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Michele Pearce

Michele Pearce has wide-ranging experience working on national security issues throughout her two decades of military and government service. She provides advisory and advocacy support and counseling to clients facing policy and political challenges in the aerospace and defense sectors.
Before joining Covington, Michele held several senior staff positions within the Department of Defense (DoD) and Congress. Most recently, she served as General Counsel (Acting) of the Department of the Army, providing legal and policy advice to the Secretary of the Army and other service leadership. In this role, Michele was responsible for legal matters related to modernizing acquisition and contracting practices to meet emerging threats, implementing AI and hypersonic systems, and reforming ethics and diversity and inclusion programs.

Prior to her role in the Army, Michele served as Deputy General Counsel (Legislation) at DoD. She was the principal legal advisor to DoD officials, including the Secretary of Defense, Deputy Secretary of Defense, and General Counsel on matters concerning legislation, investigations, and the Department’s Legislative Review Program, which considers more than 400 legislative proposals annually.

Michele also has significant Capitol Hill experience. She was a Senior Defense Advisor to Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), advising on legal and budgetary matters related to authorizations and appropriations for the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs. Michele also served as Staff Lead/Counsel on the House Armed Services Committee, where she managed one of the largest subcommittees in Congress with a multi-billion dollar budget focused on operations and maintenance activities across DoD. She also served as Staff Lead of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee and as Counsel and Professional Staff of the Military Personnel Subcommittee.

Michele also previously served as an Advisor to Andrew Effron, Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces; Military Assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force; Associate Deputy General Counsel for Personnel and Health Policy at DoD; and as an Air Force Judge Advocate General.

In early March, the EU released its first-ever European Defence Industrial Strategy (EDIS), accompanied by a proposed regulation establishing the European Defence Industry Programme (EDIP). The aim is to boost defence capabilities in Europe through greater and more efficient spending. In particular, the strategy seeks to reverse recent trends, whereby 78% of defence acquisitions by EU countries since Russia’s full-scale aggression against Ukraine were made with non-EU producers, with U.S. firms accounting for 63%. It also addresses recent concerns by the defence industry over ESG constraints on obtaining private financing.

The ultimate benchmark for success, as recounted by one EU foreign minister, is whether these measures will help deter Russia and other adversaries. Nonetheless, it reflects greater operational focus of the EU on defence and security issues, and what in practice the European Commission and other EU institutions can do to bolster capabilities in a policy area that will remain the primary prerogative of EU Member States.

Plugging Defence Gaps

Since the end of the Cold War, European defence has suffered from perennial underinvestment and lack of policy support for the defence industry. Whereas Europe collectively spent on defence over half of the U.S. totals in the early 1990s, it now spends about one-third compared to the United States—arguably at a time of much greater security threats to Europe compared to America. There are simply not enough soldiers, tanks, planes, ships, missiles, guns, and ammunition in Europe, nor domestic facilities to produce the necessary weapons systems and materiel. Moreover, EU countries have procured defence products at a national level, exacerbating fragmentation within the European market. This fragmentation has led to the creation of national industrial silos and numerous defence systems that often lack interoperability.Continue Reading Mobilizing Greater Defence Capabilities in Europe: the EU’s Defence Industrial Strategy

This year’s Munich Security Conference reemphasized the need for Europe to invest in greater defense capabilities and foster a regulatory environment that is conducive to building a defense and technological industrial base. In Munich, President Ursula von der Leyen committed to appointing a European Commissioner for Defence, if she is reselected later this year by the European Council and European Parliament. And the EU is also due to publish shortly a new defense industrial strategy, mirroring in part, the first-ever U.S. National Defense Industrial Strategy (NDIS) released earlier this year by the Department of Defense.

The NDIS, in turn, recognizes the need for a strong defense industry in both the U.S. and the EU, as well as other allies and partners across the globe, in order to strengthen supply chain resilience and ensure the production and delivery of critical defense supplies. And global leaders generally see the imperative of working together over the long-term to advance integrated deterrence policies and to strengthen and modernize defense industrial base ecosystems. We will continue tracking these geopolitical trends, which are likely to persist regardless of electoral outcomes in Europe or the United States.

