Rep. Mac. Thornberry, R-Texas (Staff)
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon and the US Congress have begun the tedious effort of reviewing decades of antiquated, cumbersome defense acquisition policies to speed up the defense procurement process and get more bang for the buck.
Unlike previous acquisition improvement projects, which in some cases made the process more complicated, those leading this effort are optimistic because lawmakers and Defense Department officials are tackling this review together. These officials also believe that the decline in US defense spending provides incentives to make the project successful.
“The idea is not to really change any of the intent behind the existing laws, but just to simplify that body of law, make it more comprehensible, make it easier to implement and make it something that is much more focused on results and not as confusing and complex for everybody,” Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, said during an interview in December.
The House Armed Services Committee’s vice chairman, Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, is leading the project on the congressional side. Thornberry is a strong candidate to succeed committee Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., who is not seeking re-election this year.
“What I would like to see is more efficient use of taxpayer dollars to get more defense out of the money we spend, but also a simpler system that gives actually more authority, but also more accountability to the people who are making the decision,” Thornberry said during a Feb. 12 taping of Defense News’ TV show.
The group plans to comb over federal statutes and regulations to “thin out and simplify what we have,” Thornberry said.
Over the years, many acquisition regulations have been put in place, sometimes in response to a specific issue. Some of these regulations have constrained and taken agility away from the acquisition system, Thornberry said.
One approach might be to incorporate sunset provisions, “so that it force[s] us to look at the laws that we pass and the regulations that stem from them,” the congressman said.
“I think more often, what happens is if there is a problem, then some new regulation, some new law, some new oversight office comes into play, which often is an overreaction and then over time, those build up and … constrain the system,” Thornberry said.
Some of these regulations constrain program managers and could even drive up program costs, he said.
“One of the key parts of our effort is to make sure we understand the incentives for the program managers — what are they rewarded for, what are they punished for — because that’s really more important than any new law or regulation that is imposed on them from the top,” he said.
Andrew Hunter, head of the Pentagon’s Joint Rapid Acquisition Office, is leading the Pentagon effort for Kendall.
“Hopefully, this will be a collaborative effort and we’ll come up with something that will be very acceptable to everybody,” Kendall said.
“I think one element that gives us a chance is the fact that Mr. Kendall and other folks at the Pentagon — as well as people on both sides of the Capitol and both sides of the aisle — agree that we must make this effort,” Thornberry said. “It really is a joint effort, or more than joint by the time you add the House and the Senate and the Pentagon together.”
Even though the project does not have a name yet, the goal is to produce a set of legislative proposals over the next year or so. ■
Vago Muradian contributed to this report.