COVID vs. DoD culture; Missile sub deal; Shipyard strike; and more.

By Marcus Weisgerber

June 25, 2020

Pentagon leaders have long looked for ways to reduce bureaucracy, be it by reducing staff sizes, eliminating redundancy, or cutting infrastructure.

The problem,” Pentagon reformer Arnold Punaro told me in 2013, “is the bureaucracy is more resilient than even the most powerful secretary.” 

But at least some of that bureaucracy may be vulnerable to COVID-19. The pandemic is forcing institutional changes to an archaic culture that judges employees based on how much they’re at their desk.

As much as Pentagon and industry leaders want to talk about employees returning to work, the reality is that many offices, with some exceptions, will never again be staffed at pre-COVID levels. That’s because several months of real-world experience has finally allowed many managers to become comfortable with employees’ productivity working from home. 

Many folks who work in the Pentagon and defense industry say their managers have already told them: “Come to the office only if you must.” That’s a huge change in mindset. 

It will surprise no one that DoD is an old-school workplace,” Susanna Blue, a former Pentagon staffer now with the Center for a New American Security, wrote in Defense One in April. “It is an environment where actual face time (not virtual FaceTime) matters, and people are rewarded for being the first at their desks in the morning and the last out at night, regardless of how productively they are using the intervening hours…If you’re not physically present in the office, the assumption is that you’re not doing work.”

Of course there will be some exceptions — classified work and manufacturing come to mind. But people who largely deal with unclassified documents could find themselves working remotely a lot more.

In March, an Office of Personnel Management report found that in 2018, about 38 percent of the Defense Department workforce was eligible to work from home, yet only 15 percent did. 

Of course, there was some pain getting to this point. As Blume pointed out in her April column, the Pentagon needs to adopt more commercial IT to better allow its workers to communicate with one another and be productive.

Many private-sector companies have long embraced remote work — just try to snag a table at Starbucks or your local coffee shop during the day — but the government and the industry, which has long emulated its customer, have not. Now coronavirus is prompting companies to allow employees to permanently work from home. That means employees will no longer need to live within commuting distance to their offices. That could come with salary reductions since employees will no longer have to live in expensive cities.

And fewer office workers could allow the Pentagon, and its contractors, to cut their real-estate bills. One Pentagon official I spoke to this week questioned whether the government would still need the Mark Center, a $1 billion Pentagon annex in Alexandria, Virginia. And one industry employee opined that workers might only need to physically show up for in-person client meetings. One has to wonder how the industry might look to consolidate facilities, especially with a flat or declining defense budget predicted in the years ahead.


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From Defense One

The Pentagon's Research Chief and His Deputy Are Resigning // Marcus Weisgerber

Michael Griffin, defense undersecretary for research and engineering, and his deputy announced their July 10 departure in an email to staff.

Top Navy Official 'Very Concerned' About Strike at Maine Shipyard // Marcus Weisgerber

About two-thirds of Bath Iron Works' workers walked off the job on Sunday.

NSA Has New Guidance for Teleworking Feds // Mariam Baksh

Products, and the way the NSA regards them, are changing quickly

HASC NDAA Markup Set for July 1

This week, the panel’s subcommittees got their first crack at the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act. The Hill has a speed read for you here. Also, the Senate Armed Services Committee released funding tables and the 1,090-page text of its marked-up version of the NDAA.

Shipyard Strike 

Union workers at Bath Iron Works in Maine walked off the job on Sunday; at press time, the first strike at the shipyard in 20 years enters its fifth day. The shipyard is already six months behind on its work and with about two-thirds of the workforce picketing, the Navy will likely have to wait even longer before it gets its next Arleigh Burke and Zumwalt destroyers. While the General Dynamics-run shipyard has offered workers a 3 percent raise, the union is unhappy with the company’s proposal to hire out-of-state subcontractors and make changes to workers assignments. “I do not believe the long-term survival of Bath Iron Works is assured,” consultant and defense industry watcher Loren Thompson wrote in Forbes this week. Bath competes with Ingalls Shipbuilding in Mississippi for Arleigh Burke-class destroyer work. Presidential candidate Joe Biden weighed on in the strike Wednesday urging General Dynamics to make a “fair offer,” Newcenter Maine reports. “A job is about a lot more than a paycheck,” he said. “It’s about dignity" 

US Navy Kinda Orders Two Submarines

The Navy and General Dynamics Electric Boat have reached a $9.5 billion agreement for the first two Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines. (“Kinda” because Congress has not yet authorized and appropriated the money.) When research-and-development costs are factored in, the first new nuclear-powered submarine will end up costing taxpayers more than $14 billion, according to the Congressional Research Service. USNI News reports that the second-in-class submarine will cost $9.2 billion.

Lockheed Halts Some F-35 Deliveries

That’s because of a damaged tube part of the system that protects the jet from lightning known as Onboard Inert Gas Generation System, or OBIGGS. The problem was found in an F-35A at Hill Air Force Base in Utah. Plane maker Lockheed Martin temporarily stopped delivering F-35As, the most widely used version of the jet, to customers. While the company is once again delivering planes to military customers, an investigation has been launched and commanders are being advised to not allow pilots to fly the jets within 25 miles of lightning or thunderstorms. “Lockheed Martin initiated a delay in deliveries while we verified F-35 production is conforming to specifications with regard to OBIGGS installation,” Brett Ashword, a Lockheed spokesman, said Wednesday in an emailed statement. “We are working with the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) on a root cause corrective action investigation to determine next steps, as it appears this anomaly is occurring in the field after aircraft delivery.”

Pentagon Bails Out More Companies Hit by COVID-19

It’s the latest round of such bailouts. Per a June 19 Pentagon statement, companies receiving a total of $187 million include:

MITRE Creates Natsec Tech Board

MITRE’s Center for Technology & National Security has created an advisory board to “help guide the center’s efforts to provide our nation’s military and intelligence leaders with data-driven research, analysis, and insights to help them navigate the rapidly evolving technology landscape. The board members include:

Booz Allen Hamilton to Open Huntsville Tech Hub

The “Innovation Center” is billed as a 6,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility  “designed to spotlight Booz Allen engineers and foster collaboration with clients and the community, and will be located in the historic, reimagined Stovehouse factory,” the company said in a Wednesday statement. Additive manufacturing will be among the work done at the center.

Making Moves

By Marcus Weisgerber // Marcus Weisgerber is the global business editor for Defense One, where he writes about the intersection of business and national security. He has been covering defense and national security issues for more than a decade, previously as Pentagon correspondent for Defense News and chief editor of Inside the Air Force. He has reported from Afghanistan, the Middle East, Europe, and Asia, and often travels with the defense secretary and other senior military officials.

June 25, 2020