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Defense Roundup: Army Units Slam Intel System, Marine Corps Times Tempest

Posted by Fred Wellman

White House Pushes Budget Hike

Defense News Staff, Defense News. In an odd twist of fate if it proves correct, Defense News is reporting that the White House and Pentagon have come to an agreement on once again expanding the DoD’s budget starting in 2016 by finding cuts elsewhere in the government. Sources tell the news organization that the Administration is considering a $535 billion budget in 2016 putting it some $36 billion over the sequester cap that would be going back into effect at that point if Congress doesn’t make a deal like the one recently passed. Much of this stems from political push back at some of the biggest cost cutting options the Pentagon floated including mothballing an aircraft carrier. Making its return is the “unfunded priorities list” which DoD used to produce that was sort of a wish list to Congress of stuff the military wanted but wasn’t in the budget. Congress used it as a way of picking and choosing things they liked to sell politically at home as patriotic support to the military. Cuts are still on the way though. The Army expects to go even below the 490,000-soldier threshold that was deemed too small already. We should know in about a month how all of this shakes out when the budget submission is due.

Army Units in Afghanistan Slam Intel System

Brendan McGarry, DoD Buzz. The Army’s Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS-A) intelligence network has really become the whipping boy and just can’t get a break. For several years the Army and Congress have locked horns on the usefulness and development of the program that is expected to cost some $10.6 billion when its finally completed though plagued by problems. McGarry bases this report on the results of a conference of major end users in Afghanistan who discussed the system and found it too complicated to use by most users even with dozens of hours of training and continued problems with the most basic functionalities like sending data back to home station because networks won’t talk to each other. Critics have long touted Palantir Technologies software as a better substitute so it has to be stressful for Army leadership to find that units in the field are using Palantir they bought with their own money over frustration with the Army’s official system. Even users who are trying to make it work only use a fraction of the many pieces of the system because of the complexity of using them all. The whole program continues to march on while leaders report that what is needed isn’t a simpler system but more training.

Marine Corps Times First Casualty in Headquarters’ War to ‘Professionalize’

Lance Bacon, Marine Corps Time. Marine Corps Times has set off a bit of a tempest over the weekend with reports that the Marine Corps leadership has ordered changes to how the paper will be sold on base. It seems that copies of the independent paper produced by Gannett Government Media are to be moved from its traditional place near checkouts in Exchange stores on base to a place further back in stores near other publications to ‘professionalize’ the look of the stores. That is at least the first explanation that came out. Further inquires resulted in answers ranging from the paper didn’t match the Base Exchange ‘brand’ to it was based on revenue even though its reported that Marine Corps Times outsells every other publication in exchanges by 10 to 1. The paper is making it clear they believe this is a move meant to kill sales of the publication because of uncomfortable stories they report about Marine Corps leaders and recent scandals in the ranks. For their part, the Marine Corps hasn’t come up with a clear answer and is struggling to explain why this one paper was moved while civilian magazines are still in the same spot. The challenge is that the Exchange system is designed to be self sustaining and not tax payer funded so taking your best selling publication out of the ‘impulse buying’ slot at check out actually hurts revenue at the stores and isn’t a logical call. Like most of these stories the week ahead will produce the ‘rest of the story’ as the Marine Corps comes up with a coherent response to the tempest.

Groups: Billions More Needed to Address Veterans’ Health Care, Benefits Issues

Matthew Burke, Stars and Stripes. Ahead of the Congressional budget process, a coalition of veterans groups including all of the big names (VFW, the American Legion, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Disabled Veterans of America, etc.) released their independent budget recommendations for VA. Their topline ask is nearly $73 billion in additional advanced funding for VA. While the health systems at VA are funded a year in advanced and so protected from government shutdowns, the rest of VA’s critical services are subject to the whims of partisan brinksmanship. The independent budget also asks for a more robust investment in VA construction. Planned facilities that would increase veterans’ access to care have been slow to materialize thanks to funding cutbacks and older facilities haven’t been upgraded in decades. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, introduced an omnibus bill that among many other issues would address advanced appropriations for VA. The Senate is expected to vote on that bill this week. It has garnered the support of the full range of veteran’s organizations save two: Concerned Veterans for America and AMVETS. Read into that what you will.

