WPRI: First class of recruits graduates from RI Fire Training Academy

WPRI: First class of recruits graduates from RI Fire Training Academy

By Steve Nielsen and Shaun Towne

EXETER, R.I. (WPRI) — Fourteen recruits four Rhode Island communities made history Friday as the first graduating class of the state’s Fire Training Academy.

After nine weeks of training, the firefighters will now go to work for their respective departments.

“Our friendships will last long,” said class leader Scott Kulacz. “I’m just proud of you guys.”

More than 300 family members, friends, and local leaders were on hand to celebrate the graduation that was 15 years in the making.

“These are very special young people and we all should be grateful for their service and the service of their families,” said U.S. Sen. Jack Reed.

“We are proud of you,” said U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. “We admire you. We support you.”

Congressmen David Cicilline and Jim Langevin were also in attendance, along with state Fire Marshal Jack Chartier and Rhode Island State Police Superintendent Ann Assumpico.

In addition to the graduation, the ceremony also included a ribbon-cutting for the academy. Instead of a ribbon, however, retired Chief Deputy Fire Marshal Michael DiMascolo instead ordered firefighters to “charge the line” – or fill a fire hose with water – which was then sprayed into the air.

The academy was approved by voters back in 2002, but there were numerous starts and stops in the construction process over the years.

Before it opened earlier this year, all of the state’s 6,000 firefighters received training from their departments. Now, cities and towns can send their recruits to the academy which is not only more cost-effective, but it also ensures they’re all receiving the same training.

The academy’s second class will get underway in June.

WPRI: An inside look at a controversial civilian group patrolling Mexican border

WPRI: An inside look at a controversial civilian group patrolling Mexican border

By Abbie Burke and Diana Pinzon

NOGALES, Ariz. (WPRI) – Ever since President Donald Trump kicked off his campaign for the Oval Office, a big topic of discussion has been whether or not there’s a need for a border well.

While the debate in Washington rages on, members of the organization The III% United Patriots are taking action. Every year, men and women in the group travel hundreds of miles to volunteer to patrol the border. They say their goal is to try to stop the flow of drugs and people entering the United States illegally.

This year, their mission took them to the Coronado National Forest, just outside the border city of Nogales, Arizona.

A member of the group who goes by the name “Big Bird” explained, “I wanted to meet the rest of the national leaguers. I’m a state leader [in the group] and so I wanted to meet in person the rest of the guys and do my part.”

The group is not sanctioned by any law enforcement agency and members have no authority to make any arrests, but they do run the risk of interacting with the Mexican drug cartels, so each member uses a call sign for safety.

“What we do down here is not vigilante justice, we have no special privileges,” a member who goes by the name “.50 Cal” said. “Our job is to observe. Our job is to collect as much information as we can. Our job is to track these folks, get a location, get it to the Border Patrol and let the Border Patrol handle the arrest.”

Some members have made the trip several times, but almost every newcomer is surprised upon seeing the border for the very first time.

“It’s just strange how you can just hop it, there’s nothing to it,” said a member named “Gimli.”

On site, there were signs that people had crossed through the fence, including barbed wire that had been cut for easier access to the other side.

For 10 days the group patrolled the desert, day and night, looking for signs of life. They didn’t come into contact with anyone, by the group still considered the mission a success.

“We were told last night by the head of the station here in the Sonoita area that we have locked down a 30 mile stretch of border and that they’ve seen no activity come through since we’ve come in and put patrols out and started locking down this border,” said “.50 Cal.” “To me that’s a mission accomplished.”

While some Border Patrol Agents appreciate the presence of these men and women, Border Patrol Agent Daniel Hernandez and Public Information Officer said Border Patrol doesn’t condone anybody trying to help them out.

“Securing our nations borders is very dangerous and interdicting narcotics or deterring or apprehending individuals in the United States requires highly trained law enforcement personnel,” he said. “And we receive the training, the know-how and the resources to conduct interdiction operations with either smuggling of humans or drugs and we don’t want anybody taking that approach on their own.”

Still the U.S. Border Patrol and The III% United Patriots can’t be at the border all the time, so some people believe a wall, or at least a more substantial structure, is needed.

“It will help, it will absolutely help. It won’t stop it, but I think like I told you earlier, I’m real happy if it knocks it down by 80 percent,” said “Ghost.”

Opponents believe a wall is just a waste of money.

