Sen. John McCain does not like the way the Pentagon does business and he's pushing hard for changes. Big changes. He shocked the defense community last week after it was revealed that he seeks to eliminate the Pentagon's chief weapons buyer position and divide the authorities along two new tracks, a bold proposal that deliberately tugs at the threads of three decades of acquisition and procurement practices approved by former President Reagan.

McCain, the Republican chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, introduced the game-changing proposition in his version of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. The committee approved the proposed defense policy bill May 12 and if it ultimately finds its way into law, it would abolish the position of undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, currently held by Frank Kendall.

McCain instead wants to split the duties of the current job between two new positions, the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering and the USD for Management and Support.

Should the change be adopted, it ostensibly would free up the USD for research and engineering to laser focus on technology and innovation while the USD for management and support handles the basic business functions of acquisition and procurement.

Some may see the devil in this proposal as the details that remain under wraps. But the proposal naturally raises question about whether it truly would be a step forward.

Those concerned about the bill would argue that Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Deputy Secretary Bob Work and AT&L head Frank Kendall have vigorously sought to expedite acquisition reform through innovation, new technologies, efficiencies and strategies to rapid implementation.

They have championed, for example, the Third Offset strategy, the Better Buying Power program and the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUX) initiative, the latter of which in the hidebound Defense Department amounts to a radical concept — it's aimed at getting outside the Pentagon bubble to forge relationships in Silicon Valley and other hotbeds of innovation.

These are not individuals who have allowed themselves to be held back by deeply entrenched Pentagon careerists who resist change and cherish byzantine processes. They are taking risks, experimenting and moving as fast as possible to gwt US forces and allies the weapons, systems and platforms they need in the interest of national and global security.

Still, they labor in a deeply flawed system. Just last week Carter conceded that he has had to take the DIUX initiative outside of the current AT&L process precisely because it can be overly cumbersome.

McCain's proposal, though, may end up more rollback than solution. It echoes times from before the 1986 adoption of Goldwater-Nichols Act provisions that included, among other things, centralized acquisition authority at the OSD level, at the expense of the individual service chiefs.

Sen. John McCain also included in his version of the defense policy bill a provision to eliminate the office overseeing F-35 joint strike fighter program.

Photo Credit: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

McCain has been a leading advocate in restoring some of those authorities to the service chiefs, perhaps exemplified in another of his surprise moves last week, when he also included in his version of the defense policy bill a provision to eliminate the office overseeing the most fully joint program in Pentagon history, the F-35 joint strike fighter. He seeks to turn over those responsibilities to the departments of the Navy and the Air Force.

Blowing up the F-35 joint program office and the position of undersecretary for AT&L risks a trend of returning to the bad old days of bitter service rivalries that necessitated Goldwater-Nichols as a means to force the services to work in the nation's best interests rather than those of their individual services.

Few would argue that reforms in the acquisition system are desperately needed. Whether McCain's proposals are the right track certainly deserve consideration — and serious scrutiny.

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