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WHAT:    Fifteenth Annual FAA Commercial Space Transportation Conference


WHO:      U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) and Federal

                 Aviation Administration (FAA) officials, as well as top academic,

                 industry and government leaders in space transportation.


WHEN:     Wednesday, February 15, 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Thursday, 
                  February 16, 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.


WHERE:    Walter E. Washington Convention Center, 
                   801 Mt. Vernon Place, N.W.


WASHINGTON – On Thursday, February 16 at 9:00 a.m., U.S. Deputy Transportation Secretary John Porcari and FAA Acting Administrator Michael Huerta will deliver remarks to at the FAA’s 15th Annual Commercial Space Transportation Conference. This year’s meeting, “Commercial: The New Future of Space,” will include discussions of issues such as space transportation safety, space tourism, launch site development, minority space entrepreneurship, space weather issues, future space technologies; and developments relating to travel to the International Space Station.


Other speakers throughout the two day event will include Gov. Robert McDonnell, Sen. Bill Nelson, Rep. Chaka Fattah, Rep. Steven Palazzo, USAF Gen. William L. Shelton, commander of the Air Force Space Command, and Dr. Andrew Chaiken, space writer and author of Man on the Moon, the basis of the HBO series “From the Earth to the Moon.”


For specific times and dates of panels and speakers visit:


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If you have any questions or problems with the subscription service email for assistance.

February 16, 2012 Posted by | SDVOSB | Leave a comment

DoD, Capitol Hill square off for BRAC fight

In 1991, a Democratic Congressman from California fought hard to keep an Army base open in his congressional district. While he lost that fight and Fort Ord was forced to close, the lawmaker’s political career did not end there.

Leon Panetta went on to become director of the Office of Management and Budget and chief of staff to President Clinton, during which time two more base realignment and closure (BRAC) rounds took place.

In 2005, during what some people call “the mother of all BRACs,” Panetta served as co-chairman of the California Council on Base Support and Retention, where he fought to keep the Defense Language Institute and the Naval Postgraduate School open, both located in his hometown of Monterey, Calif.

Over the course of his career, Panetta has both fought against BRAC and made the case for it.

Now, as Defense Department secretary, he has said that as part of the 2013 budget, the Pentagon will ask Congress for legislation to establish a new BRAC commission to oversee up to two rounds of domestic base closures.

Panetta’s January announcement was met with immediate resistance from Congress, with influential members saying the proposal was dead on arrival as far as they were concerned.

However, Panetta’s experience, especially his understanding of the community-level concerns, could help the Defense Department gain congressional support for further base closures, according to past BRAC officials.

“He has been on all sides of this issue,” said David Berteau, a defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). “I think therefore he has some unique standing, and if he chooses to put that standing into play, I think it could go a long way toward getting the authorization for a round.”

Berteau served as a senior BRAC official during the 1990s base closures.

After Fort Ord closed, then-Rep. Panetta urged his community back home to move on from the painful decision and start thinking about how the military base could be reused. Part of the old base is now home to a campus of California State University, which includes the Panetta Institute for Public Policy, as well as conservation land and commercial buildings.

Panetta’s unique background allows him to weigh in with members of Congress on a personal level, Berteau said. “If he’s personally willing to make the case, it will put a lot of credibility behind the request.”

That level of authority could come in handy, especially during an election year.

“Don’t ever forget: BRAC is the third rail of defense politics,” an issue so charged and controversial no one wants to touch it, said Ray DuBois, former acting undersecretary of the Army and now a senior adviser at CSIS. From 2001 to 2004, DuBois served as the deputy undersecretary of Defense for installations and environment, overseeing BRAC during that time.

The fact that President Obama is making a BRAC request during an election year shows just how serious the administration is about getting it done, Berteau said.

Resistance is already fierce.

When asked what he would do to a Pentagon request for domestic base closures, Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said: “Kill it.”

Such a request would be dead on arrival, at least in the House, McKeon told an audience Feb. 1 at a Reserve Officers Association conference.

McKeon was not alone in his opposition. Several Congressmen and senators issued press releases vowing to protect military bases and installations in their districts.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., questioned whether BRAC rounds ever result in savings.

“Before we have another BRAC round, I think we need to do a cost-benefit analysis of whether we’re really going to save any money,” she said during a Feb. 2 briefing on Capitol Hill.

Defense analysts agree that while closing bases costs money upfront, it produces savings in the long run.

According to the Government Accountability Office, the 2005 BRAC round, which was mostly completed last fall, will start paying for itself in 2018, a date that has slipped due to unforeseen costs.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, indicated he was open to discussing a BRAC request. “I think everything would be on the table,” he said. “We’re willing to negotiate on something like that.”