“When you have people that are that determined to come over, because of the poverty, the persecution, the drugs, the corruption, the gangs, that there’s no hope at all, do you think a wall is going to stop them?” asked Tony Estrada, sheriff of Santa Cruz County in Nogales.

“A wall is not going to stop them. It’s just going to be another obstacle and it may be the easiest obstacle that they have to face and they will conquer it,” said Estrada.

Congressman Joe Kennedy, a Democrat who represents Southeastern Massachusetts, said he agrees that a border wall is not the answer.

“It is the most expensive and least effective way to secure our border,” Kennedy said. He believes that a lot of today’s immigration problems could have been dealt with four years ago.

“Back in 2013 the Senate passed a bill that had a veto-proof majority, nearly 70 senators, Democrats and Republicans, on board that had enough support to pass a Republican House,” he said. “Speaker Boehner never even let us have a vote on it.”

Kennedy said the bill contained a comprehensive fix that had support from the business community, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, labor unions, faith-based organizations and immigrant activists.

“That bill created a huge economic boost that then used part of it to increase funding for our border guards, to take some of the economic gains and reinvest it on securing the border,” said Kennedy.

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, more than 415,000 people were apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol in 2016 for being inside the United States illegally. So far in 2017, that number stands at 170,000 people.

“I want to build the wall. We have to build the wall. We have to stop drugs from pouring in. We have to stop people from just pouring into our country,” President Trump said recently.

Right now, miles of the border are separated by nothing more than a small metal fence – and in other areas, there’s nothing at all.

“We need to protect our border, be it a fence or be it extra border patrol officers down here, we need to do something to secure our borders,” said “Big Bird.”

Kennedy said he believes investing in additional resources, like technology, would be much more effective.

“This country has been for now decades an important signal to the vulnerable, the persecuted, the folks that are living in fear, that this is a country that will welcome, that this is a country where they can invest in themselves and a better future for their children,” Kennedy said. “If we lose that as a nation, we have lost something that you cannot just write a check for and try to win back.”

RI delegation argues wall money could be better spent

Rhode Island’s all-Democratic congressional delegation agreed with Kennedy’s stance against the border wall.

“I have long said that maintaining control of our borders is an essential part of our national security, but President Trump’s claims about a porous southern border oversimplify the challenges we face in our immigration policy,” said Congressman Jim Langevin.

“Relying on a wall to keep out undocumented immigrants is inefficient and ineffective, which is why Congress has consistently focused on using sensors and other high-tech solutions to help monitor the border,” said Langevin. “I remain hopeful that Congressional Republicans will reconsider taking up the bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate in 2013, which contained provisions to strengthen border security, reform our visa programs, and help address the millions of unauthorized immigrants already in the country.”

“We need real border security and comprehensive immigration reform,” said Congressman David Cicilline. “That means thoroughly vetting anyone who seeks to come to our country and creating a pathway to citizenship for families who are already living here.”

“Unfortunately, President Trump isn’t interested in real solutions,” Cicilline continued. “He wants to spend $20 billion on a border wall that his own Homeland Security Secretary has said won’t keep us safe. The American people deserve better than Donald Trump’s half-baked ideas. They deserve a real plan.”

“President Trump’s ridiculous border wall would be a monument to lousy policy,” said U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. “It would also be a monumental waste of money, financed with funding plucked from programs that are vital to Rhode Islanders and important to our economy.”

“The real immigration solution is more complex, and it already exists in the form of the comprehensive, bipartisan immigration reform we passed out of the Senate in 2013,” said Whitehouse.

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed hasn’t responded to a request for comment yet, but in the past has said that he thinks there are more effective ways to control illegal immigration than building a border wall.

Warwick Post: Whitehouse, Reed, Langevin, Avedisian Call for More Coastal Infrastructure Investment

Warwick Post: Whitehouse, Reed, Langevin, Avedisian Call for More Coastal Infrastructure Investment

By Rob Borkowski

WARWICK, RI — In the event of a 100-year storm, the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council predicts parts of West Shore Road would be under water, effectively turning the Warwick Neck neighborhood into a temporary island, a local example of the need for coastal infrastructure investment Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and the RI Congressional delegation is asking for with Mayor Scott Avedisian’s support.
Whitehouse, Sen. Jack Reed, Congressman Jim Langevin and Avedisian met at Conimicut State Park Monday morning to call for public support for Whitehouse’s National Oceans and Coastal Security Fund, designed to make roads and bridges more resilient.

