Brigadier General Harris: Response to Boston Globe Article on the F-35

As a member of the community and the Vermont Air National Guard, I find the accusations made in a recent Boston Globe F-35 article unsubstantiated and disturbing. Ms. Kathleen Ferguson, Acting Assistant Secretary, USAF Installations, Logistics and Environment responded, but I did not see it printed.

She states:

There are a number of inaccuracies and misleading comments in the recent article about the F-35 basing process.  Most concerning was the assertion that the Air Force made its decision based on “older data.”  That is not correct.  I clearly explained to the reporter, and the Air Force has assured local officials in writing, that the analysis from the site survey shows that Burlington Air Guard Station would have made the F-35 candidate list even with the revisions.

The Air Force is still analyzing data and has not yet made a final basing decision. This important fact is buried in the story, and the article implies the Air Force has made a final basing decision based on criteria screening data.  When the Secretary and Chief of Staff of the Air Force make a decision later this year, they will do so based on current, accurate information to include a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement.

Also, it was disappointing that the article lent an extraordinary amount of credence to an “anonymous pentagon official” who characterized himself as having insight into the Air Force’s basing process.  This is unfortunate because, again, no final basing decision has been made.

The USAF strategic basing framework is centered around a highly staffed transparent, repeatable, and defendable process. The overall decision is the balance between 5 categories: cost, capacity, mission, environment (which incorporates noise), and military judgment. To categorize a “preferred alternative” basing decision process to replace F-16s with F-35s in Vermont as “fudged” ignores the cumulative effect of all five contributing categories and the Air Force’s layered strategic basing decision process.


Brigadier General Dick Harris

Assistant Adjutant General for Air

Vermont Air National Guard

College & University Students Seeking Summer Internships in Vermont Businesses

Vermont is a wonderfully unique place; we’re reminded of this every time we step out of our doors and take in a sight of the Green Mountains, of our expansive Lake Champlain, or 30 inches of fresh powder in March. Most of us who have chosen to call Vermont our home understand these things, both in their beauty and in their challenges. But what has become apparent in the past few years is that the people who have chosen to call our unique landscape home have been pushing the demographics of our state higher. In more ways than one, Vermont’s present (and future) workforce is getting older.

Yet while our demographics show an aging population, Vermont has more than 30,000 students enrolled in our 23 institutions of higher education at any given time. Many of the employers state there is a challenge in finding top quality talent to fill vacant or nascent positions, while at the same time, many college and university students see a dearth of opportunity within the state. Very clearly there is both demand for, and supply of, talent in our state. The challenge, then, is to help this labor market reach equilibrium; that is, to pair eager young talent with companies that have immediate and real needs for intelligent, trainable employees.

In an effort to help bridge this gap, the Vermont Technology Council is proud to usher in the start of the second year of their Statewide Internship Program. The program partners with organizations across the state to develop communication and placement between higher education students and employers. Students are presented the opportunity to get in-company training that develops skills and the experience to hit the job market upon graduation, and employers benefit from access to motivated, intelligent students looking to match their education with the needs of Vermont businesses.

The Vermont Technology Council has recognized that pairing current students with future employers gives both parties a competitive advantage in their respective goals. The internships being developed are meant to best simulate the demands and rigors of the post-graduate world. The summer internships are paid positions that create necessary buy-in from businesses, while creating a higher expectation of added value from each student. Developing this pipeline of talent not only provides a framework for future business success within Vermont, but by exposing students to the opportunities already here, there is great potential to retain and develop a higher number of young professionals.

Any business that employs technology in their operations is encouraged to create an internship; positions may focus on any aspect of the operation, including sales, engineering, marketing, etc. The pool of eligible interns includes any student in a Vermont institution, as well as Vermont students in out of state colleges and universities. In an effort to support employers and to make the process as simple as possible, the Vermont Technology Council has appointed Michele Ferland Kupersmith as the Program Director. Ms. Kupersmith can aid in all phases of the internship development and marketing, and acts as a liaison between employers, partner organizations, and economic development organizations.

