WASHINGTON ― Lawmakers want to speed up Pentagon budgeting, but they’re going to take their time fixing it.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., said follow-on defense policy legislation stemming from a new, congressionally mandated Commission on Planning, Programming, Budgeting, and Execution Reform may take effect in 2024.
“We want to give them adequate time to do a very complicated job, and then like most things, you’ve got to implement it in a sound way. In fact, one of the things we hope they’ll give us is a suggested implementation plan,” Reed said of the commission in a brief interview Wednesday.
The 2022 National Defense Authorization Act chartered the reform commission to submit a report to Congress by September 2023 that assesses the effectiveness of the current process, known as PPBE, and recommends changes.
Because the PPBE process requires Pentagon planners to lock in acquisition program decisions more than two years in advance, critics say the PPBE process is too slow for the Pentagon to buy cutting-edge technologies and outpace China.
“We have a system that has been in effect since 1960, and we hope we can start adapting the most efficient techniques that the big companies are using today,” Reed said, adding that the reforms will likely be aimed at “efficiency, maximizing the different technologies that are coming online.”
The first four of 14 panel members were named on Tuesday:
- Aerospace Industries Association chief executive Eric Fanning, the former No. 2 civilian leader in the Air Force
- former Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord, now with the Chertoff Group
- Former Pentagon comptroller Bob Hale, now a part-time adviser to Booz Allen Hamilton
- Raj Shah, the former chief of the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit, now with Shield Capital
In an essay in April, Hale said the PPBE’s ability to measure long-term costs versus benefits, identify duplication and hear out disparate voices relevant to the budget are among the major benefits of the process that ought to be preserved. But he also said there’s room for improvement.
“Most critically, the Pentagon needs to persuade Congress to alter PPBES in ways that better accommodate rapidly changing technology initiatives, including budgeting for them in broader categories to provide more flexibility during budget execution,” Hale’s essay reads.
At least one government watchdog, the Project on Government Oversight, was critical of the commissioners named so far. Mandy Smithberger, director of POGO’s Center for Defense Information, noted in a statement to Defense News they “are all people who work for companies that profit from the Department of Defense.”
“This kind of review should include looking at places where the Department is inappropriately captured by the defense industry, and these selections show an appalling lack of diversity in perspectives to meaningfully evaluate how these processes continue to result in runaway spending and less bang for the buck,” Smithberger said.
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.