan, in Eastern Europe and in the South China Sea.

Personnel reform, although important to Carter, just doesn’t have the same priority, said one person familiar with the internal discussions. “I think it’s hard to focus on this kind of stuff when you’re talking about counter-ISIL and dealing with two-hour meetings with [National Security Advisor] Susan Rice. It’s hard to reorient yourself and say ‘How do I make an ensign’s life better?'”

Another source of friction was Carson himself, officials said. Immediately after taking over the job of undersecretary for personnel and readiness, Carson assumed an unusually public role as an advocate for reforms, talking about today’s “industrial-era” personnel system being “broken” and comparing it to “a Polaroid in the time of digital cameras.”

His style was in stark contrast to his predecessors within the Pentagon’s office of personnel and readiness who rarely spoke publicly or advocated for policy change.


It’s not going away

While Carson earned praise from many personnel experts as a smart and hard-working reformer, others criticized his approach as too aggressive. One Pentagon official said his coordination with individual military leaders was “awful” and that Carson relied heavily on a small group of advisers, leaving many senior military leaders feeling like they had only limited input in the process. His departure may help clear the way for his reform effort to ultimately succeed, one defense official said.

“Maybe he overreached,” said Tim Kane, a military personnel expert and author of the book “Bleeding Talent: How the US Military Mismanages Great Leaders and Why It’s Time for a Revolution.”

Kane strongly supports the efforts to change the up-or-out rules that are imposed under the Defense Officer Personal Management Act, or DOPMA, which he called “the root of all evil.”

“It creates this one-size-fits-all career track. It doesn’t allow people to specialize,” Kane told Military Times. “What if you have someone who is a cyber-warrior and they just want to be a hacker? Maybe they don’t want to command a squadron. But ‘up-or-out’ kind of forces everyone in the officer corps to be on the command track.”

Carson’s work forced the top brass to take a hard look at the personnel system, which will likely have a lasting impact on the politics inside the Pentagon.

The proposal may not make it to Capitol Hill this year, Kane added, but there’s no reason why the next defense secretary and the next president — regardless of whether it’s a Republican or a Democrat — can’t continue the effort. The issue is not going away.


For Obama, an Unexpected Legacy of Two Full Terms at War



WASHINGTON — President Obama came into office seven years ago pledging to end the wars of his predecessor, George W. Bush. On May 6, with eight months left before he vacates the White House, Mr. Obama passed a somber, little-noticed milestone: He has now been at war longer than Mr. Bush, or any other American president.

If the United States remains in combat in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria until the end of Mr. Obama’s term — a near-certainty given the president’s recent announcement that he will send 250 additional Special Operations forces to Syria — he will leave behind an improbable legacy as the only president in American history to serve two complete terms with the nation at war.

Mr. Obama, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 and spent his years in the White House trying to fulfill the promises he made as an antiwar candidate, would have a longer tour of duty as a wartime president than Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon or his hero Abraham Lincoln.

Granted, Mr. Obama is leaving far fewer soldiers in harm’s way — at least 4,087 in Iraq and 9,800 in Afghanistan — than the 200,000 troops he inherited from Mr. Bush in the two countries. But Mr. Obama has also approved strikes against terrorist groups in Libya, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, for a total of seven countries where his administration has taken military action.

“No president wants to be a war president,” said Eliot A. Cohen, a military historian at Johns Hopkins University who backed the war in Iraq and whose son served there twice. “Obama thinks of war as an instrument he has to use very reluctantly. But we’re waging these long, rather strange wars. We’re killing lots of people. We’re taking casualties.”

Mr. Obama has wrestled with this immutable reality from his first year in the White House, when he went for a walk among the tombstones at Arlington National Cemetery before giving the order to send 30,000 additional troops into Afghanistan.

His closest advisers say he has relied so heavily on limited covert operations and drone strikes because he is mindful of the dangers of escalation and has long been skeptical that American military interventions work.