For more information, the Vermont Technology Council’s Statewide Internship Program can be found online at:

Bill Schubart on Planning in Vermont

Bill Schubart recently presented to the Champlain Forum on the topic of how Vermont needs to be move forward and, unsurprisingly, Mr. Schubart took the time to underscore the fact that we don’t know where we’re heading.  “Vermont reveres its past,” he began, “but has not been great at learning from it. Like many people and institutions it seems to need to relearn lessons repeatedly.”  However, the real point Mr. Schubart brought to the table is that we have no shortage of these lessons from which to develop an economic plan that will drive progress in our state.

“If the way forward in business is anything like government, the progression is study, plan, execute, measure and correct. Vermont rarely gets out of the study mode, perhaps because of the inherent tension between political durability and the pain and risk associated with actually leading an enterprise […]The cycle of study, plan, execute, measure and correct in Vermont usually ends with “study” and usually in the summer. The sheer number of printed but unexecuted “summer studies” could probably provide fuel for Vermonters’ woodstoves for next year.”

This year our state (and the rest of the country) faced considerable pressures and constraint on budget income and expenditures.  This led to the Legislature deciding to convene a committee to take a top-down examination of revenue-side budget sources (essentially a review of taxes and fees) within the next two years.  While this appears to be promising, for it to show real value it must do what so many other studies cannot: follow through on the recommendations from the committee.  And while it’s easy to place blame if we’re not satisfied with the results, Mr. Schubart points out that “We’ve become adept at blaming leaders, anyone other than ourselves, but the reality in a democracy is we are led, or not, by the leaders we ourselves choose.  In the end, we are responsible.”

But this is just the beginning of where we need to find opportunity in challenge.  It is not just enough to examine traditional sources of state income, but to generate new ways of broadening our employment/employer base by actively encouraging and supporting those who are driving our economy.  This shouldn’t mean simply throwing money at the problem as states such as South Carolina have done, but it does mean implementing and fully supporting programs designed to be meaningful for employers to grow, stay and possibly relocate to within our borders.  It’s not about picking winners when you make a focused economic plan, it’s about consolidating resources and delivering them through clear, responsible channels that have direct interaction with employers.

In an effort to clearly identify where Vermonters agree our state should develop, GBIC is examining two of the most complete, community driven economic reports our state has seen in recent memory published by the Commission on the Future of Economic Development and the Vermont Council on Rural development, respectively.  By examining where these reports overlap and agree, GBIC hopes to identify immediately actionable recommendations for the short term while laying groundwork to aid in a long term comprehensive economic plan for Vermont.

Dangerous Trends Require Action: David Coates Helps Define our Current Pension Challenge

Dangerous Trends Require Action
By David Coates, KPMG Managing Partner (retired) and
Member, Vermont Business Roundtable

Rising mandatory expenditures in the state of Vermont translates into less discretionary dollars to support important programs for needy Vermonters. Two such expenditures are retirement plans and other post-retirement benefits for state workers and teachers, whose costs are rising at unsustainable levels. It is time to begin talking about changing from the path we’re on.

There are essentially two types of pension plans….a defined contribution, similar to a 401 (K) plan, and a defined benefit plan which guarantees a certain lifetime benefit upon retirement. As of June 30th the state employees defined pension plan covered most of the state’s 8442 workers. Effective July 1st, workers contribute 5.1% of their pay, and the state is responsible for funding the balance of lifetime benefits paid to retirees. In 2008 the state paid approximately $23 million (projected at $40 million in 2015) from the general fund into the retirement fund. The state workers can retire after 30 years of service or age 62, and receive a lifetime benefit of 50%. For workers employed after June 30, 2008 the retirement age is 65 and they receive a lifetime benefit of 60%.

Although the wages for the teachers are determined locally, the state is required to pay their pension costs. As of June 30th there were 10,685 teachers in the plan. Teachers contribute 3.5% of their pay annually and the state is responsible for funding the balance of lifetime benefits. In 2008 the state paid approximately $40 million (projected at $52 million in 2015). Teachers can retire after 30 years of service or age 62 and receive a lifetime benefit of 50%.

As a result of the recent decline in the investment markets and the significant under-funding of the teachers plan, the state has unfunded pension liabilities of over $466 million as of June 30. This is roughly a three-fold increase in just five years. With obvious market declines since June, these liabilities are certain to be much higher; requiring the state to pay even more to assure the financial integrity of the plans.

