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From Uniforms to Cybersecurity, Report Details Defense Dept. Activities

From Uniforms to Cybersecurity, Report Details Defense Dept. Activities

Walter Pincus | Washington Post via YellowBrix

October 13, 2009

If you want to get a sense of the broad range of Defense Department activities, there’s no better reading than the 638-page House-Senate conferee report on the fiscal 2010 defense authorization bill released last week.

You could start with apparel. Each service has its camouflage uniforms, which are different even within services. What to do?

The House wants to standardize uniforms to increase “interoperability” of ground troops and “reduce tactical risk” — so they don’t shoot each other by mistake.

The Senate has different ideas but maybe the same goals. Senators like that camouflage uniforms “uniquely reflect the identity of the individual services” but they also want “interoperability.” The Senate also directed that the comptroller general report back on his assessment of combat and camouflage uniforms in use on the battlefield.

The conferees made clear that none of this was to affect Special Forces, who “design and deploy combat uniforms to meet their specific mission requirements.” They added, however, that “technological advances and improvements” Special Forces incorporate in their combat uniforms should be shared with the other services when “appropriate and cost effective.”

Then there’s hardware.

The conferees have some ideas for getting rid of some of that U.S. military equipment sitting in Iraq. They authorized Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, as long as he has the okay of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, to give as much as $750 million of military equipment now in Iraq or Kuwait to the military or security forces of Iraq or Afghanistan. And being members of Congress, they said Defense should be sure to report any transfer to them 30 days before it occurs.

Then there’s the target range, but it’s probably not the one that first comes to mind.

The proposed National Cyber Range is the Pentagon’s participation through the Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency (DARPA) in the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative. There is $50 million in next year’s budget for it.

It would be a test range whereby both government and nongovernment agencies could try out against experts their cybersecurity systems and, for government agencies, any offensive attack programs. DARPA is to turn it over to a government entity in the next two years, but no partner has been selected.

The conferees said there was “a proliferation of network test beds” across the Defense Department, “creating an environment of excessive duplication and waste.” They said they looked forward to the results of the assessment underway by the Pentagon’s director of the Test Management Resources Center focused on network testing systems, including the National Cyber Range. And aren’t we all?

Duplication and waste are not new descriptions when it comes to many defense programs. They are so entrenched that the Defense Department could be the only government agency to spend $1 billion over 10 years on a computer system that still does not work, and still avoid public criticism from Congress.

And that brings us to DIMHRS, which stands for the Defense Integrated Military Human Resources System. It was originally supposed to create one personnel record for each Army service member over a career and have it available to the soldier, as well as to combatant commanders, personnel and pay managers. The main obstacle to progress has been that DIMHRS was to replace at least 70 Army and Defense Department personnel and finance systems.

Even for the Pentagon, that’s a lot. The first target date for operation was 2004. That was missed because there were questions of how much information was provided to the contractor and problems deciding how to replace or modify many of those older systems, according to a Government Accountability Office report. The new date was to be March of this year.

A 2006 Pentagon decision to change the program to make it service-wide was finalized last January, according to the GAO, but testing is underway by the Army and now the Air Force. With a new $70 million in fiscal 2010 defense funding, the gathering of “core” data of DIMHRS was to be continued, but then distributed to the individual services “to oversee, build-out, and deploy,” according to the Pentagon budget.

The House-Senate conferees wrote that after investing nearly $1 billion, “the DIMHRS program has not successfully been developed or deployed because of a number of technical and organizational difficulties.”

But the conferees decided on a solution: Rather than singling out anyone for blame, the panel said funding could continue but recommended an advisory panel be established to help the effort.

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