Publicly, Mr. Obama acknowledged early on the contradiction between his campaign message and the realities of governing. When he accepted the Nobel in December 2009, he declared that humanity needed to reconcile “two seemingly irreconcilable truths — that war is sometimes necessary, and war at some level is an expression of human folly.”

The president has tried to reconcile these truths by approaching his wars in narrow terms, as a chronic but manageable security challenge rather than as an all-consuming national campaign, in the tradition of World War II or, to a lesser degree, Vietnam. The longevity of his war record, military historians say, also reflects the changing definition of war.

“It’s the difference between being a war president and a president at war,” said Derek Chollet, who served in the State Department and the White House during Mr. Obama’s first term and as the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs from 2012 to 2015.

“Being a war president means that all elements of American power and foreign policy are subservient to fighting the war,” Mr. Chollet said. “What Obama has tried to do, which is why he’s careful about ratcheting up the number of forces, is not to have it overwhelm other priorities.”

But Mr. Obama has found those conflicts maddeningly hard to end. On Oct. 21, 2011, he announced that the last combat soldier would leave Iraq by the end of that year, drawing that eight-year war to a close. “Our troops will definitely be home for the holidays,” Mr. Obama said at the White House.

Less than three years later, he told a national television audience that he would send 475 military advisers back to Iraq to help in the battle against the Islamic State, the brutal terrorist group that swept into the security vacuum left by the absent Americans. By last month, more than 5,000 American troops were in Iraq.

A furious firefight this month between Islamic State fighters and Navy SEALs in northern Iraq, in which Special Warfare Operator First Class Charles Keating IV became the third American to die since the campaign against the Islamic State began, harked back to the bloodiest days of the Iraq war. It also made the administration’s argument that the Americans were only advising and assisting Iraqi forces seem ever less plausible.

President Obama inherited two wars from his predecessor, and has struggled to wind them down. American troops are still in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Afghanistan followed a similar cycle of hope and disappointment. In May 2014, Mr. Obama announced that the United States would withdraw the last combat soldier from the country by the end of 2016.

“Americans have learned that it’s harder to end wars than it is to begin them,” the president said in the Rose Garden. “Yet this is how wars end in the 21st century.”

Seventeen months later, Mr. Obama halted the withdrawal, telling Americans that he planned to leave more than 5,000 troops in Afghanistan until early 2017, the end of his presidency. By then, the Taliban controlled more territory in the country than at any time since 2001.

Taliban fighters even briefly conquered the northern city of Kunduz. In the bitter battle for control, an American warplane mistakenly fired its missiles into a Doctors Without Borders hospital, killing 42 people and prompting accusations that the United States had committed a war crime.

Critics of Mr. Obama have long said his clinical approach to wars weakened the ability of the nation to fight them. “He hasn’t tried to mobilize the country,” Dr. Cohen said. “He hasn’t even tried to explain to the country what the stakes are, why these wars have gone the way they have.”

Mr. Bush was also criticized for failing to ask the American people to make any sacrifices during the Iraq war. But, Dr. Cohen said, “for all his faults, with Bush, there was this visceral desire to win.”

Vincent DeGeorge, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University who collected the data on presidents at war, said Mr. Obama’s tone mattered less than the decisions he made. “Does the rhetoric a president uses at home matter to the soldiers who come back wounded or get caught in the crossfire?” he asked in an interview.

Mr. DeGeorge acknowledged the complications in measuring Mr. Obama’s wars. The American-led phase of the Afghanistan war, for example, ended formally in December 2014, though thousands of troops remain there. For his analysis, he considered a state of war to exist when less than a month passed between either American casualties or an American airstrike.

More so than Mr. Bush or President Bill Clinton, Mr. Obama has fought a multifront war against militants. Officials at the Pentagon referred to the situation as “the new normal.” But for those who worked in the Obama administration, it made for an unrelenting experience.

“As the Middle East coordinator, I certainly felt like it was a wartime pace,” said Philip H. Gordon, who worked in the White House from 2013 to 2015.

Still, Mr. Gordon and other former officials drew a distinction between the wars of the 21st century and those of the 20th century. For one, Congress has not specifically authorized any of Mr. Obama’s military campaigns, let alone issued a declaration of war — something that it has not done since World War II.

