DoD Personnel Reporter’s Notebook

“DoD Personnel Notebook” is a biweekly feature focused on news about the military and civilian personnel and workforce issues, as gathered by Federal News Radio DoD Reporter Scott Maucione.

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Army phases out its early retirement program to retain more troops

As the Army continues to move away from its plans to draw down its end strength, the service is phasing out its temporary early retirement program.

Starting Feb. 28, the Army will terminate its temporary early retirement authority (TERA), according to a Dec. 15, 2017, memo signed by Army Secretary Mark Esper.

“Since 2012, temporary early retirement authority has served as an effective tool for drawing down the Army’s end strength. However, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 increased Army end strength and we have ceased the drawdown. Therefore, I am terminating the use of TERA and ending the reduction in minimum years of active commissioned service required for voluntary retirement,” the memo stated.

Soldiers who are eligible for TERA must have submitted their request by Jan. 15 to be considered for the last batch.

The TERA program was started in 2012 and let soldiers who served between 15 years and 20 years retire with full retirement entitlements.

The program was a tool to cast off soldiers as the Army tried to lower its end strength during the Obama administration.

The service was planning on going as low as 450,000 active-duty soldiers. Plans changed, however, after the Islamic State and other threats reared their heads.

Last year, the Army paused its drawdown and is now building its force back up to 483,500. Building the force to that level comes with its own challenges.

For 2018, Army Recruiting Command will need 80,000 active-duty recruits to stay on target.

Officials say they have never accessed that many soldiers in a single year without violating Defense Department policies, which set standards for new recruits’ educational levels, criminal histories, past drug use and other measures of “quality.”

Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Snow, the commander of Army Recruiting Command, said the Army’s 1,400 nationwide recruiting centers managed to exceed the increased 2017 goal for the regular Army without violating those standards, though recruiting into the Army Reserve fell slightly short of the higher goal.

“And the one thing our leadership has been clear with us about is that we will continue to meet the DoD benchmarks in 2018. There’s a number of things we’re doing to make sure we do that,” Snow said in an interview. “For one, we’ve identified the resources we’ll need early on, so we’ve missioned the recruiting force for the higher numbers even though it’s not clear yet what Congress is going to support with appropriations.”

The Army is paying active-duty recruits an average of $12,700 in bonuses.

Bonuses will also be offered for new recruits who agree to join on a “quick ship” basis, beginning their service within four-to-six weeks from signing their contracts, rather than staying for a time in the Army’s delayed entry pool.

Snow said the Army was also retooling its marketing strategies both at a national and local level, mindful of the fact that only 3  in 10 Americans of enlistment age meet the military’s basic qualifications to serve, including less reliance on traditional techniques like mass media campaigns and prospecting for candidates via telephone, and more of a focus on targeted advertising, including through social media.

Read more from the DoD Personnel Notebook.

Navy wants to change training to make maintainers more self sufficient

The Navy doesn’t want to be like E.T. anymore.

Due to some risks the Navy has taken over the years in maintenance training, sailors have the option to “phone home” when they can’t fix something on a ship.

The Navy wants to change that in the coming years.

“For many, many years we have taken margins on planned maintenance systems, on tech manuals, on having available piece parts onboard, on training, to where we got satisfied that if something broke and you get to step 15 in the repair process it says call Navy 311. There’s a phone home capability built into the system and that’s not going to work when you’re working in a contested environment and you cannot call home,” Rear Adm. Mark Whitney, director of fleet maintenance said at a Jan. 11 speech during the Surface Navy Association’s Annual Symposium in Arlington, Va.

Whitney said the Navy will move toward a self-sufficient sailor concept, where sailors will have a tech manual, they will have the ability to practice through a couple of training programs.

Whitney called the training a way for maintainers to get some “reps and sets” in before they get underway with the fleet. He said the Navy’s ability to train its sailors is improving but still needs a lot of work.

They Navy also created a Ships Organic Ability Assessment Team to inspect ships to make sure they have the consumables they need, to make sure the tools are in working order and to make sure the correct tech manuals are up to date.

“It’s all intended so we can measure something, we can do evaluation, we can improve our disciple to some fundamental processes to make sure we can get back to self-sufficient sailors at sea,” Whitney said.

