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Entries in Pentagon (25)

Monday
Feb112013

Pentagon Extends Some More Benefits to Same-Sex Partners

Department of Defense Photo by Glenn Fawcett(WASHINGTON) -- A year and a half after the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell the Pentagon is extending many benefits to the same-sex partners of military service members that, until now, had only been available to heterosexual couples.

However, access to health care and some housing allowances available to spouses will remain unavailable because the Defense of Marriage Act defines a marriage as being between a man and a woman.

In a statement announcing the move, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said, “It is a matter of fundamental equity that we provide similar benefits to all of those men and women in uniform who serve their country.”

“The department already provides a group of benefits that are member-designated,” he said. "Today, I am pleased to announce that after a thorough and deliberate review, the department will extend additional benefits to same-sex partners of service members."

At the time that the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell was implemented in 2011, same sex partners became eligible for 20 member-designated benefits. These included being listed as beneficiaries of the Service member Group Life Insurance policy, the death gratuity, and being allowed hospital visitation rights.

However, gay advocacy groups campaigned for a further extension of almost 100 additional benefits to same-sex partners.

In a memo released Monday, Panetta extended 22 new benefits to service members and military retirees with same-sex partners.  The additional benefits include the issuing of new military identification cards that will allow partners access to military commissaries, military exchanges and access to child care.

To be eligible for these benefits, service members and their same sex-partners will have to file a “declaration of domestic partnership.” The form will enable same-sex couples to gain access to the benefits in the 41 states where gay marriage is not legal.

An additional 85 benefits such as access to on-base housing and burial at Arlington National Cemetery were not offered Monday, even though they are not precluded by the Defense of Marriage Act.  In his memo, Panetta said making those changes, "presents complex legal and policy challenges due to their nexus to statutorily-prohibited benefits and due to ongoing reviews about how best to provide scarce resources."

Later this year the Supreme Court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act.  In his memo Panetta said that if the court says the law is no longer applicable, then the Pentagon will be able to extend full military benefits to same-sex couples.

Panetta’s memo directs the military services to have a system in place to accept the benefits Aug. 31, and that no benefits be rolled out later than October.

Senior defense officials who briefed reporters on the benefits extension said they would likely impact about 5,600 same-sex couples with an active-duty service member, 3,400 with the National Guard or Reserves, and 8,000 military retirees.

Gay advocacy groups praised the changes instituted by Panetta, but still called for full benefits that could only be provided if the Defense of Marriage Act were to be repealed or ruled unconstitutional.

“We thank him for getting us a few steps closer to full equality -- steps that will substantively improve the quality of life of gay and lesbian military families,” said Allyson Robinson the Executive Director of OutServe-SLDN.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jan032013

Panetta Thanks Congress for Suspending Deep Pentagon Spending Cuts

Department of Defense Photo by Glenn Fawcett(WASHINGTON) -- One person who breathed a particularly huge sigh of relief after Tuesday's congressional compromise on the fiscal cliff was Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

He had already braced the Pentagon to be ready for a series of deep budget cuts known as sequestration that would total around $500 billion over 10 years.  However, the bill passed by the House and Senate puts those spending reductions on hold for at least two months.

Panetta, who plans on retiring soon, issued a statement Wednesday expressing gratitude to lawmakers from both parties for putting a temporary halt to sequestration, adding, "Hopefully, this will allow additional time to develop a balanced deficit reduction plan that would permanently prevent these arbitrary cuts."

For the past year, since Congress approved the budget cuts to help bring down the nation's debt, Panetta has been on a campaign to get members of Congress to change their minds on sequestration, saying it "would have a devastating impact on the department."

Panetta acknowledged that he "would have been required to send out a notice to our 800,000 civilian employees that they could be subject to furlough" if the fiscal cliff compromise had not been reached.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Dec052012

Pentagon Begins Planning for $500B in ‘Fiscal Cliff’ Cuts

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Pentagon has started to plan for the half-trillion dollars in automatic cuts over the next decade that it could face as part of the “fiscal cliff” that would start in the new year.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) had provided guidance that the Pentagon should conduct “internal planning” for sequestration cuts, Pentagon spokesman George Little told reporters Wednesday.

Sequestration is the term used to describe the automatic defense budget cuts totaling about $500 billion over the next 10 years that would be triggered in early January. The sequestration cuts were agreed to as part of last year’s debt ceiling agreement that resulted in the Budget Control Act.  It is one component of the coming “fiscal cliff” of spending cuts and tax increases that would be triggered in 2013 that has dominated the political debate in Washington since the presidential election.

