Mattis tells Congress off over NDAA cyber provisions, CMO post expansion

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is spitting a little venom at Congress over some of the provisions in the 2018 defense authorization bill as Senate and House begin to reconcile their differences over the bill in conference this week.

Mattis put his foot down on the creation of a Space Corps, changes to the Defense Department health system and reporting requirements dealing with offensive cyber measures in an Oct. 17 letter sent to Congress.

“Left unaddressed these items impact my priorities of restoring military readiness while building a more lethal force, strengthening alliances and bringing business reforms to the Defense Department,” Mattis stated in the letter.

The White House already released a statement with its qualms about the House and Senate versions of the 2018 defense authorization bill.  Mattis’ letter, however, is more focused on how certain provisions would affect his goals for the Pentagon.

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Not surprisingly, Mattis listed sequestration as the biggest threat to DoD, something he said has done more damage to the military than any enemy. Mattis called for a swift end to budget caps.

Outside of budget issues, Mattis takes particular issue with the creation of a U.S. Space Corps. The Corps has been controversial from the beginning and took many lawmakers by surprise when it made its way into the House version of the bill.

The House version creates a new branch of the military for space, which branches off from the Air Force. Mattis stated he opposed the creation of the Corps because it creates a distraction when DoD is focusing on restoring readiness and reducing overhead.

The Senate version of the bill does not have a Space Corps provision.

Mattis also complained about the expansion of the roles of the Defense chief management officer and the creation of the chief information warfare officer. Mattis called the creation of the positions premature.

Congress mandated the CMO position in the 2017 defense authorization bill. It gave the chief management officer independent authority to order the secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force to implement reforms on matters like business transformation, business planning, performance management and information technology.

This year’s bill expands that role, giving it oversight, direction and control of the business focused defense agencies. It also gives the CMO more of the chief information officer’s roles and responsibility over coordination of enterprise governance and data management.

The chief information warfare office would be presidentially appointed and would have authority over space and launch systems, communications and IT, national security systems, information assurance and cyber security and other tech-focused areas.

“There are things that the chief information officer does that are not dissimilar to the things CIOs in other federal agencies do. Then there is this information warfighting function that pertains to space control, cyber, electronic warfare and information assurance, spectrum management. Things that are very uniquely DoD information warfare functions and I think the thinking became these are probably more than one job,” a Senate Armed Services Committee aide said.

Mattis’ letter stated DoD is still working on the CMO position. It asks Congress to give the Pentagon time to onboard senior leaders, implement previously mandated changes and bring needed reforms to DoD before Congress expands the CMO role and creates the chief information warfare officer position.

Staying in the cyber realm, Mattis also brought up a Senate provision that would require the U.S. to notify foreign governments before it takes steps to defend against certain cyber threats. Mattis stated that provision may not be in the best interest of the U.S.; however, it could certainly ruffle some feathers if Congress takes the provision out.

The text of the bill says the U.S. should notify a country if there are cyber threats on its networks and encourage that country to take action. If the country is unwilling or unable, the U.S. reserves the right to act unilaterally with the consent of the country or without consent if necessary.

If the U.S. is not required to inform other countries of U.S. activity on their networks, it could bring up some serious questions about sovereignty and cyber law.

Outside of the cyber realm, Mattis encouraged Congress to allow for another round of Base Realignment and Closures.

DoD recently updated its BRAC analysis and found the department exceeds its needed infrastructure by 19 percent.

Mattis said DoD could save $2 billion a year with a new BRAC round.

Not all of Mattis’ comments were negative though.

Mattis’ letter stated he was a fan of copays on TRICARE pharmaceuticals and removing the grandfathering of certain fees. Mattis said those changes could save DoD $6 billion.