DOD wants lawmakers' backing on acquisition reform

The Pentagon is looking to Capitol Hill to back a department-led initiative to fundamentally change how the U.S. military does business. 

Defense Department leaders are eyeing major legislative changes to federal regulations governing how the Pentagon invests its dollars into big-ticket weapons programs, like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. 

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"What is needed, frankly, is for [DOD] to go back and take a look at all the things essentially that we've done [and] that have piled on somewhat independently and made our program managers' lives incredibly complex," said Frank Kendall, the Pentagon's top weapons buyer.

"I want to work closely with [Capitol] Hill on this. I think this is not something we ought to do in isolation," Kendall said in a Thursday speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. 

The acquisition reform debate inside the Pentagon has long been a heated issue on both sides of the Potomac. 

The last major effort to revamp the department's business practiced came under the landmark Goldwater-Nichols Act, spearheaded by former House Armed Services Committee chief Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.). 

Defense budget hawks like Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) have demanded action from Congress and the Pentagon take action to rein in the department's buying practices. 

Other lawmakers, however, are concerned possible changes could end up severely curtailing or eliminating outright weapons programs vital to a particular state or district's local economy. 

But the ongoing threat of massive budget cuts under sequestration has upped the ante in that debate. 

Under sequestration, the Pentagon is staring down $500 billion in mandatory spending cuts. The cuts began in March and would reduce Pentagon spending by $52 billion next year.

"Now we're into the reality of looking at budgets that are consistent with [sequestration] ... and that's a very, very painful process to go through," Kendall said. 

That said, Pentagon officials are not looking to "throw everything out and start over" in terms of changing federal laws that govern DOD investments, Kendall said. 

"We do want to take that body of law and look at what's being accomplished by it, or attempted to be accomplished by it, and simplify it," he added. 

Tackling defense acquisition reform is one of several hot-button defense issues the Pentagon is seeking congressional backing on, in the face of sequestration. 

"We [need] Congress as a willing partner in making tough choices ... while meeting our responsibilities to our people," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Tuesday. 

Hagel's comments represent a new tact by the Pentagon to persuade lawmakers to work with the department to cope with the effects of sequestration, rather than force Congress to come up with a viable alternative to the budget cuts. 

After months of harsh warnings and dire predictions on the on the devastating effects of sequestration by the White House and Pentagon, Congress is still no closer to a deal, Pentagon Comptroller Bob Hale said during the same press briefing. 

"We understand that there will be [budget] negotiations ... but I do not think there is any one thing we can do" to convince lawmakers on the harm sequester will do to U.S. national security that has not already been done," he said.