These developments across both sides of the Atlantic follow on a number of significant new funding streams in Europe over the past couple of years, for instance:

  • The 2021 revision of the European Defense Fund Regulation allocated €8 billion for common research and development projects, meant to be spent during the 2021-2027 multi-annual financial framework (MFF).
  • As a direct response to Ukraine’s request for assistance with the supply of 155 mm-caliber artillery rounds, the EU adopted the 2023 Act in Support of Ammunition Production (ASAP), with a €500 million fund to scale up production of ammunition and missiles.
  • Most recently, the EU adopted the 2023 European Defense Industry Reinforcement through Common Procurement Act (EDIRPA), introduced a joint procurement fund of €300 million to facilitate Member States’ collective acquisition of defense products.
  • The European Peace Facility (EPF), an off-budget instrument, with an overall financial ceiling exceeding €12 billion, is primarily destined toward procurement of military material and large-scale financing of weapon supplies to allied third countries (including €6.1 billion for Ukraine).

Continue Reading Insights from the Munich Security Conference: Towards an Expanding U.S.-EU Defense Taxonomy?

On December 14, 2023, the U.S. Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2024 (NDAA), authorizing $886 billion in defense spending. Amid its numerous provisions, there is the concept of the “national technology and industrial base,” which now includes the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand and could potentially serve as the basis for wider industrial cooperation with European and other global partners. This could provide useful synergies with ongoing efforts in Europe to galvanize defense production and help ensure an enduring competitive edge for the wider West over potential adversaries—within NATO and with global partners.

The Global “National Technology and Industrial Base”

The national technology and industrial base (NTIB) is defined in U.S. law as “the persons and organizations that are engaged in research, development, production, integration, services, or information technology activities” in national security and dual-use areas. First established in 1994, NTIB initially included only Canada in addition to the United States. In 2016, however, United Kingdom and Australia were added, followed by New Zealand in 2022. NTIB entities may receive preference for certain limited procurement actions and may be exempted from certain foreign ownership or control/influence requirements.

The logic behind this initial expansion was to foster industrial defense cooperation among the Five Eyes allies, which already had provisions for intelligence sharing potentially required for sophisticated military projects. And the expected benefits were to leverage economies of scale, promote innovation, and increase interoperability.

Given Russia’s large-scale war of aggression against Ukraine and the longer-term challenge from China, the NTIB could be expanded further to ensure that the wider West is able to produce the military materiel required to deter and confront any security challenges. The United States and its NATO Allies have already faced stockpile constraints in providing weapons supply to Ukraine to continue waging its defense. Now, the 2024 NDAA has added Israel and Taiwan to a program started to expedite delivery and replenishment of munitions to Ukraine, which will put further pressure on existing production. The NTIB could also serve as the fulcrum to leverage European defense initiatives in light of Russia’s war of aggression.

European Defense Initiatives

The European defense landscape has long been characterized by severe under-investment and fragmentation among Member States, with less than one-fifth of investments in defense programs conducted in cooperation. In 2009, the European Union expressed its willingness to facilitate joint procurement with the adoption of procurement rules for munitions, arms, and war material in the Defense Procurement Directive. However, implementation was lacking, and most procurement contracts were still awarded without an EU-wide tender.Continue Reading U.S. Defense Bill’s Implications for European and Global Partners

Following our recent overview of key topics to watch in the National Defense Authorization Act (“NDAA”) for Fiscal Year (“FY”) 2024, available here, we continue our coverage with a “deep dive” into NDAA provisions related to the People’s Republic of China (“China” or “PRC”) in each of the House and Senate bills.  DoD’s focus on strengthening U.S. deterrence and competitive positioning vis-à-vis China features prominently in the 2022 National Defense Strategy (“NDS”) and in recent national security discourse.  This focus is shared by the Select Committee on Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party (“Select Committee”), led by Chairman Mike Gallagher (R-WI) and Ranking Member Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL). 

It is no surprise, then, that House and Senate versions of the NDAA include hundreds of provisions—leveraging all elements of national power—intended to address what the NDS brands as China’s “pacing” challenge, including many grounded in Select Committee policy recommendations.  Because the NDAA is viewed as “must-pass” legislation, it has served in past years as a vehicle through which other bills not directly related to DoD are enacted in law.  In one respect, this year is no different—the Senate version of the NDAA incorporates both the Department of State and Intelligence 2024 Authorization bills, each of which includes provisions related to China. 