Ready Relevant Learning, the Navy’s push to make fundamental changes into the training approach for sailors of 2025 and beyond, is another key factor.

The program is a career-long learning continuum for every sailor. Whitney said training will follow a sailor throughout his or her career to allow for the proper amount of practice.

The Navy also plans to perform more preventative maintenance so parts on ships will not break as much in the first place.

Vice Adm. Thomas Moore, chief of Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) said last spring that he wants to hire 2,000 more civilian employees to handle maintenance issues on ships, especially for preventative measures.

“The number one mission priority right now for NAVSEA is the on-time delivery of ships and submarines,” Moore said. “Today, we only deliver about 40 percent of our ships and submarines out of maintenance availabilities on time and that’s causing great stress for the fleet.”

That maintenance issue is with the Navy’s current fleet of 285 ships. Moore said the extra 2,000 workers would get rid of the maintenance backlog plaguing the shipyards. That would bring NAVSEA’s workforce to just over 36,000.

The Navy hired 16,500 workers over the past five years, but it is still getting its ships out of maintenance late. Part of the reason is because it takes time to train the new hires.

“As you hire all these people, young workforce, you’ve got to get them trained. And in the past, it would typically take four to five years to take a new shipyard worker and get them to the kind of a journeymen level where you could trust them to go work on a nuclear submarine or carrier, “Moore told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Today, we’ve invested a lot of money in our training systems, so that a young worker can come in today and takes some about one to two years to the point that they can actually provide real wrench turning on the ship.”

Read more from the DoD Personnel Notebook.

What’s in the Coast Guard’s secret sauce for high retention?

The Coast Guard touts some of the highest retention rates in the military. The rate usually clocks in the mid to upper 90 percent range.

The way the service is keeping such a larger percentage of its force is through careful policy crafting, attentive leadership and programs that help circumvent the military’s rigid promotion system, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft told Federal News Radio in an exclusive interview.

“It really begins with good leadership. Leaders that really do go to bat for their people, knowing your people and not just what do they qualify, what’s their name, but going the extra mile to say, ‘Hey, here’s someone who’s having some struggles in their relationship at home, they’re having some financial difficulty, I think they might have a drinking problem. I’m going to confront them on it.’ But not in a punitive way, in a ‘I care about you [way]’,” Zukunft said. “Our leaders really, truly do look out for their people and not for themselves.”

The military as a whole is worried about keeping talent in the ranks.

“If the military is going to recruit and retain a volunteer force with the necessary skills, it needs to do two things. It needs to recruit, assign and promote in a way that develops and retains value across a wide range of skills including the highly technical skills, and it needs to better accommodate the evolution of American society and the American family. And it needs to do those things without sacrificing the aspects of the system that are working well,” former Sen. Jim Talent told Congress last May.

A recent Blue Star Families Survey found 60 percent of service members would not recommend military service to their children. That’s something Anthony Kurta, who at the time was performing the duties of the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said was a dark cloud for the all-volunteer force.

The Coast Guard read that message loud and clear and made its service more amendable to 21st century lifestyles compared to the other services.

“We have a policy that is called temporary separation. We have folks who wanted to hike the Himalayan Mountains and it’s on their bucket list, so they take a year off and fulfill their life’s dream because they know if they wait to retire they may not be able to do that. Traditionally, that [program] was used for extended leave,” Zukunft said.

The other services have experimented with a similar program called the career intermission program, which allows service members to take time away from the military for school or to take care of a loved one without taking a hit to their career.

Only about 25 people have taken advantage of the pilot program, but the Defense Department is trying to expand it past the pilot status.

Zukunft said he is also careful to send direction to promotion boards that prioritizes talented and dedicated members of the Coast Guard.

“I’m looking at what are the contributions, the skills that this person has to contribute to a 21st century Coast Guard,” Zukunft said.Looking beyond are they a good ship driver. Is this someone that is really savvy in cyber? We are opening up some new skill sets in all of our military services right now. We haven’t really conveyed to this workforce how valued they really are. If we don’t they will walk away from these jobs into much more higher paying jobs in the private sector. If they are worried about not being valued, which means not being promoted then we are going to bleed talent and this is talent I cannot afford to bleed.”

Read more from the DoD Personnel Notebook.

What’s in store for personnel and readiness in 2018?