“War doesn’t exist anymore, in our official vocabulary,” Mr. Gordon said.

It is not clear that Mr. Obama’s successor will take the same approach. The front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton, has been more receptive to conventional military engagements than Mr. Obama. The presumptive Republican nominee, Donald J. Trump, has pledged to bomb the Islamic State into oblivion, though he has sent contradictory messages about his willingness to dispatch American ground troops into foreign conflicts.


Military historians said presidents would probably continue to shrink or stretch the definition of war to suit their political purposes.

“Neither Clinton nor Obama identified themselves as war presidents, but Bush did,” said Richard H. Kohn, professor emeritus of history and peace, war and defense at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“War goes back in human experience thousands of years,” he said. “We know that it has an enormous variation of definitions.”


‘Wiped Out’: Air Force losing pilots and planes to cuts, scrounging for spare parts

By Jennifer Griffin, Lucas Tomlinson

·Published May 14, 2016



EXCLUSIVE: It was just a few years ago, in March 2011, when a pair of U.S. Air Force B-1 bombers – during a harsh winter storm – took off from their base in South Dakota to fly across the world to launch the air campaign in Libya, only 16 hours after given the order.

Today, many in the Air Force are questioning whether a similar mission could still be accomplished, after years of budget cuts that have taken an undeniable toll. The U.S. Air Force is now short 4,000 airmen to maintain its fleet, short 700 pilots to fly them and short vital spare parts necessary to keep their jets in the air. The shortage is so dire that some have even been forced to scrounge for parts in a remote desert scrapheap known as “The Boneyard.”

“It’s not only the personnel that are tired, it’s the aircraft that are tired as well,” Master Sgt. Bruce Pfrommer, who has over two decades of experience in the Air Force working on B-1 bombers, told Fox News.

Fox News visited two U.S. Air Force bases – including South Dakota’s Ellsworth Air Force Base located 35 miles from Mount Rushmore, where Pfrommer is stationed – to see the resource problems first-hand, following an investigation into the state of U.S. Marine Corps aviation last month.

Many of the Airmen reported feeing “burnt out” and “exhausted” due to the current pace of operations, and limited resources to support them. During the visit to Ellsworth earlier this week, Fox News was told only about half of the 28th Bomb Wing’s fleet of bombers can fly.

“We have only 20 aircraft assigned on station currently. Out of those 20 only nine are flyable,” Pfrommer said.

“The [B-1] I worked on 20 years ago had 1,000 flight hours on it. Now we’re looking at some of the airplanes out here that are pushing over 10,000 flight hours,” he said.

“In 10 years, we cut our flying program in half,” said Capt. Elizabeth Jarding, a B-1 pilot at Ellsworth who returned home in January following a six-month deployment to the Middle East for the anti-ISIS campaign.

On an overcast day in the middle of May with temperatures hovering in the low 50’s, two B-1 bombers were supposed launch at 9:00 a.m. local time to fly nearly 1,000 miles south to White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico for a live-fire exercise.


On this day, though, only one of the two B-1s that taxied to the runway was able to take off and make the training mission on time. The other sat near the runway for two hours. It eventually took off but was unable to participate in the live-fire exercise and diverted to a different mission, its crew missing out on valuable training at White Sands.

A spare aircraft also was unable to get airborne.

When operating effectively, the B-1 can be one of the most lethal bombers in the U.S. military’s arsenal. Designed as a low-level deep strike penetrator to drop nuclear weapons on the Soviet Union in the early 1980s, the B-1 has evolved into a close-air support bomber. Flying for 10-12 hours at a time high above the battlefield, B-1’s can carry 50,000 pounds of weapons, mostly satellite-guided bombs.

“It can put a 2,000 pound weapon on a doorknob from 15 miles away in the dark of night, in the worst weather,” said Col. Gentry Boswell, commander of the 28th Bomb Wing at Ellsworth.

But only half of these supersonic bombers can actually fly right now.

