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By Debbie Gregory.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) periodically issues a volume of options that would decrease federal spending or increase federal revenues. In December, the CBO published its list of 121 options to combat the projected $1 trillion federal deficit this year, among them three suggestions on TRICARE and six that address veterans’ benefits.

In its most recent volume, entitled “Options for Reducing the Deficit: 2019 to 2028”, the CBO suggested raising TRICARE enrollment fees for military retirees, instituting enrollment fees for TRICARE for Life and reducing veterans’ benefits.

The publication marks the fourth time in five years that the CBO has suggested raising TRICARE enrollment fees for working-age retirees and introducing minimum out-of-pocket expenses for those using TRICARE for Life.

In order to save nearly $12 billion, CBO suggested increasing TRICARE enrollment fees, deductibles and co-payments for working-age military retirees.

“Beneficiaries with individual coverage would pay $650 annually to enroll in TRICARE Prime. The annual cost of family enrollment would be $1,300,” the report stated. “All beneficiaries who enroll in TRICARE Select would pay an annual enrollment fee of $485 for individual coverage and $970 for a family.”

The CBO also suggested instituting enrollment fees for TRICARE for Life, the program that serves as supplemental coverage for military retirees on Medicare. Analysts estimated that the Defense Department could save $12 billion between 2021 and 2028.

According to CBO analysts, these options would reduce the financial burden of TRICARE for Life to the DoD in two ways: It would cut the government’s share by the amount of fees collected and indirectly would save money by causing some patients to forgo TRICARE for Life altogether, either by buying a private Medicare supplement or simply going without one.

According to the CBO, the Department of Veterans Affairs also presents several opportunities for cost-savings measures, including tightening up disability compensation requirements and disallowing benefits for arteriosclerotic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Crohn’s disease, hemorrhoids, multiple sclerosis, osteoarthritis, and uterine fibroids. Additionally, the CBO recommends discontinuing the VA’s individual employability payments, reducing disability benefits to veterans older than 67 who are receiving Social Security payments, and eliminating disability compensation for veterans with disability rates below 30 percent.

The CBO also recommended making VA disability payments taxable income.

To all of the above, we say NO! Veterans have earned their benefits, and those benefits should be off the table.

By Debbie Gregory.

The Department of Defense (DoD) kicked off the new year by awarding a number of eight-figure contracts on behalf of the Army, Navy and Air Force.

On January 2nd, the DoD awarded Risk Mitigation Consulting Inc. a $95,000,000 maximum amount, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract for mission assurance assessments of installation/facilities infrastructure and facility-related control systems for the Department of the Navy. The work includes, but is not limited to, the collection and evaluation of data concerning the criticality of facilities, utilities, industrial control systems, and supporting infrastructure based on mission impacts, probable threats and hazards, and degrees of vulnerability to determine the overall risk posture of the asset. The company is based in Destin, Florida.

On the same day, the DoD also awarded Raytheon Co. a contract for $81,224,627 for modification P00007 to a previously awarded fixed-price-incentive=firm-target contract (N00019-17-C-0042). This modification provides for the procurement of 228 configuration components required for completion of Configuration D Retrofit Component engineering change proposals for the F/A-18E/F and EA-18G aircraft for the Navy and the government of Australia. The company is based in El Segundo, California.

Additionally, January 2nd saw Lockheed Martin, Rotary and Mission Systems, Moorestown, New Jersey, awarded a $28,882,337 cost-plus-incentive-fee modification to previously awarded contract N00024-16-C-5102 for AEGIS Baseline 9 Integration and Delivery, TI-08 CG Upgrade, AEGIS Baseline 9 Capability Development, Capability Improvements, Baseline 9 Sea Based Non-Cooperative Target Recognition Development and Radar Engineering.

The Army contracts included O’Gara-Hess & Eisenhardt Armoring Co. LLC, of Fairfield, Ohio, awarded a $60,736,752 firm-fixed-price contract to procure Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles protection kits and Endeavor Robotics Inc., Chelmsford, Massachusetts, was awarded a $32,400,000 firm-fixed-price contract for reset, sustainment, maintenance, and recap parts for Robot Logistics Support Center technicians to support the overall sustainment actions of the entire Endeavor family of small, medium, and large robots.

The only contract awarded on behalf of the Air Force was a $22,500,000 ceiling indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contracts for the formation of a collaborative working group of various industry partners to work as single extended entity to develop, evolve, update via pre-planned product improvement initiatives, as well as manage and provide configuration control of the open mission systems and universal command and control interface standards, collectively referred to as the Open Architecture Standards. This contract is a joint venture between BAE Systems Information and Electronics Systems Integration; The Boeing Co., Defense, Space & Security; General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc.; Goodrich Corp., UTC Aerospace Systems, ISR Systems; Harris Corp., Electronic Systems, Integrated Electronic Warfare Systems; Lockheed Martin Corp., Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co.; Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, ; and Raytheon Co.