The situation with other post-retirement benefits (i.e. medical insurance) is more alarming. Retired state workers pay 20% of the cost of the premiums, which covers the retiree and all dependents. Teachers pay 20% as well, but this covers only the retiree.

In 2008 Vermont paid in about $17 million for state workers, but nothing for the teachers. This left a liability, for 2008, of $29 million for state workers and $60 million for teachers. The state actuary has calculated the unfunded liability for both plans at June 30 to be $1.6 billion. This is projected to increase to over $4 billion in thirty years, if we continue to fund these plans as we have in the past.

Clearly, Vermont is currently on a path that is not financially sustainable. The private sector and most not-for-profit institutions have done away with those benefit plans because they are expensive to maintain and the liability will forever remain with the employer, in this case, the state.

So, what are the alternatives to avoid state bankruptcy? There are several: Fully fund the pension and benefits; reduce the work force; cut the benefits to more closely align with the private and not-for-profit sectors; freeze or eliminate some or all of the plans; or, require the local governments to fund the costs for teachers.

Not addressing the issues now will only require future generations of Vermonters (our children) to pay for the promises we have made but failed to fund. We need the leadership of the legislature, the administration and the unions to come together and identify a common solution to these vexing issues now. The current economic climate is precisely the motivation for changing current practice toward a more sustainable system.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s Technology Speech

All across the country the development (or lack thereof) of STEM education is a topic of much discussion, and in Vermont it has been the same.  Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer delivered a great speech February 6th that addressed a number of issues surrounding the topic.  It’s a little long, but the message is an important one.  The following is his speech in full:

Well, I want to thank Jay, I want to thank the speaker and all of you for the opportunity to be here today and chat with you. It’s a real honor to have a chance to share some thoughts on the economy and on innovation, and hopefully spur some thoughts on how we all participate in restarting long term economic growth.

As Jay was telling my story, so to speak, I thought I’d put in one parenthetic that might be of interest. When I got to Microsoft and we were this tiny little company, we didn’t have the budget to put people up in hotels, so I lived with Bill. And every time I sat down, in every corner, nook and cranny of couches, tables, I’d find these little yellow pieces of paper with Bill’s writing that had a bunch of people’s names and companies’ names and numbers.

So, finally–I think of myself as pretty good pattern matching. Actually I was sitting next to Congressman Frank, and we were both trying to see which of the six states that are going to be still bigger than North Carolina by 2015. So, we’re going through the pattern matching game, and I just couldn’t figure out what these numbers were.

So, finally I said to Bill, what is this? He says, Steve, I’m really always worried about whether we’re going to have enough cash to pay people. So, every night I write down everybody who works for us and how much we pay them, and every contract we have and how much it’s worth. I’ve got to count the pennies tightly and that’s why you’re here now.

In this economic climate, whether you’re talking about businesses or consumers, everybody I think is having the little yellow sheets of paper out, and counting pennies pretty tightly.

I’m going to make one thing clear up-front: I’m not going to claim to be an economist. On the other hand, I think it’s sort of the responsibility of every businessperson to really form a model of what’s going on in the economy, if you’re going to provide proper stewardship to your business; big company, small company, it’s important to have a model of what’s going on, and certainly have been thinking a lot about the economy in the context of how we think about and plan for the future of Microsoft.

For the past 25 years, the world has certainly enjoyed incredible, incredible global growth. Average incomes around the world grew at unprecedented rates, millions of people moved from out of poverty into the middle class for the very first time.

I think that expansion was built on three things: innovation, globalization, and debt, increasing debt.

American technology was certainly at the heart of the innovation that played the central role in the process. The PC, the Internet, fiber optics: Those things were things that continue to keep America at the forefront of technology, and really at the lead of a growing global economy.

But over time, over the last period of time, the balance has really shifted. Instead of innovation and productivity driving growth, it’s really been unsustainable levels, particularly of private debt, that have been a key driver of economic growth.

The hard truth is this, in my opinion: The private sector of our economy has borrowed too much money, businesses and consumers alike, fueled by the a lot of different things, some notion that housing prices would go up forever, that you could borrow money cheaply.