“The jet is breaking more today than it did 20 years ago,” Pfrommer said.

The B-1 issues are a symptom of a broader resource decline. Since the end of the Gulf War, the U.S. Air Force has 30 percent fewer airmen, 40 percent fewer aircraft and 60 percent fewer fighter squadrons. In 1991, the force had 134 fighter squadrons; today, only 55. The average U.S. Air Force plane is 27 years old.

After 25 years of non-stop deployments to the Middle East, airmen are tired.

“Our retention rates are pretty low. Airmen are tired and burnt out,” said Staff Sgt. Tyler Miller, with the 28th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron based at Ellsworth.

“When I first came in seven years ago, we had six people per aircraft and the lowest man had six or seven years of experience,” he continued. “Today, you have three-man teams and each averages only three years of experience.”

Across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration that began three years ago forced the Air Force to fire people, meaning those who stayed had to work extra shifts. And instead of flying, pilots are having to do more administrative jobs once taken care of by civilians, who were let go.

“Honestly, from the perspective of an air crew member, the squadron is wiped out,” said Jarding.

Then there is the shortage of parts, which is pushing the Air Force to get creative in order to keep these planes airborne. They have had to cannibalize out-of-service planes from what is known as “The Boneyard,” a graveyard in the Arizona desert for jets that are no longer flying.

They strip old planes of parts, but now there aren’t many left — posing an obvious problem.

Like their counterparts in the Marine Corps, they even cannibalize museum aircraft to find the parts they need to get planes back into combat.

Capt. Travis Lytton, who works to keep his squadron of B-1’s airborne, showed Fox News a museum aircraft where his maintainers stripped a part in order to make sure one of his B-1s could steer properly on the ground.

“We also pulled it off of six other museum jets throughout the U.S.,” Lytton said.

On the heels of the Fox News reports on budget cuts impacting Marine Corps aviation, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook was asked last week if Defense Secretary Ash Carter thought the problems were more widespread.


“No, I do not think so,” Cook replied. “I think this is a particular issue that’s been discussed at length and this is an issue we’re working to address.”

But the airmen’s concerns suggest the problem is broader than the Pentagon would like to admit.

Similar issues can be witnessed for the 20th Fighter Wing at Shaw Air Force base in South Carolina, home to three squadrons of F-16 fighter jets.

Out of 79 F-16’s based at Shaw, only 42 percent can actually deploy right now, according to the commander of the wing, Col. Stephen F. Jost.

That’s because they, too, are missing parts. One F-16 squadron that recently returned last month from a deployment to the Middle East had a host of maintenance issues.

“Our first aircraft downrange this deployment, we were short 41 parts,” Chief Master Sgt. Jamie Jordan said. To get the parts, the airmen had to take parts from another jet that deployed, leaving one less F-16 to fight ISIS. At one point, Jordan said they were taking parts from three separate aircraft.

When asked about the efficiency of taking parts from expensive fighter jets, Jordan said the costs were not just in dollars: “From a man-hour perspective, it’s very labor intensive and it really takes a toll.”

The airmen’s concerns boil down to more than just the hassle on the airstrip: It’s whether the U.S., which for decades has dominated the skies, would be ready for a conventional war with another major world power. Jost warned if one broke out soon, the U.S. would “take losses.”

Said Boswell: “The gap is closing and that worries all of us.”



Policy Bill Aims to Tame Cost-Plus Contracts

Joe Gould, Defense News 4:18 p.m. EDT May 16, 2016


WASHINGTON — Responding to fears the US military’s technological superiority is at risk, the Senate Armed Services Committee advanced an annual defense policy bill that would open competition to commercial industry, seen as a spur to innovation and cost-efficiency.

The marquee change, if the SASC’s version of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act passes Congress and is signed by the president, is the proposed closure of the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer’s office and reassignment of its duties to two new defense undersecretaries for innovation and acquisitions management. It also contains far-reaching language to curb a major concern of SASC Chairman John McCain: cost-plus contracts.

