Tag: Pentagon

With McCain gone, who will watch the Pentagon?

McCain’s death leaves oversight void.

By: Joe Gould

WASHINGTON — The death of Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain will leave the Senate without a unique voice, one that conducted oversight of the Pentagon with forceful personality, charm and a wire-brush style of questioning.

McCain, R-Ariz., challenged the Pentagon and defense industry with taxpayers and troops in mind, calling out what he saw as problem-plagued acquisition programs and gaps or failures in U.S. national security strategy. He argued that political support for robust defense budgets is unsustainable without reigning in waste, fraud and abuse.

This week, several of his SASC colleagues said they will pick up the torch. Notably, his personal friend and fellow defense hawk, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters Tuesday after an emotional Senate floor tribute to McCain that he had promised his dying friend weeks earlier that he would try.

“When it came to the Pentagon, he was a ferocious reformer, and he loved nothing better than getting into the bowels of the budget and finding ways, so we’re going to take that up,” Graham said. “I talked to him about a month ago, and he said: ‘Boy, you’ve got to keep it going.’ ”

McCain, who died battling brain cancer on Aug. 25, enacted numerous reforms through annual defense authorization bills, including acquisitions and sweeping bureaucratic changes. Each year, he would legislate cutbacks to programs where he saw problems and would often hold up Pentagon nominees for further scrutiny.

“John McCain was a soldier’s best friend and the Pentagon’s worst nightmare,” Graham said. “I’d like to name the Pentagon after him just to get back at everybody.”

Graham acknowledged he has sought dialogue with President Donald Trump, a departure from McCain’s more confrontational approach. Graham said he would continue to “do things the Lindsey way.”

“The worst thing I could try to do is be John McCain because I’m not,” he said. “The best thing I could do is remember what John McCain was all about and channel that into who I am.”

Graham is an Air Force veteran who served as an officer and judge advocate. He chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, which oversees foreign aid.

Graham said he will seek help from Republican Sens. Dan Sullivan of Alaska; James Lankford of Oklahoma, and Cory Gardner of Colorado — lawmakers willing to promote American values abroad as McCain did.

Among Graham’s priorities are stiffer sanctions on Russia, protecting the midterm elections from hacking, puzzling out immigration reform and to “persuade President Trump if you leave Afghanistan, it will blow up in your face.”

Arnold Punaro, a former SASC staff director and retired two-star general, said McCain was influenced by his predecessors as chairman, particularly Texas Republican John Tower, who helped put the defense budget on an upward trajectory during the Carter administration, and Georgia Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn, whose name is synonymous with acquisition reform.

What was unique to McCain, however, was his proclivity for testiness with administration witnesses, no matter the president’s party affiliation.

“There was the phenomenon known as ‘Mount McCain’ where the volcano erupted if he thought you were giving him the runaround or parroting the administration’s position,” Punaro said. “He would press the witness, and you saw that at the beginning of this administration with a lot of the nominees.”

Punaro expressed confidence the committee would be, as it has long been, “serious, thorough and objective, particularly in civilian and military nominations.”

Several SASC members suggested no one senator will step into McCain’s shoes and that they will fulfill their oversight duties together, under the leadership of Sen. Jim Inhofe, the panel’s No. 2 Republican. Inhofe is expected to ascend to the role in the days after McCain’s funeral is complete.

“The reality is John was such a unique personality that I don’t think any one person will step in and say: ‘I’m the one doing it,’ ” said the SASC’s top Democrat, Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island. “I think there are enough very thoughtful members on both sides who pursue their duties very seriously, and one major one is making sure we are a check on the Pentagon — not just to be a check, but they do better work when they’re being supervised.”

Out of respect for McCain, Inhofe has rebuffed reporters asking about his possible chairmanship. However, its likely Inhofe will further empower the chairmen of the panel’s various subcommittees.

“I think the other chairmen on the other committees will step up, and I assume they will continue doing that work,” said Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chair Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb. “Yes, we won’t have John McCain there prodding us. I think it will get done.”

Maine Independent Sen. Angus King, a senior SASC member who caucuses with Democrats, called McCain’s absence “a huge loss to the committee,” comparing him to a roving ambassador and a rock star. McCain’s contacts overseas and decades of experience set him apart, King said.