To get a flavor of the approach to China in this year’s NDAA, look no further than the “Ending China’s Developing Nation Status Act” in Section 1399L of the Senate bill, which would require U.S. opposition to granting China “developing nation” status in treaties under negotiation and by international organizations of which the U.S. and China are members, such as the World Trade Organization.  Classification as a “developing nation” affords China access to preferential loans and other economic benefits intended to increase trading opportunities, notwithstanding its current status as an upper-middle income country (as determined by the World Bank), and the world’s second largest economy, trailing only the U.S.  Not to be outdone, Section 155 of the House bill contains a provision mandating expedited deployment of advanced radars to track high-altitude balloons and other potential threats to the U.S., in direct response to the incident earlier this year in which a Chinese balloon flew across the U.S. before being shot down by the Air Force.

Given these provisions, and many more (some we discuss below), this year’s NDAA strikes us as different.  It incorporates many more China-related provisions and many of these would impose greater obligations on government contractors to limit their interactions with the PRC and entities affiliated with the PRC Government.  Whether the laundry list of China-related provisions in the current NDAA survive, and in what form, will be determined by the conference process currently underway.  But these provisions have the potential to impose significant near-term burdens on contractors—requiring them to assess their obligations and make adjustments to ensure compliance.  Indeed, these provisions may be far more disruptive than requirements imposed by prior year NDAA China provisions that contractors have navigated by reassessing supply chains and increasing due diligence.  All government contractors and suppliers to government contractors with any connection to China would be well advised to monitor how the NDAA conference approaches resolution of this legislation over the coming months.Continue Reading Not to Be Outpaced: NDAA Presents Measures Addressing China

On February 7, 2023, the House Committee on Armed Services (the “Committee”) held a hearing entitled “The Pressing Threat of the Chinese Communist Party to U.S. National Defense.” This hearing marked the Committee’s first in the 118th Congress and it focused on U.S. strategic competition with the Chinese Communist Party (“CCP”) of the People’s Republic of China (“PRC”). This overview is the first in a series of legislative updates we will provide on congressional oversight activities related to China throughout the Congress, including specific activities focused on trade controls, supply chain dependencies, and PRC-sourced telecommunications infrastructure in U.S. networks.

Admiral Harry Harris, USN (Ret.), former commander of U.S. Pacific Command, and Dr. Melanie Sisson, Foreign Policy Fellow at the Strobe Talbott Center for Security, Strategy, and Technology, appeared before the committee as witnesses. The substance and tenor of their testimony, reflected throughout the hearing from member statements, was bipartisan agreement that the PRC and the CCP pose a significant threat to the United States and its way of life.

Key members to watch this Congress, all of whom participated in the hearing, include, Representative Mike Gallagher (R-WI), HASC Member and Chairman of the House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition between the United States and the CCP, as well as Select Committee Members Rob Wittman (R-VA), Jim Banks (R-IN), Seth Moulton (D-MA), Andy Kim (D-NJ), Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ), and newly elected Carlos Gimenez (R-FL).

We expect these members will work together over the coming months to advance legislative measures in the defense authorization bill to address perceived threats posed by the CCP, particularly after its recent deployment of a surveillance balloon over the United States and military exercises near “Taiwan”.Continue Reading Public Policy Update:  Key Takeaways from the House Armed Services Committee Hearing on the Chinese Communist Party Threat to U.S. National Defense

Section 5949 of the James M. Inhofe National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023 (“FY2023 NDAA”) contains two significant prohibitions regarding the procurement and use of semiconductor products and services from specific Chinese companies and other foreign countries of concern (the “Semiconductor Prohibitions”). Although many aspects of the prohibitions remain unclear, the legislation portends noteworthy obligations in the coming years for government contractors, their suppliers, and those who may be interested in entering into agreements with the United States.

A timeline of noteworthy events and requirements associated with the Semiconductor Prohibitions is available here.

I. The Prohibitions

A. Prohibition Text

The Semiconductor Prohibitions are divided into two subsections:

  1. Section 5949(a)(1)(A) (“Part A”) provides that the head of an executive agency may not “procure or obtain, or extend or renew a contract to procure or obtain, any electronic parts, products, or services that include covered semiconductor products or services.”
  2. Section 5949(a)(1)(B) (“Part B”) provides that the head of an executive agency may not “enter into a contract (or extend or renew a contract) with an entity to procure or obtain electronic parts or products that use any electronic parts or products that include covered semiconductor products or services.”

Continue Reading NDAA Prohibits Government Purchase and Use of Certain Semiconductors