Military personnel and readiness issues are getting some traction in Congress, but will it be enough to make it into the 2019 legislative agenda?

The 2018 defense authorization bill already calls on the Defense Department to study some possible changes to the military personnel system.

The law asks DoD to conduct a comprehensive review of the impacts of the Defense Officer Personnel Management Act, the 1980 law that defines most of today’s promotion policies for officers.

Lawmakers ordered DoD to conduct a statistical analysis, based on surveys of people leaving the military, of the effects the current policies are having on recruiting, retention and career development. The Pentagon report is supposed to include an estimate of the number of officers who depart the armed services each year because of unhappiness with “career progression, promotion policies and a perceived lack of opportunity for schooling and broadening assignments.”

Last month, Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) called the current DOPMA-based rules “outdated” and “overly rigid,” partly because of their across-the-board enforcement of training requirements and an up-or-out approach to military officer promotion and retention.

“One of today’s most pressing personnel challenges is the worsening pilot shortage. We’ve heard over and over that flying time and career stability are crucial to solving this crisis. Yet, DOPMA-driven personnel policies require pilots to assume numerous staff assignments, relocate every two-to-three years, and complete military education courses, all in order to be promoted according to inflexible timelines,” McCain said. “All of this is done to turn every officer into the military’s next general or admiral. Well, not every officer wants or needs to be a general officer, and it’s about time we figured out how to provide for more variety in military careers.”

Meanwhile, restoring readiness has been a goal of the Trump administration since the president took office.

To find out how things may pan out for 2018, Federal News Radio asked lawmakers and military analysts to give their predictions for personnel and readiness.

What are the biggest personnel and readiness issues facing the military in 2018?

Brad Carson, former DoD acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness:

“I think the biggest P&R issues in 2018 will be, on the personnel side, recruiting. The economy is robust, unemployment is down, most young people aren’t eligible to enlist: this spells a recruiting issue. The Army is already talking about allowing marijuana waivers and they lowered the waiver authority for behavioral health conditions (since reversed after public outcry). The Army is always the bellwether. Other services will have similar issues, and the Air Force already is, what with the pilot shortage that they face. On the readiness front… this is a continued issue. Most of the services say they have readiness problems; Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the other chiefs have said readiness is their top priority. So making it happen, given that it is a multi-year process, will be a huge effort.”

Dan Grazier, military fellow at the Project on Government Oversight:

“It is a lot of the same general issues. The force continues to be stretched too thin with far too many commitments and not enough structure. This can only be fixed at the highest levels by reducing some of our overseas commitments. The services really need to get better at focusing on core competency and eliminating less essential training requirements. It is difficult to understand how burdensome all of the mandatory training our troops endure really is unless it is experienced up first hand.”

House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-Wash.):

“One of the most important issues will be figuring out how to deal with the end-strength requirements. This is a big issue. It’s very dangerous to put the military in a position where we’re mandating large increases in the number of troops and then don’t provide the resources to support that increase. You have to have a balanced approach that ensures the force growth is also properly trained, equipped, and sustained. Otherwise you’re creating a hollow military, and that’s the absolute last thing we should be doing.”

House Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee Ranking Member Jackie Speier (D-Calif.):

“I’m increasingly concerned about misbehavior and lack of accountability in the senior ranks. It seems like not a week goes by without a report about a general or flag officer who’s been caught engaging in sexual misconduct, conflict of interest, fraternization, misuse of government resources…the list goes on. More often than not, these officers get off with a slap on the wrist. They keep their pension, they keep their health care, they keep their security clearance and go on to a lucrative civilian career as a contractor. As the most senior leaders in our military, general and flag officers set the example for hundreds of thousands of junior officers and enlisted troops. Congress must focus on how to improve the culture and better hold senior officers accountable, no matter how many stars they wear on their shoulders.”

What issues do you think Congress will focus on for personnel and readiness in the coming year?

Jim Perkins, executive director of the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum:

“I think that vehicular readiness is going to get addressed quite seriously in the next year. The combination of excessive requirements and a no fail mentality has had tragic consequences for all of the services, most notably the Navy and Army. These fatal accidents are likely going to receive Congressional scrutiny.

Most service members probably care deeply about this particular aspect of readiness. If trust is broken at the expense of “readiness”, then you’ve sacrificed something vital in exchange for nothing and that rots a unit’s effectiveness from within.

