WASHINGTON ― The House Armed Services Committee emerging threats and capabilities subcommittee wants to know how the Pentagon could shut down its Strategic Capabilities Office, in what might be the start of a fight for the high-tech office’s survival.
Language from the subcommittee, included in this week’s markup of the fiscal 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, calls for DoD to deliver a plan by March 1, 2019 on how to shut down the office and transfer its authorities elsewhere within the department. Under that guidance, by no later than Oct. 1, 2020, the office would cease to exist.
The Strategic Capabilities Office was stood up by then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter as an office to find new applications for existing technologies, such as with the Standard Missile 6, which the office helped turn from a defensive weapon into a ship-killing one.
The markup process is just the first step in Congressional process for developing the defense policy bill, and so nothing is set in stone. The language would need to survive in the broader committee markup on May 9, then survive conference with the Senate Armed Services Committee and a final vote from the whole of Congress.
But it is a bad sign for the office that the committee members have turned their sights on the SCO, at a time when it is unclear who might lobby on behalf of keeping it.
The office has been leaderless since Will Roper, who led SCO since its inception, was confirmed as the Air Force’s top acquisition official. And a recent reorganization of the Pentagon saw SCO lose perhaps its most valuable asset – the fact it reported directly to the Secretary of Defense – and instead report to the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering.
Roper lobbied, unsuccessfully, against moving SCO into the R&E infrastructure, in part over concerns that losing direct access to the Secretary would dilute SCO’s capability to be quick and innovative. But others, including Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, have argued that the best-case for the Pentagon would be that the culture and lessons learned from SCO seeped into the overall acquisition system.
The news is better for the Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental (DIUx), another Carter initiative tasked with bringing commercial technology into the Pentagon. The HASC subcommittee said it supports DIUx, and asked the unit to specifically come brief Congress on how the Pentagon has improve its technical infrastructure security.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.