Congress

Thornberry tries to hold back efforts to erode 'fourth estate' reforms in FY19 NDAA

Rep. Mac Thornberry (Photo: House Armed Services Committee) 

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry.

The House Armed Services Committee conducted its annual slog through hundreds of amendments to come up with a bipartisan National Defense Authorization Act starting in the morning of May 9 and continuing past midnight.

After 14 hours of debate, the committee reported the $716 billion bill, including 248 amendments, favorably on a 60-1 vote. Hawaii Democrat Tulsi Gabbard was the lone holdout.

On the IT front, Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.) looked to counter the committee chairman's proposal to trim the Pentagon's "fourth estate" -- the defense agencies that provide back office support and services.

Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) had originally looked to eliminate the Defense Information Systems Agency and the Washington Headquarters Service. The bill proposed by the chairman called for leaving such cuts up to the Department of Defense chief management officer.

Brown's amendment proposed a report from the secretary of defense, the CMO, CIO and others by March 1, 2020 in advance of any consolidation. Brown, concerned with the impact of the potential job loss, said "It remains unclear what would happen to DISA's missions and functions."

Thornberry said it is "important" for the committee "to take a look at those [DOD] agencies that aren't a part of the [services]," and their growing budgets. DISA's is up 13 percent, he said.

"I'm a little more prescriptive in that I want to [see] how will this go," Thornberry said before opposing the amendment, which the committee declined to adopt.

Some committee members expressed concern about a proposed 25 percent cut to supporting agencies and functions including IT, personnel management and logistics. Additionally, a proposal by Thornberry to eliminate the Test Resource Management Center was voted down.

Cyber and more cyber

Several amendments aimed at improving cyber education and increasing cyber defenses sailed through committee.

Rep. Salud Carbajal's (D-Calif.) amendment to approve the Army National Guard's cyber training pilot program passed. The measure would allow concurrent training of cyber protection teams and cyber network defense teams using a common standard. The program would also integrate training between the guard, law enforcement and emergency personnel.

The amendment would have Army National Guard members embedded with federal and state government departments and agencies to help facilitate cooperative cyber defenses across the government, making training more cohesive and efficient.

Another, championed by Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.) would require the acquisition and sustainment undersecretary to brief the committee on the effect of expanding the Hacking for Defense program, which allows college students to work on real cyber problems with the DOD and the Intelligence Community, to improve the Defense Department's innovation culture.

Retired Army Col. Peter Newell, managing partner of consulting firm BMNT Partners told FCW ahead of the markup that the program "should be an intramural sport in the Army."

The 2018 NDAA approved $15 million for the defense secretary to expand Hacking for Defense but the funds weren't appropriated in time, Newell said. This year, he hopes the funding is there to expand its role to more universities.

The HASC also passed a provision allowing the defense secretary to put a cyber institute at each senior military college and offer certificates and degree programs in cyber, data science, and cryptography.

Other measures called for reports on cybersecurity risks to autonomous systems, progress on automated cyber defense capabilities and the use of autonomous intelligence and machine learning in offensive cyber operations.

About the Author

Lauren C. Williams is a staff writer at FCW covering defense and cybersecurity.

Prior to joining FCW, Williams was the tech reporter for ThinkProgress, where she covered everything from internet culture to national security issues. In past positions, Williams covered health care, politics and crime for various publications, including The Seattle Times.

Williams graduated with a master's in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and a bachelor's in dietetics from the University of Delaware. She can be contacted at lwilliams@fcw.com, or follow her on Twitter @lalaurenista.

Click here for previous articles by Wiliams.


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