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.

Cranston Herald: Langevin visits after-school program at Bain

Cranston Herald: Langevin visits after-school program at Bain

By Jen Cowart

On Wednesday, April 12 Congressman Jim Langevin visited the Bain after-school program at Hugh B. Bain Middle School to check in with the students there and hear about the benefits they have seen, both academic and social-emotional, as a result of their participation in the extended day programs. The 21st Century Community Learning Center federal grant funding, which funds Cranston’s before and after school programming at Bain and Gladstone’s Kidventure programs as well as their Camp XL summer and vacation week programming, is one of the items at the top of Donald Trump’s list of items to be cut from the federal budget. The visit was part of Langevin’s continued efforts to show the importance of maintaining funding for these types of programs.
Bain is a STEAM site, which means that a focus is placed on program activities which incorporate Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Mathematics and Computer Science and which help students to be college and career ready. Although the program services approximately 200 students, the Bain Student Leadership Team, part of the Youth Empowerment Zone, a student-centered group, was on hand to greet the congressman, take him on a tour of a variety of the programs taking place and to answer any questions he might have as they shared their stories. A group of high school alumni from the program were also present. The students on hand were: Ajie Fatou Jagne, Alexander Lombardi, Melody Quenga, Avery Hart and Asia Hall. The high school students also on hand were: Aaron Short, Olivia Peters, Sophia Chan, Sebastian Borgia, Odalis Sandoval, Naraly Barrios and Sujeiry Payano Coste.
Adults who were there to greet Congressman Langevein as he arrived at Bain were Principal Jeff Taylor, Joseph Rotz, Executive Director of Educational Programs and Services, Ayana Crichton, Program Director for Cranston’s After School Programs, and Sara DeCosta-Hayes from the Elizabeth Buffam Chace Center, one of the program’s many vital community partners. Additionally, several high school students returned to speak to the congressman about their role as volunteers and mentors with the programs since moving on to high school, and to speak to the need for continued programming for students beyond the middle school years in addition to the programs which exist for students in grades K-8.

Welcoming the congressman

The leadership team greeted Langevin as he arrived and took some time to share some initial stories with him before they moved indoors. Aaron Short told Langevin that he has been attending the extended day programs since he was 9, and is now a high school student.
“I started in first grade, and I have gone to every program, every session, every year, since I was able,” he said. “I have loved it ever since I joined. I have been volunteering with the programs but I hope to get a job with them this summer. It’s been an outstanding experience for me.”
Sophia Chan echoed his sentiments and shared that although she has spent less years in the program, the impact has been great. As the state representative for Fuel Up to Play 60, a fitness and nutrition program, Chan has helped to facilitate the program at both Bain and Cranston High School West where she is currently a student.
Sujiere Payano emphasized that without Bain she would not have made it to high school, as she was struggling academically, and credited the program for helping her to close the gap and be successful in school.
“I’m 100 percent sure I’d still be in the eighth grade,” she said.
When asked, Crichton explained that the before and after school programs and the vacation week and camp programs are 100 percent dependent on funding through grant partnerships and federal funding.
“We receive approximately $109,000 a year from the 21st Century funding and about $25,000-$35,000 a year in extra grants through city, state and federal programs and through in-kind programs. She cited the Elizabeth Buffam Chace partnership as one such vital relationship which the program relies on.
“You will see a mission to Mars”

As the group moved indoors for their tour, Avery Hart, the leadership team’s Vice President, introduced Langevin to the Green Thumb Club which was working outdoors in the school’s courtyard, helping to assemble a greenhouse which had been moved from Gladstone’s Kidventure location over to Bain after having had repeated incidents of vandalism at the elementary location. Now the students were re-assembling it and getting ready for the plants, including eggplant, peppers, tomatoes and flowering plants which will be used for beautification of the school grounds, to go in.
“Will there be enough sunlight to heat the greenhouse in this spot?” Langevin asked Hart.
“Yes, we have solar panel experts working on a plan for heating it with solar energy,” she answered.
“It looks well-protected here, it looks like it’s going to be very successful,” Langevin said.
During the tour, several of the students described a NASA competition project they participated in past years and Hart described her involvement with the competition this year.
“This year NASA had us collect cloud data from the ground, because their satellites can collect data from, above the clouds, but not from below them,” she said. “On Tuesdays and Thursdays we would measure the ground temperature, the soil temperature and see how the clouds were affecting the temperatures. We submitted that data to NASA and we were recognized for our work. There were many other groups across the country also submitting data from their locations in order to give NASA the whole picture.”
When Langevin questioned what sort of tools were used for collecting their temperature data, Hart explained that an Infrared Thermometer IRT gun, was used, due to the ease of collecting temperatures measured in Celsius.
“NASA told us that they really liked seeing past years’ students coming back to volunteer,” Crichton said.
“The project gave me a greater appreciation for science than before,” Hart said. “I used to think science was just a class I had to take in school, but now I am actually interested in seeing what I can do with it and what it’s used for.”
“Technology is changing things very quickly and in your lifetime, you will see a mission to Mars,” Langevin said. “I hope I’m around to see it too, but know that these are careers you can go into. You can be a part of the next challenge, of finding the next planet, the next solar system.
“I’m planning to protect this funding in D.C.”