I’m hopeful, but not optimistic that Congress will resume talks of personnel management reform. The Force of the Future initiative under Secretary Carter and Acting USD-P&R Carson was killed for political reasons, not policy. Congress wants to support national security and save money, so I have reason to believe that it will resurface in 2018.”


“Sexual harassment and assault continues to be pervasive throughout the military, and I’ve heard too many horror stories of women – and men – who have suffered at the hands of their brothers and sisters in arms when all they want to do is serve their country. I am particularly concerned about rampant abuse at the Academies, where the next generation of military leaders are groomed. Congress will need to examine whether additional reforms are required to the military justice system, and whether existing training programs are having any impact.”


“There are a lot of questions we need to answer: What is the plan for the long-term growth of the services, to meet what requirements? How much growth can the services achieve in the current recruiting environment? Is that growth affordable?

“And, of course, where do we find the money? We need a predictable budget to support these requirements, and we need to lift the budget caps and get our fiscal house in order. We also need a coherent, realistic national security strategy that matches what we’re asking the military to do with the size of the force and the resources we can provide to support that force.”

What issues do you think are most important to the troops?


“I honestly believe that troops do not want to give any thought to military personnel issues – they want to stay focused on their mission. That’s the deal we made with them when they signed up for the military – they look after us, and we look after them. If troops are worried about their health care, retirement, or having an environment free from harassment or discrimination, then we’re not doing our job as a Congress.”


“The troops generally join the military to be soldiers, Marines, sailors, and airmen. They just want to do their jobs and have a reasonable work-life balance. They are eager to deploy and serve their country for a worthy cause and to train hard when they are back at their home stations. That becomes difficult when their time at home is packed with administration and constant permanent change (PCS) of station moves.”


“I think pay and benefits are the most important things to the troops – plus PCS rotations and duty assignments. So a close eye will be had by the service members on pay raises, health care costs, commissaries and exchanges. Some of the services are trying to reduce the churn of perpetual moves by looking at less frequent PCS. That’d be good.”

Read more of the DoD Personnel Notebook

New security strategy focuses on border security, trade

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The United States will focus on border security and trade competitiveness along with classic military threats in its new security policy.

President Donald Trump said the new policy will put an emphasis his “America First” ideology as he unveiled the White House’s new security agenda during a Dec. 18 speech in Washington.

“Our government’s first duty is to its people, to our citizens — to serve their needs, to ensure their safety, to preserve their rights and to defend their values,” Trump said in a statement.

Part of the trade competitiveness aspect of the document includes creating more jobs, taking the United States out of “unfair” trade deals and preserving the United States’ lead in technology and innovation.

Outside of the push for stronger borders, a better economy and calling on United States’ allies to pony up money for U.S. protection, the White House plan does not differ much from previous years.

The policy recognizes Russia and China as threats to U.S. interests.

“China and Russia challenge American power, influence, and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity. They are determined to make economies less free and less fair, to grow their militaries, and to control information and data to repress their societies and expand their influence,” the policy stated.

It also continues to stigmatize North Korea, Iran and transnational terrorist organizations like the Islamic State.

The policy stated the United States will redouble its efforts to protect critical infrastructure and secure its networks. That includes improving information sharing and sensing.

The strategy takes the usual stand of stopping the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and biological weapons.

One glaring difference compared to the Obama era policy is the new strategy does not recognize climate change as an issue.

This comes just five days after the Government Accountability Office released a study stating climate change is having a troubling effect on overseas installations through flooding and erosion.

The study stated the Defense Department needs to do a better job tracking the costs of climate change risks for future budget considerations.

House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) applauded the strategy.

“I commend the administration on producing a responsible national security strategy that is based in America’s national interest and grounded in common sense,” Thornberry said in a statement. “The strategy depends on the US military maintaining its edge over our adversaries; remaining agile and deployable, and retaining the ability to reassure our allies and deter our enemies,” Thornberry said in a statement.”

To achieve that goal, Thornberry said, Congress has to stop asking the military to do more with less and pass adequate and reliable funding for our troops.

“This strategy is a good start, but only sufficient funding for our military can make it real,” he said.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) also agreed with the principles of the strategy.