VA Still Fighting Paper War

Juana Summers (@jmsummers), Politico. As the VA’s self-imposed 2015 deadline to end the backlog of disability claims by 2015 inches closer, Summers looks at one of the biggest impediments so far: the still largely paper system behind VA’s disability benefits. VA has sunk millions of dollars into digitizing records and finding an electronic health records system that would integrate with DOD’s military medical records, but to date the results are spotty. VA says its Veterans Benefit Management System, VBMS, is on track to modernize the agency and end the backlog, but VBMS entered service in 2010 and has been beset by delays and setbacks. Leaders on the Hill have gone rogue and enlisted the advice of private tech firms like IBM and Oracle. Congress is asking whether VBMS will even help end the backlog as its current rate. VA representatives insist that the kinks have been worked out of the system and that it will be key to finally ending the backlog. On the Hill, skeptics caution that there are no silver bullets, especially not ones mired in problems like VBMS.

House Passes Bill to Give Veterans In-State Tuition, Halt VA Executive Bonuses

Josh Hicks (@Reporter_Hicks), Washington Post. It was a big week for student veterans as the House passed a bill that would entitle GI Bill users to in-state tuition at colleges and universities without residency requirements. GI Bill advocates have been pushing for in-state tuition for years as the military life of constant moves rarely means someone lives anywhere long enough to establish residency—or that they want to stay in Missouri after leaving the military. Currently, the GI Bill only pays in-state tuition for students who then have to make up the difference in cost if they do not meet the state’s residency requirements. The Senate will have to pass a similar bill or take up the House bill for the in-state tuition to take effect. Additionally, VA launched a school comparison tool for GI Bill users. The online interface allows students to see how many GI Bill students are at a given school, how much their GI Bill will cover at the school, the graduation rate, and the loan rate of each school.

Quick Hits:

After War, a Failure of Imagination

Phil Klay (@PhilKlay), New York Times. Another great piece on the civilian-military divide. Klay calls on civilians to be critical of war stories, not simply abrogate responsibility through banal phrases like, “I can’t imagine what you’ve been through.” So, too, though must veterans be willing to tell their stories, Klay says.

Meet Your Military Olympians

Jon Anderson, Military Times. As the Olympics take over sports coverage and internet bandwidth for the next few weeks, the Military Times has a rundown of the service members, veterans, and military family members who will be going for gold.

Major League Baseball Players test Their Skills at Fort Bragg

Drew Brooks (@DrewBrooks), Fayetteville Observer. Pitchers and catchers are only days away from reporting and a few spent their final days of the off-season at Fort Bragg to get a taste of what military life is all about.

Tradeshows & Conferences

NDIA SO/LIC (Mon-Wed, 10-12, February); Wardman Park Hotel Marriott, Washington, DC

AFCEA Marine West (Tue-Thu, 11-13, February); San Diego Convention Center, San Diego, CA

AUSA Winter is next week in Alabama.View our full list of upcoming tradeshows.

Congressional Hearings

House:

Armed Services: United States Security Policy and Defense Posture in the Middle East Who: Vice Admiral Frank Pandolfe, Director for Strategic Plans and Policy (J-5), The Joint Staff, Department of Defense, Ambassador Anne Patterson, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Department of State, Ms. Elissa Slotkin, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, Department of Defense When: 10:00 AM, Tuesday, February 11, 2014 Where: 2118 Rayburn

Homeland Security: The Secretary’s Vision for the Future – Challenges and Priorities When: 9:00 AM, Wednesday, February 12, 2014 Where: 311 Cannon

Armed Services: Overcoming Obstacles in Acquisition Reform Who: The Honorable Norman R. Augustine, Former Under Secretary of the Army, Mr. Jonathan L. Etherton, President, Etherton & Associates, Inc, Mr. Daniel I. Gordon, Associate Dean for Government Procurement Law Studies, The George Washington University Law School When: 10:00 AM, Wednesday, February 12, 2014 Where: 2118 Rayburn

Senate:

Armed Services: Current and Future Worldwide Threats Who: Honorable James R. Clapper, Jr., Director Of National Intelligence, Lieutenant General Michael T. Flynn, USA, Director, Defense Intelligence Agency When: 9:30 AM, Tuesday, February 11, 2014 Where: G50 Dirksen

Homeland Security: The Intelligence Community: Keeping Watch Over Its Contractor Workforce When: 10:00 AM, Thursday, February 13, 2014 Where: 342 Dirksen 

Think Tanks & Other Events

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: General James F. Amos on Military Positioning in a Time of Transition Who: General James F. Amos, Commandant, United States Marine Corps When: 2:00 PM, Tuesday, February 11, 2014 Where: 1779 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC, 20036

Fred Wellman, President ScoutComms, brings us his weekly review of defense industry news via The Scout Report. Fred served over twenty years as an Army officer in both aviation and public affairs. You can follow Fred on Twitter @ScoutComms.

 

This entry was posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 10:56 am

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