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18 Nov 21. Austin: U.S. Will Work With Ukraine, Allies to Counter Russian Aggression. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III welcomed his Ukrainian counterpart, Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov, to the Pentagon today reaffirming America’s unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The leaders discussed a range of security issues, including Russia’s destabilizing actions in the region, and they agreed to work closely together to advance the shared priorities outlined in the U.S.-Ukraine Strategic Defense Framework signed on Aug. 31.
“[The] framework created a foundation for strengthening our strategic defense partnership,” Austin said. “I look forward to discussing how we can implement that framework to continue to advance our shared priority to counter Russian aggression and to deepen our cooperation in such areas as Black Sea security, cyber defense and intelligence sharing.”
The secretary reiterated the U.S. commitment to building the capacity of Ukraine’s forces to more effectively defend its sovereign territory.
“We are monitoring closely recent Russian military movements on your borders. And we made clear our concerns about Russia’s destabilizing activities and our desire for more transparency,” Austin said.
To promote regional security, Austin said he will continue to consult with Ukraine, allies and partners in the region on security initiatives.
Austin also encouraged Reznikov to maintain progress on reforms.
“We remain committed to supporting Ukraine’s efforts to implement deepened comprehensive reforms in its defense sector. We know that’s hard work. But doing it is key to Ukraine achieving its Euro-Atlantic aspirations,” the secretary said.
Reznikov thanked Austin for hosting his visit and said he appreciates Ukraine’s strategic relations with the United States and the assistance of the American people in countering Russian aggression.
Ukraine is determined to develop its partnership with the United States, particularly in the area of countering Russian hybrid attacks, Reznikov said.
“In Ukraine, we are well aware that Russia may resort to escalation at any time. We are ready to defend our country and the future of our children. This possible escalation will certainly have catastrophic consequences for the whole of Europe. Whether it will take place depends to a large extent on the unity and determination of the civilized world to stop the aggression,” Reznikov said. (Source: US DoD)
17 Nov 21. Austin Calls Russian Behavior ‘Troubling,’ Aims to Assure Middle East Allies of U.S. Commitment. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III will travel to the Middle East tomorrow to consult with allies and assure them of the United States’ unwavering commitment to security in the region. Austin will be the main speaker at the Manama Dialogue in Bahrain. He will meet with civilian and military leaders from around the region at that annual event.
The secretary told reporters at a Pentagon news conference that he will stress two themes during his journey. He will stress that the United States is deeply committed to Middle East security and will continue to strengthen partnerships in the region.
“Second, we understand many of today’s most pressing security challenges in the Middle East and elsewhere transcend borders. So, we must meet these shared threats with shared solutions in lockstep with our friends, who also come to the table with formidable capabilities.”
U.S. partnerships in the region were on display during the evacuation of Kabul, Afghanistan. The nations of the Middle East – including Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar — helped the U.S. military evacuate more than 124,000 people.
Austin will also visit the UAE during the trip. “I’m looking forward to discussing our two countries’ common defense priorities,” he said.
Iran will be a topic among all leaders in the Arabian Gulf. “It’s not lost on me that this trip comes at a time when Iran is stoking tensions and undermining stability in the region,” he said. “We remain deeply committed to preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons. And I’ve said before, no problem in the Middle East gets easier to solve with a nuclear-armed Iran.”
There have been a number of incidents in the region, and Austin reiterated that U.S. forces will defend themselves and U.S. partners and interests against threats from Iran or its proxies.
The secretary also discussed troubling behavior from Russia. There has been a Russian troop buildup near Ukraine, and Russia conducted an anti-satellite test that endangers all spacefaring nations. “It causes us deep concern,” he said. Austin said the U.S. will continue to call on Russia to act responsibly and be more transparent about the buildup of the forces on the border of Ukraine.
“We’re not sure exactly what Mr. Putin is up to,” Austin said. “But these movements certainly have our attention. … I would urge Russia to be more transparent about what they’re up to. Our support for Ukraine sovereignty and territorial integrity remains unwavering. (Source: US DoD)
16 Nov 21. DOD smooths funding path for entrepreneurs. Lawmakers and defense officials often tout small businesses as the key to innovation. But connecting small companies with the nearly $1bn in funds the Defense Department awards each year is often difficult and complex — even down to the application process. A new approach under the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs aims to transform how those companies interact with DOD.
Small businesses are often on the frontlines of economic development and job growth, and their performance was tested when the pandemic and health safety mandates affected their ability to operate. To make it easier for entrepreneurs to present great ideas directly to DOD and earn new business, the department built a shared technology platform called the Defense SBIR/STTR Innovation Portal (DSIP).
The cloud-based portal, which was designed to be user-centric and accessible for people with disabilities, combines requirements for 15 DOD components, including the Army, U.S. Special Operations Command and Defense Logistics Agency. Additionally, DSIP helps applicants verify the completeness of their proposals and includes business process automation and plug-and-play modules for microservices so the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) can easily incorporate changes to law, policy and context.
