Tag Archives: contracting

We are SAPs: forty companies currently working on “special access programs”

News of slowed declassification activity by the Obama administration – vigorously rejected by the National Archives – punctuates the fact that government secrecy, despite any statistical shenanigans and worship at the altar of transparency, continues to grow.

Perhaps no area of that growth is more alarming than in programs officially designated “special access programs” or SAPs, where additional security measures restrict the kind of routine knowledge that government officials, auditors, inside kibitzers, and even Congress needs for effective oversight.  What is more, SAPs are a license to lie.  If an official with knowledge of a SAP is asked about it by a member of the press or Congress, he or she can simply brush away the inquiry.  Oversight doesn’t have the right security clearance.

Over the years, various Defense Department, executive branch and Congressional efforts have attempted to review, regulate, reign in, and reform the SAP system, and certainly SAPs to the detriment of the war-fighter – that is, when a secret program exists that is not used to help the normal Joe on the battlefield – are an indefensible no-no.  But since 9/11, it appears that the way in which “access” to SAPs is governed in warfare is merely to increase the number of people with casual access to them, thus making them less SAP-py on the battlefield, though certainly still powerful at hiding in Washington.

Stealth technology, certainly one of the largest continuing programs covered under an official SAP, infect both the F-22 and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programs and account for a significant number of the clearances.  (The SAP associated with the F-22 Raptor is called Senior Jersey Raptor (SJR).)   Other technology programs that includes important current SAPs include the Air Force’s new small MC-12W Liberty program, certain Predator and Reaper capabilities (and entire SAP drones), and the whole world of “special” special operations and submarine capabilities.

Virtually all counter-space programs – that is, those that involve the ability to shoot down or disable satellite capabilities – are also SAPs.  As are large swaths of computer network operations, “special technical operations,” and “national technical means,” all pieces of the space-digital-intelligence-cyber-mischief continuum.  Nuclear weapons programs, particularly those associated with nuclear weapons command and control, are mostly under restrictive SIOP-ESI clearances rather than SAPs, though there appear to be some SAPs dealing with the specifics of Presidential strike means and nuclear weapons security, including the NATO nuclear weapons infrastructure.  Directed energy weapons – particularly high-powered microwave and laser weapons of operational and strategic significance, also are covered by SAPs.  The counter-IED program has certainly acquires as many SAPs as it can get its robots on, building its own intelligence and special operations empire beyond any sensible reach.

The theory is that a SAP is denying knowledge of some capability is going to preserve it from the enemy.  If the enemy is Congress and the public debate, the “sensitive” parts of a program can be turned into SAPs.  That is absolutely prohibited by regulations, but the assignment of SAPs has become so promiscuous, it is the effective result.  Thus the proliferation of SAPs into the counter-intelligence and “CI/LE” world (counter-intelligence/law enforcement) world could be alarming, if we knew exactly what they were, and the current large scale North American Air Domain Awareness Surveillance (NAADAS) Analysis of Alternatives (AoA) – with its many SAPs – seems to be scared of its own shadow in terms of what needs to be done to secure America’s skies, that is, what will be done without public debate if possible.  Finally, NORTHCOM and its Army law enforcement component – Joint Task Force North in Texas – seems to be involved in a number of SAPs, all of which I’m sure are SAPs merely because their revelation would be politically controversial.

Right now – this week – almost 40 companies are advertising over 200 jobs requiring Top Secret clearances with ability to gain access to special access programs.   I made a list, of course of the companies and the locations of the work (some are contingent on award of contract):