Meanwhile, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, Washington Rep. Adam Smith, has said he supports base closures.

“I think without question we’re going to have to do base realignment,” he said in an interview. “I don’t see how any person looking at the strategy and looking at the changes coming down could conclude otherwise.”

If history is a guide, the most likely scenario is that Congress will ask for reports on the effectiveness of BRAC in its 2013 policy bill and then wait until 2014 to include language that would authorize a new BRAC commission, Berteau said. “The track record says that you’ve got to request it, knowing you might not get it this year.”

On that schedule, a new BRAC round would not begin until 2015, the same year the 2005 BRAC Commission recommended a new round of base closures.

DoD leadership would be needed to make the case on Capitol Hill as well as within the Pentagon, where the individual military services will likely push back on reductions to infrastructure.

“It takes a strong Defense secretary and strong [Office of the Secretary of Defense] leadership to demonstrate there are cost-savings and infrastructure reductions that can be achieved,” DuBois said. “If you were to leave it up to the services, you would not achieve very much.”

The military services have the tendency to evaluate base closures from their perspective alone, Berteau said. “To see the true potential for BRAC, you need to look at it DoD-wide.”

Following Panetta’s announcement that the Pentagon would be requesting new base closures, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said a new round of BRAC might mean minor changes for the Army, but nothing like the 2005 round.

“The Army went through a very significant BRAC here not too long ago,” he said during a press briefing. “For the Army, I believe, a follow-on BRAC would not have as much impact on the Army, because we’ve pretty much done what we want to. We have to do some minor things, I think, as we go through BRAC, but, I think for the most part, we’ve established our installations.”

The Navy and the Air Force also say they’ve been aggressive in previous BRAC rounds.

The Army had 12 major closures in the 2005 BRAC round, while the Navy had five. The Air Force was also slated for five major closures; but Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., was eventually taken off the list.

While the Marine Corps has far less infrastructure than the other services, it probably has excess capacity, especially as it had zero major closures in the last round, DuBois said.

Berteau said it is premature to say how a BRAC may affect any of the services.

Two keys things haven’t been determined yet, he said. “To get the most out of a U.S. base closure, you’ve got to know what your endpoint is — your force structure, but also your support structure for those combat troops.”

Today’s plans call for the Army’s active-duty force to be reduced from 547,000 soldiers to 490,000, a move tied to the Pentagon’s $487 billion cut, which was mandated by the initial spending caps included in the Budget Control Act of 2011.

However, it is far from certain whether defense will be cut further, Berteau said. “Even if it rests at $487 billion, you still have a good case to make for base closures, but the real case to be made is that it’s probably not the last reduction.”

As the Pentagon considers closing stateside facilities, it will have to look at its depots and laboratories, too, which raises the question: What kind of capability needs to be maintained inside DoD and to what extent does the government feel comfortable relying on the private sector?

“Those questions are much bigger than base closures, but would clearly create an opportunity within base closures,” Berteau said. In the end, “the No. 1 measure of whether you close or realign a base, or not, is the military value, not the budgetary savings. That’s a very powerful dynamic I think the department wants to preserve.”

February 14, 2012 Posted by | SDVOSB | Leave a comment

WH Budget Asks Federal Employees to Sacrifice

The budget unveiled Monday by President Obama proposes to increase the contribution federal employees make towards retirement by 1.2% over three years beginning in 2013.

The stated purpose of the proposed change is to “make reasonable changes to federal worker retirement while maintaining the ability to attract and retain highly qualified individuals [to the federal workforce].”

The budget also proposes to eliminate the FERS annuity supplement for new employees. The estimated savings of these proposals are $27 billion over 10 years.

The 2013 budget proposal also detailed some of the changes made to date as they relate to the federal workforce. On his first day in office, the President froze salaries for all senior political appointees and then went on to eliminate bonuses for all political appointees in the Administration and cut back on performance awards to all other employees.

Starting in 2011, he froze pay for federal civilian employees for two years. And for 2013, the President is now proposing a 0.5% pay increase for federal employees in his budget:

“A permanent pay freeze is neither sustainable nor desirable. However, in light of the fiscal constraints we are under, the Administration is proposing a 0.5 percent increase in civilian pay for 2013. Compared to the baseline, this slight increase in civilian pay would free up $2 billion in 2013 and $28 billion over 10 years to fund programs and services and is one of the measures the Administration proposes to help meet the discretionary caps.”

The Administration doesn’t anticipate any negative impact from these proposed changes, if they were to be implemented. The budget states, “These changes are not expected to have a negative impact on the Administration’s ability to manage its human resources, nor inhibit the Government’s ability to serve the American people.”

The 2013 budget proposal also recommends establishing a commission to look at ways to modernize federal personnel policies. Dubbed the Commission on Federal Public Service Reform, it would consist of members of Congress, representatives from the President’s Labor-Management Council, members from the private sector, and academic experts. The Commission would be tasked with developing recommendations in areas such as employee compensation, staff development and mobility, and personnel performance and motivation.

Unions are unimpressed with the proposals in the budget. AFGE President John Gage said, “Federal employees have already contributed $60 billion with pay freezes. The White House and congressional leaders should not treat federal employees’ paychecks like an ATM machine. The White House should respect those who choose public service over big banks and other corporations.”

Republicans in the House and Senate have proposed going further with the cuts. Members of the House have suggested extending the pay freeze to pay for a payroll tax cut extension, and members of the Senate have suggested extending the pay freeze and shrinking the size of the federal workforce to prevent cuts to defense.

The proposed cuts to the federal workforce unveiled in the budget are not new ideas as Congress has been proposing similar measures in recent months. However, now that the White House is apparently on board with at least some of the proposals, it presumably puts some of them closer to becoming reality.

© 2012 FedSmith Inc. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent of FedSmith Inc.

February 14, 2012 Posted by | SDVOSB | Leave a comment

FAA directed to make (air)space for drones




Drones, perhaps best known for their combat missions in Afghanistan, are increasingly looking to share room inU.S. skies with passenger planes. And that’s prompting safety concerns.

Right now, remote-controlled drones are used in the U.S. mostly by the military and Customs and Border Patrol in restricted airspace.

Now, organizations from police forces searching for missing persons to academic researchers counting seals on the polar ice cap is eager to launch drones weighing a few pounds to some the size of a jetliner in the same airspace as passenger planes.

On Monday, the Senate sent to President Obama legislation that would require theFederal Aviation Administration to devise ways for that to happen safely in three years.

“It’s about coming up with a plan where everybody can get along,” says Doug Marshall, a New Mexico State University professor helping develop regulations and standards. “Nobody wants to get hurt. Nobody wants to cause an accident.”

The drones’ appeal is they can fly anywhere it’s too dangerous or remote for people, and they cost less than piloted helicopters or planes.

In Mesa County, Colo., for example, sheriff’s deputies have negotiated a special agreement with the FAA to fly a 2-pound helicopter up to 400 feet above ground so a camera can snap pictures of crime scenes or accidents. An infrared camera helps deputies track a missing person or a suspect in an overgrown ravine.

“It’s a tool in the toolbox,” says Ben Miller, the program’s manager.

‘Huge potential market’

One reason advocates expect police to adopt drones is they’re less expensive than manned helicopters. A Draganflyer X6 drone such as the one Mesa uses costs about $36,000. Another squad car, for instance, costs about $50,000, Miller says.

“There is a huge potential market for civilian and commercial uses of unmanned aircraft systems,” says Ben Gielow, general counsel for the industry group Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.

The market will almost double over the next decade to $11.3 billion, according to a March estimate by the Teal Group in Fairfax, Va., which analyzes the aerospace and defense industries.

Commercial pilots have raised safety concerns. Although pilots are required to spend time flying planes and are tested on their abilities to hold licenses, no similar rules exist for the controllers of remote aircraft. Likewise, the FAA doesn’t certify drones like passenger planes against engine failure or wings falling off.

Capt. Lee Moak, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, says the people who remotely control aircraft should meet the same training and qualifications as regular pilots. His group is also concerned about controllers losing contact with drones.

“We have a long way to go,” Moak says of having drones fly safely with passenger jets.

Despite their many successful flights in Afghanistan, drones occasionally crash.

In August, for instance, an unmanned Shadow drone collided with a C-130 cargo plane. The cargo plane had to make an emergency landing at a base in eastern Afghanistan, but nobody was injured.

A drone occasionally goes awry here, too. In August 2010, the military considered shooting down a Navy Fire Scout drone that wandered close to restricted airspace near Washington, D.C., after controllers lost their link to the drone. But controllers regained contact.

Smaller drones need rules

The legislation calls for the FAA to set up six experimental locations where drones can fly. Competition for them and the high-paying jobs among researchers and manufacturers they’re expected to attract has already begun.

“Members are already jockeying for their particular area,” says Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, co-chairman of a House caucus of 49 members who advocate using drones.

The legislation also calls on the FAA to establish rules for smaller drones weighing up to 55 pounds within 27 months. The schedule for all drones is Sept. 30, 2015.

A key unresolved question is how to avoid collisions. The philosophy since the Wright brothers has been for pilots to “see and avoid” other aircraft. Without a pilot on board, the strategy for drones is “sense and avoid,” perhaps giving off a signal that other planes receive.

“You’ve got to find a way to apply today’s technology to regulations that were written many years ago,” says Bobby Sturgell, a former FAA head and now a senior vice president for Rockwell Collins, which makes navigational and other equipment for drones. “The message behind the legislation is, ‘Let’s make this happen.'”


February 12, 2012 Posted by | SDVOSB | Leave a comment


The Pentagon yesterday unveiled a plan to cut 100,000 troops, mothball ships and trim air squadrons — while boosting emphasis on special-operations forces and drone aircraft.

The defense budget would be pared down by a total of $487 billion over the next decade, including $259 billion within the next five years. 

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta outlined the plan at a news conference, focusing on the reduction of military personnel, base closures, limits on pay raises for troops and increased insurance costs for retired personnel. 

“Make no mistake, the savings that we are proposing will impact all 50 states and many districts, congressional districts across America,” Panetta said. “This will be a test of whether reducing the deficit is about talk or action.”

Under the plan, the Army would be reduced from 570,000 soldiers to 490,000 in the next half-decade, and the Marines would shed 20,000, bringing its forces to 182,000 in the same time period. The projected reductions would bring these branches to slightly above their pre-9/11 numbers. 

Offsetting the slimmed-down forces will be an increase in unmanned drone technology. Drones already account for about 31 percent of all U.S. military aircraft, and the drone fleet will balloon by another 30 percent in the coming years.

The plan also provides for the deployment of more special-operations teams at a growing number of small bases across the globe, from which they will be able to launch missions and mentor local allies.

The $525 billion base budget for the 2013 fiscal year is $6 billion less than that for 2012, making this the first time a reduced budget has been presented by the Pentagon since 2001. 

Whether Congress will approve the plan remains to be seen, and the slowed-down pay raises are sure to be unpopular, even though the raise schedule won’t be affected until 2015 and is not drastic. Congress routinely ups pay for troops beyond the Pentagon’s recommendations. Acquisition of new weapons will also be slowed under the plan. 

Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, criticized the plan and said it “ignores a critical lesson in recent history: that while high technology and elite forces give America an edge, they cannot substitute for overwhelming ground forces when we are faced with unforeseen battlefields.”

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, endorsed the plan.

“This budget is a first step — it’s a down payment — as we transition from an emphasis on today’s wars to preparing for future challenges,” he said. “This budget does not lead to a military in decline.”

War costs, which are separate from the Pentagon’s budget, will decline from $115 billion to $88 billion as a result of the United States’ withdrawal from Iraq.

Panetta’s plan does not acknowledge the possibility of an additional $600 billion in defense cuts that could come as a consequence of the congressional super committee’s failure to come up with a plan to drastically cut the deficit. The defense secretary has called the trigger “catastrophic.”

The Pentagon unveiled a 2013 budget plan yesterday that would cut the size of the U.S. military. Among the details Defense Secretary Leon Panetta disclosed: 

– The Army would shrink by 80,000 soldiers, from 570,000 today to 490,000 by 2017. That is slightly larger than the Army on 9/11.

– The Marine Corps would drop from today’s 202,000 to 182,000 — also above the level on 9/11.

– The Air Force would retire some older planes, including about two dozen C-5A cargo aircraft and 65 of its oldest C-130 cargo planes.

– The Navy would keep a fleet of 11 aircraft carriers but retire seven cruisers earlier than planned.

– The purchase of F-35 stealth fighter jets — to be fielded by the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps — would be slowed.

– Current plans for building a new generation of submarines that carry long-range nuclear missiles would be delayed by two years.

– Military pay raises would remain on track until 2015, when the pace of increase would be slowed by an undetermined amount.

– President Obama would ask Congress to approve a new round of domestic base closures, although the timing of this was left vague.

AERIAL ROBOT: More on Northrop Grumman’s X-74B

February 10, 2012 Posted by | SDVOSB | Leave a comment

Bill Introduced to Reduce Federal Workers’ Pensions

Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL) has introduced legislation that would increase the amount federal employees would be required to pay towards their retirement plans. HR 3813, Securing Annuities for Federal Employees Act of 2012, would also reduce pensions for new employees.

The language of the bill is, as is frequently the case, written in obtuse language incomprehensible to native speakers of the English language. Interpreting the language of our laws now requires an in-depth expertise in how the current system works. No doubt, if the public cannot understand what is being foisted on them, it is harder to protest the changes being proposed.

Keep in mind: if this bill should pass both Houses of Congress and get signed by the president, which is unlikely, the Office of Personnel Management would then write and propose regulations giving its interpretation of how the new system would be implemented.

That is a roundabout way of saying: don’t get too upset over this initial proposal. It isn’t likely to pass in anything like its current form and, if it should pass, we won’t know all of the details until much later.

With this caveat, here is what we think this new bill would do if it were to become law as written.