So far, the project has helped OSD process applications faster, yielding a 10% increase in volume and garnering 20% more first-time submissions to DOD’s SBIR/STTR programs. Moreover, the portal makes it easier for OSD to track funding expenditures and program results and comply with reporting requirements from the Small Business Administration, DOD leaders, the Office of Management and Budget, and Congress. (Source: Defense Systems)
15 Nov 21. DoD Completes Fourth Annual Department-Wide Financial Statement Audit; Essential Catalyst for Business Transformation and Modernization. The Department of Defense (DoD) has completed its fourth consecutive Department-wide financial statement audit. “These audits are a driving force for reaching the Department’s transformation goals,” says Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and Chief Financial Officer Michael McCord. “Findings from the audits catalyze change by spotlighting areas that need improvement and giving Department leaders the information they need to prioritize modernization efforts and effect meaningful, long-term change.”
Eight DoD reporting entities are expected to sustain their unmodified opinions. This was the 27th consecutive unmodified opinion for the Military Retirement Fund, which represents more than 30 percent of the Department’s total assets; the 22nd for the Defense Finance and Accounting Service Working Capital Fund; the 14th for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – Civil Works; and the 12th for Defense Health Agency – Contract Resource Management. The Medicare-Eligible Retiree Health Care Fund again received a qualified opinion. Nearly 47 percent of the Department’s assets are expected to be under a favorable opinion.
The audits continued to mature and were extensive in fiscal year (FY) 2021. They required more than 1,200 auditors, 278 in-person site visits, and 1,069 virtual site visits to review DoD business processes and activities. Auditors requested approximately 34,000 documents and tested approximately 55,000 samples. While virtual site visits provided some efficiencies, a full year of COVID-19 protocols exacerbated challenges by limiting auditor access to some sites and data, especially in areas that required in-person access.
The Department successfully downgraded the Military Housing Privatization Initiative DoD-wide material weakness. However, the Department received one new material weakness (Financial Statement Compilation), and saw the return of two material weaknesses (Contingent Legal Liabilities and Reconciliation of Net Cost of Operations to Outlays, both of which had been downgraded last year) for a total of 28 material weaknesses. The Services downgraded four material weaknesses. The Air Force General Fund downgraded Contingent Legal Liabilities and Oversight and Monitoring of Internal Control. The Air Force Working Capital Fund and Navy General Fund each downgraded one material weakness (General Property, Plant, and Equipment; and Utilities, respectively).
Auditors also completed 27 Statement on Standards of Attestation Engagement No. 18 examinations covering 44 systems owned by eight service providers. The number of unmodified opinions increased by three in FY 2021 to 15 unmodified opinions. There were seven qualified and five adverse opinions. The Department exceeded its 75 percent Annual Performance Plan goal with 81 percent favorable opinions (22 of 27 opinions).
The Defense Commissary Agency and the Defense Contract Audit Agency also sustained unmodified audit opinions in FY 2021. Audits of the DoD Office of Inspector and the Defense Information Systems Agency – Working Capital Fund are still ongoing, but these reporting entities are expected to sustain their unmodified audit opinions.
“I am proud of all that the Comptroller organization continues to accomplish,” continued Mr. McCord. “While we stayed true to our audit priorities, the Comptroller organization also played a major role in supporting other Department-wide high-visibility FY 2021 objectives including, transitioning administrations, supporting our Troops and the Nation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and withdrawing our troops and Afghan allies from Afghanistan. I have no doubt that with the continued dedication of the women and men throughout the Department of Defense, and the support of our other stakeholders—Congress, the federal community, and the American people—we will reach our goal of achieving an unmodified audit opinion.” (Source: US DoD)
16 Nov 21. U.S. Pentagon fails fourth audit but sees steady progress. The U.S. Pentagon racked up its fourth comprehensive audit failure, reflecting problems in systems and accounting as the vast bureaucracy makes “steady progress” towards a passing grade, the department’s chief financial officer said on Tuesday. The legally required audit has helped sharpen the Pentagon’s systems and controls and has regularly helped the Department of Defense find misplaced inventory helping save money. About 1,200 auditors tested the systems and record-keeping processes on weapons systems, military personnel and property around the world with 278 site visits and 1,069 virtual visits. The process led to 26 standalone audits that comprised the overall exercise.
Eight units were expected to receive clean opinions from the auditors, the same as last year, said Mike McCord, the Pentagon’s CFO.
“The department continues to make steady progress toward achieving a favorable audit opinion,” McCord told reporters as he released the results of the audit of more than $3.2trn in assets and $3trn in liabilities.
The Pentagon added, “As the audits mature and testing expands, Department of Defense leaders expect findings to increase in number and complexity,” since successive sweeps could expose more profound problems.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security took a decade to pass a comprehensive audit, and Pentagon officials have said the DoD could take just as long, making 2027 the possible date for its first clean audit.
Travel curbs over the coronavirus hampered auditing in situations that required in-person access, the Pentagon said, but virtual site visits yielded some efficiencies in the due diligence effort. This year’s audit fees of $207m were nearly flat with the previous year. (Source: Reuters)
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