  •  Apogee Solutions Inc.: Langley AFB, VA
  • Automation Technologies, Inc. (ATI): Augusta, GA; Columbia, MD
  • BAE Systems: Lexington, MA
  • Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp.: Broomfield, CO
  • Boeing Global Services and Support: Oklahoma City, OK
  • Booz Allen Hamilton: Dayton, OH
  • BOSH Global Services: Ellsworth AFB, SD
  • CACI:  Arlington, VA: Springfield, VA
  • Chenega Corporation: Langley AFB, VA
  • CSC:  Huntsville, AL; Washington, DC (area); Nellis AFB, NV
  • Cubic Mission Support Services: Washington DC (area)
  • General Atomics: Poway, CA
  • General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems: Dayton, OH
  • Honeywell International: Clearwater, FL; Herndon, VA
  • Insignia Technology Services: Shaw AFB, SC
  • KEYW Corporation: Annapolis Junction, MD
  • L-3 Engility Corporation: Dayton, OH
  • L-3 Global Security & Engineering Solutions: Beale AFB, CA; Offutt AFB, NE; Arlington, VA
  • Leonie: Washington, DC (area)
  • LinQuest: Washington, DC (area)
  • Lockheed Martin: Yuma, AZ; Edwards AFB, CA; Palmdale, CA; Eglin AFB, FL; Fort Worth, TX
  • MacAulay-Brown, Inc.: Dayton, OH
  • ManTech International: Huntsville, AL; Los Angeles, CA (area); Hickam AFB, HI; Barksdale AFB, LA; Kirtland AFB, NM; Dayton, OH; Arlington, VA; Dahlgren, VA
  • MYMIC LLC:  Arlington, VA
  • Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems: Palmdale, CA
  • Northrop Grumman Information Systems: Beavercreek, OH; Arlington, VA; Chantilly, VA
  • Northrop Grumman Special Projects: San Diego, CA
  • Northrop Grumman Xetron: Cincinnati, OH
  • PL Consulting Inc.: Arlington, VA
  • Raytheon: Tucson, AZ
  • Raytheon Applied Signal Technology: Annapolis Junction, MD
  • Raytheon Intelligence and Information Systems (IIS): Aurora, CO; Garland, TX
  • Raytheon SI Government Solutions: San Antonio, TX
  • Riverside Research: Dayton, OH
  • SAIC: Adelphi, MD; Columbia, MD; Springfield, VA
  • Scientific Research Corporation (SRC): Colorado Springs, CO; Tampa FL; Honolulu HI (area); Arlington, VA; Norfolk, VA (area)
  • SI Organization: Chantilly, VA
  • SOS International Ltd. (SOSi): Northern VA (CIA)
  • Summit Technical Solutions: Edwards AFB, MD
  • TASC: Vienna, VA
  • Textron AAI Corporation: Hunt Valley, MD
  • Trinity Technology Group, Tampa, FL; Fort Washington, MD
  • U.S. Falcon:  Beale AFB, CA; Ellsworth AFB, SD
  • WBB (Whitney, Bradley, & Brown, Inc.):  Hampton, VA
  • XL Associates: Langley AFB, VA
Advertisements

Soft Power Becomes a Military-Dominated Counter-Everything…

Soft power, all the rage in the ivory tower, but ever so slowly being eclipsed in the Defense Department as mission excitement builds for China and that old foe Iran, is here to stay in that way that the Pentagon knows how to overdo everything: write the regulations and doctrine, open specialty institutions, build an internal constituency.  And of course, spend money, which in the military budget is a pittance but in comparison to other departments and agencies is a King’s ransom, which is why soft becomes hard, and everything that the U.S. government attempts to turn into non-military becomes military by default.

As Secretary Robert Gates nudged the rest of the government to do more so that the military didn’t have to do everything, and the commentators of everything-is-pathetic-except-for-the-military love to point out that the State Department can’t even find enough volunteers to man its hazardous posts in the perpetual warzone.  Come to think of it, I wonder if DOD could if their assignments were equally voluntary.

But I digress.  Institutionalized soft power a la Pentagon practice does take resources, and bodies, and pretty soon, hard power is compromised.  So there’s a double loss for America: Military priorities get distorted, and the distinction between what is military and what is civilian fades.

