WASHINGTON — If the House Armed Services Committee gets its way, a slew of amendments it approved Wednesday will keep Pentagon and service officials plenty busy next year.
The panel moved Wednesday at considerable legislative speed through three sections of its 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). And each one included amendments that would, if they make it into the final bill, require the Defense Department to deliver a long list of briefings and reports to lawmakers.
The committee speedily approved the Emerging Threats and Capabilities subpanel's section of the bill. Moments before, it approved a bloc of amendments that would require 13 briefings, reports or "assessments" from the department or General Accountability Office (GAO).
One from Rep. Richard Nugent, R-Fla., would mandate a briefing from US Special Operations Command on its directed energy test and evaluation program. Another, offered by Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., directs DoD to deliver lawmakers "an assessment of the directed energy industrial base," according to a HASC summary.
The panel next approved the Tactical Air and Land Forces subcommittee's section, which would require 10 briefings, reports or Inspector General probes.
Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., offered this one: "Directs the Secretary of the Army to provide a briefing on the potential force structure changes and production programs necessary to achieve a pure fleet of M1 Abrams tanks across the Army."
And Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., included one that would make the Air Force secretary give members "a briefing on the potential utility of an integrated EO/IR (Electro-Optical/Infrared) capability on Next Generation JSTARS development program."
Before the panel approved the Seapower and Projection Forces subpanel's section, it adopted a bloc of amendments that called for yet more briefings and reports.
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., one of the panel's more critical-of-DoD management voices, included one that would mandate a GAO briefing to members and committee staff on the Air Force's long-range bomber program and an annual unclassified report on the program's "status and risks."
And Seapower Chairman Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., included another that would shift $60 million from Navy destroyer modernization programs to undersea warfare research-and-development efforts.
Government watchdogs say reports to Congress can bog down executive branch departments and agencies, sometimes making them even more inefficient.
The Pentagon in recent years has bristled at the number and cost of annual reports to Congress. And Congress just late last year resisted eliminating reports deemed unnecessary by the executive branch.
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates required all DoD-generated reports include the cost to produce it. Under former Secretary Leon Panetta, instruction went out to limit reports to 10 pages.
Both moves drew the ire of lawmakers, including HASC Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas.
"That kind of arbitrary limit to me is rather demeaning of our oversight role," Thornberry, then a senior panel member, told Fox News in July 2012.
The White House's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) last year put out a list of over 300 reports to Congress it deemed unnecessary or redundant.
The House responded with legislation in November that did get rid of some of those reports, but lawmakers trimmed the axed list to 48.
On the House floor, then-House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., called the legislation "a good start."
"We started with a much larger report list," Issa said. "We believe that the progress under this bill sets the tone for an annual elimination of reports that have become outdated or unnecessary.
Issa acknowledged that each year new bills like the NDAA require a slew of reports and other information from departments and agencies. But he zeroed in on what many lawmakers, including some HASC leaders, see as the real culprit: mandates etched in laws for yearly reports with no expiration dates.
"It is very clear that each time the Congress passes a new piece of legislation, or even a new appropriation, there are questions that need to be answered and which the executive branch is staffed and funded to answer," Issa said.
"However, most reports requested have no termination date," he said. "A single report is harmless and generally is accurate to the time of the passing, while one that goes on in perpetuity inevitably becomes outdated and, in fact, unnecessary."