Monday, May 04, 2020

DOD Maintains Watch Despite Pandemic

May 4, 2020 | BY JIM GARAMONE , DOD News

While the coronavirus pandemic has reshaped U.S. government priorities, Americans must remember that the world remains a dangerous place, Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper said during a Brookings Institution webinar.

Americans need to concentrate on the virus, but other threats and nations may take advantage of COVID-19 to further their interests, the secretary told Brookings senior fellow Michael O'Hanlon in today's virtual conversation.

"We're still seeing all the same bad behavior out there that we saw before," Esper said.

The secretary noted that Russia is probing air defenses in Alaska and over the North Sea and that the Chinese in the South China Sea are "more pushy" of late.

Both Russia and China are confronting COVID-19, but it is impossible to know the truth about the extent of the pandemic in those countries, Esper said. "They are not reporting it as much, but we know that they're concerned about it," he added.

His message to DOD personnel is to remain vigilant. "These are uncertain times. You don't know how states or militaries will act," he said. "So we [have] got to remain vigilant out there on the front lines."

Esper noted that a key tenet of the National Defense Strategy is dynamic force employment. "It's a way by which you maintain a degree of strategic predictability to ensure the readiness of your force, but garner a higher degree of operational unpredictability," he explained.

The military — even as it's countering the coronavirus — is still taking steps to implement the strategy, the secretary said.

Russia and China are the two main threats to the United States and its allies, followed by Iran, North Korea and violent extremism, Esper said.

To counter China, the United States has changed the bomber presence in Guam, has done more freedom-of-navigation floats and flights and simply has made things more unpredictable for the Chinese, he said. U.S. Indo-Pacific Command has "done a good job in terms of maintaining that show of force, that deterrence, that capability and readiness that we need in the … region," Esper said.

Some of the Chinese provocations may be unprofessional conduct by pilots of sea captains, he said, but some bad behavior is "aggressive actions that are outside the norms of the international rules, whether they're claiming territory or space that simply is not theirs."

"We want to make sure that we maintain, again, the laws of the sea, and the international rules that have sustained us all very well for decades now," the secretary said. "And we see the Chinese continue to try and bend those, to change those and then to shape them in their own favor."

The Russians remain a problem in Europe, Libya and Syria, the secretary said. "I would say with regard to NATO, the alliance has held strong," he said. “I've talked to many of my counterparts from Europe about their state of readiness, how we can help them, etc. But over the last few years, I think we've seen NATO readiness increase. I think overall, the trend for NATO readiness has been positive in terms of capacity, capability and the ability to deploy in a timely manner."

Iran has been hit very hard by the coronavirus, and it's had an impact on the economy and on society, Esper said. "As we've been saying, if they pay more attention to their people, divert their funds to helping the population instead of funding malign activities from Africa all the way through the Middle East, … if they focus their attention, resources on their people, it could be a much better place for the Iranians," he said.

Central New York Construction Companies and Others to Pay Nearly $4.5 Million to Resolve Allegations of Fraud Involving Contracting Opportunities Meant for Disabled Veterans

ALBANY, NEW YORK – Northland Associates, Inc. (Northland), its president James Tyler, The Diverse Construction Group, LLC (Diverse), and their bonding agent, Rose & Kiernan, Inc., have agreed to pay the United States $4,470,000 to resolve allegations that they fraudulently exploited contracting opportunities reserved for veteran-owned small businesses and small businesses operating in historically underutilized business zones (HUBZones), announced United States Attorney Grant C. Jaquith.

“We are committed to curtailing corruption by contractors who take opportunities set aside for small businesses owned and operated by injured veterans,” said United State Attorney Jaquith.  “We owe no less to those who sacrificed their own well-being for our safety and security.”

The United States has long used government contracting to promote small businesses owned by veterans who have service-connected disabilities and small businesses operating in economically distressed communities.  To be eligible for these contracts, an applicant must first qualify as a small business.  To qualify, the business must report to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) its total income and employees along with the income and employees of any affiliates.  Generally, federal regulations provide that companies are affiliated when one business has the power to control another, or when a third party has the power to control both businesses.  When two companies are affiliated, and together exceed the income and employee limitations, neither will be eligible for small business set-aside contracts.

The settlement with Northland, Diverse, and Tyler resolves allegations that those parties orchestrated a scheme to secure government set-aside contracts for Diverse and subcontracts for Diverse’s undisclosed affiliate, Northland.

Diverse was 51% owned by a service-disabled veteran and 49% owned by senior Northland officials.  Northland exerted influence over Diverse in various ways, including by maintaining a “bid calendar” with deadlines for upcoming Northland and Diverse contracting opportunities, staffing Diverse with former Northland employees, and funneling Diverse subcontracts to Northland for fulfilment.  Northland also handled various administrative duties for Diverse, including its accounting, expediting, estimating, purchasing, contracting, and clerical work.

Witnesses recounted moving boxes of files from Northland’s Liverpool, New York office (which was not located in a HUBZone) to Diverse’s office in Plessis, New York (which was located in a HUBZone), to make the Plessis office appear operational for government inspections.  When the SBA questioned the parties’ affiliation in 2009, Tyler and Diverse’s 51% owner submitted sworn declarations that misrepresented the relationship between the two companies.  Shortly thereafter, Diverse funneled more than $1 million to Northland through a Northland subsidiary in an effort to hide the parties’ affiliation.  Northland, Diverse, and Tyler admitted that their conduct violated federal regulations designed to encourage contract awards to service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses and small businesses operating in HUBzones.

Contractors bidding for federal government construction contracts are generally required to post performance bonds and payment bonds, and the bonding company is required to ensure that the contractor will perform the work.  Rose & Kiernan is an insurance and surety brokerage that acted as a bond broker for both Northland and Diverse on government construction projects.  David Cooper is a senior vice president with Rose & Kiernan.  The settlement with Rose & Kiernan and Cooper resolves allegations that those parties knew or should have known that Diverse and Northland were affiliated in violation of SBA regulations and that those companies took steps to hide their affiliation from the government to obtain and receive payment on government set-aside contracts.  Their decision to help Diverse obtain bonding was a critical action in furtherance of Diverse’s and Northland’s fraud on the government, and served as a substantial factor in causing Diverse to submit false claims for payment to the United States.

“Providing false information to gain access to SBA’s preferential contracting programs is fraught with peril and is especially egregious when it involves programs intended to benefit our nation’s service-disabled veterans,” said SBA Inspector General Hannibal “Mike” Ware.  “SBA-OIG will always aggressively pursue allegations of wrongdoing against individuals that provide false information.  I want to thank the Department of Justice for their dedication to this case resulting in this settlement.”

SBA’s Associate General Counsel for Litigation, Eric S. Benderson, said: “The result in this case is the product of enhanced efforts by federal agencies, such as the Small Business Administration working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and other Federal law enforcement agencies, to detect procurement fraud, pursue those individuals and companies that engage in fraudulent activities and protect the integrity of the program.”

“Ensuring the integrity of the DoD procurement process is a top priority for the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS),” stated Special Agent in Charge Leigh-Alistair Barzey, DCIS Northeast Field Office.  “The successful resolution of this case is the result of a joint investigative effort and demonstrates the DCIS’ commitment to work with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of New York and its law enforcement partners to identify and prosecute individuals and companies that seek to defraud U.S. government contracting programs.”

“The Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General remains vigilant in its efforts to bring individuals and companies to justice that misappropriate the opportunity afforded exclusively to our nation’s veterans to obtain these VA set-aside contracts,” said VA-OIG Special Agent in Charge Christopher F. Algieri.  “The VA-OIG will continue to protect the integrity of this important program, and thanks the U.S. Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement partners in this collaborative effort.”

“Those who contract with the United States government must do so fairly and honestly,” said Douglas Shoemaker, Regional Special Agent-in-Charge of the U.S. Department of Transportation, Office of Inspector General.  “Today’s settlement clearly signals that it is not acceptable for contractors to unscrupulously take advantage of Federal programs created to enhance opportunities for small disadvantaged businesses.”

As part of the settlement agreements, Northland will pay $2,125,000, Tyler will pay $2,125,000, Diverse will pay $100,000, and Rose & Kiernan has paid $120,000.

The government’s investigation was triggered by whistleblower lawsuits filed under the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act, which allows private persons, known as “relators,” to file civil actions on behalf of the United States and share in any recovery.  The relators in this case will receive $1,000,000 of the settlement proceeds that the government receives from Northland, Diverse, and Tyler.  The cases are docketed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York under numbers 5:17-cv-036 and 5:18-cv-516.

The investigation and settlements were the result of a coordinated effort among the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of New York, SBA-OIG, VA-OIG, DCIS, DOT-OIG, and the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command.  The United States was represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Adam J. Katz and Christopher R. Moran.

Mobility Airmen Transport COVID-19 Equipment to Ghana


Air Force airmen and contractors from the 727th Air Mobility Squadron, loaded pallets of wet ice, testing kits and other personal protective equipment onto a 9th Airlift Squadron C-5 Super Galaxy to be delivered from Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England, to Acca, Ghana, to be distributed to COVID-19 hot spots in the U.S. Africa Command area of responsibility.

''This vital equipment was purchased to help Ghana and the rest of the continent combat what's becoming known as the 'invisible enemy,''' said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Kyle Murphy, the noncommissioned officer in charge of air terminal operations for the 727th Air Mobility Squadron. ''A lot of different organizations and countries had a hand in coordination to help this run smoothly, and it was great to see us coming together to tackle this pandemic.''

According to Murphy, this was the first mission of its kind to be performed by the 727th Air Mobility Squadron.

Whether that's moving aircraft parts to the flight line, household goods to the front door, or medical supplies to the front line, our team works hard to deliver.''
Air Force Maj. Thomas Reynolds, commander, 727th Air Mobility Squadron

''It's always a great opportunity to take on a new mission,'' he said. ''Now that we see the efficiency in which we were able to accomplish it, I believe it will remain an option the 727th AMS will be able to handle into the future.''

Another major component for mission success was logistics. Air Force Maj. Thomas Reynolds, the commander of the 727th Air Mobility Squadron, said the delivery would not have been possible without the help from the 100th Logistics Readiness Squadron, who provided fuel for the C-5, and especially Angela Day, a member of the 727th Air Mobility Squadron.

''Logistics is never easy, but thankfully we have teammates like Angela who make distribution situations look easy,'' Reynolds said. ''Her hard work and coordination with our talented partners across Team Mildenhall, Air Mobility Command and with the local [United Kingdom] supplier, made this move a reality.''

Every day, Air Mobility Command airmen live by the mantra ''We answer the call of others, so that they may prevail,'' Reynolds noted, adding that he believes this mission showed how the 727th Air Mobility Squadron is prepared to respond at any moment.

''The men and women of the 727th AMS are in the business of helping people through the execution of rapid global mobility,'' the major said. ''Whether that's moving aircraft parts to the flight line, household goods to the front door, or medical supplies to the front line, our team works hard to deliver.''

(Air Force Senior Airman Brandon Esau is assigned to the 100th Air Refueling Wing.)