WASHINGTON — House Armed Services Chair Mac Thornberry, R-Tex., is seizing the initiative for his Pentagon reform agenda for 2018, even as the Trump administration's Defense Department team takes shape.
At a reporters' roundtable Monday, Thornberry said he plans to press ahead with incremental acquisitions and organizational reforms this year, beyond last year's split of the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics job.
"I'm proud of what we have done so far and I'm fully aware that there is much, much more that needs to be done in a careful, thoughtful, determined way," Thornberry said. "There will be more acquisition reform this year, and we still have some organizational issues to deal with."
As in past years, the chairman will introduce a stand-alone reform bill that will morph into language for the annual defense policy bill, the National Defense Authorization Act.
Reform language in last year's final NDAA created an undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment, and a new undersecretary for research and engineering, which is essentially a chief technology officer. The change is mandated for 2018, but Defense Secretary Jim Mattis can begin implementation sooner if he chooses.
In a memo released Feb. 1, Mattis said his 2019 to 2023 defense program will "contain an ambitious reform agenda, which will include horizontal integration across DoD components to improve efficiency and take advantage of economies of scale."
"I really look forward to working with Secretary Mattis and the new team there to talk about what makes the most sense to push innovation, to make sure all these defense agencies have the proper leadership, and we implement the acquisition reform that Congress has enacted the last two years," Thornberry said.
The Trump administration has not publicly disclosed nominees for senior positions within the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Still in place is Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work, an Obama administration holdover and the quarterback for DoD's innovation initiative, the so-called Third Offset Strategy.
Thornberry's push last year was to speed weapons development and streamline DoD's acquisitions bureaucracy so the military can work with non-traditional firms to put cutting-edge technology in the hands of troops. On Monday he signaled more work along these lines, saying: "Technology is evolving too fast for us to be complacent and say what worked in Cold War times is adequate for today."
The comments came as the vice chiefs of the armed services are set to appear before the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday and the Senate Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee on Wednesday.
Thornberry said Monday he wants Congress to pass months-overdue 2017 appropriations, and he lauded the administration's plan to send a supplemental spending request that includes defense by early March. That supplemental ought to include $18 billion in jets, ships and manpower left out of 2017 defense appropriations, he said.
For the 2018 budget, Thornberry is forwarding analysis to the Trump administration urging a $640 billion base budget. The top-line at least echoes a proposal from Thornberry's Senate counterpart, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.