WASHINGTON — The Senate Armed Services Committee is officially calling for the closure of the Pentagon’s chief management officer position, four years after creating the job to help streamline reform efforts inside the department.
The SASC’s version of the National Defense Authorization Act says the CMO office must be broken up no later than Sept. 30, 2022. Under the Senate language, the majority of authorities would transfer to the deputy secretary of defense’s office.
The bill does not call for the rebirth of a deputy CMO role, which the Pentagon had for years before the elevation to a full CMO job occurred. However, the proposed SASC language does call for the creation of a performance improvement officer who will pick up some of the CMO’s previous roles. That new role would exist under the DSD, as opposed to the CMO, which is technically third in line at the Pentagon.
“The DOD PIO would report directly to the Deputy Secretary of Defense in the Deputy’s role as the Chief Operating Officer of the Department of Defense,” according to the SASC’s report language. “The PIO would be authorized to communicate views on matters under the PIO’s purview directly to the Deputy Secretary, without obtaining the approval or concurrence of any other officer or employee of the Department.”
At least 45 days before the CMO’s office goes away, the Pentagon needs to submit a list of all the officials who would be gaining authorities formally given to the CMO, as well as a timeline of how those authorities and the related budget will be delegated out, according to the NDAA language.
The CMO office is outside the jurisdiction of the various House Armed Services Committee subcommittees, which have released their markups over the last few days. However, the issue is likely to appear in some form under the chairman’s mark, expected from Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., this week.
In 2016, Congress elevated the deputy chief management officer position to a full CMO role, officially designating the CMO the No. 3 official in the Department of Defense. The goal was to appoint a lead for reform efforts inside the Pentagon, after years of internal modifications had failed to produce significant savings.
But in late 2019, members of Congress expressed a belief that the CMO’s office had not significantly succeeded, and they requested an independent review by the Defense Business Board on what the organization should look like going forward.
The DBB report, released in May, recommended eliminating the CMO position, with three options for the future, including one — to empower the deputy defense secretary as chief operating officer, with a subordinate performance improvement officer — which the SASC appears to have selected.
After the DBB report was released, Lisa Hershman, the current CMO, defended her office in an interview with Defense News, noting that the office is still very young and has been beset by personnel turmoil in its first few years. She also pointed to strong support from Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who in January expanded Hershman’s authorities over the budget, essentially making the CMO’s office the coordinating team for developing the so-called fourth estate budget requests.
Jerry McGinn, a former Pentagon official who now leads the Center for Government Contracting at George Mason University, said the move makes sense given the Pentagon’s structure.
“The experience of the past two decades has clearly demonstrated that a separate CMO organization does not work. Private companies do not have CMOs; they hold their [profit and loss] leaders accountable. DoD should do likewise,” he said, adding that reform should be driven by the secretary and the deputy, and enabled by a much smaller CMO function.
Updated to reflect comments from the SASC report.
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.