Tag Archives: Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory Medill

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry and Andrew Hunter of the Center for Strategic and International Studies converse at a March 23 event at CSIS headquarters in Washington. (Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory/MEDILL NSJI)

Agile Acquisition to Retain Technological Edge Act: A Journalist’s Guide to H.R. 1597

By Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory

WASHINGTON — Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, doesn’t want America to fear the future.

Terrorism, cyberattacks, epidemics and tumult in the Mideast and Africa threaten U.S. security, he says, and the Defense Department needs to be ready. To him that means reforms are needed in acquisition of goods and services, personnel and organization. Especially important is buying technology to keep pace with the changing environment.

“Nobody can foresee what’s going to happen over the next 16 months,” he said recently. “What we do know is the velocity of change is accelerating and that the unexpected will spring out on us.  The question is how well do we, or how well can we, respond.”

“Today you see countries like Russia and China trying to outflank us using technology, whether it’s deploying carrier-killing missiles or building radar that can detect stealth.”.

Thornberry, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, said the U.S. edge in technology is decreasing, citing “the general pace of change” and “our broken budget process and acquisition process” as factors contributing to what he calls “an eroding American technological superiority.”

“The only defense is to adapt quicker than they do,” he said. “I don’t want to see America outflanked.”

Thornberry has proposed acquisition reform legislation, co-sponsoring with Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., a bill called the Agile Acquisition to Retain Technological Edge Act, H.R. 1597.

According to a House Armed Services Committee press release, the bill’s introduction was timed so that the public’s feedback could be obtained before the legislative ball starts rolling on the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act.  This way, Thornberry explained at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on March 23, the bill could function as “a discussion draft for the first tranche of legislative proposals to fix our acquisitions system.” During his CSIS talk, Thornberry noted that the full committee markup of the newest iteration of the NDAA is slated to begin on April 29.

Here is an introductory guide to this legislation.

Full Text of H.R. 1597:

(Source: House Armed Services Committee)


Draft Report on H.R. 1597:

(Source: House Armed Services Committee)


A Quick Outline of What Reforms Thornberry Has Proposed

(Source: Center for Strategic and International Studies talk on March 23, 2015)

  1. People
    • Take away some barriers that make it hard for “top military talent” to have a role in acquisition process
    • Make Defense Acquisition Workforce Development Fund permanent
    • Enact mandatory commercial-market training to close industry-government gap
    • Enact mandatory ethics training for industry-government interactions
  2. Acquisitions Strategy
    • Every program needs to start with a written and “upfront” acquisitions strategy that is updated
    • Consolidates multiple reporting requirements
    • Choose types of contracts used on an acquisition-by-acquisition basis
    • Evaluate whether a multi-year plan is suitable on an acquisition-by-acquisition basis
    • Include risk mitigation strategies for acquisition plan
    • Consider incentives
    • Possibility of allowing shared savings on service contracts mentioned
  3. Chain of Command
    • Simplify chain of command for acquisitions decisions
    • Move from legal certification to a decision and decrease number of lawyers involved in process
    • Raise dollar thresholds on authorities to enable ease of getting things done
    • Keep testing/research community in R&D and out of decision-making
  4. Regulations & Paperwork
    • Pare down reporting requirements
    • Keep a single decision-maker accountable within the acquisitions process

Watch Thornberry’s full CSIS address here:

Expert Feedback

CSIS Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group Director Andrew Hunter praised Thornberry for capturing “both sides of the coin,” in the sense that the plan married good intentions with an awareness of the facts that other potentially positive plans of action are out there and a “silver-bullet quick fix to the system” doesn’t exist.  He said Thornberry’s “areas of focus and the way he’s thinking about the problem” were very optimistic, despite the fact that the language of the legislation was pending at the time of the interview.

Hunter said he interpreted Thornberry’s chain-of-command simplification goal to mean that every person in the acquisitions process would not have veto power versus experts being nixed from the process.

“At the end of the day, what you want is you want experts who come to you and say ‘no kidding, this is how we see it; this is, this is our vision of ground truth,’” he said, going on to explain that there needs to be an individual separate from the experts to distill various experts’ input and perspectives into a final, authoritative decision.

Hunter said he thinks Thornberry is on the right track, but that “acquisition workforce is critical” and that he wants program managers “to have good judgment” and a basic comprehension of the acquisitions-sector discipline. He also said he’d like to see defense acquisition reforms mirror changes occurring in technology and industry.

“The world of today and the world certainly of tomorrow is not the world of the 50s and 60s, and, so, we definitely want to make sure that we are adapting and adaptable to those changes,” Hunter said.