I gave a speech at Stanford Business School a few years back, and I was talking, we’re a company that has been conservative, per the yellow pieces of paper. We like to keep cash. And a very smart Ph.D. in the audience puts his hand up and said, “Why don’t you borrow money?” I said, “I don’t like to borrow money.” He said, “But it’s so cheap; you’re depriving your shareholders.” I think it reminds us that essentially consumers and businesses alike have really borrowed too much money.

The bubble has burst. We can no longer rely on consumption by refinancing our homes or inexpensive money to fuel economic growth, and that’s certainly had a huge impact.

At our own place, what we think about PC sales, they are discretionary in most home budgets, the second, the third PC. Consumer electronics has that characteristic. Fifty percent of capital spending in this country is on information technology. Less capital, less spend on information technology. No sector will be immune.

There’s a natural tendency to want to blame somebody for the economic crisis. In reality, I think you have to say we’ve all contributed to a culture of spending and private debt. And I distinguish private debt and government debt, because I think you have to be much more–the private sector has less ability to be thoughtful, and the government sector needs to be quite thoughtful. But there certainly has been too much use of debt.

At Microsoft, we’ve studied these developments. We believe this is a once-in-a-lifetime economic event, but it’s not unique frankly in U.S. history. The current situation looks a lot like several–not one but several previous cycles of long-term private sector debt.

In 1929, for example, just before the stock market crash, the private debt-to-GDP ratio was 160 percent. Last year, private sector debt as a percentage of the GDP: 300 percent; far more leverage. And you can see it’s been a steady increase basically since almost the end of World War II.

In my view, what we now have will be a fundamental economic reset. The economy is going to have to re-establish itself at a level of spending that reflects the real value of underlying assets before we can all start growing again at a healthy rate.

This may not be the thing that people really want to hear, but it’s certainly what we’re planning on, and it’s the truth on which we’re basing sort of our model, if you will, at Microsoft.

In our opinion, in order to reach the reset point, three things need to happen. First, the economy must be deleveraged. Private debt as a percentage of GDP has to be reduced. Restoring health to the nation’s financial system is a fundamental part of this.

Just for historical note, not only during the Depression, but actually in 1837 and in 1873 we had similar style resets in the economy. We actually have at least three historic periods that we can study in which similar phenomenon occurred. I think it was 1873 where even the state of Florida filed for Bankruptcy. So, we need to be thoughtful about being students I think of the history.

Second, confidence must be restored. The stimulus package, in my opinion, is vital. It will provide a cushion as we reach the reset point and it will help restart our economic engine. I certainly want to applaud the steps that the House has taken under the speaker’s leadership to quickly pass a strong stimulus package and to help shore up our financial institutions.

Third, America really has to return to growth that’s built on innovation and productivity, rather than leverage and private debt. That must happen.

The good news is that the U.S. economy is still the world leader in innovation. Our universities are the envy of the rest of the world. The American workforce is the best on the planet, and U.S. companies continue to drive technological progress in almost every industry.

But the time has come when we need to renew our innovation capacity.

We went back and studied what innovation companies did during the time of the Great Depression. One company that stands out, if you study the Depression, is RCA.

Now, the fact that RCA is not around today, this has nothing to do with their behavior during the Depression. There’s probably good learnings for a lot of technology companies in that.

But during the time of the Depression, RCA was probably the most broad-based R&D-centric company in America. And while it cut costs certainly to survive the Depression, it never retreated from its commitment to core research and development. And as a result, after the Depression had ended, it really led and the U.S. led TV technology developments for the next 25 years.

That was good for RCA; it was good for America.

In my view, American companies aren’t going to be able to weather this economic downturn just by cutting costs either. You may have heard that Microsoft, our company has decided that we need to reduce 5,000 positions. What you may not know is that at the same time we’ve decided we’ll also create two to three thousand new jobs–mostly in the U.S.–as we continue to push into new areas that require investment.

In addition, despite the tough economy–I might even say because of the tough economy–our company will continue to invest more than $9 billion a year in R&D, because we think it’s that R&D spending that will cause us to remain strong.

People ask me, are you upbeat or not, and I say, about technology I’m super upbeat. The industry that we’re in, information technology, stands at the threshold of again a new revolution.