“Rhode Island’s infrastructure needs a lot of investment to get back to a healthy state, let alone to prepare for rising seas and increasingly severe weather,” said Senator Whitehouse, a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “We are the Ocean State, and our way of life and economy rely on critical infrastructure in coastal communities like Warwick. Investing in infrastructure is a bipartisan issue, and I look forward to working with my Senate colleagues and the administration to create jobs, ensure safe roads, protect our communities, and lift the economy.”

Scientists predict the need for such investment is likely to increase through the next several decades.

According to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), global sea level has been rising over the past century, with the rate increasing in recent years. In 2014, global sea level was 2.6 inches above the 1993 average. Sea level continues to rise at a rate of about one-eighth of an inch (3.2 mm) per year, due to a combination of melting glaciers and ice sheets, and thermal expansion of seawater as it warms.

Higher sea levels cause storm surges to push further inland than they once did, causing more frequent nuisance flooding. Nuisance flooding is estimated to be between 300 percent to 900 percent more frequent within U.S. coastal communities than it was 50 years ago, NOAA reports. Hundred-year flood events, such as the 2010 flood which struck Rhode Island and dealt the City of Warwick a harsh blow, are expected to become more frequent due to climate change and sea level rise, researchers from MIT and Princeton University predict.

In 2012, NOAA scientists concluded there is a greater than 90 percent chance that global mean sea level will rise between 8 inches and 6.6 feet by 2100. In March of this year, the Washington Post reported scientists published a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences predicting the rate of sea level increase could double to 1/4 inch (6 millimeters) per year by 2040, accelerated by melting in Greenland and Antarctica.

President Donald Trump has called for $1 trillion in infrastructure spending. In January, Senate Democrats proposed a $1 trillion infrastructure improvement blueprint,which would rebuild and reinforce infrastructure while creating jobs in Rhode Island and across the country. The blueprint contains $25 billion for upgrades to make communities more resilient to natural disasters and climate change, including funding for the National Oceans and Coastal Security Fund.

“As a coastal community with more than 39 miles of coastline we fully understand the importance of safe and secure infrastructure in our city and throughout the state,” said Mayor Avedisian. “I fully support Senator Whitehouse’s work as he aims to bring national attention to some of our most dire roadways and bridges across the state. As the Senator, along with his Congressional colleagues, work to pass legislation, it is my sincere hope that with potential funding we are able to make smart, long-term investments into our infrastructure and ultimately the future wellbeing of our communities.”

“Rhode Island’s infrastructure is in desperate need of repairs, particularly in areas affected by severe flooding brought on by extreme weather events,” said Langevin.

“We have the programs in place to effectively deploy funding at the state and local level to help address these needs. We need the President to work with us to put real money into them,” Reed said.

Providence Journal: R.I. delegation backs naming of special counsel in Russia probe

Providence Journal: R.I. delegation backs naming of special counsel in Russia probe

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., called the appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as a special counsel in the Russia investigation “an important first step toward hopefully ensuring that a fair, thorough, and impartial investigation is allowed to proceed.

“This should not be a political issue,” he added in a statement issued Wednesday night. “Our democracy – and not just one candidate or party – was attacked by a hostile foreign power.

“A truly independent investigation is the only way to restore the American people’s confidence in the integrity of the ongoing inquiry into connections between Russia, the President, and his campaign.”

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also praised the decision to appoint a special counsel.

“Russian interference in our election and the troubling actions of this White House demand the fullest accounting of the truth,” Whitehouse said in a statement. “Mr. Mueller has been granted authority to pursue whatever he deems ‘related matters.’ Those matters should include the White House’s potential misconduct in terminating Director Comey; potential obstruction of justice in the FBI investigation of General Flynn; and the involvement of Attorney General Sessions in these decisions.”

U.S. Rep. David N. Cicilline, D-R.I., in a statement on Wednesday, agreed that the appointment was “a positive step forward,” and he praised Mueller as “a public servant of the highest caliber.”

“Now, it’s critical that the Trump administration make clear that former Director Mueller will have the resources and independence he needs to thoroughly conduct this investigation. He must be allowed to follow the facts where they lead and ensure that justice is served,” Cicilline said. “While this appointment is an important step, it does not eliminate the need for an independent commission to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. The American people deserve answers and the peace of mind that our elections are free from foreign interference. Republicans and Democrats have a responsibility to establish an independent commission that can achieve these goals free of any interference from the Trump administration.”

U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., also applauded the decision to appoint Mueller.