Langevin talked briefly about the loan forgiveness program Rhode Island has put into place for students who graduate with a degree in a STEM field and stay and work in the state.
“We are trying to put the resources in place for you to pursue a college education or advanced training in a Career and Technical Education field,” he said.
The students took Langevin to visit the Comics program, which was working on creating comic books and a giant mural that had an environmental science theme to them.
Langevin spoke to the students and complimented their work, which was being facilitated by Walker Mettling.
As the tour headed to its final spot, the STEM Center classroom which showed evidence of STEM projects from years past, from rocketry to bridge building, the Sew Bain sewing club students described their recent project, designing and hand-sewing clothing to be sent to poor children in Latin American countries, Langevin pledged to continue to fight for support of programs such as the ones at Bain and Kidventure in Cranston.
“I’m planning to protect this funding in DC,” he said. “We are battling against the President and his desire to cut these programs. Keep up the good work, I’m very proud of you. You can’t underestimate the value of programs like this and of the mentors who go off to high school and college, and then come back to mentor the next generation. It’s so important to set good examples, to share your experiences. It’s so meaningful.”
Catelyn Blankenship is the assistant site coordinator for Bain and Kidventure, and told Langevin her own story of after school programming and its impact on her life.
“I have been involved in the program since I was in it as a sixth-grader,” she said. “I went to Gladstone, to Bain and as a high school student I volunteered in the programs. I became an instructor, and now I am an assistant coordinator. I went to Johnson and Wales and just transferred to RIC so that I can pursue a degree in education.”
As the Langevin prepared to leave, the students handed him letters they had written, asking for support of the funding needed for their programs. Langevin thanked them for the letters and encouraged them to keep reaching out to their legislators, right up to the President at the White House, and to keep fighting for funding.
“I am fascinated by the work you do here, thank you for sharing it with me and for these letters,” he said. “Keep sharing your stories and don’t underestimate how important that is. We understand the importance of this funding, but not everyone feels the same way. It’s our job to make the case for it because it’s so important beyond your time in this program. These skills and this confidence will last you a lifetime.”

Cranston Herald: Langevin presents Purple Heart to widow of World War II veteran

Cranston Herald: Langevin presents Purple Heart to widow of World War II veteran

On Friday Congressman Jim Langevin presented Cranston resident Mrs. Carol Liebrich, the widow of World War II veteran Robert Liebrich, with a Purple Heart with a Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster, signifying the second Purple Heart he has received. 

When he was just 18 years old, Private First Class (PFC) Liebrich was shot in the abdomen by enemy fire in events leading up to the Battle of the Bulge, which began in December 1944 and was the last major German offensive campaign of the war. He earned his first Purple Heart from this injury.

After a quick recovery, PFC Liebrich returned to his unit, and then in March 1945, in a different engagement with opposing forces, he was shot in his right arm by enemy fire but was not awarded the second Purple Heart for the injury at that time.

Congressman Langevin assisted Mrs. Liebrich to petition the Department of the Army for the second Purple Heart that was rightfully her late husband’s. After talking with the National Personal Records Center, the proper documentation was found, and the Purple Heart with a Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster was hand-delivered to Mrs. Liebrich and members of her family at Langevin’s office.

“We owe our soldiers who fought in World War II an enormous debt of gratitude, and PFC Liebrich is no exception,” said Congressman Langevin. “I was honored to work with the Army to correct this oversight, and it was a true privilege to present Mrs. Liebrich and her family the Purple Heart for Robert Liebrich’s heroism.”

“My husband would have been so honored,” said Mrs. Liebrich. “Thank you, Congressman Langevin, for helping me get this award for my husband for his service in World War II.”

Robert Liebrich, 88, passed away in 2014.