Yet, King stressed that the committee is capable and will carry on, pointing to the completion of the 2019 defense policy bill in record time in McCain’s absence.

“His energy, his passion, his knowledge, his history, his relationships are unique,” King said of McCain. “That doesn’t mean the committee’s not going to be able to do its job.”

Initial cost for Trump military parade comes in at $12 million, DoD says

By Tara Copp

President Donald Trump’s requested military parade is expected to cost about $12 million, according to initial planning estimates, the Pentagon confirmed Wednesday.

The parade was initial set for Nov. 11, Veterans Day, but now will take place Nov. 10 to accomodate international celebrations on Nov. 11 set to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. The parade costs were first reported by CNN.

The initial price tag could easily change, and no final plan has been approved yet, a defense official said on the condition of anonymity. The price would depend on the final numbers of troops and type of equipment involved, and how those troops will need to be transported to Washington, such as whether they would need to be moved by train.

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney previously told Congress the price tage could be between $10 million and $30 million.

The parade date is just four months away, which raised questions on how Washington would be able to execute the needed security and planning, such as getting the permits and public bathrooms, that is required to accomodate a large public gathering.

The $12 million cost is roughly the same amount the military had planned to spend on its now-cancelled military exercises with South Korea. Trump directed the exercises to be cancelled citing their cost and saying the exercises were “very provocative” to North Korea.

“We stopped playing those ‘war games’ that cost us a fortune,” Trump said last month. The exercises were cancelled after his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.

DoD stands up its artificial intelligence hub

WASHINGTON – The Defense Department has formally ordered the creation of a new hub for artificial intelligence research with Dana Deasy, the Pentagon’s new chief information officer, taking the lead.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan ordered the move in a June 27 memo. The Pentagon’s goal is to launch a series of AI projects known as National Mission Initiatives within 90 days – as well as taking over the controversial Project Maven.

The office will be known as the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC), with the goal of enabling “teams across DoD to swiftly deliver new AI-enabled capabilities and effectively experiment with new operating concepts in support of DoD’s military missions and business functions,” according to DoD spokeswoman Lt. Col. Michelle Baldanza.

Put another way, the group will have the “overarching goal of accelerating the delivery of AI-enabled capabilities, scaling the Department-wide impact of AI, and synchronizing DoD AI activities to expand Joint Force advantages,” according to a copy of the memo posted by Breaking Defense.

“This effort is a Department priority. Speed and security are of the essence,” Shanahan wrote. “I expect all offices and personnel to provide all reasonable support necessary to make rapid enterprise-wide AI adoption a reality.”

The JAIC marks the second major initiative Pentagon leaders handed over to Deasy, a former CIO with JPMorgan Chase who has only been at the Pentagon for a few weeks. Deasy also is in charge of managing the department’s JEDI cloud computing contract.

The idea of standing up an AI center was first confirmed by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis on April 12, but it has been championed by the Defense Innovation Board, a group of outside experts ho advice the secretary on potential updates to how the Pentagon handles evolving technologies.

According to Michael Griffin, the head of Pentagon research and engineering, the department counts 592 projects as having some form of AI in them. However, Griffin said in April 18 testimony that he did not believe every one of those projects makes sense to roll into some sort of AI hub.

That concern appears to be reflected in Shanahan’s memo, which orders that any AI project with a budget of $15 million or more should be coordinated with the services in order to ensure “DoD is creating Department-wide advantages.”

In terms of budget, Shanahan ordered the Pentagon’s comptroller to find options for funding during the current fiscal year, but the major focus is on driving resources for fiscal year 2019 and beyond. Given the support for artificial intelligence research on the Hill, it is likely the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY19 will include some funding for the new office.

The movement of Project Maven to the JAIC is notable. A DoD initiative to accelerate the integration of big data and machine learning, largely drawing on video feeds from unmanned systems, Maven in the last month has become a poster child for the clash of cultures between the defense department and Silicon Valley.

Google was working hand-in-hand with the Pentagon on the project, until a backlash from the company’s employees, who argued in an open letter signed by more than 3,000 workers that it did not want to “build warfare technology.” Moving the program to the JAIC may be an attempt to keep the project underway without Google’s participation.