In February, McCain made headlines when he vowed not to authorize the Air Force’s Long Range Strike-Bomber so long as it was procured using a cost-plus contract. The SASC bill does not check that box, but it promises a broader impact, to discourage cost-plus contracts, where a contractor is paid for all of its allowed expenses to a set limit, plus additional payment to allow for a profit.

In a background briefing on Monday, a senior committee aide — who likened DoD’s dependence on cost-plus to a drug addiction — said the venerable contracting vehicle has its uses, but too often fuels cost overruns and is out of step with the way commercial firms in Silicon Valley and elsewhere do business. Fixed-price contracts, on the other hand, give firms an incentive to work as efficiently as possible to maximize their profits.

“All of this reform is because the Cold War has ended, and post-Cold War, American technological military dominance is over, and not only can our adversaries see that they can replicate what we can do with the traditional defense marketplace, they are seeing there is a lot of technology in the commercial marketplace,” said the aide. “If they can access that quicker than we can access that and derive defense products from that new base, they can potentially leap ahead of us.”

The bill, which the SASC voted to advance to the full Senate last week, contained 130 acquisition reform provisions — a continuation of the committee’s work last year. Some language aimed at curbing bid protests would mean any large firms that lose a protest they file would have to pay a penalty, while other provisions would curb barriers to entry for so-called non-traditional firms.

Complex, DoD-unique cost-accounting standards geared toward the minutiae of cost-plus contracts have not only created a barrier for commercial firms but an auditing backlog within DoD that is preventing 30- and 40-year-old contracts from being closed, the Senate aide said.

To address this, the bill would set up a new accounting standards board aimed at pro-competition changes.

“We’re looking to move more and more companies away from that [accounting standard], and make sure the way accounting looks in the department is more and more commercial-like, so companies aren’t creating new accounting systems just to deal with the Department of Defense,” the aide said.

For a company like SpaceX, which is developing its own rocket engine, assessing a reasonable price is a tricky proposition, the Senate aide said. For DoD, which uses cost-plus contracting, it’s the agreed-upon cost of production plus a reasonable profit, while for a commercial firm, it’s about what the market will bear.

“In the fixed-price world, your profit margin is about how well you execute,” the aide said. “A government contractor is more like a utility, and the argument is who’s more innovative, someone with a high margin or a public utility?”

A four-year pilot program established by the bill would exact fees to fund advanced prototypes purchased through fixed-price contracts. The penalties would amount to, for a cost-plus technology development contract, an additional 1 percent of DoD’s year-to-year obligation, and on a procurement contract, 2 percent. This requirement would begin in 2018.

Among other measures, the bill would establish a phased-in, internal approval process for cost-plus contracts, which by 2020 would apply to any cost-plus contract over $5 million.

Ultimately, the Defense Department will not be kept from using cost-plus contracts where needed, particularly for defense-unique platforms like, say, a nuclear submarine. However, the aide stopped short of saying the proposed bill, if enacted, would have precluded the current acquisition strategy for the bomber. Instead, the bill reinforces the signal that arrangements of this type will face new scrutiny.

“We would hope the department would look at that in a different manner,” the aide said. “Ultimately it will be discretionary. We don’t want to impinge on the [defense] secretary.”


Bid Protests

Acknowledging the value of the bid protest process as a policing function for defense acquisitions, the aide said it also creates a risk-averse culture among acquisitions officials that is stymying innovation. Hence the proposed “loser pays” provision.

That language would apply to a protest-losing company with more than $100 million in annual revenue, or an incumbent firm that protests the loss of a contract, keeps the business via a bridge contract and then loses. The penalty would equal the Government Accountability Office’s cost to process the protest.


What’s driving the language, the Senate aide said, is that Wall Street analysts have begun to tout protests as being part of the fiduciary responsibility of a losing firm. Members of the committee fear that this thinking, unchecked, will fuel a boom in protests.

Another concern was that the risk aversion among contracting officers was leading to contract awards for lowest-price, technically acceptable, offerings over offerings that were neither the most innovative or the best value for the government.