By Debbie Gregory.

Congratulations to Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan. General Shanahan will lead its new Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, or JAIC. He previously oversaw the Pentagon’s controversial artificial intelligence Project Maven. General Shanahan is currently the Director for Defense Intelligence for Warfighter Support. The new JAIC will coordinate artificial intelligence research across the Department, and with government labs and private companies. JAIC, at the end of the day will have a hand in everything the Pentagon does relating to Artificial Intelligence. Maven has been characterized as being the first serious attempt by the Defense Department to cut through bureaucracy and red tape to deliver AI tools quickly to warfighters.

Maven has been described by Pentagon officials as a “pathfinder”, a model for future artificial intelligence efforts. The project uses machine learning to derive useful intelligence from the vast troves of image data that the military collects, freeing up the analysts who manually scoured video footage, spy photos, and other data sources for relevant imagery. The goal was to have algorithms do the boring repetitive stuff — find the right truck, person, object of interest, in the data haystack — then alert the analyst to make decisions about targeting or other next steps.

The Pentagon described it as using “computer-vision algorithms … to help military and civilian analysts encumbered by the sheer volume of full-motion video data that DoD collects every day in support of counterinsurgency and counter terrorism operations.”

Defense officials have said that Maven was a huge success for the Department. But their private-sector partner on the project, Google, saw major public relations fallout from their involvement after their participation was revealed by Gizmodo. Under pressure from employees, Google officials announced they would not be renewing the contract with the Pentagon.

By Debbie Gregory

Microsoft has strongly defended its work with the U.S. military, in response to a group identifying itself as “Employees of Microsoft” who want the tech giant to forego bids on the Pentagon’s $10 billion cloud procurement.

Microsoft President Brad Smith has responded, saying that Microsoft is proud of its long history of technology contracts with the Department of Defense, and will continue working to make sure the military has “access to the nation’s best technology, including from Microsoft.”

Smith added that Microsoft employees who want to switch teams can apply for other open jobs within the company, according to a blog article he wrote.

“We want the people of this country, and especially the people who serve this country, to know that we at Microsoft have their back,” he wrote. “They will have access to the best technology that we create.”

Microsoft also pledged to “engage as a company in the public dialogue” with the Defense Department and policymakers about ethical issues surrounding artificial intelligence, including autonomous weapons. By working with the military and government, Microsoft can be more directly involved in these ethics conversations, Smith wrote.

The opposition from the Microsoft employee group is just the latest episode in an ongoing ethical crisis within the U.S. technology industry.

Earlier this year, Google’s decision to provide artificial intelligence to Project Maven cost the company dozens of employees, who resigned in mass protest.

Additionally, Microsoft faced internal furor last spring and early summer over their contractual connections to ICE, as the agency was embroiled in the controversial separation and detainment of migrant children at the border.

Amazon has also faced criticism from employees and the American Civil Liberties Union over the marketing of its facial-recognition software, Rekognition, to law enforcement agencies.

The concept of lethal Artificial Intelligence is just one area where hundreds of tech workers are trying to influence corporate behavior and ethics by signing a pledge not to work on lethal autonomous weapons.

By Debbie Gregory.

The Army has awarded a $10 million contract for the development of a device that can quickly diagnose a brain injury and determine how severe it is.

Neural Analytics will partner with the DoD to develop its Lucid System within the next 18 months to measure and monitor physiological parameters relevant to moderate-severe Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).  The portable device will be used on the battlefield to assess combat-related traumatic brain injury at the point of injury.

“We are honored to continue our partnership with the U.S. Army to further advance point of care injury management of brain health,” said Leo Petrossian, chief executive officer of Neural Analytics.

The system is expected to operate as a single, portable unit with minimal required training and maintenance, so that any troop member could use the device with about a half hour of training.

The goal is to have the software do an assessment of a person’s brain condition and tell the user how severe it is so they can secure the appropriate treatment. Brain injury can be hard to diagnose immediately, and it’s best to get treatment sooner rather than later.

Since 2000, more than 370,000 service members have had a first-time diagnosis of TBI, according to data from the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center.

According to a report by  advocacy group  Veterans Against Alzheimer’s, those who serve have a greater risk than civilians of developing Alzheimer’s disease, and TBI may be one of the factors that significantly increases the risk.

The estimated completion date for the work is March 2019.

“We believe our technology will be the first of its kind targeted for a military environment,” said Petrossian. “This work will also significantly impact civilian versions of the technology allowing for further advancement of our Lucid System in the pre-hospital or EMS setting.”

Following completion of the point of injury brain health assessment device, Neural Analytics plans to continue to supply the system to the DoD and commercialize the technology into its civilian brain health platforms.

The contract was awarded by the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command.

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