Continuing Resolution Will Keep Government Running


By Debbie Gregory.

A temporary spending bill signed by President Obama will keep the funded through April of next year, and includes the Pentagon’s highest procurement priorities.

House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers introduced the short-term Continuing Resolution (CR) (H.R. 2028) to prevent a government shutdown and continue funding for federal programs and services until April 28, 2017. The legislation also contains funding for emergency disaster relief.

The Senate voted 63-36 to pass the 70-page continuing resolution that was released by the House Appropriations Committee.

Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain was one of 13 Republicans who voted nay. McCain characterized the bill as shortchanging defense.

“This is absolutely disgraceful,” McCain said. “We’re going to kick the can down the road because we failed to fund our troops. The fiscal irresponsibility [of] another continuing resolution, which will force the Department of Defense to operate for seven months of the fiscal year without a real budget. Tell me one company or corporation in the world, small or large, that has their budget frozen for seven months of the year and you expect to operate with any kind of efficiency. You can’t.”

Congress ended this year by abandoning regular order, as GOP leaders expect to give the new administration a chance to put its stamp on federal spending. Congress only passed one of 12 appropriations bill this year.

In a letter to congressional leaders, Defense Secretary Ash Carter complained that the lengthy continuing resolution, through the presidential transition, was “unprecedented and unacceptable” and urged Congress to reject it.

The CR extends funding for operations for most federal agencies, programs and services and maintains the current budget cap level of $1.07 trillion put into place under the Budget Control Act of 2011.

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Carter Announces Plans for the Pentagon to Launch Chief Innovation Officer Post


By Debbie Gregory.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is poised to drive innovation forward for the Pentagon, which includes the creation of a new chief innovation officer position.

Referring to companies such as IBM, Intel and Google, Carter said, “Many different organizations have recently embraced this position, and also started to regularly run these kinds of innovation tournaments and competitions…and it’s time we did as well, to help incentivize our people to come up with innovative ideas and approaches.”

In addition to the creation of that spot, Carter said the Pentagon will launch targeted recruiting initiatives to increase recruitment of computer scientists and software engineers.

“We’ll do this through targeted recruiting initiatives ranging from our Reserve Officer Training Corps to our civilian Scholarship For Service program that’s intended to help build the next generation of DoD science and technology leaders, with the goal of making computer science a core competency of the Department of Defense,” Carter said.

Carter also feels that the Pentagon needs to do a better job recruiting on college campuses.

Carter has placed a great deal of emphasis on innovation. The department is going to invest broadly in machine learning, including the creation of a “virtual center of excellence” that Carter said “establishes stretch goals and incentivizes academy and commercial technology companies [that] have been making significant strides.”

“Going forward, I’m confident that the logic behind everything I’m talking about today will be self-evident to future defense secretaries, as will the value of these efforts — but they also need to have the momentum and institutional foundation to keep going under their own steam and continue to thrive,” he said. “We must ensure they can keep leading the way and keep disrupting, challenging and inspiring the rest of the Defense Department to change for the better.”

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Air Force Secretary Weighs in on Women and the Selective Service Law

womeninthe mil

By Debbie Gregory.

Last December, the Defense Department decided to open all remaining gender-segregated combat jobs — about 225,000 — to female troops.

Selective Service law as it is currently written now refers specifically to “male persons” in stating who must register and who would be drafted. For women to be required to register with Selective Service, Congress would have to amend the law.

For Air Force Secretary Deborah James, there should be no limit to equality in the armed forces, even when it comes to the draft.

James, the Air Force’s 23rd secretary, stated “Very recently, we brought down all remaining gender barriers to all roles in the armed forces. We have equality in armed forces… so it is time for young women to register in the database.”

The U.S. came close to drafting women during World War II, when there was a shortage of military nurses. However, there was a surge of volunteerism and a draft of women nurses was not needed.

In recent years, the Pentagon has worked to fully integrate women into front-line and special combat roles, from which they were previously barred.

In 2014, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said, “As long as they qualify and meet the standards, women will now be able to contribute to our mission in ways they could not before.”

The next challenge James faces is retention, on she says can be met by developing recruits, inspiring them, and creating a culture of “dignity and respect for all.”

The Air Force needs to continue its fight against sexual assault, she said, and ensure proper pay and benefits that are comparable to those offered in the civilian labor force.

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Carter Orders Pentagon to Halt CA National Guard Bonus Paybacks

nat guard

By Debbie Gregory.

Calling the situation “unacceptable,” Defense Secretary Ash Carter ordered the Pentagon to suspend efforts to recover enlistment bonuses improperly given to thousands of California National Guard members during the height of the Iraq war.

The demand would have affected some 9,700 California Guard members who had received enlistment bonuses, student loans or other payments, mostly between 2006 and 2008.

Soldiers argued that it was unfair to require them to repay the money — often $15,000 or more per soldier — when their only mistake was to take financial incentives that recruiters offered. Many served multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and some were badly wounded.

Carter gave senior officials in his department until the end of 2016 to set up a new and streamlined process that can ensure “the fair and equitable treatment of our service members and the rapid resolution of these cases,” with a deadline of July 1, 2017 for all cases to be decided. He said the suspension would continue until he was “satisfied that our process is working effectively.”

“Ultimately, we will provide for a process that puts as little burden as possible on any soldier who received an improper payment through no fault of his or her own,” Carter said. “At the same time, it will respect our important obligation to the taxpayer.”