“Stronger diplomacy and sustained pressure is needed to change North Korea and Iran’s behavior. A revitalized U.S. broadcasting system is critical to countering the spread of terror, promoting human rights, and checking Putin’s aggression,” Royce said in a statement. “And we need more trade agreements that advance U.S. interests and ensure a level playing field for our job creators. Because the world does not stand still if we close off our borders to trade. Other countries – like China – will take advantage, leaving the U.S. out of important markets for our goods, services and agriculture.”

House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said there is a disconnect between the policy and Trump’s actions as president.

“The president’s strategy claims that there have been ‘11 months of Presidential action to restore respect for the United States abroad and renew American confidence at home’ – neither of which are true.  Under President Trump, our nation’s image has been eroded around the globe, and a less respected America is a weaker America,” Hoyer said. “If this president is in any way serious about national security, he should start by embracing the basic tenets of American leadership: uniting rather than dividing, and defending our democratic ideals abroad and at home.”

Anthony Cordsman, the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the policy lacks details and strategy.

“There are no specifics, no broad plans, no summary indications of costs and resource, and no time frames for action. About the only specific—early in the new strategy document—is an unexplained call: ‘layered missile defense system will defend our homeland from missile attack,’” Cordsman said. “It is not enough to set national security goals. In an unstable and threatening world, at a time we cannot seem to manage our national budgets, and at a time when we face a growing deficit crisis driven by rising entitlement costs, we really need an actual strategy.”

Christine Wormuth, the former undersecretary of defense for policy said the policy could have used more prioritization, especially in a time when budgets are potentially constrained by sequestration.

Read more of the DoD Personnel Notebook

Service members get tiny bump in BAH for 2018

Military households will see the tiniest bump in the funds they get from the government to help pay for housing.

The new 2018 Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) rates will give service members living off base an average of $10 more per money to cover living expenses.

The increase is small and rate increases or decreases differ by base. About half of the nearly 300 bases will see a decrease in rates.

Areas like Washington, D.C. and California will see mostly increases in BAH rates, while places like Alaska will see a decrease.

No military households will see a decrease in BAH funding unless they move to a new location or are demoted.

The small bump comes about $50 to $100 short of covering the average rent and utilities for military families.

The disparity highlights how military personnel benefits have continued to fall behind economic trends as Congress continues to struggle with budget caps and passing budgets on time.

The Senate tried to change BAH payments in the 2017 defense authorization bill, but ultimately pulled it from the final bill.

The provision would have changed the law so BAH only reimburses service members for their actual expenses instead of paying them a flat monthly payment.

The provision would have made service members provide proof of their rent and utility payments. The military would then only reimburse service members for what they actually spent, instead of giving them a flat fee and allowing them to keep the remainder.

The bill would also make it so that couples and service members who room together would not be able to receive two BAH stipends for one house. Instead, their individual stipends would be cut in half and then changed to cover the actual living cost. The 2018 bill also considered taking away benefits for couples, but ultimately did not.

The Air Force punched back at Congress over the provision.

“From my discussions with airmen around the world, I find that this proposal is having a significant negative impact on airmen’s morale and their sense of support from their elected officials,” a June 14 letter to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) signed by Air Force Chief Master Sgt. James Cody said. “Airmen are concerned about the potential financial hardships as some families could lose up to $50,000 a year in compensation. Additionally, this proposal threatens our wingman culture as it provides disincentives for shared living arrangements, thereby removing a critical support structure that contributes to the resiliency of the force.”

Garry Hall, president and CEO of the Association of the United States Navy, said BAH is especially important for sailors because they are often stationed in areas such as San Diego, California, and Norfolk, Virginia, where housing is expensive due to accessibility to the water and local resorts.

Basic pay for an E-4 with four years in the military is about $2,600 a month. The average rent in San Diego County in March 2016 was $1,618, according to a report by Market Pointe Realty Advisors.

“These are high-dollar areas and without [BAH, sailors] couldn’t afford to live in those areas and scrape by,” Hall said.

Read more of the DoD Personnel Notebook

Senior enlisted say there is no readiness crisis, but is the problem bigger than readiness?

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Is the military in a readiness crisis? If you’ve been listening to Congress the past year, you’d most likely think so.