For most of the year, Pentagon officials have said repeatedly that they would not plan for potential sequestration cuts because they hoped it would just be done away with by the Congress. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has been vocal about what he has called the “devastating” impact of the automatic cuts if they were triggered. He once referred to it as a “goofy, meat-axe approach” to reducing spending.

Eventually, any resolution of the pending sequestration cuts were delayed until after the presidential election. Now, with the deadline looming, the Pentagon has been authorized to look at what programs might be cut.

“We don’t want to go off the fiscal cliff, but in consultation with OMB we think that it is prudent at this stage to begin at least some limited internal planning,” said Little.

A preliminary review began earlier this week to determine what would be impacted by cuts that will trim 9.4 percent from Defense Department programs, Little said. The review will prevent implementing sequestration in “an absurd way” within the Pentagon, he added.

The estimated $500 billion in cuts over the next decade would be in addition to the administration’s already planned cut of $487 billion over the next decade that it said was guided by a strategic review.  Fifty-five billion dollars in defense cuts would be triggered in 2013.

On July 31, the Obama administration issued a memo announcing that military personnel payroll costs would not be affected by sequestration cuts.  At the time, it acknowledged, “it is recognized that this action would increase the sequester in other defense programs,” namely in civilian personnel costs and weapons programs.

Little said he was activating a public affairs task force that would help communicate to the DOD’s 3 million military and civilian employees about the latest updates on any potential cuts.

Though sequestration could begin on Jan. 3, 2013, Little said, its impact would not be felt immediately on the workforce. The Pentagon would have a phased-in approach to the cuts that would likely be implemented in the months after that date should no deal be reached to avoid sequestration.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Oct292012

Robert Gates Official Portrait Ceremony Goes on Despite Hurricane Sandy

DOD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley(WASHINGTON) -- While most of official Washington came to a standstill Monday because of Hurricane Sandy, a small room of VIP’s gathered at the Pentagon to honor former Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Making his first visit back to the Pentagon since he departed his post last summer, Gates was on hand for the unveiling of his official portrait.  Like those of his predecessors, Gates’ portrait will hang in the hallway outside his old Pentagon office.

The approaching hurricane led to the closure of the federal government on Monday, and the Pentagon was no exception. But that didn’t stop current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other VIPs from continuing on with Monday’s planned unveiling.

“It’s not every day you have to brave a hurricane in order to come to a portrait unveiling," said Panetta, who then joked, “But then again, to those of us who’ve been in this job, it’s like dealing with a hurricane every day, so we’re used to it."

Braving the elements for Monday’s ceremony were National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert.  Top staffers from Gates’ years of service in both the Bush and Obama administrations were also on hand for Monday’s event.

Panetta praised Gates for his leadership and dedication to national service, and, perhaps most importantly, his concern for the troops deployed under his command.  Panetta pointed to Gates’ decision to purchase the heavy vehicles known as MRAPs that provided greater protection from roadside bombs in Iraq.

“Hearing from our troops how much they valued that protection is, I think, a lasting legacy of Bob,” Panetta said. “He helped save lives."

“I know that we’re all here to unveil a portrait but, in reality, a portrait is made up of oil and canvas and fades with time,” Panetta added.  “I think the most important portrait of a person is the memory that we hold that person in our hearts and the respect and honor that we have for that individual.  That portrait in all of our hearts for Bob Gates will last forever.”

Gates exhibited the candor and dry humor that marked his tenure as defense secretary. He pointed out that the portrait unveiled Monday was painted by Ray Kinstler, who also painted Gates’ portrait nearly 20 years ago when he served as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency in the early 1990s.

Gates joked, "A sure sign you’ve been in Washington too long is when Ray Kinstler has more than one crack at your portrait a generation apart.”

Between writing his book and preparing for Monday’s event, Gates said, he had time to reflect on the things and people he missed from his tenure.  But he did not miss the meetings, conferences and hearings associated with the post -- or the constant travel and jet lag for meetings with counterparts. For instance, he had required bi-monthly meetings with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

He definitely did not have a fond recollection of what he termed a “less edifying experience of being shaken down by the defense minister of Kyrgyzstan for rent at Manas airbase,” which was a crucial transportation hub for troops and supplies headed into Afghanistan.