 5 Questions Reporters Could Ask About the Bill:

  1. What is the timeline for the rollout of the reform if the bill is ratified?
  2. During his CSIS address, Thornberry discussed the minimization of pre-acquisition “paperwork” in order to streamline the defense acquisitions process.  
    1. What types of documents, in particular, are set to be minimized?
    2. Will there an alternative source or process by which journalists covering acquisitions could theoretically obtain that quantitative and/or qualitative data if the research is being done but reports are not issued for the sake of reducing this bulk?
  3. In the same CSIS address, Thornberry said that the decrease in pre-acquisition reporting was intended to reduce “second-guessing” on the part of program managers within the acquisitions process.  
    1. How do Thornberry and Smith define the line between responsible research and second-guessing?  
    2. What is a real-world example of a line of research that would be nixed vs. one that would be preserved for the sake of checks and balances remaining in the process?
  4. Will there be any shift in the hiring process for program managers within the acquisitions process in response to the increased level of responsibility and authority that the proposed legislation would afford them?
  5. How would the streamlined chain of command proposed by the legislation impact employment rates in the defense sector?

#NatSecSoundoff: Sen. Kelly Ayotte demands service-by-service update on the war against military sexual assault

By Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory
U.S. Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Daniel Allyn, U.S. Navy Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michelle Howard, U.S. Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Larry O. Spencer and U.S. Marine Corps Assistant Commandant Gen. John Paxton appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee's Subcommittee on Readiness and Management  Support on March 25, 2015. (Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory/MEDILL NSJI)

U.S. Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Daniel Allyn, U.S. Navy Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michelle Howard, U.S. Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Larry O. Spencer and U.S. Marine Corps Assistant Commandant Gen. John Paxton appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support on March 25, 2015. (Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory/MEDILL NSJI)

WASHINGTON – Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., asked top U.S. military brass for an update on the current status of military sexual assault cases within the armed forces in a Senate hearing Wednesday.

The hearing, hosted by the Senate Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support, focused on the current state of U.S. military readiness, especially under the influence of sequestration.

Those who gave testimony included U.S. Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Daniel Allyn, U.S. Navy Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michelle Howard, U.S. Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Larry O. Spencer and U.S. Marine Corps Assistant Commandant Gen. John Paxton.

Ayotte, chairwoman of the subcommittee, said that she would be remiss if she didn’t take time during the hearing’s question and answer period to ask for such a status report from the senior leaders of the four military branches.

The four witnesses each gave a description of how their respective service was working to combat the problem of sexual assault in the military.

Listen to each of their responses:

United States Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Daniel Allyn:

United States Navy Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michelle Howard:

United States Marine Corps Assistant Commandant Gen. John Paxton:

United States Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Larry O. Spencer:

What do you think of the officers’ responses? Are they consistent with your own research and reporting on sexual assault in the military? Sound off on Twitter by tweeting to @NatSecZone with the hashtag #NatSecSoundoff.

SOCOM Commander: Serving Special Ops members and families, readiness among most important storylines for coming year

By Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory

WASHINGTON – U.S. Special Operations Command’s dedication to providing resources to its members and their families is “perhaps the most important” story that needs to be told by military journalists writing about Special Operations forces, said Gen. Joseph L. Votel, head of SOCOM, in an interview Wednesday.

After testifying before the House Armed Services Committee’s Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee about the SOF’s posture ahead of the creation of his command’s FY16 budget, Votel underscored this loyalty as a vital thread in SOF’s current story.

“Combat deployments come along with a lot of stress and a lot of invisible challenges,” he said in an interview. “We are very attuned to those and we are focused on those to make sure that we are doing the very best things we can for our people and their families to have those things offered.”

Votel’s testimony highlighted the burden that repeated deployments since 2001 has taken on SOCCOM’s uniformed and civilian ranks, as well as their families.

Other SOCOM storylines he said he’d like to see explored by the press are special operations’ contributions to supporting America’s objectives in areas where it is currently engaged, its future-minded approach to readiness and its capability to handle “very, very complex missions.”

“We want people to understand that SOF is ready to do the missions the nation requires,” he said in the interview. According to Votel’s testimony, special operations forces capabilities are uniquely tailored for gray-zone operations, which he described as existing “between normal international competition and open conflict.”

When asked what forms of nonmonetary support he felt SOCOM might need – since talk of the sequester’s impact on the military was a primary theme of his testimony – Votel stressed the importance of government funding of other service branches to SOCOM’s success.

“If there was one more dollar, we should give it to the services,” he said in the interview. “We are dependent upon the services to help us accomplish our mission, and, so, I would like to… make sure they’re taken care of, because I’m very dependent on them.”

In his testimony, Votel said SOCOM is “absolutely dependent upon” the other services for “mission support.”

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict (SO/LIC) Michael D. Lumpkin echoed this concept in his congressional testimony, telling the subcommittee that “the changing nature of the threats we face today demands SOF attention and engagement through agile authorities that enable us to remain ahead of our adversaries.” Increased authorities, Lumpkin testified, result in increased capabilities.

Votel also told the subcommittee that he is concerned about international cyber and social-media-based threats to U.S. national security during his Congressional testimony, a point which could also be a compelling angle from which to report on SOF.

Watch the full hearing here:

To help you glean even more story ideas, check out Votel’s and Lumpkin’s submitted written testimonies from the hearing below.

Gen. Votel’s testimony:

ASD SO/LIC Michael D. Lumpkin’s testimony: