Army chief backs Senate approach to reforming Pentagon weapons buys

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Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno on Thursday endorsed Senate legislation that would give the individual military services greater control over acquisitions.

The provision, included in the Senate Armed Services Committee’s draft of the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), would shift crucial authority over military programs away from the Pentagon’s acquisition executives and give it back to the leaders of the branches.

“Milestone decision authority for major defense acquisition programs shall be the service acquisition executive of the military service that is managing the program,” the legislation states.

{mosads}Odierno said that while he has confidence in the Defense Department’s weapon buyers “there’s an experience and expertise of capabilities in what we’re trying to achieve that the service chiefs can add to this.”

Specifically, service chiefs can lend a hand in the “trade space,” when companies compete for a big-ticket program, he said during a Defense Writers Group breakfast.

Odierno, who will be replaced later this year, said he was hopeful the Senate bill would move forward.

The proposal, which has the full backing of Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.), stands in contrast to the acquisition reform package included in House version of the defense policy bill.

That revamp, crafted by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), aims to get technology to the battlefield faster by eliminating the red tape program managers go through.

The House’s plan leaves responsibility for programs with the Pentagon and does not give service chiefs greater involvement in the acquisition process, a change they have asked for in recent years.

Instead, it directs the service chiefs to individually report back to the committee to specify how each wants to be involved in the acquisition process. 

The difference could set up a showdown when the bills go to conference committee, provided the Senate approves its draft, something it has not done in recent years.

Odierno said he understood why the role of the services had been diminished over the years.

“One of the problems we’ve had in the past with our major programs is that we tried to build a perfect vehicle,” he told reporters.

Odierno said requirements were often “so high” that programs took longer to complete, causing them to go over budget or get scrapped entirely.

He said the Army now has a development process that leaves room for improvement.

“We develop it quicker and it’s 80 percent of what we want initially, but in the next iteration it can be 90 percent, in the next iteration it can be 100 percent of the requirements,” the four-star said.

“That 80 percent is better than what we have today, and it’s easier to attain,” Odierno added. “We’ve realized this.”

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