But despite what he called his, “grousing about the foibles of Washington” and the “aggravating aspects” of the job, Gates said serving as defense secretary, “was the singular honor and highest calling of my professional life.”

He spoke glowingly of his experiences with the troops under his command who were fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq and said he never took lightly the responsibility of signing their deployment orders.

Gates expressed the hope that scholars studying his tenure would walk away with the recognition, “that I came to work every day with the simple question:  Are we doing everything we can to get the troops everything they need to succeed in their mission, to come home safely and, if wounded, to get the best possible care when they come home?”

Gates’ provided his own assessment on that front: "In some instances, the answer was satisfactory; in others, less so.”

The former defense secretary recalled the words of a predecessor, Gen. George Marshall, whom he said took seriously the obligations that come with sending “our military to war.”

“He said we must do everything we could to convince the soldier that we were all solicitude for his well-being,” said Gates. “You couldn’t be severe in your demands unless he was convinced you were doing everything you could to make matters well for him."

At a time in which the Obama administration is under fire for allegedly not responding to distress calls from Americans in a terror attack that left four dead in Benghazi, Libya, Gates' words were especially moving: “That’s what I hope people will remember when they walk down the E-ring corridor and see my portrait,” said Gates, “that our comfort and safety are borne on the brave and broad shoulders of those young men and women in uniform, and it is our duty -- our sacred obligation, in Marshall’s words -- to make things well for them.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Sep112012

Obama: After 9/11, America 'Even Stronger'

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Eleven years after the 9/11 attacks, President Obama says the country has emerged stronger, safer and more resilient.

“As painful as this day is and always will be, it leaves us with a lesson: that no single event can ever destroy who we are, no act of terrorism can ever change what we stand for,” the president said Tuesday at a memorial ceremony at the Pentagon.  “Instead, we recommit ourselves to the values that we believe in, holding firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we confess.”

Recalling a day “that began like so many others,” Obama said, “It is easy for those of us who lived through that day to close our eyes and to find ourselves back there and back here, back when grief crashed over us like an awful wave, when Americans everywhere held each other tight, seeking the reassurance that the world we knew wasn’t crumbling under our feet.”

Since the terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people, the president said America has “dealt a crippling blow to the organization that brought evil to our shores.”

“Al Qaeda’s leadership has been devastated, and Osama bin Laden will never threaten us again,” said Obama, who also cited the end of the Iraq war and the transition in Afghanistan.

The president assured the victims’ families that “no matter how many years passed, no matter how many times we come together on this hallowed ground, know this, that you will never be alone.”

“Your loved ones will never be forgotten.  They will endure in the hearts of our nation because through their sacrifice, they helped us make the America we are today, an America that has emerged even stronger,” he said.

After his remarks, the president and first lady spent close to an hour greeting the families of those who lost their lives in the attacks.

On their way back to the White House, Mr. and Mrs. Obama stopped at Arlington National Cemetery, where they visited the graves of service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
May162012

Osama Bin Laden Compound Model on Display at Pentagon

Luis Martinez/ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Turning a lot of heads Wednesday in a Pentagon hallway is the once-classified scale model of Osama bin Laden’s compound used to plan last year’s Special Forces raid.  

It marks the first public display of what was once Ameria’s most secret scale model.

Hundreds of civilian and military employees at the Pentagon spent time Wednesday gawking at a temporary display that includes the tabletop model of the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan that bin Laden used as his hideout for five years.

Under a glass canopy is a model built by National Geospatial- Intelligence Agency (NGA) model makers who used overhead satellite imagery to create a 3-D view of  the compound in painstaking detail. The agency manages the network of intelligence gathering satellites and distributes that information throughout the national security apparatus.

A NGA fact sheet vaguely refers to the model as having “traveled extensively, including to the White House for use at senior-level briefings.”

As the intelligence community began to suspect that bin Laden might be hiding out in the compound, the model was built to help President Obama and the limited number of top officials briefed on his potential whereabouts so they could visualize what they were seeing on satellite photos.

Built over the span of six weeks, the styrofoam model was made to scale and shows the walls and infrastructure inside the compound’s walls. Every shrub and piece of ivy lining the walls seen in the satellite pictures is accurately represented in the model. The model’s scaling is one inch represents 7 feet.

“Model making is one example to replicate what people are seeing from imagery,” said Karen Finn, a spokesperson for NGA. She said the model is one of several built by the agency to help senior administration officials, as well as military personnel involved in the planning and carrying out of last year’s raid on the compound.