Look to US Small Businesses to Supply War Fighters

Rep. Steve Chabot, Special to Defense News 11:24 a.m. EDT May 16, 2016


For 55 years, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) has been the primary way Congress meets its constitutional responsibility to “provide for the common defense.”

As a vital national security policy bill, the NDAA has always provided our war fighters with the resources they need to defend the United States from the great and varied threats we face from adversaries around the word.

However, in the face of recent drastic defense cuts, known in Washington as “sequestration,” policymakers have had to look for new ways to meet our national security needs.

As chairman of the House Small Business Committee, I firmly believe that our nation’s 28 million small businesses can play a key role in meeting these needs in this era of declining defense resources.

Very often, small companies can provide better products and services to our military, faster and at lower costs.

Congress’ ongoing effort to improve acquisition and modernize procurement at the Pentagon is particularly important to small companies because it will enable them to deliver real benefits to our war fighters.

At a recent Small Business Committee hearing, we heard from a top official at the Office of Naval Research about two examples of life-saving technology developed by American small businesses that are now used by the US military.

“The Emergency Integrated Lifesaving Lanyard — called EMILY — is a robotic lifeguard deployed worldwide by Hydronalix, a rural Arizona company,” Robert Smith explained to our committee. “The tracking system, reconfigured as the Silver Fox Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV), was deployed in 2007 to provide convoy protection to Marines in Iraq, saving three lives. The same basic technology package, reconfigured as EMILY, is supporting first responders throughout the US and other nations, and saving lives today in the Mediterranean Sea refugee crisis.”

Smith also pointed to Trek Enterprises’ Automated Celestial Navigation (ASN) system as another example of technology developed by a small company now used by the military.

“(ASN) provides a solution in GPS-denied environments through a fully automated star tracker for imaging individual stars both day and night to enhance navigation capability,” Smith testified. “Initially focused on Navy challenges, ASN attracted attention across the government: The result being a fellow agency ordering 15 systems, with applications in crime fighting and drug interdiction.”

Success stories like these are a big part of the reason why promoting competition has been the guiding principle for defense acquisition and procurement policy.


We must allow companies of all sizes and expertise to compete for defense contracts in order to get the best possible products to the war fighter.

Contracting reforms such as those included in this year’s NDAA help us achieve this important goal for our military. They also benefit the taxpayers footing the bill, making sure they get more bang for their buck.

You don’t need to be an economist to understand that when the Defense Department has fewer offers, there is less competition, costs go up and choices are limited.

Unfortunately, we continue to see the number of companies competing for federal contracts declining, which threatens innovation and harms readiness.

Within the last three years, we have lost over 25 percent of the small firms registered to do business with the federal government.

Within the Department of Defense, the number of small business contract actions fell 47 percent from 2011, but the size of the average individual small business contract action more than doubled.

Not surprisingly, during the same period, the percentage of taxpayer dollars spent without competition has increased.

With this thought in mind, members of our committee introduced a series of bipartisan contracting bills this year.

Our committee approved these measures unanimously and we are pleased they were incorporated in this year’s NDAA, which was approved by the House Armed Services Committee by a bipartisan vote of 60 to 2 last month.

Specifically, here are five ways this NDAA helps small contractors compete:

First, it modernizes the Small Business Act to ensure clear and consistent language is used in federal procurement programs.

Second, it strengthens the small business advocates within SBA, DoD and other federal agencies, to promote competition and make sure the laws on the books, including the NDAA, are followed.

Third, it improves opportunities for small businesses to compete for subcontracts, and then to build on that experience to compete as prime contractors.

Fourth, it improves coordination between the SBA and DoD mentor-protégé programs, which help small businesses better serve our military.

Finally, this NDAA implements reforms to promote integrity and accountability in small-business programs, such as veterans contracting programs and contracting officer training programs.

This NDAA gives our troops the resources they need to defend the United States while providing meaningful contracting reforms that help our small businesses and our national security.

Rep. Steve Chabot represents Ohio’s 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House where he is chairman of the Small Business Committee. He is also a senior member of the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committees. You can follow him on Twitter @HouseSmallBiz.



