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Defense Roundup: Pentagon Budget Cuts, Scammers Targeting VA, Navy Scandals

Posted by Fred Wellman

Cuts to AFN, Closing Stars and Stripes on Pentagon Budget Table

Stars and Stripes. As the Pentagon looks to trim its budget, all options are on the table. That includes the venerable Stars and Stripes, not only a ScoutComms favorite for its veterans coverage but also the paper of record for troops in the trenches since the Civil War. Stripes’ publisher is being asked for information about how it spends its $7.8 million DoD subsidy and has been asked to provide potential funding scenarios to the Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office. Senators McCain and McCaskill, two powerful voices on the Senate Armed Services Committee, have already stated their strong support for the media activities and we hope they’ll put up a fight for Stripes should the Budget Reaper come knocking (or flying, as it were.) Armed Forces Network and the Pentagon Channel are also on the chopping block—unsurprising if you’ve seen any of AFN’s PSAs.

Navy Suspends Contracts with Second Firm in Foreign Ports Scandal

Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times. In what is becoming sort of a regular patter now, the Navy announced on Wednesday before the holiday that another company has been suspended from working with the service due to “questionable business integrity”. Inchape Shipping Services Ltd. of the UK has provided ship-husbanding services to U.S. ships in the Persian Gulf and Mediterranean similar to those provided in the Pacific by Glenn Defense Marine Asia which is at the center of a widening bribery scandal. If history is any judge there will be more to this story when DoD goes back to work tomorrow after the holiday break as contracts with Inchcape exceed $250 million and include the port of Manama, Bahrain, worth some $194 million and a major port for Gulf based US ships. The Navy is struggling to contain a steady drip of bad news surrounding contracting and criminal behavior in the senior ranks and this latest revelation isn’t going to help put things to rest any time soon.

Top Brass Claims Personnel Costs are Swamping DoD, but Budget Figures Say Otherwise

Andrew Tilghman, Military Times. One consistent message we are hearing from military leaders right now is that the rising cost of personnel in the DoD’s budget is strangling their ability to modernize and train the military. The growing healthcare and retirement costs are a constant killer of hope for the budget future if you are to believe the numbers being presented. Andrew Tilghman took another look at the arguments last Sunday and he believes that the basis for the arguments is flawed and the facts are being misread to support the dire warnings. Andrew’s basic premise is while the leaders are often saying that personnel costs have grown 78% from 2001 to 2012 they fail to mention that all DoD costs have risen even higher with the base budget up 85% and with overseas operations factored in, it’s gone up 104%. With that in mind the personnel costs have actually gone down as a share of the entire defense budget and costs for flying and ship steaming have actually gone up more. Further, those personnel costs went up due to mandated changes like Tricare for Life launching in that time and other one time large jumps that won’t be seen going forward. While clearly there are issues that need to be addressed like the cost of Tricare for retirees and others, it also appears that personnel costs, and especially retirees, are being used as convenient foils to mask larger management and budget problems. Just last week it was reported by McClatchy that the Defense Finance and Accounting Service still can’t manage to audit or account for its spending even as a mandated deadline fast approaches to do so. The many “adjustments” being made to make books balance each month cost $4.4 billion in unaccounted for funds in just 2008 alone. The department will face a tough battle with military service organizations and veterans groups trying to knock back many previously promised entitlements for military service members if it can’t prove the accuracy of its projections when the battle is joined once again.

Defense Department Tackles Mobile Authentication

Jared Serbu, Federal News Radio. The Pentagon is continuing to struggle with the challenge of identity management on its networks. Right now a user has a special reader on their system that they plug their DoD issued Common Access Card into with its embedded chip. That system barely works effectively for laptops now but it’s impossible for mobile devices. The department has launched several pilots to examine how to create a separate authentication process that meets Office of Management and Budget standards while being useable for typical mobile devices. They have had some luck looking at microSD cards or special SIM chips for Androids, Windows Mobile, or BlackBerry handsets but Apple refuses to open its API (application programming interface) for smart cards leaving them off the table for now. All of this leaves the military services continuing to struggle to meet the growing demand of users to conduct their official business on the move as everyone in business and other government agencies do now. It’s further complicated by the desire by the Marines and eventually the Army to expand essentially off the shelf mobile devices to the battlefield for command and control purposes. The ultimate pipe dream is a Bring Your Own Device future for DoD members that at this point remains an elusive one at best.