The bill would increase contributions for current federal employees by 0.5 percentage points per year for three years beginning next year. This would apply to both CSRS and FERS employees. The required contribution amounts would start to increase by 0.5% per year in 2013. The result is that this would mean a contribution of 2.3% for FERS employees and 8.5% for CSRS.

Many readers have previously contacted us about the FERS annuity supplement. To prevent confusion, the annuity supplement is still in existence. This new bill would also eliminate the FERS annuity supplement for new federal retirees starting in 2013. The only exceptions would be for employees required to retire early.  Some categories of federal employees that fall into this category include some law enforcement personnel and air traffic controllers.

Under the current system, FERS employees who retire before they are 62 receive a supplement using a formula that gives a person a portion of their age 62 Social Security benefit.  (See FERS and the Special Retirement Supplement)

The bill would create a new category of federal employee referred to in the bill as “secure annuity employees.” This new category would consist of new employees hired starting in 2013 and who have less than five years of previous federal service. They would receive a smaller pension when they retire.

This would come about by using a “high five” calculation instead of a “high three” calculation. These future feds would also have their pensions calculated at a rate of 0.7 percent. According to the bill: “in the case of an employee who is a secure annuity employee, 0.7 percent of that individual’s average pay multiplied by such individual’s total service.” The current rate for most FERS employees under 62 is now 1 percent and for employees over 62 it is 1.1 percent.

If you are still reading this, it gets even more complex.  There are also changes that would apply to several other categories of employees.

In the case of a secure annuity employee who is a law enforcement officer, firefighter, member of the Capitol Police, member of the Supreme Court Police, air traffic controller, nuclear materials courier, or customs and border protection officer, the contributions of these employees to their future pension will “be equal to 10.7 percent.” Their rate of contributions would be higher because their pension amounts are higher. If you happen to fall into these categories and are a “secure annuity employee,” you would receive a pension rate of 1.4 percent for your first 20 years of service and 0.7 percent for subsequent years.

No doubt, there will be many questions that will arise as a result of this new bill. We will leave it up to retirement experts who may wish to calculate the actual “dollars and cents” impact on employees. But, in the interests of trying to satisfy the curiosity of our readers who are wondering how their future retirement will be impacted by new legislation, this is an initial summary we hope you will find useful.

February 6, 2012 Posted by | SDVOSB | Leave a comment

Magic 8 Ball 2012: Should I Retire This Year?

Ann Vanderslice is a federal retirement planning specialist who has worked with federal employees throughout the Rocky Mountain region since 2002. In addition to her financial services practice, she is a partner in Federal Benefits Training Network, a training and consulting firm that has conducted more than 100 on-site federal benefits seminars nationally.

With all the recent gossip, scuttlebutt, and lies being spread about government employees and their benefits, it’s no wonder federal employees ended 2011 a little tired and overwhelmed. 

What can you expect in 2012 – more of the same or a reprieve from the attacks of the media and Congress? While no one can know for sure, there are some considerations you can take into account to help you be prepared for whatever the future brings.

The most likely changes that could affect federal benefits in 2012 include:

Changing from High 3 to High 5 for the calculation of federal pensions – This proposed change causes more federal employees to threaten to retire than any other.  With the current pay freeze in effect for federal workers, depending on when you plan to retire this change might have little or no impact on your pension. 

If you plan to retire at the end of 2014, for example, and the current pay freeze was extended for three more years (another proposed change), the High 5 vs. High 3 would have no impact on your annuity. Even without an ongoing pay freeze, a federal worker making $96,001 in 2010 who received an average COLA of 2% in 2013 and 2014 (we already know your pay was frozen for 2011 and 2012), would have a High 3 of $97,933.  Using the same scenario, the High 5 would drop to $97,160.

With 30 years of service, the  High 3 scenario would provide an annuity of $29,379, and the High 5 annuity would drop to $29,148.  This annual difference of $231 amounts to less than $20 a month difference – probably not a deal breaker in your overall retirement plan.

Extending the pay freeze through 2015 – While no one wants to think about not getting a raise for five years, the real impact is on your retirement, because it ultimately affects your High 3 down the road.  If you are stuck at one salary for five years, even when you do get a raise, your High 3 will be lower than it would have been with COLA’s.

It has a compounded impact on FERS employees who retire before age 62, since they do not get any cost of living increases prior to age 62 on their pensions.  A FERS worker who retires at 56 and has had their pay frozen for a few years prior to retirement, not only has a lower High 3 but might go 8-10 years without any increase to their earnings!

