WASHINGTON — An effort to slash the Pentagon’s so-called fourth-estate, back-office agencies was weakened but not slain Wednesday at the House Armed Services Committee’s markup of its version of the annual defense policy bill.
The panel voted to overrule its own chairman, Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, to protect the Defense Department’s Test Resource Management Center, which oversees weapons testing and evaluation. Thornberry is spearheading plans to enact deep cuts to Pentagon support agencies.
California Republican Rep. Steve Knight prevailed in a mostly party-line 33-28 vote to protect the agency, where two Democrats and eight Democrats crossed sides.
The panel, where Republicans hold a 34-28 majority, voted on party lines to reject an amendment blocking the draft bill’s plan to dismantle the Defense Information Systems Agency, or DISA.
Democratic Rep. Anthony Brown, who represents Maryland — home to many federal employees — had offered the DISA-protecting amendment, proposing Congress ask the Pentagon for a report in advance of any consolidation, but to no avail.
Brown also offered an amendment to protect Washington Headquarters Services, but Thornberry and the Republican majority defeated that, too.
Overall, Thornberry was two for three on defeating attempts to roll back portions of his bureaucracy-targeting plan.
Even before the hearing, Thornberry eased controversial plans that initially called for a more far-reaching, 25 percent cut to more Pentagon support agencies, targeted for their ancillary relationship to core war-fighting functions.
Rather than shuttering agencies and otherwise prescribing cuts as initially suggested, the bill gives more deference to the Pentagon. It would charge the newly created Defense Department chief management officer to find efficiencies and reduce by 25 percent the budget of certain departmentwide activities, including logistics, human resources, services contracting and real-property management, by 2021.
The House Armed Services Committee overwhelmingly approved plans for a sprawling $716 billion National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2019. It must survive a full House vote later this month and negotiations with the Senate later this year.
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.