I joined Microsoft essentially for the PC revolution. The Internet revolution, we have the revolution of what I might call pervasive computing. Computers that are as thin and light as this on which you can have access to the world’s information will be kind of expected over the next five and 10 years.

So, being optimistic and positive about what technology can accomplish is very, very important.

If you take a look at it today, there is increasing ubiquity and power in the computing platforms. A laptop today has more computer power than a mainframe did when I came to Microsoft. Mobile phones today are more powerful than the PCs that existed 10 or 12 years ago, at the start of the Internet era.

But over the next few years, we’ll continue to go into uncharted territory as many-core chipsets and devices become common, and we develop new ways to write programs to help us model the world’s climate, the world’s population, the world’s energy needs; all of that will be super possible.

This is going to lead to breakthrough applications, more intelligent, more aware of their environment, and where we can really help anticipate the information you need and the capabilities that you really want to have.

The next few years are going to see dramatic changes in the way you interact with technology: touch, gestures, handwriting, speech recognition. Instead of telling my secretary to get me ready for my trip to the House Democratic Caucus, I’ll just type it in or speak it to my computer. It can look up, it turns out, who you all are, and where you’re all from, and it’s got all–it’s all out there. We just need to automate it in ways that real people can get access to information.

Some of this I’m sure sounds a bit like science fiction, but we’re rapidly nearing a time when interacting with technology really will be like interacting with people, which will make technology more accessible and really unlock the potential of computers to individuals and communities to help solve tough problems.

A third trend, as I talked about, is screens and displays. Literally every wall, every tabletop, you’ll be able to roll up your computer, if you will, and put it in your purse or put it in your pocket. That’s what we have to look forward to.

All of these trends are going to help create a computing platform that extends from PCs and phones and TVs out into the massive storage and connectivity out in the Internet.

All of this will enable us to transcend the barriers that exist between technology today, and seamlessly connect people to the information and applications that you’re interested in, no matter where you are, no matter what kind of screen you have in front of us.

It’s very important. As the computing environment becomes richer and more pervasive, and more universally useful, it will enable citizens to be more active participants in our national economic recovery. If we do our jobs right, the computer revolution will help amplify our ability as individuals and as a nation to tackle the pressing problems of society: education, health care, energy independence; and at the same time, continue to enhance our productivity and economic competitiveness.

They say GDP is consumption plus investment, plus government spending, plus productivity growth and innovation, and I’m very bullish on what will happen in our industry.

Imagine, for example, an intelligent energy system in your home that’s linked to a smart energy grid. With that infrastructure, your dishwasher and washing machine would know to run when electricity is cheapest. That kind of intelligence and control could really have a major impact on residential power consumption, which is a very large piece of energy consumption in this country.

There are similar scenarios in healthcare, where genomic research will open the door to personalized treatment; and in education for sure, where technology will enable all teachers to use the very best teaching methods and connect with students in new ways.

The truth though, we can barely guess what is possible. With the kinds of technologies we envision, other people, many people in many fields, fields of science and social science and many, many others, will come forth with an incredible outpouring of new ideas and innovation that will continue to expand the universe of what’s possible. So, the enablement not only of information technology and the productivity it brings directly, but other new forms of innovation I think will really be important for long term growth and prosperity across many, many fields of endeavor.

To harness this potential of this transformation, I think it’s going to take a lot more than investment by the private sector. We need investment and we need leadership by government as well. I don’t understand all of the issues and interests that you have to deal with. As I was sitting listening this morning, I understand more that there are hundreds of unwritten things that citizens just don’t really know about what it takes to catalyze these things to happen. But I would at least like to offer a couple suggestions on some things I think are important.

First, we really need the federal government to invest in human capital, in the citizens of our country.

I sit here and talk, talk, talk about innovation, but it’s people who turn ideas into positive and productive innovation. And in today’s knowledge-driven world, innovation will depend on people who are actually technologically sophisticated, have strong critical thinking skills, have expertise in math and science and engineering.

This is true not only for people who live in places like Seattle and work at places like Microsoft, but live in places like Detroit, where I grew up, and work for companies like Ford Motor Company, where my father worked when I was a child. I think this is going to be true for anyone, anywhere in this country, who hopes to earn a wage that can really properly support their family.