This week, European Command (EUCOM) announced the opening of a new Joint Interagency Counter Trafficking Center in Stuttgart, Germany; a kind of unremarkable and typical blah, blah, blah, even for the once important European Command constantly looking for mission and relevance.  The new center focuses on trafficking in drugs, weapons, humans and other illicit commodities.  Army Brig. Gen. Mark Scraba, the center’s director, told American Forces Press Service that criminal networks were increasingly able to operate across national borders and build alliances.  Among the greatest concerns, he said, is the convergence of drug and terror networks.  The fusion center, the director says, has fewer than 40 staff members, and includes representatives of the FBI, DIA and other U.S. government agencies.

Fewer than 40 staff members indeed, but you gotta ask: Why is this paid for out of the defense budget?  Why does the military have to take the lead for the interagency to work?  How many additional contractors and supporters are really expended?  How does this subtly impact and undermine core military missions?  How does it slowly turn the military into a global law enforcement entity?

When the U.S. government started trumpeting the term narco-terrorism after 9/11, I took it to be a cynical effort to rename the war on drugs and the activities of the left-out combatant commands like Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) in the new mono-focus of terrorism.  The term in fact had been coined by President Fernando Belaúnde Terry of Peru in 1983, according to Wikipedia.  The adoption by DOD was in fact cynical, but soon enough they discovered that the most pressing narco problem was in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a mission that initially they relegated to the Brits and the NATO partners, but have been slowly taking over.  EUCOM’s center is really a product of endless fighting in Afghanistan.

EUCOM’s center joins the counter-narcotics and counter-narcoterrorism effort at Central Command (CENTCOM), which takes place in the Afghanistan and Pakistan Center (APC).   SOUTHCOM has their new Countering Transnational Organized Crime (CTOC) division.   Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has both a CTF [counter-threat finance] team and a TNT/CNT [transnational terrorism/counter narcoterrorism] division.  So does Northern Command (NORTHCOM), which has built up a whole group of Colorado Springs-based efforts fighting transnational criminal organizations (narcotics trafficking, human smuggling, weapons, money laundering/threat finance etc.), focused mostly on Mexico.

All of these field outposts feed into the counter-narcotics and counter trafficking intelligence efforts of the CIA – through its long-standing Crime and Narcotics Center — NSA, DIA, Army Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM), etc.  Even the Navy’s Nimitz Operational Intelligence Center has a Transnational Threat Department (TNT).  This is not even to mention the two Joint Intelligence Agency Taskforces focused on the war on drugs: South (JIATF-S) in Key West and West (JIATF-W) at Camp Smith, Hawaii.  The Department of Homeland Security, of course, has gotten into the act, opening an ICE Bulk Cash Smuggling Center and other organizations.

None of this particularly surprises me, even when budgets are supposedly so strained.  But I can’t help continue to think that the entire effort is both cynical and ass-backwards.  If we want soft anything, we have to lead with non-military efforts.

The Obama administration, not surprisingly, has made it worse, contributing to the mission creep into organized crime and human trafficking, through its Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime: Addressing Converging Threats to National Security, released in July 2011.

That Strategy called for DOD to enhance its support to law enforcement with the creation of the  Narcotics and Transnational Crime Support Center.  James Miller, the new Under Secretary of Defense for Policy called the Center “a dedicated DoD-led center that integrates military, intelligence, and law enforcement analytic capabilities to go after key nodes in global criminal networks.”  It reflects, he says, “the added value that the Defense department brings to whole-of-government efforts against transnational organized crime.”

Kathleen Hicks, who replaces Miller as Principal Deputy, told Congress:  “DoD should also consider how it can play a role in breaking the links among criminal organizations, terrorists, and insurgencies.  As the President’s strategy states, “terrorists and insurgents are increasingly turning to TOC [transnational organized crime] to generate funding and acquiring logistical support to carry out their violent acts.” As the Department continues with its counterterrorism efforts around the world, it will be important to account for the links between criminal and terrorist entities.”

