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Who's Holding the Bag for Sats?

By Bob Brewin // June 30, 2009

The House Appropriations Committee eliminated the requirement that the Defense Department fund half the cost of the new National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) in its version of the Commerce Department's fiscal 2010 appropriations bill passed on June 25.

Defense, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA have struggled to develop NPOESS, which is intended to provide higher resolution weather imagery to both civilian and military users, since 1994. The project has had multiple delays and huge cost overruns in the $1 billion to $2 billion range, the committee said in its report.

These schedule slips and cost increases resulted from the "dysfunctional tri-agency management approach" for NPOESS, which the committee indicated may end, because it "anticipates a change in management structure to be announced by the administration soon."

Take this language and dovetail with the language in the fiscal 2010 Defense authorization bill, in which the House Armed Services Committee suggested that Defense and NOAA develop their own weather satellite systems, and it now looks like NOAA may have pay the whole NPOESS tab.

NOAA asked for $382.2 million in finding for NPOESS for fiscal 2010, while the Air Force budgeted $396.6 million for...

The Reform Thing's Catching On

By Bob Brewin // June 30, 2009

In a familiar refrain, a top military leader on June 26 said, "We should fashion our military structure not for the wars of the last century, but for the real wars of today."

This sure sounds like something straight from either Defense Secretary Robert Gates or Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

It's not. The reformer here is Lt. Gen. Vladimir Anatolyevich Shamanov, commander of the Russian Army Airborne troops who, in an interview with the Financial Times strongly backed a drastic restructuring and modernization of Russian forces.

This includes an end to conscription and the development of a modernization program to buy the kind of gear needed for 21st century conflicts, not the heavy 20th century forces developed by the Soviet Union and the United States when they prepared for a large-scale land war in Europe.

But, just like in the United States, military reform has its critics. Igor Rodionov, a retired general and former defense minister, told the FT that "this reform weakens the Army, it weakens the state."

I wonder if there are Russian members of parliament who will continue to back funding for 20th century military hardware because it's good...

Cost of Selling 'Net Monitoring to Iran

By Bob Brewin // June 29, 2009

In the case of Siemens Medical, the answer comes out to at least $267 million, the value of the three-year contract the Defense Department awarded the company in March for radiology systems.

That contract, as well as a whole mess of other business Siemens Medical does with the federal government, could be in jeopardy due to a deal by parent company Siemens AG and Nokia to provide Iran with Internet monitoring and blocking software.

Last week, Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said they planned to introduce a bill that would bar foreign companies that sell technology to Iran, which monitors or blocks Internet connections, from receiving U.S. government contracts. This bill would hit Siemens Medical hard.

Siemens sold $468 million worth of medical gear to the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments between 2000 and 2008, or just about a quarter of the total sales volume Siemens AG did with the federal government in the same period. (Siemens also sold $360.1 million worth of bag screening equipment to the Transportation Security Administration during the same period..)

Siemens Medical declined to comment on the Schumer/Graham bill, but steered me to a statement from the...

A Cloud for the GI Bill System

By Bob Brewin // June 26, 2009

At the Thursday hearing hearing of the House Veterans Affairs Economic Opportunity Subcommittee on the post-9/11 GI bill, Mark Krause, a Veterans Affairs Department program manager who works at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Atlantic, said he is eyeing the use of cloud computing to host a spiffy new claims processing system for education benefit claims. The network is supposed to go into operation in December 2010.

In response to a question from Rep. Harry Teague, D-N.M., Krause told the hearing that if VA bought new hardware to host the new, totally automatic claims processing system it would cost about $4.2 million and indicated SPAWAR could get a better deal by using cloud computing.

Call me a cynic (another term for realist), but I wonder how good a deal VA will get from SPAWAR on cloud computing. The VA inspector general reported earlier this month that SPAWAR charges the department a 10 percent program management fee compared with a 2 percent program fee charged by the Defense Information Systems Agency and a 3 percent fee charged by the General Services Administration.

Here's an idea: Maybe VA/SPAWAR should talk to DISA about using its...

CTO Levin to Do VA's Tech Vision Thing

By Bob Brewin // June 25, 2009

The Veterans Affairs Department has hired Peter Levin, a White House fellow in the Clinton administration, as its new chief technology officer in the office of the secretary and senior advisor to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, Press Secretary Katie Roberts told me.

Roberts said Levin -- a tech whiz who does not mind the moniker "geek" -- will explore visionary technologies for VA while Chief Information Officer Roger Baker will manage the 7,000 person, day-to-day operations of the VA's information technology organization.

Roberts said both Baker and Levin view the CIO-CTO roles as a partnership. "Roger and Peter are creative people and think alike on many things, and feed off of each other when they start brainstorming how things could work," she said. "The good news is Peter has time to work the innovation side, while Roger can be focused on managing the IT enterprise."