This means investment in education is critical, and I’m really encouraged by the very heavy emphasis on education that’s in the stimulus package.

We really need to transform math and science education in America. We need to improve teacher training, teacher quality.

I was talking earlier in the day with some folks about just how many of our math and science teachers don’t have the correct training and accreditation, and that stands in the way of us really breaking through.

For those who are already in the workforce, we need programs that provide ongoing education and training, so they can be successful in this knowledge-based economy. For those who are unemployed, we need new technical skills training to give those people a start back up the economic ladder. And we are going to need lifelong learning programs to keep people fresh, as innovation and technology continues to power the economy.

The second thing we need–and I’ll tell the Speaker this was written even before our meeting this morning–we need greater government investment in our nation’s science and technology infrastructure.

I came in, flew in red eye, was a little groggy this morning when I got here. I sat down with the speaker at 8:00 AM, and she woke me right up. She said there are four things I want you to make sure you understand are a priority: science, science, science, and science. I was awake by the end of the fourth science for sure, and I couldn’t agree more wholeheartedly.

Science and technology is the backbone for productivity and innovation; has been, not always information technology, but science and technology has been a driver of economic success. Government investment in science and engineering as a percentage of GDP is half, in this country, what it was in 1970, and it would be growing rapidly, particularly in countries in Asia, off a small base albeit, but in places like India and China and Korea the trend is the other direction.

We need to pursue breakthroughs over the coming years in green technology, alternative energy, bioengineering, parallel computing, quantum computing. Without greater government investment in the basic research, there is a danger that important advances will happen in other countries. This is truly I think not only an issue of competitiveness, but also in a sense of national security. Companies like ours and others can do our fair share in terms of funding of basic research, but government needs to take the lead.

This is also a moment when government should invest, I think, in information technology to help transform healthcare. We deliver information technology that we think can help create a connected health system that delivers predictive, preventive, and personalized care, a system that I think can improve the health of Americans and reduce the cost of health care in this country.

Government support for innovative development, rapid adoption of information technology in health care is important. I was talking to Congressman McDermott this morning. Government has a big role to play, including the fact that Medicare and Medicaid pay over 50 percent of all health. If Medicare and Medicaid want to take on some issues and use its authority to push health information standards, I’m sure this industry and this area of technology innovation can move even more quickly.

There’s always broadband. My number one encouragement to you is start with government itself. Every school, every hospital, every government building, is it wired, have we funded that infrastructure; very important.

This is a once-in-a-lifetime economic crisis. There is a lot of history around that, and frankly if you stop and think about it, 1837, ‘73, ‘29, 2008, it’s almost exactly a whole lifetime between each of the major economic difficulties that we face. But I think it’s also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to think about our priorities again and make the investments that put us on the right foot.

In his inaugural address, President Obama said we need to assume more responsibility and make the hard decisions that have been postponed for too long.

The president’s remarks actually reminded me of something I heard a lot from my dad when I was growing up. My dad was an immigrant to this country. He came from Switzerland after World War II. He went and was an interpreter with the US military at the war trials in Nuremberg; came to Detroit with some of the soldiers he had met there, who sponsored him in this country; went to work at Ford Motor Company, was there for 30 years. Never finished high school never went to college, but he had a simple model: “If you’re going to do a job, do a job. If you’re not going to do a job, don’t do a job.”

You could say, okay, that’s probably a good thing to tell a 10-year-old, but what it really came to mean to me was that if you want to accomplish anything at all, you’ve got to be committed, you’ve got to be motivated, you’ve got to be tenacious, you’ve got to be smart. And, of course, that’s not really just my dad’s message to me and my sister as we were growing up; it’s really the essence of the American work ethic, and I think it’s been passed down to millions of American children every generation.

This country has what it takes to succeed. We have talent, we have technology, we’ve got the track record. We’ve got to be really honest about where we are. We’ve got to take the kind of bold steps that the vice president so well characterized in his remarks this morning, and we certainly have to roll up our sleeves and put ourselves back on the path of the kind of innovation that will drive the kind of economic success that I know we all want.

I thank you again for the opportunity. It’s been my pleasure.