I’d never heard of this Center, and Internet research turns up very little.  What I’ve pieced together is that it is located in Crystal City, Virginia, and the director reports to the Deputy Assistant Security of Defense for Counter Narcotics and Global Threats.  Camber Corporation is providing signals intelligence (SIGINT) expertise to link the Center to NSA.  Semper Fi Solutions, Inc. is providing CENTCOM liaison officers in Tampa to the Crystal City based center, as well as corruption and “predatory” analysts.

Other contractors providing intelligence support to the trafficking empire include: BAE Systems, Celestar, Delex Systems, Duer Advanced Technology & Aerospace (DATA), FedSys, Inc., General Dynamics Information Technology, L-3 STRATIS, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Prosync Technology Group, and SAIC.  Parsons Corporation is working on the methamphetamine/precursor chemicals problem set for the DIA.

Finally, one has to ask, with all of the enhanced intelligence collection and sharing and border control that is part of the post 9/11 world, why is this problem getting worse?  How is that possible, that borders are more porous?  So much for the war against terrorism.  No wonder they call it the forever war.

Contractors Increasingly Work Under Secretive “Task Orders”

The Grant Thornton Annual Survey of the Aerospace and Defense Industry offers some interesting insight into the world of government contracting.  Washington Technology asks “Are contractors at risk of a flame out?” but that is the wrong question.

What’s really happening, besides just an anticipated decline in national security spending that naturally affects the private sector dependent on government money, is that national security contractors are becoming less transparent.  Thus the news isn’t only of interest to insiders, but to Congress and the public as well.

The 17th annual survey, conducted by the global audit, tax and advisory business, concludes, according to the company:

  • “Revenue from government contracts grew for 50% of survey participants, while 21% experienced no significant change, and 29% experienced reductions in revenue. The fact that the highest percentage of companies experienced revenue growth continues a long-term trend reported in previous surveys indicating that government contractors are far less vulnerable than commercial companies to recessions or slow growth in the overall economy. However, the 29% of companies experiencing revenue reductions is the highest percentage reported in several surveys, indicating that government efforts to reduce deficits are adversely impacting government contractor revenue.
  • Profit rates reported by survey participants followed a predictable pattern consistent with the profit guidelines in the government procurement regulations. About one-third (31%) of participants reported profit rates of between 1% to 5% as a percentage of revenue; 37% experienced profit rates of 6-10%; 18% saw profit rates between 11% and 15%; and , 8% reported profit rates above 15%. The remaining 6% of participants either broke even or experienced a loss. On an overall basis, profits appear to have improved slightly compared with the results in the 16th annual survey.”

Retired Vice Adm. Lewis Crenshaw Jr., head of the aerospace and defense business for Grant Thornton, tells Washington Technology, that many companies in the market are dangerously close to stalling out. He cites a five percent reduction in reported growth compared with last year, and of course, the fact that 29 percent of companies reported a decrease in revenue, a seven percent increase over the year before.

Crenshaw observes that despite rhetoric – and I might add government policy – to increase the use of firm-fixed-price contracts, they only constitute about 20 percent of contracts.

In the services sector – that is, the vast consulting business that supports intelligence and other secret endeavors – the vast majority of work is ordered by the government through what are called “task orders.”  These are sub-elements of larger contracts; if you will, exchanges of letters between government entities and companies.  They are not publicly announced, even for unclassified work.  There is no database of task orders, despite transparency pledges and boasts.  There are hundreds of thousands of them.

Crenshaw told Washington Technology that companies reported that the use of task order contracts rose by 50 percent.  In addition “81 percent of the companies reported that they were asked to do out-of-scope work on contracts and 84 percent of those did the work. Surprisingly, only 25 percent filed for adjustments to their contracts.”

In English, this means that once a company was on the government dime, awarding it additional work, even work outside the scope of the original contract, increased.

The solution is simple: Task order awards and changes should be posted online in a searchable database.  As a long time Internet user, I’ll make the observation that many used to be.  But then when the task orders revealed news or controversial work, they ceased appearing online.

I’m working on an analysis (watch this space) of some of the task order work being done, just to show what I mean.

Jock Straps and Coffee Mugs

I know when billion dollar defense programs are being discussed, jock straps and coffee mugs seem pretty minor.

