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Esper: National Guard deployments should be extended if necessary

Asked specifically about whether defense leaders purposefully cut the deployments one day short of what would be required for benefits under the Post-9/11 GI bill, Esper declined to comment.

“I’m fully committed to supporting our National Guard members,” he said. “I’m not worried about the number of days. What I’m worried about is making sure we win the fight against coronavirus and we fully support the young men and women who are serving on the streets of America in the National Guard.”

Rep. Max Rose (D-N.Y.), a National Guardsman who previously deployed to Staten Island during the pandemic, slammed the decision to “intentionally” end the deployment before troops can receive benefits as “heartless.”

“In peace time we should never balance our budget on the backs of our soldiers, so why anyone would think this is okay to do in the middle of a wartime effort is beyond human comprehension,” he said in a statement. “This decision must be reversed not only because it is deeply unpatriotic, but also economically unsound and puts our gains against Covid-19 at risk for some short-term, foolish budgetary gimmick.”

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NASA’s human spaceflight chief ousted just before big launch

The head of NASA’s human spaceflight office has resigned just one week before the agency is expected to launch astronauts from American soil for the first time in nearly a decade, according to a congressional notification obtained by POLITICO.

Douglas Loverro has served as the associate administrator for the human exploration and operations mission directorate for just seven months. He took over the job in October after his predecessor, William Gerstenmaier, was demoted and eventually left the agency.

“Doug hit the ground running this year and has made significant progress in his time at NASA,” the note from NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said. “His leadership of HEO has moved us closer to accomplishing our goal of landing the first woman and the next man on the Moon in 2024. Doug has dedicated more than four decades of his life in service to our country, and I want to thank him for his service and contributions to the agency.”

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Colorado lawmaker going to bat for space industry in pandemic

Lamborn also spoke to POLITICO about his new efforts to bring more space operations to Colorado and to help space companies weather the pandemic, including protecting their supply chains from disruptions. “I’ve hired someone in my office … full-time on staff just to help with defense companies because there’s so much going on,” he said. ”I want companies to view us as a resource that can help.”

Lamborn also said current plans to start marking up next year’s defense bill as early as next week in remain “fluid.”

“We will start immediately jumping into subcommittee work with the full committee right after that,” he said. “But a lot of people are really cautious about going back. … I’m not sure if that deadline won’t slip to the right.”

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

What impact is the pandemic having on Colorado space companies?

People and companies in my district are concerned about what the future holds, but because so many of them are on the national security side of things doing mission-critical work, they are required to — and happy to — continue working as they did before. Many times, mission-critical work requires people to be physically present in a secure environment. So while they try to comply and are motivated to comply with CDC guidelines in every way possible, some things are simply not alterable in how they go about their business. Being in a [Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility] or being physically present at a command center, those kinds of things can’t be deviated from.

So business is ongoing for the prime contractors in the military space arena and many of the companies that support them and support the country. However, the farther you get away from the prime, you have the potential to get into supply chain issues … [which are] a concern for anybody.

What are the biggest issues you’re hearing from constituents?

Obviously, the supply chain issue is big. Smaller companies have been contacting our office and have gotten some help from us. We can help with the [Paycheck Protection Program] loan program. That’s been a huge help to many of the companies that are in Colorado that support military space.

I’ve hired someone in my office … full-time on staff just to help with defense companies because there’s so much going on. So I as an individual congressmen am doing everything I can to help the companies and help my district. I want companies to view us as a resource that can help.

Does Congress need to do more to help the space industry?

With the upcoming [National Defense Authorization Act], we just have to make sure the funding stays strong. I know we’ve borrowed so much money this year, about $2 to $3 trillion on top of everything else. So some people might look to try to cut defense. If they do, I don’t want anything to happen that would hurt space. We have to keep up space funding.

What is the latest on timing for markups on the authorization act?

That’s a little bit fluid. Supposedly we’re going back next week on Tuesday. We will start immediately jumping into subcommittee work with the full committee right after that. But a lot of people are really cautious about going back. … I’m not sure if that deadline won’t slip to the right.

Is the pandemic slowing down the decision about where to base U.S. Space Command?

I do not know if that decision is being delayed because of the pandemic. I know it was being delayed way beyond what we wanted for a variety of reasons before the coronavirus even started as an issue. It does continue to be a big concern. There would be many companies and many missions … inside the military that would have to move if the headquarter decision ends up someplace other than Colorado. That would be extremely disruptive.

How are you making the case to base U.S. Space Command in Colorado?

Every time I have an opportunity, I make the case for Colorado to continue being the epicenter of national security space. It is the center right now. It would be extremely time consuming to change that to something else. We’d lose a lot of ground vis-à-vis potential adversaries and have to spend billions of dollars to recreate what’s already in existence and working well in Colorado. It would be extremely disruptive in terms of time and money if we were to move assets somewhere else.

What did postponing Space Symposium mean for Colorado Springs?

A lot of people were very disappointed, but they understood why it had to be postponed and they are looking forward to the end of October. … It will probably be a little bit smaller because some people have to plan so far in advance that the new date may not work for them. It was to the point where every year, it was getting bigger and bigger than before. That record may be broken this time around, but it will still be a great event, if slightly more limited.

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Inside NASA’s crash effort to help fight coronavirus

Who is contributing ideas?

They’re largely coming from our scientific and engineering workforce. For the most part, we asked for ideas in three specific areas. One around personal protective equipment, one around ventilation and one around monitoring and forecasting of Covid-19 spread and environmental and societal impacts. The nature of those topics draws from our scientific and engineering workforce. We did invite any other ideas folks had. We’re getting ideas that range from creative ways to use the NASA workforce’s skills to the use of NASA facilities.

Can you share any of the top ideas?