“This appointment is long overdue,” Langevin said in a statement. “Since the Attorney General recused himself months ago, it has been abundantly clear that the Administration is incapable of overseeing a fair and impartial investigation. This was thrown into stark relief yesterday with the stunning revelation that, according to multiple reports, the President pressured then FBI Director James Comey to drop the investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.”

HPN: Rep. Langevin, DHS provide update on WannaCry ransomware attacks

HPN: Rep. Langevin, DHS provide update on WannaCry ransomware attacks

By HPN News Desk

A malicious ransomware software known as WannaCry has recently infected more than 200,000 computer systems across multiple nations, forcing users to pay the equivalent of $300 in the cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, before users regain access to their files.

The ransomware reportedly infects systems through a series of phishing emails, which tricks users into providing sensitive information under false pretenses, such as fake websites that appear legitimate.

In response to the wave of attacks, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a series of recommendations for users to protect themselves against additional attacks. Some of the recommendations include updating systems to include the latest patches and software updates, not clicking or downloading unfamiliar links or files in emails, and backing up data to prevent possible losses.

“We are actively sharing information related to this event and stand ready to lend technical support and assistance as needed to our partners, both in the United States and internationally,” the department said in a statement. “DHS has a cadre of cybersecurity professionals that can provide expertise and support to critical infrastructure entities.”

Microsoft recently released a patch that reportedly addresses system vulnerabilities against potential WannaCry attacks, which DHS has since recommended that users install in their own computers.

U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI), co-founder and co-chair of the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus, said while the incident was ongoing, he was thus far been impressed by the information sharing between security researchers, governments, and affected organizations.

“WannaCry is an international security challenge, and it demonstrates the vulnerabilities all connected countries share on the Internet,” Langevin said. “Law enforcement agencies around the world must work together swiftly to bring the perpetrators to justice.”

Providence Journal: Reed, Whitehouse, Langevin critical of Trump after report he shared classified information

Providence Journal: Reed, Whitehouse, Langevin critical of Trump after report he shared classified information

By Mark Reynolds

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., issued the following statement in reaction to a Washington Post report in which current and former U.S. officials say that President Donald Trump shared “highly classified information” with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador during a meeting at the White House last week, asserting that the president’s “recklessness with sensitive information is deeply disturbing and clearly problematic.”

“The President of the United States has the power to share classified information with whomever they wish, but the American people expect the President to use that power wisely,” Reed said in a statement. “I don’t believe the President intentionally meant to reveal highly secretive information to the Russians.”

“…if the Washington Post report is accurate,” says the release, “then the President crossed a line that could have a real negative impact on national security…”

In a statement, U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said it appears that Trump, has “been reckless with highly classified information,” which puts intelligence sources and methods under a threat of exposure and undermines the relationships important for keeping the country safe.

“If our allies and partners don’t trust us with critical information because our President can’t protect their secrets, it can be a matter of life and death,” Whitehouse said, “Betraying those secrets to an adversary like Russia – which waged an information war against us as part of a campaign to disrupt our democracy and does not share our interests in Syria or the broader Middle East – is wildly irresponsible.”

U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., said that he is “deeply disturbed” by the reported disclosures, saying that such disclosures could “jeopardize ongoing operations abroad” and “also endanger our cooperation, goodwill, and security agreements with our critical U.S. allies.

“It is also highly troubling that this report comes on the heels of the dismissal of the FBI Director, which the President himself has tied to the ongoing investigation of his campaign’s collusion with Russia,” Langevin said.

WPRI: RI agencies taking precautions after worldwide cyberattack

WPRI: RI agencies taking precautions after worldwide cyberattack

By Susan Campbell

WEST WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — Congressman Jim Langevin is calling the “ransomware” cyberattack that has crippled businesses, banks, and hospitals worldwide “extremely troubling.”

Langevin is a member of the House Armed Services and Homeland Security Committees, and has long-touted cybersecurity as one of his top priorities.

“One of the worst-case scenarios that I have always been worried about is that computers worldwide would be shut down, businesses and hospitals would be locked out of their computers, or even worse damage could be expected,” Langevin told reporters Monday. “We have to step up our game, be as aggressive as possible in protecting our networks and doing everything we can to keep this from happening.”

Brenna McCabe, a spokesperson for the Rhode Island Department of Administration, told Eyewitness News the state is not aware of any state agencies that have been impacted by the ransomware attack.

In a statement, McCabe said, “We are following the comprehensive guidance provided by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and are sharing information with staff to make sure we are taking proper precautions. Our chief cybersecurity and IT officials will continue to closely monitor activity and take the appropriate measures to protect government resources.”

