WASHINGTON ― Conservative Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and liberal Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., might be opposites politically, but they agree the recently established job of chief management officer at the Pentagon ought to be saved.
The two were among 13 lawmakers who urged armed services committee leaders not to “prematurely terminate” the job, which is responsible for reforming the Department of Defense to improve performance and increase accountability. In a letter Thursday led by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Todd Young, R-Ind., the group called for the job to be given more time, authorities and resources.
The letter was meant to influence negotiations to reconcile the Senate- and House-passed versions of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, which would each end the job in different ways. In May, a Defense Business Board-led task force, chartered by Congress, concluded the position was “mostly ineffective” at taming the department’s bureaucracy and urged that it be scrapped and replaced.
Under the House plan, the defense secretary would have 30 days to transfer the duties of the CMO to a different official, while the Senate plan would split the position’s authorities between the deputy defense secretary and a new, subordinate performance improvement officer by Sept. 30, 2022.
But the letter’s signatories stressed that Lisa Hershman was confirmed to the position in December, when GAO had recommended it have a tenure of 5-7 years. (Hershman has fought to maintain the position, claiming her office found $22.3 billion in savings and arguing publicly the elimination of her job would doom reform efforts.)
“This period of time would allow the CMO to overcome the learning curve of entering the DoD from the outside, have multiple budget cycles to correct mistakes and make systemic reforms, as well as bridge presidential terms to reduce the influence of politics on the position,” the senators wrote.
“Let us at least give Ms. Hershman a fighting chance, and come together to adopt the changes needed to make this position work. The U.S. taxpayers that we represent deserve that.”
They also argued the job ought to be strengthened. “Congress should reaffirm our mandate for cost savings from the DoD,” they said, by requiring the defense secretary issue an official charter for the position of CMO to codify its authority within the DoD’s hierarchy.
“The CMO position has the vital task of reforming the Department of Defense (DoD) to improve performance and increase accountability, key tenets of the National Defense Strategy (NDS),” they wrote.
“As Members of Congress we all have a responsibility to the American taxpayers to work to achieve the objectives of the NDS as efficiently as possible, and the CMO position is essential to accomplishing that goal.”
Beyond Manchin, Young, Warren and Cruz, the signatories include Sens. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa; Kevin Cramer, R-N.D.; Mike Braun, R-Ind.; Doug Jones, D-Ala.; and Reps. Filemon Vela, D-Texas; Gary Palmer, R-Ala.; Jim Baird, R-Ind.; Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., and Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.
The letter was addressed to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., and ranking member Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and ranking member Jack Reed, D-R.I.