The House Armed Services Committee sent out frequent emails leading up to the passage of the 2018 defense authorization bill as part of a “Losing Time” series. Those press releases highlighted a different aspect of the military every day that is losing its edge and why it needed funding. The releases usually revolved around aircraft and the need for new, modernized weaponry.

If that wasn’t explicit enough, the committee released a Sept. 6 press release called “Readiness Crisis Getting Worse” in which it gave a timeline of the naval and airspace accidents involving military assets over the summer.

But last week the nation’s top enlisted personnel from each service cast some doubt on those claims.

“From my perspective, from a joint perspective, I don’t think we’re in crisis right now,” said Sgt. Maj. John Troxell, senior enlisted adviser to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at the Pentagon. The top enlisted personnel from each service agreed.

“I’ve been in 34 years, every day there is a crisis in something, but you walk out and ask the average Marine ‘are we in a crisis?’ I don’t think they are going to tell you we are in a crisis,” said Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Ronald Green.

So which is it?

The answer is much more complicated than it sounds, especially when the department in question has a $600 billion a year budget and has never been audited.

The Defense Department is trying to hold soda filled to the brim while riding in a racecar when it talks about readiness. The only way it can get money for readiness accounts is to reprogram money it saves or to convince Congress there are problems so lawmakers appropriate more money to DoD.

The problem with doing that is when DoD tells Congress it’s hurting, it’s also telling adversaries the military isn’t ready for a fight.

Of course, the term readiness itself has a bit of a subjective twinge to it. The definition of “being ready” to the U.S. technically constitutes the ability to fight a two-fronted war. That definition may change when DoD finishes its defense strategy review, however.

Military leaders have mostly toed the line by testifying that there is a real readiness issue, but not necessarily a crisis.

But considering the military is getting half of the discretionary budget and still can’t retain the readiness it needs, is there a point where taxpayers and lawmakers say the military is taking on too many responsibilities?

DoD is in a time of transformation. It’s stretching itself to fight two wars against inferior enemies in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and parts of Africa. At the same time, the Pentagon wants to keep up with high-end adversaries like China and Russia.

The result is a strange mix of readiness. Some programs like the F-35 receive large influxes of money over years of budget cycles. On the other hand, about one-fifth of military installations like barracks and hangars are in poor and failing conditions.

What you end up with is a pilot who is being paid far less than a commercial airline pilot, parking a $120 million jet in a hangar that is in disrepair.

So is the U.S. military ready?

The answer for the most part seems to be yes, but with a lot of caveats. There’s the obvious elephant in the room of continuing resolutions and budget caps, but putting that aside there are broader cultural issues.

The Brookings Institution held an event on Nov. 13 called “Is There Really a Military Crisis in the United States?”

The consensus from the panel was the same as the senior enlisted personnel: the U.S. can fight and win wars.

But the real readiness issues are future problems that may need more than money to fix. How does the military retain talented personnel? How can DoD be better with money, especially when by its own accounts it can save $125 billion over five years without firing a single person? Does the military need to be ready to fight a two-fronted war? Does it need to be the organization that responds to international crises like Ebola?

In the end, “is the military ready?” is a lot bigger than yes or no.

Read more of the DoD Personnel Notebook

Intelligence community women join the #MeToo movement

The #MeToo revolution has emboldened women across some of the most powerful industries to step forward and stand up for equal treatment, and the intelligence community is no different.

More than 200 women in the national security community signed a letter demanding action to reduce the incidents of sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace.

“Diplomats and civil servants, defense civilians, members of the military, development workers, and the locally employed staff workers and contractors who support them brave challenging, at times life-threatening, conditions. Our commitment leads many of us to spend extended time away from our families and loved ones in war-zones and hostile locations in service of our nation. We, too, are survivors of sexual harassment, assault and abuse or know others who are,” the Nov. 28 letter stated.

The letter had one simple message: “It’s time to make it stop.”

Signed by top ranking women like Ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley; Wendy Anderson, the former deputy chief of staff to the defense secretary; and Nora Bensahel from the Atlantic Council; the letter calls for specific solutions to deter sexual harassment.

“The institutions to which we belong or have served all have sexual harassment policies in place. Yet, these policies are weak, under-enforced and can favor perpetrators,” the letter stated.

The women call for clear leadership from the very top that sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace is unacceptable.