Contributing more to your retirement system – Another proposal is to increase the amount of retirement contributions by .5% a year for three years beginning in 2013.  This would result in CSRS contributing 8.5% and FERS contributing 2.3% to their retirement in 2015 and beyond.  For employees who are eligible to retire in 2013 or thereafter and considering when to leave, this is another item on the “reasons to retire” side of your list.  You would be contributing more, without getting any benefit in the calculation of your annuity. 

In combination with a pay freeze, this amounts to a reduction in pay. If you aren’t eligible to retire between 2013 and 2015, there’s really nothing to consider here.  You would pay the increased contribution and live with it.

Thrift Savings Plan – There aren’t any current proposals that would affect your TSP; however, this is the place to help offset some of the negative implications of the proposals listed above.  With 2011’s lackluster returns, your initial inclination might be to shy away from saving more in your TSP.

This might be the right answer for your planning…and it might not.  Understanding that everyone’s situation is different, you need to assess how the TSP fits into your overall retirement plan.  If your annuity is going to be smaller due to any of the factors indicated above, how much does your TSP have to compensate for those reductions?

Some general guidelines for the Thrift Savings Plan include:


  • Making sure you’re contributing at least 5% if you’re in FERS (to get the government’s match)
  • Save 10% of your salary as soon as you can (that’s you saving 10% – not saving 5% and getting the 5% match)
  • Have a strategy for allocating your TSP that includes targets when you would move into and out of the equity funds
  • With the Roth TSP becoming available in early 2012, you’ll also want to understand how  the Roth will differ from your traditional TSP and how to maximize its functions

Understanding how any benefits changes might affect you personally is the most important factor in deciding how to manage the things that are in your control. While you can’t control whether Congress votes to change your benefits, there are certain things affecting your retirement within your control:


  • When you retire
  • How much you save
  • Maximizing returns on what you’ve already saved
  • Where to save (within TSP or in other outside investments)
  • When to take Social Security (for FERS)


February 1, 2012 Posted by | SDVOSB | Leave a comment

IN FOCUS: Round two for controller-pilot datalink as FAA contract award looms

12:00 24 Jan 2012 


US regulators are set to condone a form of “texting while flying” under the new 17-year, $1 billion-plus Data Communications Integrated Services (DCIS) contract, set to be awarded by the Federal Aviation Administration in June.

Bidders revealed so far include prime contractors ITT ExelisHarris and Lockheed Martin, with the winner set to operate the ground infrastructure and integration engineering services for air and ground components of the next-generation air transportation system (Nextgen) communications system for the duration of the deal.

The FAA has yet to state the contract’s full value, although industry observers believe it will be on a par with the $1.8 billion ADS-B agreement with Exelis.

Included with DCIS are provisions for $80 million that the winning bidder is expected to pay out to airline and some air taxi operators to equip their aircraft with avionics or upgrades to allow for controller-pilot datalink communications (CPDLC) in domestic US airspace – a technology similar to mobile phone texting or email.


 © Air Team Images

With CPDLC, however, “texting” from the aircraft, at least initially, will be limited to a list of canned responses that pilots select on the communications management unit in the cockpit in response to incoming data, commands or queries from air traffic control, also in text form. Along with departure clearances, the digital domain will handle the many mundane frequency-change requests and confirmations that are an accepted, but inefficient, way of operating today.

By 2030 the technology is expected to snowball, replacing 90% of all voice communications for domestic US airline operations. At some point it will also include the automatic transfer of flight plans between aircraft and ground, part of the so-called 4D trajectory process that will meter air traffic to precise levels via automation. Voice will largely be relegated to a back-up and emergency function.


DCIS falls within the second of five pillars supporting Nextgen: air-ground data communications, or “data comm”. Work on the build-out of the first pillar, the automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) GPS-based surveillance network, is already under way and is set for completion in 2013. Regulations require operators to equip with ADS-B-capable avionics by 2020.

ADS-B provides precision surveillance data without radar, allowing more efficient flightpaths. Similarly, data comm will boost capacity by transferring the messages that have traditionally connected aircraft to controllers – a barrage of back-and-forth voice transmissions, particularly in the terminal environment – to text. Moving to text messaging from voice will also boost safety by eliminating communications errors such as language barriers.


 Click for larger image

CPDLC is a key element of DCIS, but one with some baggage. A two-year pilot programme with American Airlines ended unceremoniously in 2005 because of FAA budget issues and an airline industry unwilling to invest in the technology.

American Airlines equipped 31 aircraft with the CPDLC avionics, testing 12 canned downlinks and 11 canned uplinks (using the ACARS network) between pilots and controllers in Miami airspace. At the time the FAA said it had learned enough from the trial to prepare for what has now become the DCIS contract.

Several years earlier, Eurocontrol successfully tested 28 downlink and 66 uplink messages as part of the Link 2000+ programme in the Maastricht upper airspace sector.

