Defense & Veterans Roundup: Big Changes to Military Retirement, DoD Budget is Confusing Everyone

Posted by Fred Wellman

DoD Budget, Expect Big Changes in Five-Year Spending Priorities

Marcus Weisgerber, (@MarcusReports) Defense News. After two weeks of looking at the Defense Department’s proposed budget for 2015 the consensus seems to be that nobody knows what the hell the thing is really asking for. The culmination of this confusion came during the press conference last week to roll out the official budget proposal when it kicked off with the surprise announcement that the Combat Rescue Helicopter program that had been left for dead in the proposal had instead been approved to move forward just minutes before. Everyone concerned has called it the most complicated budget they had ever seen with essentially three different budgets in one submission. There is the $496 billion base budget, another $26 billion administration request for training, logistics and equipment, and an Afghanistan war budget that hasn’t been submitted yet because thanks to our “ally” President Karzai, no one is really sure what the troop levels in the war-torn country might be next year. In a bit of comedy the DoD’s five-year projections, the future years defense plan (FYDP) that were issued don’t match the stated military top priorities thanks to last minute guidance changes that left the department unable to updated their numbers before submitting them. Those may come this week now and all of it hinges on a Congress that will wake up from its legislative stupor and address sequestration in a long-term solution. Of course, none of the plans take into account a new Cold War with Russia either. It all makes Fred glad he doesn’t have to explain it all in uniform anymore.

Federal Agencies Embrace New Technology and Strategies to Find Enemy Within

Christian Davenport, (@_christiandavenport) Washington Post. Needless to say things have gotten tough in the federal agencies since Army soldier Bradley Manning and NSA Contractor Edward Snowden downloaded and released thousands of classified documents. Agencies have enacted substantially expanded insider threat programs to head off future leakers before they are able to make good on their decisions to expose the nations secrets. Efforts include software systems that can detect anytime a document mark ‘Top Secret’ or ‘proprietary’ is moved inappropriately and activate a direct monitoring of the workstation doing the moving from Raytheon called SureView. Other approaches include Lockheed Martin’s ‘Wisdom’ system that is able to evaluate employee behavior patterns and flag high-risk characteristics before they act. All of this is driving private companies to enact programs of their own to comply with federal directives and ensure that they aren’t the next Booz Allen Hamilton trying to explain how Snowden slipped through the cracks. Interestingly privacy experts aren’t up in arms about these moves. One just shouldn’t have an expectation of privacy when handling government information so they aren’t going to defend those who forget that’s the case.

The Military is Leaving the Missing Behind

Megan McCloskey, Pro Publica. Our old friend Meg McCloskey is out with her first piece for Pro Publica and she comes out with her guns blazing as she looks at the dysfunction surrounding the military’s command responsible for finding and identifying the remains of missing U.S. service members world wide. The Joint Prisoners of War/Missing in Action Accounting Command, or J-PAC, has been led for years by scientific director Tom Holland who has sole control over the decision that enough evidence exists to identify a set of remains before the body goes home. The challenge is that there are roughly 45,000 MIA’s from World War II, Korea and Vietnam who are considered recoverable due to identified graveyards, plane crashes or other known indicators. Yet, with a budget of around $100 million a year J-PAC is only identifying on average 72 a year. A rate that means it would take some 600 years to finish the mission. McCloskey focuses on accusations that J-PAC’s historic evidence based process is out of date and refuses to use DNA as a first or primary means of identification unlike almost any other forensic program anywhere else in the world. The organization defends their meticulous approach but it is hard to believe that in five years a budget of $373.1 million has resulted in just 372 identifications. Just last October it was discovered that for 7 years the command had been holding fake “repatriation” ceremonies of remains using planes that were towed into place at Hickam Field with remains that had already been in the lab for years. All of this leaves the families of missing service members dumbfounded and wondering if anyone is ever going to shake things up in Hawaii.

Changes at the Department of Veterans Affairs

The VA’s Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs, Dr. Tommy Sowers, announced his departure from the agency via Twitter last week. His last day will be April 8th. Sowers was sworn in at OPIA in August 2012. He has not revealed his future plans nor has a successor been named. Sowers ran an unsuccessful bid for Congress in Missouri during the 2010 cycle.

Steve Vogel leaves Washington Post

Last week Steve Vogel announced via email that he was leaving the Washington Post to work on his latest book. Steve has been with the paper since 1989 and has focused almost exclusively on veteran’s issues for the last two years. Josh Hicks and Marcia Davis are replacing him temporarily, but word on the streets is a full time veteran’s focused replacement is being sought. We will truly miss Steve on the beat.