The women want mandatory exit interviews for all women leaving federal service, the creation of multiple private channels to report abuse without retribution, external mechanisms to collect data on claims and publish them and regular mandatory training for all employees.

“This community must also address the serious gender imbalances in senior leadership positions because male-dominated teams have been found  to be more prone to abuses and more diverse teams are consistently linked to better outcomes. And we want to see leaders and managers across the national security community held accountable for creating, nurturing and enforcing a workplace culture that respects and includes women as equal peers and colleagues,” the letter stated.

While women in the IC are taking a more public approach toward sexual harassment, women in the military have relied on lawmakers to be their champion.

Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) has been trying to keep military sexual assault in the spotlight.

“Despite years of congressional reforms, our men and women in uniform still do not have confidence in the military justice system,” Gilibrand said in September. Fewer sexual assault cases are going to trial and those that do are generating fewer convictions, the AP reported.

Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, examined internal legal documents from 238 sexual assault cases that were adjudicated in 2015 at four of the largest military installations in the United States: the Army’s Fort Hood in Texas, Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia, the Marine Corps’ Camp Pendleton in California and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

In what she described as a shocking outcome, Gillibrand said there were no examples in the records from those bases of disciplinary action being taken against anyone who retaliated against a person who reported a sexual assault. She said that conflicted with Pentagon surveys that found more than half of all victims across the vast Defense Department enterprise experienced negative reactions or reprisal for their complaints, the AP article stated.

Read more of the DoD Personnel Notebook

Employee productivity is the goal with new mobile policy

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Pick up the phone.

You’ll be able to do that now in some secure areas of the Defense Department and the Pentagon is hoping that will add to the productivity of its employees.

It only makes sense now that mobile devices have permeated every industry and almost every aspect of life that DoD wants its employees to harness their power in secure areas as well.

It seems like a farce to think of DoD employees doing everything with paper and pencil in a secure area and then walking through the unclassified world using iPhones, virtual reality and every other futuristic device, but it is the current state of affairs.

Deputy DoD Chief Information Officer for Cybersecurity Therese Firmin told Federal News Radio there is no current timeline for when the new directive allowing mobile devices will be implemented, but she expects some immediate results when the policy goes into place.

“It will definitely improve the productivity, because what it will allow for is for the users to access enterprise information from their phones or their tablets or their laptops when they are remote or in their office environments. There’s a huge productivity advantage to doing that,” Firmin said in an exclusive interview on Dec. 4. “You can also download applications that you’re comfortable with that you know help you be more productive and efficient. I think the commercial technology has matured enough now that they can meet the security requirements that we have and we make sure the infrastructure they are connected to is secure.”

The policy is a huge step in the direction DoD wants to go with technology. The department is trying to find a way to be agile, fast and technologically savvy without compromising security.

“Commercial industry is much better at letting people take notes on tablets and laptops and we are going to be in that world too where people can take their devices in and start taking notes and not have to bring the paper and pencil with them everywhere they go. That alone will help our security and our access to information,” Firmin said.

Not to mention the apps employees will now be able to take advantage of to increase productivity and draw on information.

Firmin mentioned the biggest holdup for future restriction loosening is based on the apps.

“I think we will see a lot more access to the managed and unmanaged applications. In order to be productive, [employees] need access to applications that make it meaningful and relevant to have those devices. I think the biggest growth area will be in application availability on both sides of that space, both the mission critical applications and personal productivity applications,” Firmin said.

Firmin said the next step is integrating internet of things devices.

The policy officially came out on Nov. 20 and gives officials in charge of secure areas final say as to whether mobile devices can be used in a space.

The policy requires officials to submit a justification based on mission need to the department before they can open the areas to mobile devices.

Reasons acceptable for allowing mobile devices in a secure area include command and control, counterintelligence, testing, training, research, developmental activities and, obviously, communication.

They must also officially determine the risk associated with adding mobile devices to an area. The policy requires officials to lay out vulnerabilities associated with the mobile device and the networks it connects to. The policy asks officials to submit known and potential threats to national security systems and information used in secure areas and the potential risks to spaces near the area where mobile devices are allowed.