The practice has been in operational use at Maastricht since 2003 in advance of a 2014 mandate for equipage in Europe. The USA and Europe appear to be in lockstep on the technology approach to data comm – to implement CPDLC with VHF Datalink Mode 2 (VDL 2) radios on board communicating via the 31.5kbps digital networks that primarily carry airline operational (or ACARS) messages.

The service is largely provided by data carriers Arinc and SITA on global networks, and the DCIS contract requires the winner to contract with Arinc and SITA for the datalink service.

In the USA, the FAA will roll out data comm in the tower and en route environment first, followed later in the terminal control area, where voice communications are generally more critical and issued at a faster rate. The FAA plans to have initial operational capability at airport towers first, starting in 2015, with 73 airports – those set up for digital pre-departure clearance messages offered by Arinc and SITA to be completed by 2018.

IOC for en route sectors will begin in 2018, with the entire domestic US en route domain completed by 2023. Following en route will be coverage for terminal areas, although the FAA has yet to set the implementation schedule. However, the agency is convinced that users, once shown the benefits, will be convinced the costs are worth the gain.


“The FAA believes all parties involved will benefit from the contractor being required to establish arrangements with one or more substantial aircraft operators (Part 121 or Part 135) and in some cases airframe manufacturers that operate test aircraft,” the agency states in the request for proposal. The FAA closed the bid window in October and is evaluating submissions.

For Exelis, partners include Airbus, United Airlines, JetBlue, UPS and avionics maker Rockwell Collins. In 2009, the FAA signed a two-year $12 million contract with Rockwell Collins and competitor Honeywell to develop prototype avionics hardware and software for data comm, along with providing support to the FAA for demonstrations.

Ed Sayadian, president of air traffic management at Exelis, says the basic building blocks from an avionics standpoint are the VDL Mode 2 digital radios, a communications management unit, and either a Future Air Navigation System (FANS) 1/A+ or Aeronautical Telecommunications Network (ATN) digital communications system, equipment generally installed on most airliners at the factory today. CPDLC will go live first, with FANS aircraft, and network upgrades will follow to allow for ATN-equipped aircraft to use the service. Later in the contract window, the FAA will introduce the capability to automatically update and transmit flightplan data to and from the aircraft’s FMS, a key feature of 4D navigation for Nextgen.

To receive upgrade funds, older aircraft will be required to have at least a 10-year operational life remaining. “We identified more than 20 different permutations of equipment out there requiring some types of upgrades,” says Sayadian. He adds that upgrades could range from “minor” software tweaks in the $30,000 range to major radio replacements at $500,000 in price. Airlines obtaining the incentives will ultimately decide which aircraft to upgrade, although Sayadian says the emphasis is likely to be on fleet uniformity to decrease training costs.


The DCIS proposal requires that 90% of the $80 million in equipage funding goes to airline aircraft (Part 121), with air taxi aircraft (Part 135) eligible for 10%. The funding profile changes depending on the year, and varies from $4 million in the first year (2013) to $21.6 million in 2015 and $8 million in 2018, the final year of the incentive programme. Not covered are FMS purchases or FMS replacements; upgraded cockpit voice recorders that meet a mandate for recording digital messaging; costs for maintenance of the equipment or training on how to use it; and aircraft out-of-service time during the retrofit. The FAA will require that any domestic airline has the opportunity to participate in the programme.

Through the incentive, the FAA hopes to equip 1,900 aircraft (about 25% of the active airline fleet) for data comm to have an “acceptable performance” of the technology, an average cost of about $40,000 per aircraft. The contract winner will be required to harness the operational data from the participating airlines to show the benefits of using the technology, benefits the FAA is certain will spur other operators to equip voluntarily.

The US Department of Transportation, however, is not so sure. In testimony to the US Congress in October, DoT inspector general Calvin Scovel said challenges integrating data comm with the FAA’s various air traffic control automation systems had already delayed the roll-out of data comm from 2016 to 2018 for the en route segment. “Until the FAA resolves these issues, however, users are likely to remain skeptical and reluctant to equip since the FAA abandoned the similar [CPDLC] programme in 2005,” Scovel added.

January 29, 2012 Posted by | SDVOSB | Leave a comment

Meet Nicole Hartman…Drones are Here to stay.