How Swarming Drones Could Change the Face of Air Warfare

Lara Seligman, Defense News 2:24 p.m. EDT May 17, 2016


WASHINGTON — The US Air Force on Tuesday rolled out its 20-year flight plan for small, unmanned aerial systems (UAS).

The Air Force has long discussed using swarms of miniaturized drones for attack and surveillance missions, but as its adversaries build more sophisticated weapons to counter traditional platforms, the service is responding with a new strategy to field tiny, flying bots to take down enemy defenses.

The strategy hinges on advancing three critical capabilities:

•Teaming: two or more assets, operated by ground commanders, cooperating with one another.

•Loyal wingman: a host platform, for instance a manned fighter aircraft, that directs multiple small UAS.

•Swarming: a large number of minibots that work together in a collaborative, or “meshed,” network.

Swarming technology changes the game for future warfare, according to Col. Brandon “BB” Baker, chief of the Air Force’s remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) capabilities division.

At a rollout event at the Pentagon, Baker said commanders can use the swarm for a single objective, like a major attack, or disperse the bots across a region for 24/7 surveillance.

Swarming drone technology may even help the Air Force save money. Instead of shooting down a $20 million Reaper UAS or a $2 billion B-2 bomber in one go, the enemy would be forced to track and kill multiple, low-value targets.

“You’ve really kind of messed with the adversary’s calculus in this case,” Baker said. “Now they are going to be really challenged and the advantage comes back into our favor in terms of an economic advantage.”

Any one platform can be taken down by a direct hit. But a drone swarm can take multiple hits, reconfigure and keep going, a capability Baker called “self-healing.”

Several examples of experimental drone platforms were on display during the event: Raytheon’s tiny Coyote, Boeing Insitu’s RQ-21 Blackjack and Raytheon’s Silver Fox.

Baker stressed that the effort is in its prerequisite phase, and that right now the Air Force is focused on modeling and simulation. He said he would love to see swarming drones operational by 2036, but that he can’t project a timeline at this stage of the program.

Lt. Gen. Robert Otto, deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, stressed that this technology is in its early stages, and that the flight plan released Tuesday is a “vision” for future air warfare.

“We do believe that small, unmanned aerial systems will be the cornerstone of Air Force ISR as we look through the next 20 years,” Otto said.




House advances defense budget plan despite veto threat

Leo Shane III, Military Times 1:10 p.m. EDT May 17, 2016


House appropriators advanced their $575.7 billion defense spending plan for fiscal 2017 just hours after the White House threatened to veto a similar budget bill and accused lawmakers of “gambling with warfighting funds.”

The spending plan stays under totals set in a congressional budget agreement last fall but does so by reassigning about $16 billion in temporary war funds to the defense base budget. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., told members of the House Appropriations Committee that it’s the only way to meet military needs within the parameters of existing spending caps.

“We are concerned with what we see in the military today,” he said.

But Democrats have railed against that plan as a budgeting gimmick, noting that it leaves overseas military operations without any funding past April of next year. Republicans said they’ll push the next president to to cover that shortfall.

The funding plan is the same general idea as one laid out in the House’s draft of the annual defense authorization bill, although the exact figures differ. On Tuesday, the White House issued a veto threat on that authorization legislation, calling the funding plan “dangerous” for troops and the country.

“The bill risks the safety of our men and women fighting to keep America safe, undercuts stable planning and efficient use of taxpayer dollars, dispirits troops and their families, baffles our allies, and emboldens our enemies,” the administration statement said.

This is the eighth consecutive year President Obama has threatened to veto annual defense budget legislation, although he only followed through on that threat last year, over similar spending maneuvers.

White House officials also blasted the extra base budget spending as “excess force structure without the money to sustain it, effectively creating hollow force,” especially given more restrictive defense spending caps scheduled for coming years.

But Republican House leaders have said those increases are needed to meet current threats. In the appropriations bill, that includes a increase in personnel totaling 5,000 for the active-duty Army, 15,000 for the Army National Guard and Reserve, and 1,000 for the Marine Corps.

Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee warned that those boosts and related personnel costs could total tens of billions of dollars in extra spending over the next five years, creating even more budgeting problems.

The plan also includes a 2.1 percent pay raise for troops, one-half of a percentage point higher than White House recommendations for 2017 and $330 million more costly for next year alone.

So far, Senate leaders have said they do not plan to go along with the House budget proposals. The Senate Armed Services Committee has offered its own authorization bill draft without the redirected temporary war funding. Senate appropriators have not weighed in on the fight yet.

Despite the veto threat, the full House is expected to adopt its draft of the annual authorization bill later this week.


Rasmussen Reports

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

Saturday, May 21, 2016

What a campaign season! Now it appears the candidate the Democrats won’t nominate has the better chance of beating the nominee the Republicans are expected to select.

Donald Trump has grown his lead over Hillary Clinton in Rasmussen Reports’ first weekly White House Watch survey. We’ll be updating the numbers on the contest every Thursday morning until Election Day.

The new survey was taken the night before and the night after Trump’s announcement of 11 conservative judges he would consider for the current vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court, furthering his efforts to unify the party and to end the #NeverTrump movement among some Republicans.

Rasmussen Reports has been running hypothetical matchup surveys between Clinton and Trump for several months.

Clinton on Tuesday eked out a primary win in Kentucky but lost the Oregon primary to Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders as the race for the Democratic presidential nomination took a more chaotic turn. Now, unlike Clinton, Sanders edges out Trump in a head-to-head matchup.

The Nevada state Democratic convention erupted in violence last weekend when Sanders supporters challenged party leaders over what they viewed as a rigged primary election. While Sanders has virtually no chance of capturing enough delegates to win the nomination outright, he has vowed to stay in the race until the Democratic national convention in July. Rasmussen Reports is surveying voters now about where the Democratic party will go from here. We will release those numbers early next week.

At a minimum, Sanders will be a major powerbroker at the convention, and he is Democrats’ first choice to be Clinton’s running mate.

Ben Carson and Newt Gingrich are early favorites for the Republican vice presidential nomination.

Still, while you’re going to hear a lot in the days ahead about possible vice presidential candidates, voters don’t place a lot of importance on the person in the number two slot.

Nearly half of voters rate illegal immigration as Very Important to their vote in the upcoming presidential election. These voters don’t like how President Obama is dealing with the problem and are much more confident that Trump rather than Clinton will do a better job. 

No wonder there’s an angry debate over illegal immigration in this country. Most Democrats believe people should be able to freely enter the United States at any time. Republicans strongly disagree, as do a majority of unaffiliated voters.

The Obama administration reportedly is speeding the vetting process for Syrian refugees so 10,000 can come to the United States this year, but most voters still don’t welcome those newcomers from Syria and fear they are a threat to the country.

After weeks of escalated fighting between the Syrian regime and rebel factions, most voters here now consider Syria important to U.S. national security, but they still show little interest in getting more involved. 

Voters see Trump as a stronger military leader than Clinton, but most think they’ll be less safe no matter which of them wins the White House in November.

It’s been said over the years that male political candidates need to be careful how they campaign against female opponents to avoid the appearance of bullying or sexism. But voters overwhelmingly believe a man should treat a woman candidate just the same way he would treat another man.  

Many politicians and activists claim there is a political “war on women” in America today, but voters are strongly convinced that isn’t true.

The Obama administration is now pushing a directive that would require schools to allow transgender students to use whatever bathroom they prefer, but only 33% of Americans favor allowing these students to use the bathrooms of the opposite biological sex

In other surveys last week:

Twenty-seven percent (27%) of voters say the country is headed in the right direction.

— The president continues to earn better-than-usual daily job approval ratings.  

— The federal Food and Drug Administration recently announced that it will place strict regulations on electronic cigarettes. Sixty-five percent (65%) of Americans agree that electronic cigarettes should be regulated by the federal government the same way traditional cigarettes are.


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