The House Armed Services Committee’s top Republican, Rep. Mac Thornberry, said Monday he supports the aim of a proposal from the Senate Armed Services Committee to discontinue to the Pentagon’s No. 3 civilian job. He said he may propose legislative action this week in the annual defense policy bill, which the panel would debate at its markup of the National Defense Authorization Act, set for Wednesday.
“I have come to the conclusion that Congress is largely responsible for making this an impossible job, and we need to figure out something different,” Thornberry, of Texas, said on a conference call with reporters.
The SASC-passed version of the 2021 bill says the CMO office must be broken up no later than Sept. 30, 2022. The majority of authorities would transfer to the deputy defense secretary, who would have a new, subordinate performance improvement officer to pick up some of the CMO’s duties.
A Defense Business Board task force formed to examine the position concluded it was “mostly ineffective” at taming the department’s bureaucracy and urged that it be scrapped. The board offered three options to replace it and a warning that the budget of Pentagon support functions is getting in the way of core war fighting functions as DoD competes with a rising China.
Since the report’s release, Thornberry said he has spoken with both Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist.
“I just think there is very little disagreement with the conclusion of the Defense Business Board study ― and man, they talked to all sorts of folks, and did all sorts of work, it was very thorough in my view ― and basically they came to the conclusion that nobody could do this job, that the authorities and responsibilities are not aligned,” he said.
Thornberry did not say which DBB proposal he favors, but he said he may have an amendment at the HASC markup of the bill. The bill, led by Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., and introduced last week, did not contain language on the CMO position, but an amendment from Thornberry could help form the panel’s consensus view before it reconciles its bill with the Senate’s.
In recent weeks, CMO Lisa Hershman has defended the CMO position and said that under her watch, DoD successfully identified $5.7 billion to be reallocated from current support agencies towards new priorities such as hypersonic weapons and artificial intelligence.
Thornberry, who offers Pentagon acquisition reform and streamlining proposals each year, plans to push for more. He’s previously argued for DoD to slash so-called “fourth estate” support agencies, whose budget accounts for roughly $100 billion each year.
For the FY21 NDAA, Thornberry has proposed DoD lose access to 25 percent of its budget until it provides a Congressionally mandated review of mission systems, business processes, resource planning and allocation, performance, and readiness, in order to meet the 2018 National Defense Strategy. He proposed the armed services lose access to 50 percent of their budgets if they do not submit related implementation plans by Feb. 1.
“We are starting to see some real payoff from what [reform legislation] we’ve done in recent years. No they’re not moving fast enough. No, it’s not enough,” Thornberry said of military leaders. “We’re trying to hold their feet to the fire on some of the things we’ve already told them to do in recent years.”
Aaron Mehta contributed to this report.
Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.