But I couldn’t help but notice last week that West Point issued a contract solicitation for “Athletic Supporters/White.”  The Army is looking for a vendor to sell them not any kind, but 2″ or 3″ wide waistband size jockstraps.   The actual solicitation is 29 pages long for this purchase.  I haven’t acquired one in quite some time, but I went on Amazon just to see how much we’re talking and they are all of $9 to $10 each retail for the premium types.  According to the 29 page solicitation, West Point is looking for 144 small, 300 medium size, and 730 large.

So, why can’t the contracting office at West Point, or even the athletic department, just pick up the phone to buy $12,000 worth of jock straps, which I imagine in that quantity is actually a purchase of well under half that amount?  To be clear, even though most of that 29 page solicitation is boilerplate language and includes admonitions about not supporting diamond smuggling or Iran, someone on the government payroll wrote it, passed it on to a supervisor, got it approved, someone registered it with an official number, sent it out to Federal Business Opportunities website to advertise, will receive and examine bids, etc., etc.

I guess I don’t need to ask why there is a need for so many large.

And then there’s the Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland 28 page solicitation to buy four (4)  Guinea Pigs cages — “CAGE GUINEA PIG UNIT” officially — that has something to with chemical or biological warfare research.  Yuck.

Which brings me to the camouflage “Army Strong” mugs being purchased by the Army Accessions Command at Ft. Knox, Kentucky: “15 oz, made in the USA coffee mug. Mug shall be equal to H.F. Coors, Chief Mug blank white ceramic mug, model number 1864. Mug shall be decorated via Dye Sublimation, microwave, dishwasher and UV safe, and Proposition 65 compliant. Mug shall be printed with the Army Camouflage Uniform (ACU) digital pattern.”  According to the 33 page solicitation, the Army wants 43,200 mugs in 2012, in boxes of 12, with the pallet size specified for shipping.

With an 800-number and the Army website address printed on each mug as specified in the solicitation, I suppose each is being given to prospective recruits.  Glad they’re camouflaged.

Again, someone has to administer all of this, and each prospective bidder in the case of the coffee mugs is even required to produce a sample.  And these oddities of everyday military life is from one day of perusing contracts.   What I see is  millions if not billions being spent on the contracting process alone, making the products grotesquely more expensive.   Why, for heaven’s sake, isn’t this centrally done?  And why can’t it be simplified?

When I read that the Defense Department is adding thousands of new contracting officers to better oversee contracts, what I see is fewer typos in these forms, not any kind of reform.

Another Kind of Revolving Door

[Originally published February 8, 2012; updated continuously]

I saw a press release from Accenture yesterday announcing its newly formed Federal Advisory Board.  It’s the round-up of the usual suspects, including recently retired former vice chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright, former Deputy Secretary of Defense William J. Lynn, and the ubiquitous Michael Chertoff.

These “advisory boards” — sometimes called strategic advisory boards or technical advisory boards — are not to be confused with Boards of Directors, where the board member has some stake in (mostly) public companies and fiduciary responsibility.  These are pure and simple informal ways for companies — mostly private — to buy credibility, names, advice, and hidden lobbying.

I’ve noticed these boards springing up all around since doing research for Top Secret America.  Is it just me or do I see Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff, former Secretaries of Homeland Security everywhere?   Or people like Arthur Money, former Assistant Secretary of Defense for C3I, who I have to mention, because, well, I do see money.

The problem with this unregulated ethical loophole is also that players in budget battles and even policies regarding contracting itself clandestinely represent the interests of companies while provide media commentary and even supposedly impartial government advice.  Take Jacques S. Gansler, for example, professor and former Under Secretary of defense and advisory board habitue, and admittedly one of the smartest people on the issue of contracting and business practices.  The Gansler Commission Report on Army Acquisition and Program Management in Expeditionary Operations is enormously influential.

My quick perusal of federal contractor advisory boards that include at least one former  government official or retired flag officer of the military include: