WASHINGTON: The White House and Pentagon are planning a major rollout of the much-anticipated defense industrial base report scheduled for Friday, but Hurricane Florence might have something to say about that.
President Trump signed off on the final version of the report during a meeting at the White House last week after meeting with Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, who briefed him on its findings, according to several sources.
That presidential seal of approval set the stage for what is planned as a full slate of activities that could come as soon as Friday, which will include an op-ed from the White House in a major newspaper, a series of appearances on morning news shows by White House economic advisor Peter Navarro, and a few lines about the report in speech by the president.
But the president’s role in the release was thrown into question Monday, after the White House announced it was cancelling a planned appearance by the president in Jackson, Mississippi due to Hurricane Florence making landfall in the Carolinas. The speech was set to mention the report, though it was not to be the focus of the president’s address.
The report’s release has already been delayed several times, so defense officials were hesitant to confirm if the release will continue as planned on Friday, but officials for months have been saying it was finished, and was going through the process of being briefed throughout the government and approved at various levels.
Speaking at the second annual Defense News conference on Sept. 5, Ellen Lord, the undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment, said the study was due this week. The report is the result of an executive order signed by Trump last July, which brought together over a dozen working groups from the Pentagon to the departments of Commerce and Homeland Security. The groups focused on different areas, including shipbuilding, ground vehicles, and specific supply chains stretching across the globe, to workforce training and cybersecurity.
Last month, Breaking Defense had an exclusive sneak peek at the scope of the report, finding that instead of massive long-term changes to policy, the report will spend a lot of time on putting out smaller, more immediate fires that would aim to fix problems and concerns now in the complex web of supply chains and supplier availability.
One of the big issues is cyber hygiene being practiced by the defense industry. Concerns over hacking of small suppliers in the defense supply chain will be included in the report, but it is unclear how much detail will be in the unclassified version, and how much will be locked behind the classified firewall.
Speaking at the Farnborough Air Show in July, Kevin Fahey, the assistant secretary of defense for acquisition, told reporters that the days where companies self-report on whether they meet federal contracting regulations are coming to an end.
Given the constant attacks defense contractors experience from state and non-state hackers, “we have to develop a way that we evaluate people’s capability in cybersecurity,” Fahey said. There are ongoing discussions over how to make cyber hygiene part of the contracting process and include it as a deciding factor in awarding contracts just like cost, schedule, and performance.
“The only way you make it serious to industry is you make it part of the competition,” Fahey said. “We know it’s really serious now that we need to make that as a priority.”
Eric Chewning, the Pentagon’s deputy assistant secretary of defense for industrial policy, said last week at a conference here that it’s not only the single points of failure across the supply chain that concern policymakers, but also its international character. And China, of course, is not far from anyone’s mind.
“As China articulates a civil-military fusion doctrine, where they are intentionally blurring the lines between their developments on the military side and the commercial side,” he said, “we need to work with our allies to create a safe space where we can work collaboratively to do that.”