Sex-Assault Victims Face Battle for Disability Benefits

Sig Christenson (@saddamscribe), San Antonio Express-News. Military sexual assault victims are getting Veterans Affairs disability ratings for PTSD at a far lower rate than veterans with PTSD stemming from combat experiences, anywhere from 17 to 30 percentage points per year. While MST survivors will receive specialized health care from VA without providing proof of their assault, like others seeking disability checks, they must provide evidence of their trauma. For many MST survivors, though, there is no documentation because they hid their assault, the military destroyed records. VA says it has lowered its bar for MST disability ratings as it now allows circumstantial evidence to replace documentation and more VA medical centers are screening for and treating MST survivors than ever before. Of course, VA health care and VA disability ratings fall under two distinct administrations at VA and so two different outcomes for MST survivors isn’t necessarily surprising. This year, VA has started adjudicating MST disability claims with specially trained teams in each of its regional centers and now PTSD claims for MST are only 6 percent lower than all PTSD claims. It’s important for VA to set evidentiary standards for its disability ratings, but for many survivors Christenson talks to, the fears they had that no one would believe their assault happened are proving too true.

Marketers Using Bogus VA Numbers to Target Vets

Bryant Jordan (@BryantJordan), Military.com. VA hotlines get thousands of calls per day. Now, some marketing scammers are betting on a few of those veterans hitting the wrong number when dialing. Those veterans who do end up on the line with a marketer get an offer for a $100 Wal-Mart gift card—for the low price of their credit card number and identification information. Last week, VA quickly disseminated alerts about the fraudulent numbers across its social media and email channels (even earning kudos for its fast response from frequent critic IAVA.) To take the glass half-full approach this must mean VA’s aggressive outreach is working if scamming marketers are trying to profit off of their sheer volume of calls.

An Army in Transition Awaits West Point Cadets as Wars End, Military Budgets Shrink

Ernesto Londono (@londonoe), Washington Post. For the first time since 2002, the United States Military Academy at West Point will graduate a class of cadets unlikely to face combat operations in Afghanistan or Iraq and instead join an Army that is shrinking and returning to garrison. Now they are hearing tales of tanks never leaving the motor pool and decreased opportunities for advancement. It’s a change from decades of record spending, laser focus on preparing for current wars, and the regular reminder of the price of combat with the readings of the names of those graduates lost in combat at meals. These cadets were mostly in fourth and fifth-grade on 9/11 and will find themselves leading units mostly filled with veterans of multiple combat tours and the challenges that brings with it. It harkens back to the challenges faced by the classes that graduated in 1974 and beyond leading Vietnam veterans and an Army in decline. If it’s any consolidation for these young men and women, those classes produced most of today’s top leaders including Generals Dempsey and Odierno who took the Army to war years later. It’s a unique look at the military’s oldest proving ground for military leaders and Fred’s alma mater.

Tradeshows & Conferences

I/ITSEC (Mon-Thu, 2-5 December); Orange County Convention Center Orlando, FL

We recently updated our full list of upcoming tradeshows.

Congressional Hearings

Only the House is in session this week. Senate convenes next week.

House:

Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs: Adjudicating VA’s Most Complex Disability Claims: Ensuring Quality, Accuracy and Consistency on Complicated Issues When: 3:00 PM, Wednesday, December 4, 2013 Where: 334 Cannon House Office Building

Think Tanks & Other Events

American Foreign Policy Council: Missile Defenses and American Security Who: The Honorable Robert G. Joseph, Former Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, Dr. Uzi Rubin, Former Israeli Ministry of Defense Missile Defense Expert, Dr. Thomas Karako, Director, Center for the Study of American Democracy, Kenyon College, Ms. Paula DeSutter, Former Assistant Secretary of State for Verification, Compliance, and Implementation, Dr. Robert Soofer, Professional Staff Member, Senate Armed Services Committee When: 9:00 AM, Wednesday, December 4, 2013 Where: East Capitol St, NE and 1st St, NE Washington, DC 20004

Campaign for Second Service: Speaker Series Who: Congressman Brad Wenstrup, Ohio’s 2nd District, Army Reserve officer and Iraq War veteran What: The Second Service Speaker Series is dedicated to showcasing those whose dedication to service is a lifelong virtue, both in and out of uniform. When: 6:30 PM, Wednesday, December 4th, 2013 Where: National Veterans Center at 2013 H Street NW, Washington, DC 20006

Institute of World Politics: Pearl Harbor Day Lecture with LTG Michael T. Flynn Who: Lieutenant General Michael T. Flynn, USA, Director, Defense Intelligence Agency When: 4:30 PM, Thursday, December 5, 2013 Where: 1521 Sixteenth Street NW Washington, D.C. 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, December 02, 2013 10:59 am

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