Carter said “hundreds of affected Guard members in California had sought and been granted relief” after filing appeals with the Pentagon.

“But that process has simply moved too slowly and in some cases imposed unreasonable burdens on service members,” he said. “That is unacceptable.”

The Pentagon says thousands of soldiers who received re-enlistment money weren’t eligible for the program — and years after paying out the money, it wants it back.

Some veterans have been sending hundreds of dollars a month to repay their bonuses; others have faced wage garnishment, interest accrual and a long appeals process. Soldiers say the appeals process is slow and nerve-wracking for their families.

“I want to be clear: This process has dragged on too long, for too many service members. Too many cases have languished without action,” Carter said. “That’s unfair to service members and to taxpayers.”

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Carter Proposes Changes to “Up or Out” Promotion System


By Debbie Gregory.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter, in his bid to modernize the military’s antiquated bureaucracy, has proposed a sidestep to the 100-year-old “up or out” promotion system via sweeping new proposals.

Up or out  mandates that officers passed over twice for promotion are required to be discharged from the military.  It has been criticized as “arbitrary and bad management” that forces out “many fit, experienced officers…because there were only so many slots into which they could be promoted”.

Carter’s proposals are largely aimed at making it easier for the military services to attract and retain good quality people and keep them in jobs where they excel.

“‘Up-or-out’ isn’t broken – in fact, it’s an essential and highly successful system – but it’s also not perfect,” Carter said. “The problem, however, is that DoD can’t take a one-size-fits-all approach.”

While Carter’s plan, part of his “Force of the Future” reforms won’t abolish the traditional up or out, it will allow the services to bypass those rules for people when they feel it’s needed.

Many of the proposals will require congressional approval, but there is some general support for giving the military greater flexibility, as long as the historical systems aren’t eliminated.

Changing the 1980 law known as the Defense Officer Personal Management Act could fundamentally redefine the officer corps’ career tracks, where promotions are mainly based on seniority rather than demonstrated talents and skills. The initiative could apply to the military’s enlisted force as well, but that would not require congressional action to change federal law.

The current promotions system does not give credit for experience and training that occurred along slightly different timelines, even if it benefited the military.

Military leaders have expressed varying degrees of support for the promotion changes, noting that in some fields — such as fighter pilots or certain combat command positions — the strict advancement system may make more sense.

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Carter Announces All Combat Jobs Open to Women


By Debbie Gregory.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter said that he is ordering the military to open all combat jobs to women. Up until now, ground combat positions have largely been closed off to women, at least officially.

“As long as they qualify and meet the standards, women will now be able to contribute to our mission in ways they could not before,” Carter said.

This order overrules Marine Corps commanders who requested exceptions for a small number of front-line combat jobs, citing studies that they claimed showed all-male combat units were more effective.

Back in 2013, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta rescinded a 1994 directive that barred women from ground combat units, but gave each branch until 2016 to evaluate the implications and request any exemptions for specific jobs to remain male-only.

Women represent 14% of the 1.4 million active military personnel. Carter noted that about 220,000 military jobs were currently closed to women and would be opened up because of his decision, allowing women to serve in such roles as driving tanks, firing mortars and leading infantry soldiers into combat.

The most immediate issue will be implementation plans, making sure that they are sensible and fair, and not an attempt to hide non-compliance.

Carter said the military would maintain high standards for all combat assignments but explained that some standards were being modified after studies demonstrated they were “outdated” or not reflective of the skills necessary for the jobs.

Defense Secretary Carter says this is about equal opportunity. There are no quotas or guarantees.

“Our force of the future must continue to benefit from the best people America has to offer,” Carter said. “In the 21st century, that includes drawing strength from the broadest possible pool of people.”

Congress has 30 days to review the change and the armed services have until January 1st  to submit plans to implement it.

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Russia a Threat, Once Again? Military Connection

ash putin

By Debbie Gregory.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter is calling Russia a “very, very significant threat,” agreeing with an assessment made by top military officials. Describing Russia’s behavior under President Vladimir Putin as that of an “antagonist,” Carter said a potential conflict with Russia is not something that the U.S. has had to think about since the Cold War.

During confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill, Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, who will take over as the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs this year, and Army Gen. Mark Milley, who recently became the Army’s new chief of staff, both named Russia as the top threat.

Carter said that the Pentagon’s strategy in countering Russia included an approach he called “strong and balanced.”

“The strong part means we are adjusting our capabilities qualitative and in terms of their deployments, to take account of this behavior of Russia,” he said.

While the U.S. must deal with Russia’s new aggression on the world stage, Carter said America will continue to work with Russia on things like counterterrorism and conflicts with Iran and North Korea. This cooperation leaves the door open for a peaceful future relationship with Russia, he said.

“The balanced part is we continue to work with Russia, because you can’t paint all their behavior with one brush. There are places where they are working with us: in counterterrorism in many important respects, in some respects, with respect to North Korea, in some respects with respect to Iran and elsewhere,” he said.

“So where Russia sees its interests as aligned with ours, we can work with them and will continue to do that,” Carter added.

U.S. and Western allies were forced to impose several rounds of sanctions on Moscow last year in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and annexation of the Crimean peninsula.

“We’ll continue to hold open the door so that if either under Vladimir Putin or some successor of his in the future, there’s a leadership that wants to take Russia in the direction that, I believe, is best for Russia,” Carter said.

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