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GOP Senators: Target Defense Program Overlap First

Mar. 20, 2012 - 06:11PM   |  
By RICK MAZE and KATE BRANNEN   |   Comments
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Two key Republican senators are recommending the U.S. Defense Department eliminate overlapping programs to avoid deep cuts in force structure and weapon programs.

Sens. John McCain of Arizona, ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Tom Coburn, Okla., one of the Senate’s fiercest deficit hawks, have provided some specific examples, drawn from a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that looked at mismanagement and identified 51 areas of concern, including 16 in the Defense Department.

In a March 19 letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, the two recommended implementing these cost-saving measures “to avoid imposing the large cuts to force structure and key investment priorities that the president proposed in the fiscal year 2013 budget request.”

McCain has been extremely active recently in giving unsolicited advice to the Defense Department about spending priorities. Last week, he announced he would stop approving the transfer of funds between defense accounts to pay to start any new program not specifically authorized by Congress.

On Monday, he and Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, asked Panetta to postpone any actions to change military force structure until the committee has thoroughly reviewed the fiscal 2013 budget proposed by the Obama administration.

Among the areas for savings identified by GAO in a Feb. 28 report to Congress:

• All four services have invested billions of dollars over the last 10 years to acquire unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). These unique investments cannot be sustained indefinitely, GAO says. Already, DoD is expected to spend over $37.5 billion on UAS purchases between 2012 and 2016. The GAO report says the undersecretary of defense for intelligence as well as DoD’s ISR Task Force need to develop a roadmap that outlines what UAS and sensor capabilities need to be maintained and what systems can be eliminated post-Afghanistan.

• Because the Defense Department fails to maintain a database of all of its counter-improvised explosive device (IED) efforts, it runs the risk of duplication. Congress has appropriated more than $18 billion to the Joint IED Defeat Organization between 2006 and 2011, but there are many other organizations within DoD also working on the problem.

• All four services have their own electronic warfare programs that develop multiple systems with the same or similar capabilities.

• Each service has its own language and cultural training program, and some services have more than one program, without Defense Department guidance to integrate the programs and training products.

• There is broad overlap across the federal agencies, including DoD, when it comes to IT systems. Out of the $79 billion spent governmentwide on IT in 2011, $37 billion came from the Pentagon. GAO specifically calls out the Navy’s Next Generation Enterprise Network, known as NGEN. The Navy plans to spend $50 billion through 2025 to replace and improve the current Intranet, but the GAO questions whether the Navy is using the most cost-effective acquisition strategy.

• If the Defense Department collaborated more with NASA on space launch contracts, both agencies could reduce contracting overhead and achieve savings, GAO says.

• The Veterans Administration (VA) and Pentagon run similar and overlapping programs to help severely wounded combat veterans. The programs are inefficient and difficult for the wounded and their families to follow. In one instance, GAO found five case managers were working on the same life insurance issue for one person. It also found an instance of a service member with multiple limb amputations receiving conflicting recover plans from military and VA care coordinators.

• Medical research is filled with duplicative projects that could be consolidated if the Defense Department, VA and National Institutes of Health did a better job sharing information.

• The services each have their own large medical command structures that could be streamlined to save as much as $460 million a year.

• The Air Force food service has 149 main dining facilities, with many individual contracts that could be consolidated for savings.

McCain and Coburn are asking for detailed replies from the Defense Department about why it has not made some of the changes recommended by the GAO. They are asking Panetta to hold off on any force structure cuts until the answers are received.

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