My Vietnam veteran buddy, Ed Meagher, who served as the VA deputy CIO from 2001 to 2006, was the first CTO.

But, Roberts pointed out a subtle distinction between the title Meagher held and Levin's. Levin is the first CTO in the office of the secretary, not in the department's CIO shop, she...

Ondra Not a candidate for VA Post

By Bob Brewin // June 25, 2009

On Monday I suggested that Dr. Stephen Ondra, an Army Gulf War vet who is a professor of neurological surgery at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago, had the inside track for appointment as under secretary for health at the Veterans Health Administration.

Not so, said my new best friend, Katie Roberts, Veterans Affairs Department press secretary. Ondra, she said, does serve as a senior adviser to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, but has not even applied for the top VA health job.

I told Roberts this was partly a rumor and gossip column. Roberts, who served as deputy communications director for New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson's presidential campaign, said she found the Washington rumor mill "quite interesting."

I will try to make up for this error by buying her a great enchilada lunch at Charlies Spic & Span Bakery and Café here in The Original Las Vegas the next time she travels to New Mexico.

So Much for Low Key Cyber Approach

By Bob Brewin // June 24, 2009

Some of my military public affairs contacts tell me that the Pentagon really, really wanted to take a low-key approach to the establishment of a new Cyber Command.

That strategy failed when a memo from Defense Secretary Robert Gates was leaked to about every news outlet on the planet, but despite the leak, Defense still handled the news in a reactive, rather than proactive manner.

This low-key policy can be traced to two primary public concerns: offensive cyber operations and the fact that the National Security Agency has been anointed as the big kahuna in cyberspace, raising all kinds of civil liberties concerns.

A Pentagon spokesman deftly dodged questions about offensive operations and when asked about NSA, said the formation of the new Cyber Command does not mean "the militarization of cyberspace."

Since I'm paranoid, I assume the NSA has the ability to listen to all my phone calls and has algorithms to detect key phrases in my e-mails, such as "NSA" in numerous e-mails I sent in reporting on the Cyber Command.

If someone at the NSA is indeed listening to my calls and looking at my e-mails, they may soon fall asleep from boredom.

Recognizing the Lionesses

By Bob Brewin // June 24, 2009

Since the United States started operations in Iraq, a small group of military women, known as Lionesses, has provided support to combat units, and the House Armed Services Committee thinks its time they received recognition and support from both the Defense Department and the Veterans Affairs Department.

The Lionesses were initially tapped to support culturally sensitive missions men could not perform, such as body searching Iraqi women.

Their mission has since evolved to support military civilian affairs operations in Iraqi cities, with a gentler touch than their male colleagues.

These women have made a real difference in Iraq, the committee said in its report on the fiscal 2010 Defense authorization bill, but they have had a hard time gaining official recognition for their work from either Defense or VA when they leave active duty.

The committee wants Defense to establish formal procedures to document the work these women perform and consider establishing a military Lioness specialty.

They indeed have come a long way.

Vet Edges Closer to Top VA Health Job

By Bob Brewin // June 23, 2009

In April, I reported that Dr. Stephen Ondra, professor of neurological surgery at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago, had emerged as the likely candidate for under secretary for health at the Veterans Health Administration.

Ondra, an Army Gulf War vet who did his residency at Walter Reed Army Medical Center appears even closer to landing the to VA health job, I have learned. He now has a policy-making GS Schedule C appointment and a VA e-mail address.

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki needs to go through a formal process -- which will include the formation of a search committee to interview, evaluate, and recommend candidates for the position -- and while that goes on, I've heard Ondra is serving as a top-level adviser to Shinseki.

Ondra, I'm told, has health information technology in his portfolio, and is working with key players, including Dr. David Blumenthal, National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, and Charles Campbell, CIO at the Military Health System.

Ondra, a spine surgeon, is a bit of a medical computer whiz, and has used the VA's Chicago Motion Analysis Research Laboratory to help analyze patients before treating them.

The Motion Analysis Research Laboratory taps...

On Second Thought, We'll Take Two

By Bob Brewin // June 22, 2009

Way back in 1994 when twitter described only the high pitched sounds made by birds, some smart folks at the Defense Department, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA figured out they could save a lot of money by developing a weather satellite system to satisfy both Defense and civilian requirements, rather than building separate systems for both.

Thus came forth the National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) intended to provide better weather coverage at a higher resolution than existing Defense or NOAA satellites -- with costs pegged at $5.5 billion.

Due to a variety or reasons, including vexing problems with a Visible Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite sensor package, the projected cost of the NPOESS has now almost doubled to $12.5 billion, and the launch of the first satellite has slipped from 2009 to 2014. But, hey, you just can't buy a Visible Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite sensor package at Target.

The House Armed Services Committee has just about had it with the system and suggested in its report on the fiscal 2010 Defense authorization bill that it would now make more sense to buy separate Defense and civilian satellite systems.

It turns out that managing...