We’re in the midst right now of triaging the ideas. … We’re getting a number of ideas around sterilization and the reuse of face shields, masks and other personal protective equipment. There’s a lot of energy around that.

We really have to assess the ideas themselves. I don’t want to call out any one idea in particular. We’re really trying to connect them right now to other activities going on in the agency, so it’s a little premature to say this particular idea is a good one.

How will the review process work?

We are reaching out to experts around the agency who have knowledge of specific areas that touch upon these. We have folks in sterilization, because we sterilize spacecraft before we launch them. … We have a number of folks who have come up with ideas that relate to … 3D printing, so we’re calling on those experts, and having teams review those ideas in those areas to start to figure out if this is something that could fill a Covid-related need in a timely fashion. …

We have teams that are looking through the ideas through those lenses. Then if there are things that come out that we feel like NASA isn’t the proper entity to lead, but its more appropriate for another agency to consider, we’ll be sharing those with colleagues in other agencies.

Then it’s a matter of implementation. We’re looking at capabilities we have at our centers. We’re looking at resources, both people as well as dollars, and potentially working with external partners. This is a complex situation. … We don’t have all of the answers for implementation, but our intent is to explore all avenues as well as potential partnerships, too. There are a lot of people right now in the world who are looking to help solve the problems of manufacturing and other things NASA wouldn’t be in position to do.

Why is NASA’s workforce uniquely suited to contribute to this?

I don’t want to give the impression that NASA can comprehensively solve the problems of Covid-19. It’s something that has to be led by experts in the medical field, which is not our primary mission. But we recognize that we have expertises. … The number one thing that’s out there is sterilization methods because we do it routinely for instrumentation and spacecraft that go to other planets. We work in clean rooms. We use personal protective equipment regularly, so this is part of the routine of what we do even though it’s not in a medical environment.

It’s a matter of applying the sorts of systems engineering thinking and other strains of engineering to the problems at hand. NASA has shown time and again the ability to take those expertises and parlay them into a number of different applications in the world.

Are people able to work on these problems remotely?

Yes, reviewers are working remotely. … As far as implementation, we imagine that many of the ideas specific to sterilizing personal protective equipment for example … are things [where people] would quite likely need access to centers. The agency has to review those on a case-by-case basis as with all of our work.

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Pentagon barred from discussing Trump in JEDI contract probe

“The IG’s team found that there was no influence by the White House or DoD leadership on the career source selection boards who made the ultimate vendor selection,” he said. “This report should finally close the door on the media and corporate-driven attacks on the career procurement officials who have been working tirelessly to get the much needed JEDI cloud computing environment into the hands of our frontline warfighters while continuing to protect American taxpayers.”

The Pentagon in October awarded the JEDI contract to Microsoft, which beat out Amazon for the up-to-$10 billion program to build the Pentagon’s cloud architecture that will allow information ranging from personnel files to intelligence to be shared across DoD.

Microsoft commended the report for making clear that the Pentagon “established a proper procurement process” in awarding the contract to Microsoft.

“It’s now apparent that Amazon bid too high a price and is seeking a do-over so it can bid again,” Microsoft said in a statement. “Amazon is both delaying critical work for the nation’s military and trying to undo the mistake it made when it bid too high a price.”

Amazon did not return a request for comment on its reaction to the report’s findings.

Amazon sued DoD last year, alleging that the Pentagon made several mistakes in its evaluation of bids and that President Donald Trump’s public remarks disparaging Amazon and its founder, Jeff Bezos, improperly influenced the outcome.

Trump repeatedly inserted himself into the JEDI review process in ways that presidents traditionally don’t. In July, Trump said he would be asking the Pentagon “to look at it very closely to see what’s going on” because he heard complaints about the review process from companies and lawmakers. Shortly after, the Pentagon put a contract award on hold so Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who had recently taken the job, could review allegations that Amazon had been unfairly given an advantage for the contract.

The president publicly criticized Amazon and Bezos multiple times. Videos of some of his remarks are key pieces of evidence in Amazon’s suit. In one video of a February 2016 campaign rally, Trump says Amazon is “going to have such problems” if he becomes president.

Trump also repeatedly attacks Bezos, and the Washington Post which Bezos owns, on Twitter. In October, an aide to former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis published a book that said Trump called his defense chief in 2018 and told him to “screw Amazon” out of the JEDI contract.

The report says that after DoD witnesses were told not to answer questions regarding communications with the White House, the White House said witnesses could provide written answers to questions, subject to review by the administration.

“We carefully considered this response and concluded it would not be an appropriate and practical way to conduct our review, because there was no assurance as to which questions would be answered, it would unduly delay the report, it would not allow for an interview and inevitable follow up questions, and it would not assure that we would be receiving full information from the witnesses,” the IG report said. “We therefore declined to proceed in this manner.”

Despite the block, the IG said “we believe the evidence we received showed that the DoD personnel who evaluated proposals and made the source-selection awarding Microsoft the JEDI Cloud contract were not pressured about their decision on the award of the contract by any DoD leaders more senior to them, who may have communicated with the White House.”

Prior to the contract award, Oracle, another competitor for the contract that was cut in a previous round, raised concerns about some Pentagon employees favoring Amazon with unethical behavior. The inspector general substantiated allegations of ethical misconduct against Deap Ubhi, a Pentagon employee who worked on the early stages of crafting the JEDI program before leaving the department to work for Amazon.

Investigators did not, however, find evidence of ethical misconduct by other senior defense officials, including former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who attended a dinner with Amazon officials organized by his former aide Sally Donnelly.

Oracle did not immediately return a request for comment.

When the award was still being considered, some officials raised questions about the contract being awarded to just one company rather than splitting the award among multiple providers. The inspector general said picking a single contractor “was consistent with applicable law and acquisition standards.”

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