According to the Rhode Island Department of Health, local hospitals and health care provider networks have not been impacted by the cyber attack. Joseph Wendelken, a spokesperson for the agency, said the Department of Health collaborates with hospital networks to prepare for cybersecurity issues.

“We work very closely with hospitals throughout the state to make sure they are prepared should there be an incident,” Wendelken explained. “For example, ensuring that patients were still able to get their medication if there wasn’t access to electronic medical records.”

Below is a statement released Monday night by Congressman Langevin.

“The so-called ‘WannaCry’ ransomware has caused significant disruption around the globe due to its unusually high degree of infectivity. Thankfully, that trait can be countered with a Microsoft Windows patch that has been available since March. I implore all computer users to update their systems immediately, and, where possible, enable automatic software updates.

“I have often said that cybersecurity is the national security challenge of the 21st Century, and WannaCry demonstrates the massive disruption malicious software can cause. Business leaders, particularly those in critical infrastructure industries, must make cybersecurity a risk management priority if we are to stave off the inevitable next wave of attacks. The government, too, needs to step up efforts to improve its cybersecurity posture, and the President must act immediately to fill critical vacancies in cybersecurity posts.

“While the WannaCry incident is ongoing, I have thus far been impressed by the information sharing between security researchers, governments, and affected organizations. WannaCry is an international security challenge, and it demonstrates the vulnerabilities all connected countries share on the Internet. Law enforcement agencies around the world must work together swiftly to bring the perpetrators to justice.”

WPRI: Federal bills could send $170M to RI for bridge fortification

WPRI: Federal bills could send $170M to RI for bridge fortification

By Bill Tomison and Kim Kalunian

WEST WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — In the past two years, Rhode Island leaders have started to take action at the state level to fix seriously deficient bridges.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Jim Langevin Monday morning announced bills they said would help bring cash to the efforts at the federal level. They met with state and town officials at the Factory Bridge in West Warwick to champion the “Strengthen And Fortify Existing” (SAFE) Bridges Act.

“Rhode Island is an old state, and as a result, we have old infrastructure,” said Sen. Whitehouse. “As a result, we have one of the worst records of dilapidated bridges anywhere in the country.”

“We’ve been under some of the overpasses that are in such poor repair, you can actually see — in some cases — chunks of concrete coming down,” said Rep. Langevin. “It’s a wakeup call.”

In 2015, Gov. Gina Raimondo agreed, saying at the time, “Rhode Island has the worst bridges in America.”

But the state is not alone in deteriorating infrastructure.

The federal Act would funnel about $11 billion to states where bridges need to be fixed over the next four years. (The national tally is 56,000-plus bridges that are structurally deficient.) Rhode Island’s share over the next four years would be $170 million.

Monday’s example, the Factory Bridge, was built in 1956. It hasn’t been significantly repaired since.

While the state’s RhodeWorks project is already underway and working to make improvements, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation’s Peter Alviti said federal money could help shave two to three years off of the 10-year project. “It not only will allow us to get it done faster but will allow us to get it done more completely,” he said.

Langevin plans to introduce his companion House bill to Whitehouse’s Senate bill in the coming weeks.

Besides making the ride on the roads easier for drivers, repairing these bridges with the “SAFE” Bridges Act is expected to create plenty of construction jobs, the congressmen said — not to mention let everyone breathe a sigh of relief and sleep better at night.

“Wouldn’t it be nice to get 100 percent of our bridges safe?” said Alviti.

FRN: New legislation would provide student loan debt relief for parents of disabled children

FRN: New legislation would provide student loan debt relief for parents of disabled children

By Financial Regulation News Reports

Legislation that would provide student loan debt relief for parents whose children become permanently disabled was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives this week.

Most federal student loans are discharged if the student borrower dies or sustains a Total and Permanent Disability (TPD), but loans taken out by parents are only discharged if the student dies. This bill would extend disability forgiveness to parent plus loans.

The Plus Loan Disability Forgiveness Act was introduced by U.S. Reps. Jim Langevin (D-RI), Glenn Thompson (R-PA), Peter Roskam (R-IL), and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL).

“Student loan debt is crushing American families, and parents should not be further burdened if their child becomes disabled,” Langevin said. “Disability loan discharge applies to almost all other student loans, and it is simply wrong that a parent struggling with a child’s sudden disability is not also afforded this forgiveness. My bill would close this loophole and allow families to focus on healing, not servicing debt,” said Langevin, cofounder and co-chair of the Bipartisan Disabilities Caucus.