The policy “takes into account the whole environmental aspect, also what devices you are using, what devices you intend to allow, what are the threats against those devices, what type of data do you process. There’s a whole set of things that need to be considered,” Firmin said. “It is not a blanket approval. You need prior approval, you can’t just say, ‘Hey, there’s a policy I’m going to bring my device in because the policy says.’ There really needs to be a thoughtful process and that’s what we’re encouraging.”

Read more of the DoD Personnel Notebook

Military response to Hurricane Harvey could reach Katrina proportions

As Houston continues to deal with record rainfall, the military is working on local, state and federal levels to meet needs that it thinks will reach Hurricane Katrina levels.

The Defense Department is bracing for a long haul in continuing to provide emergency services to Texas and Louisiana from Hurricane Harvey.

“Our response to this hurricane has been different than anything we’ve experienced before and we expect it to be much longer in terms of a response phase in what we would normally see during a hurricane just due to the nature of the storm,” said Maj. Gen. James Witham, domestic operations and force development director for the National Guard.

At the height of Hurricane Katrina there were 50,000 National Guard troops deployed and 20,000 active duty.

Witham said he anticipates the situation will be similar for Houston.

The state of Texas has already called up its full National Guard force of 12,000 troops. The state has 19,000 total troops, but 7,000 are either just coming off of a deployment or are currently deployed in other areas.

Witham said another 4,000 guardsmen will be joining the effort in the next 24 hours. Those troops are participating in ground and air rescue missions, shelter operations, route clearance, water purification, logistics movement and recovery after response.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) requested a military police battalion and Air National Guard security forces to assist local, state and federal law enforcement, especially in the big metropolitan area around Houston.

The National Guard has another 20,000 to 30,000 troops prepared to go into Texas to add to the numbers or to relieve troops who have been in the field. Those extra units include engineers and an extra rotary wing.

“Just like our first responders get tired and burn out, guardsmen will also get tired and burn out as we do this. So this has to be a phased approach, and Texas is planning for that phased approach, not only with their organic National Guard forces, but National Guard forces that could be brought in from surrounding states through emergency assistance compacts,” Witham said.

Ten other states are already lending their assistance to the effort. California sent 90 Air National Guardsmen, Connecticut sent a C-130 Hercules with eight airmen and New York sent more than 100 airmen a C-130, 3 HH-60 Pave Hawk search and rescue helicopters and two C-17 transport jets.

The National Guard has used 500 ground vehicles in its effort. About 200 of those are high profile water vehicles, which can move in 2 or 3 feet of water. The Guard has 200 more high profile vehicles prepared if needed and can get additional vehicles from neighboring states.

The Guard is using 30 helicopters for search and rescue and medivac purpose. Abbott requested another 24 helicopters that are en route to Texas today. Witham said the number of helicopters could grow to 100.

As of Aug. 29, Witham said there have been about 3,500 rescues. Around 300 have been from the air. There have also been about 300 animal rescues.

Witham said the numbers are very fluid considering the number of rescues happening each day.

Witham said there was no estimate for the cost of the personnel being used at this point.

Federal response

The federal government has mostly supplied equipment to the Hurricane Harvey effort.

U.S. Northern Command has 1,000 active duty troops in the area mostly working on air search and rescue.

There are also 400 active duty troops in Louisiana in preparation for heavy storms there.

“Being ready and in place is as important as any training that we do, and our engagements at parish level are absolutely critical,” said Army Maj. Gen. Glenn H. Curtis, Louisiana’s adjutant general. “In anticipation of the storm’s track, we continue pre-positioning equipment and vehicles in potentially affected areas, as well as responding to the immediate needs of today.”

The Louisiana Guard has eight helicopters on the ready for search and rescue missions.

The federal government appointed Brig. Gen. Pat Hamilton as the dual-status commander in Texas. He is in charge of National Guard troops as well as any federal troops in the area.

As far as equipment goes, 39 helicopters and seven planes are being used by the Coast Guard at bases in Houston and New Orleans. The Navy is preparing its amphibious assault ship, the USS Keasrage, and landing ship USS Oak Hill.

The Navy also had some trouble with its plans as Harvey barreled toward the city. Seventy-one of the Navy’s T-45 trainer jets were left in hangars at Naval Air Station Kingsville, Texas. The planes were not ready to fly off base to another area.

Kingsville holds 99 trainer jets, 28 were evacuated.

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