“That’s what we do at NGA,” said  Finn. “We provide geospatial intelligence information on all sorts of national security issues.”

Because operational and planning details for last year’s raid were some of the most tightly held secrets in the U.S. government, the model was a closely held secret. Information about the bin Laden compound was so tightly held that analysts at various intelligence agencies knew only the compartmentalized information they were supposed to know. It’s likely that the NGA model makers had no idea that the model they built was housing the most wanted man on the planet.

The model has now been declassified and since last October has been on display in the lobby of  the NGA’s headquarters in Virgina. But you can only visit that facility if you’re conducting business so Wednesday’s display marks the first time it’s been publicly displayed at the Pentagon.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
May082012

Congress Brainstorms Options to Avert Defense and Poverty Cuts

iStockPhoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Back when Congress was trying to reach an agreement to raise the debt limit, leaders from both parties decided they’d only be able to work together with the threat of across-the-board spending cuts hanging over their heads.

So they passed a bill in 2011 that pledged just such across-the-board cuts starting next year, which would affect social spending and the Pentagon budget if Congress couldn’t find a way to work together to find a larger solution to Washington’s problems.

And now, after failing to reach that bigger solution, the drastic across-the-board cuts are looming.

Congress is trying to find a way to undo some of the spending cuts on Capitol Hill before they take effect.  They call it “sequestration” for shorthand, and the automatic budget cuts would drastically reduce social spending and lead to the smallest U.S. military since 1940.

But which priority should be saved?

The drastic automatic spending cuts that could kick in at the end of this year have launched a new congressional quarrel over national priorities and which budget should be saved -- the Pentagon or social services.

The law requires $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts equally divided between defense and domestic programs, over the next decade, with the first $109 billion in savings due to take effect on Jan. 2, 2013.

The House Budget committee began marking up a bill on Monday that would replace the sequestration cuts with alternative spending reductions.  Later this week, the House is expected to vote on the GOP’s proposal.

Republicans warn that the cuts would place an unfair burden on troops and military families, who would suffer the brunt of Washington’s failure to budget responsibly.

“In our view, we shouldn’t be taking more from hardworking Americans to fix Washington’s mistakes,” Rep. Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget committee, said on Capitol Hill Monday.  “Instead, we should be solving the problem with structural reforms to our entitlement programs to make them strong and sustainable.”

The vast majority of Democrats agree with most Republicans that Congress must avoid the devastating effects of the sequestration, but assert that the GOP goes about it the wrong way, prioritizing defense spending and protecting tax cuts for the wealthy, while undercutting the country’s social safety net and other programs intended to build the middle class.

Even if the House successfully passes its alternative package -- a vote is expected Thursday -- the Senate is unlikely to approve an identical version of the cuts, further complicating replacing the sequestration.

Congressional sources say they don’t expect the sequestration problem to be resolved until after the November election, during the lame duck session.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Apr262012

McCain Calls Secret Service Scandal Briefing ‘Waste of Time’

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- After a private briefing on the status of the Pentagon investigation into the Secret Service prostitution scandal, the two top lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services committee expressed disappointment over the slow pace of the investigation and a lack of concrete information to emerge.

Sen. John McCain, the ranking Republican on the committee, called Wednesday’s update on Capitol Hill, delivered by Vice Adm. William Gortney, the director of the Joint Staff, a “very disappointing briefing” and “a waste of time,” noting the dearth of concrete information about the scandal in which Secret Service agents and U.S. military personnel allegedly brought prostitutes back to their hotel rooms prior to President Obama’s arrival in Colombia for a summit with Latin American leaders.

McCain expressed frustration that despite the committee’s obligation to conduct oversight on national security issues, there were few answers.

“They wouldn’t even have information as to who was in charge on the ground in Cartagena.  It was remarkable,” McCain, R-Ariz., said.  “There are clearly implications to national security when prostitutes were in these individuals’ rooms.  [The military personnel] have the schedules of the president’s activity the following day.  We need that information.  That’s our duty to have that information and make decisions accordingly.  This briefing today gave us no details on any aspect of it.”

“Our obligation constitutionally,” McCain added, ”is oversight of the activities of the men and women in the military and our national security.  That’s the job of the Senate Armed Services committee.  Right now the Pentagon is being totally uncooperative in allowing us to fulfill those obligations.”

Sen. Carl Levin, the chairman of the committee, was more subdued, telling reporters that he thought the briefing was “sketchy” but he also explained that “it was a preliminary briefing because the [Pentagon's] investigation is not completed.”