Thompson, a former recreational therapist, said he is familiar with the unique set of challenges parents face helping their children recover from a sudden disability.

“I am proud to work with Representative Langevin to streamline the student loan disability forgiveness process and help provide certainty to families coping with life-changing events,” he said.

The act would expand on a provision passed by Congress in the Third Higher Education Extension Act of 2006, which authorized the TPD discharge of parent plus loans for students who became disabled as a result of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

“Adapting to the permanent disability of a child takes a nearly unimaginable toll on any family. The federal government offers to forgive student loan debt in these circumstances – and it’s the right thing to do,” Roskam said. “Unfortunately, the government extends this forgiveness to some loans and not others.”

More than 44 million student loan borrowers owe $1.4 trillion in student loan debt in the United States, and the average 2016 college graduate owes over $37,000 in student loan debt.

“Student debt is a tremendous burden for millions of American families, and our government already rightly forgives debts taken on by students who become disabled,” Krishnamoorthi said. “Parents taking out loans to pay for their child’s education should also be eligible to have those loans discharged if their child suddenly becomes disabled. I’m proud to work with my colleagues to close this loophole.”

FCW: Congress pushes DOD on IT acquisition agility

FCW: Congress pushes DOD on IT acquisition agility

By Sean D. Carberry

Members of Congress and panelists alike hinted to a certain sense of deja vu at an April 26 hearing on creating a flexible and effective information technology management and acquisition system in the Department of Defense.

“For years, Congress, the executive branch and industry have attempted to bring DOD’s IT programs and processes into the 21st Century,” said Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) at the House Armed Services Committee Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee hearing.

“Despite attempts like the Joint Information Environment and streamlining of acquisition processes, DOD’s pace to improve its IT posture is not progressing with the desired speed to achieve serious efficiencies, increase security, and take advantage of enhanced capabilities that are readily available,” he said.

Recently retired DOD CIO Terry Halvorsen stressed the need for the Pentagon to buy commercial off the shelf IT systems and services in all cases unless a compelling argument is made otherwise.

He and Levine argued that DOD often spends more on customizing commercial products than it did on the original purchase, and that DOD needs to change its culture to accept commercial products.

Halvorsen, who now works for Samsung, said that also means the Pentagon needs to stop doing its own security testing of commercially proven products.

“The security accreditation process is costing both the government and industry lots of money and doing a disservice to … our service members for how long it takes to get those products certified,” he said. He added that Congress should pass legislation allowing the DOD to accept industry accreditation.

Halvorsen also said Congress needs to look at giving the DOD CIO more flexibility to make small purchases to test technology without having to go through a lengthy approval process.

“I had a $37 billion budget,” he said. “Yet I couldn’t authorize a million dollars if I saw great technology to put right on the table. That doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense to me.”

Giving the CIO more flexibility to watch industry trends and make small, targeted purchases would drive rapid acquisition, he said.

Witnesses also acknowledged that while there has been progress in recent years, both through legislative changes and internal reforms at DOD, the Pentagon still has not implemented a 2009 Defense Science Board recommendation to create a distinct IT acquisition system.

“DOD tries to ensure that change management and business process reengineering take place concurrently with new business systems acquisitions, but it has not been easy,” said Peter Levine, former DOD deputy chief management officer.

He said that acquisition officials often lack authority and expertise in business process reengineering, and management officials have “proven to be incapable of running large acquisitions.”

Though, he added that the DOD recently issued new guidance on business system acquisition, which he said was a first step towards a stand alone IT acquisition system.

“This new instruction appropriately sequences for the first time decision points regarding business solutions, IT solutions, and acquisition solutions, so that we don’t have these redundant processes going on side by side,” Levine said.

Panelists argued that another barrier to agile acquisition is the focus on acquisition process compliance rather that prioritizing product outcome and the effectiveness of the financial spend.

When asked how the Trump administration’s buy American policy would affect IT acquisition, panelists warned that such restrictions could be harmful for the DOD.

The focus should be on excluding purchases from high-risk countries, they said.

“There are some U.S. companies I wouldn’t want to buy from, because when you look at their components, they’re all from countries I don’t want,” said Halvorsen.

He said CIOs for allied nations have the authority not to purchase from domestic companies when there are supply chain concerns, and they can turn to companies from other allied nations.

“We ought to have that kind of flexibility to make those decisions when it’s in the best interest of defense,” Halvorsen said.