Exclusive: DoD Proposes Revolutionary Changes in Retirement Benefits

Andrew Tilghman, (@AndrewTilghman) Military Times. Andew Tilghman has the big exclusive scoop of the week with a series of three stories on the proposals that DoD is currently working on for dramatic changes to the military benefit and retirement system. There are almost too many fascinating aspects to the proposals to touch on but some key highlights include a system where a service member would opt in at the 6-year mark into a matched 401k-style Thrift Savings Plan system that would pay even if they don’t make it to retirement. A second milestone at 12 years would pay a cash retention bonus and a potentially large lump-sum “transition pay” provided upon retirement for those who serve 20 years and beyond. The changes would add up to about 10% less over the life of the retirement than current methods but offer some compensation for those who don’t go 20 where today they get nothing at all. The annual retirement pay would be much lower during the working age years for retirees but rise later based on the Thrift Savings Plan. In the end, Andrew’s sources insist the system will be grandfathered in on future troops and not effect today’s servicemembers and retirees. Everyone he spoke to believed cutting the entire system to a civilian style 401K systems would be a complete disaster for retention and recruiting. We agree and veteran’s advocates shouldn’t count this proposal as dead on arrival. It’s clear that the current system just isn’t going to work much longer.

Researchers Find Better Way to Predict Suicide Attempts

Gregg Zoroya, (@GreggZoroya) USA Today. A Department of Defense-funded study published last week in the Journal of Affective Disorders has found that asking a service member if they are contemplating suicide is not predictive of later attempts. Instead, questions that ask about self worth were more predictive in a study of several hundred soldiers and airmen over two years. By asking about the service member’s feelings of self-worth or emotional pain were significantly more predictive of future suicide attempts than those that directly inquired about suicidal thoughts. The researchers found that by concentrating on the subjects place in the world such as feeling “unloveable” or the “unbearability” of tolerating stress led to a defined link to future suicide attempts. Researchers are hoping that with this knowledge examinations can detect sooner somebody who might otherwise resist talking about suicidal thoughts to avoid damaging their career or scaring their loved ones.

VFW to Congress; Scrap Sequestration

Leo Shane, (@LeoShane) Military Times. The Veterans of Foreign Wars conducted their annual descent on Capitol Hill last week with an unusual message for Congress: fix sequestration this year. They came with a list of other issues from the VA benefits backlog, DoD changes in retirement or healthcare challenges but VFW wanted to address what they see as the root cause of all of those issues at the top of their agenda. The ridiculous cuts imposed over two years ago as a catastrophic event to force Congressional compromise has never been fully fixed and remains as the 800 pound gorilla in the room on all budget negotiations and plans in the federal government. Other VSO’s will be making their treks to the Hill in coming weeks in hopes of getting Congress to wake up from its stupor of petty political battles and actually govern effectively. Our professional recommendation is to not hold your breath on that happening any time soon.

Army opens all field artillery officer jobs to women – Jim Tice, Army Times. Nearly every officer job in the artillery is now open to females except those supporting Special Operations forces.

Pilot in Marine fighter jet crash is identified – Associated Press. A Marine Corps F/A-18C went down March 1st on a Navy range in California. The military identified the pilot as Marine Cpt. Reid Nannen, 32, of Hopedale, Ill. who was a student at Top Gun.

General’s tearful accuser describes forced oral sex, violence – David Zucchino, LA Times. The trial for Army BG Jeffery Sinclair got underway last week and his former lover and accuser took the stand to describe their relationship and the events that led to the charges that could put him in jail for decades. More on the victim from the Associated Press and her ambitions here.

Tradeshows & Conferences

AFCEA Homeland Security Conference (Mon-Wed, 10-12 March); Ronald Reagan Federal Building, Washington D.C.

Satellite 2014 (Mon-Thu, 10-13, March); Washington Convention Center, Washington, DC

Unmanned Aircraft Systems West Symposium (Tue-Wed, 11-12, March); Wyndham Bayside, San Diego, CA

Congressional Hearings

Congress: Both chambers are in session this week. Budget hearings are underway.


Veterans Affairs Committees: Legislative Presentation of the Multiple VSO’s Who: Legislative presentation of the Air Force Sergeants Association, American Ex-Prisoners of War, Fleet Reserve Association, Gold Star Wives, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Non-Commissioned Officers Association, Paralyzed Veterans of America, and Wounded Warrior Project When: 10:00 AM, Wednesday, March 12, 2014 Where: G50 Dirksen

House: Budget hearings for Veterans Affairs and Defense Agencies

Senate: Budget hearings for Veterans Affairs and Defense Agencies

Think Tanks & Other Events

The Brookings Institution: The Future of Land Power and U.S. Ground Forces Who: Major General Christopher Haas, U.S. Army Special Forces Command, Major General William Hix, U.S. Army, Peter W. Singer, Director, Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence, Senior Fellow, Colonel Jim Zientek, U.S. Marine Corps, Major General H.R. McMaster, Commanding General of the Maneuver Center of Excellence, U.S. Army When: 10:00 AM, Monday, February 24, 2014 Where: 1775 Massachusetts Ave NW, Falk Auditorium, Washington, DC, 20009

US Institute of Peace: Getting Beyond 2014 in Afghanistan Who: Ambassador James F. Dobbins, Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, U.S. Department of State, Ambassador Marc Grossman, Former Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, U.S. Department of State, Clare Lockhart, Director and Founder, Institute for State Effectiveness, David Sedney, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia, U.S. Department of Defense, Alex Thier, Assistant to the Administrator, U.S. Agency for International Development When: 10:00 AM, Monday, February 24, 2014 Where: 1775 Massachusetts Ave NW, Falk Auditorium, Washington, DC, 20009

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, March 10, 2014 3:21 pm

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