“The military is traditionally reluctant to provide details of an investigation before it’s completed because of their fear of undo command influence and the fear of prejudicing proceedings that might be carried out under the uniform code of military justice,” Levin, D-Mich., said.  “I was surprised that it was not fuller, but they gave us the reasons for why they proceeded this way, and that’s where we’re at.”

The Pentagon did not comment after Wednesday’s briefing.

Since the scandal broke on April 13, the Secret Service has moved quickly to investigate its officers.  Already, 12 agents either have been cleared of serious misconduct, have resigned, retired, or been notified of personnel actions to permanently revoke their security clearances.  Some agents could face firing for cause.

Levin said he was told that the Pentagon’s investigation should be complete by the end of next week and that he and McCain are expecting a comprehensive update the following week.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Apr242012

GAO Report: Pentagon Spends First and Ask Questions Later

Digital Vision/Thi​nkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The federal agency charged with catching U.S. government waste said in a new report that the Pentagon has squandered millions in taxpayer dollars on expensive and complex weapons systems by spending first and asking questions later.

The new report, prepared by the Government Accountability Office and published Friday, focused on the shortcomings of the Missile Defense Agency’s Ballistic Missile Defense System but hit on a controversial strategy used in other major defense purchases: concurrency.

Concurrency is broadly defined as the practice of not waiting for a proposed weapons system to be fully tested before putting it on the final production line.

When all goes well few, if any, faults are found during testing and minimal changes must be made to those weapons that have already rolled off the factory floor. That way, the military gets its hands on the most advanced operational systems much faster than it would otherwise.

When problems are found, however, taxpayers are usually on the hook for not only the upgrades that need to be made to the systems still in development but for retrofits for those that were already thought to be finished products — at price tags that can run into the billions.

“While some concurrency is understandable, committing to product development before requirements are understood and technologies mature or committing to production and fielding before development is complete is a high-risk strategy that often results in performance shortfalls, unexpected cost increases, schedule delays and test problems,” the GAO said.

Instead of concurrency, the GAO suggested the Pentagon take a “knowledge-based” approach in which there is little or no overlap from technology development to product development to final production.

By the GAO’s estimate, a single problem found in a new variant of the missile system that was in the middle of production caused the cost of testing its capability to quadruple, from $236 million to around $1 billion.

Concurrency is also a major factor in the most expensive weapon system purchase in history, the Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. That program, which will provide three branches of the military nearly 2,500 of the world’s most advanced fifth-generation stealth fighters, is expected to cost over $1 trillion over the next half-century and the costs keep rising. The F-35 officially went into production in 2003, but the first ever test flight didn’t take off until three years later.

Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s top weapons purchaser, said in February that the plan to buy the F-35 was so flawed it amounted to “acquisition malpractice.”

“I can spend quite a few minutes on the F-35, but I don’t want to,” Kendall said at an event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Putting the F-35 into production years before the first test flight was acquisition malpractice, OK? It should not have been done, OK? But we did it.”

In a report last month, the GAO found that the Pentagon had taken steps to reduce concurrency with the F-35 by delaying the purchase of some planes, but that had predictably increased the overall cost of the program.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Saturday
Sep102011

Ted Olson on 9/11: ‘Far More Than a Day That Will Live in Infamy’

Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Current and former Justice Department officials gathered Friday for an emotional 9/11 ceremony to remember the victims of the attacks and reflect on the days since then.

The ceremony was gripped by a stirring and emotional speech by former Bush Solicitor General Ted Olson, whose wife, Barbara Olson, died on 9/11 aboard American Airlines Flight 77, which hit the Pentagon.

On the day of the attacks, Barbara Olson had called her husband from the plane relaying information about the hijacking to her husband, who was working at Justice Department headquarters.

Former Attorney General John Ashcroft joined Attorney General Eric Holder and Deputy Attorney General James Cole in the ceremony that was also attended by 9/11 family members that included Carrie Lemack whose mother, Judy Larocque, died on American Airlines Flight 11, and Abraham Scott, who lost wife Janice Marie Holmes, who worked at the Pentagon.

On display at the ceremony was a mosaic of thumbnail pictures of most of the 9/11 victims. The pictures were used as a trial exhibit during the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui for his role in the 9/11 plot. The posters were created by an FBI artist for the trial and captured the vast numbers of innocent people who died.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







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