An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), also known as a unmanned aircraft system (UAS), remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) or unmanned aircraft, is a machine which functions either by the remote control of a navigator or pilot (called a Combat Systems Officer on UCAVs) or autonomously, that is, as a self-directing entity. Their largest use is within military applications. To distinguish UAVs from missiles, a UAV is defined as a “powered, aerial vehicle that does not carry a human operator, uses aerodynamic forces to provide veh

icle lift, can fly autonomously or be piloted remotely, can be expendable or recoverable, and can carry a lethal or nonlethal payload”.[1] 


Therefore, cruise missiles are not considered UAVs, because, like many other guided missiles, the vehicle itself is a weapon that is not reused, even though it is also unmanned and in some cases remotely guided. There are a wide variety of UAV shapes, sizes, configurations, and characteristics. Historically, UAVs were simple drones[2] (remotely piloted aircraft), but autonomous control is increasingly being employed in UAVs. UAVs come in two varieties: some are controlled from a remote location (which may even be many thousands of kilometers away, on another continent), and others fly autonomously based on pre-programmed flight plans using more complex dynamic automation systems. Currently, military UAVs perform reconnaissance as well as attack missions.[3] While many successful drone attacks on militants have been reported, they have a reputation of being prone to collateral damage and/or erroneous targeting, as with many other weapon types.[2] UAVs are also used in a small but growing number of civil applications, such as firefighting or nonmilitary security work, such as surveillance of pipelines. UAVs are often preferred for missions that are too “dull, dirty, or dangerous” for manned aircraft.

November 22, 2011 Posted by | 8(a), SDB, SDVOSB | Leave a comment

Congress hits beach, aviation workers hit unemployment lines

(CNN) — Neil Bolen has worked as a civil engineer with the Federal Aviation Administration for the past 24 years, designing air traffic control radar systems that help keep America moving.

Now he’s got a message for Congress: Get moving on a plan to save his job.

Bolen, a 48-year-old father of two from the Atlanta area, is one of thousands of Americans with ties to the aviation industry who are suddenly finding themselves out of work this summer because of Congress’s failure to pass routine legislation keeping the FAA funded. The House and Senate have gone on vacation, leaving Bolen on furlough.

He’s had no choice but to file for unemployment, prioritize which bills to pay, and dig into his family’s savings in order to make ends meet.

“Congress doesn’t care about me at all,” Bolen told CNN. “They’re not done with their work and they go on vacation. How do they do that?”

Bolen says he’s tried to “avoid politics as a rule” his whole life, but now he’s calling his congressman and senators — to no avail.

“It’s always somebody else’s fault” when you call their offices, he says. “It’s never our fault.”

The House adjourned Monday after a divisive vote to raise the national debt ceiling, leaving the Senate with an FAA funding extension bill it did not like and could not amend. So the Senate recessed Tuesday night without doing anything.

At issue is a decision by Rep. John Mica, a Florida Republican, to add a provision to the funding extension cutting subsidies to rural airports. The measure is opposed by powerful Democrats such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada.

There’s also a dispute over provisions that would make it easier for airline employees to unionize. Democrats support the section; Republicans generally oppose it.

Bolen and 4,000 other FAA employees are stuck in the middle of the dispute. But they’re not the only people being hurt. The FAA has stopped hundreds of airport construction projects nationwide, putting about 24,000 construction workers out of work.

Another 35,000 support workers, such as food service vendors, are also affected, according to the Associated General Contractors of America.

The FAA says the impasse will also prevent the federal government from collecting approximately $200 million a week in airline passenger taxes — or about $1.2 billion during the congressional recess.

Other workers caught up in the mess share Bolen’s frustrating and growing anger with Congress.

“We’re into the politics of confrontation versus looking out for the interests for constituents,” said Troy Swanberg, a mechanical engineer from Chicago. “I’m really disappointed.”

He called the situation “unconscionable.”

Swanberg, 42, has worked for the FAA for 20 years and has a 2-year-old daughter. Like Bolen, he’s digging into his savings. He’s also looking for another job.

Robert Aitken, 47, works for the FAA in Burlington, Massachusetts. He’s been with the FAA for 18 years, and before that spent five years in the Navy. He has two children, ages 9 and 12.

“We’re just in shock that (Congress) actually did not get this done,” he told CNN. “We understand this is politics, but this is just insane.”

Aitken said he’s “very upset” Congress “didn’t think this was important enough to stick around for.” He stressed that it’s not just federal workers who are being hurt by the latest Washington stalemate.

“They’re going to put people out of business,” he warned. “Small companies will go under.”

Curtis Howe, 50, works for the FAA in Seattle. He helped build the control tower at nearby Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, among other things.

Recently, he and his wife took out a 15-year home equity loan in order to put a new roof on their house. Now he’s being forced to use that money to pay his regular bills.

“It’s almost like there’s a … dog walking down the road, and he picked up a hand grenade in his mouth and it’s going to go off. They don’t even know what they’re doing,” he said in reference to Congress. “Who are they? Are they better than us?”

“This is a clear attack on middle America,” Howe said. “This is a punch in the face. It’s terrible.”




August 4, 2011 Posted by | SDVOSB | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment