For the first time in decades, both DoD and Congress are moving to improve how the US military acquires systems and services.

Through its Better Buying Power initiatives, DoD has cut cost and sped innovation, trimmed requirements, ended unnecessary programs, empowered program managers and is increasing prototyping and experimentation to better define needs and speed new solutions to rapidly emerging global challenges. These changes are bearing fruit, but like turning a large ship, improving DoD acquisition and technical expertise will take time.

Critics say DoD isn't moving fast enough as threats and technology evolve, driving the House and Senate Armed Services committees to propose more than 120 reforms to help the Pentagon cut cost and speed innovation.

The HASC proposes many small steps to reduce micromanagement and costly reporting and bureaucratic burdens on DoD, including the elimination of outdated legislative strictures.

The SASC, however, has taken a more sweeping approach, proposing to diminish the role of the Pentagon acquisition chief and give more authority and accountability to the military services. The aim is to drive new ideas and systems through greater experimentation and smaller programs while cutting cost. Supporters give two rationales: DoD has failed to use its authority to control the services, and shifting authority would allow DoD to focus more attention on major programs.

As the two chambers reconcile differences, it's critical they thoughtfully debate these proposals, particularly those from the Senate as it's unclear whether they would drive the positive changes sought. Some fear returning stove-piped acquisition authority to the very services whose failure over the years to cooperate and effectively manage programs led to the very creation of the role of DoD acquisition chief. Although that job was created by the Goldwater-Nichols legislation to strengthen program managers and foster greater jointness and oversight over programs that too often were redundant or disjointed, the military services still control requirements and budgeting.

Moreover, the Service Acquisition Executives currently enjoy greater autonomy and authority in their domains than in any time in recent years.

Many programs criticized as being poorly conceived, like the Navy's Littoral Combat Ship or the Army's now-defunct Ground Combat Vehicle, didn't get into trouble because of DoD, but due to questionable thinking by the military services seeking and doggedly defending them, often at great cost. Costs grow because the services set overly ambitious or poorly considered requirements uninformed by technical feasibility or budgetary reality, and without considering the operational needs and capabilities of sister services.

Moreover, major change, like Air Force or Navy long-range unmanned systems or game-changing innovators like SpaceX, were driven by Pentagon leaders over military service objections.

What neither committee addressed was that Congress itself is among the biggest cost drivers, either by micromanaging programs or driving risk-averse DoD and military behavior given failure often invites the wrath of powerful lawmakers. Lawmakers who embrace "failing fast" must then be willing to live with many failures.

A consistent budget must be the starting point against which to apply rules, and it can be argued DoD has too little control over the military services, a reality acquisition chief Frank Kendall has been changing, drawing the ire of service chiefs and companies that prefer having three customers, not one. It's time to enact changes to cut defense acquisition costs and drive innovation. All ideas must be considered, but the history of defense acquisition reform is littered with unintended consequences. Any change that would prove more disruptive than beneficial must be avoided.

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