GOP chairman to unveil defense acquisition reforms in mid-May

Greg Nash

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said he will reveal the week of May 16 new legislation aimed at reforming how the Pentagon buys major weapons systems. 

“What I hope to do is help the [Defense Department] run more like a business and be able to keep up with the changes in technology and business practices,” Thornberry told reporters. “I think you’ll see some ways that we can help.”

Thornberry said he will introduce the standalone bill and then take feedback “for a month or a little longer” before fashioning a final version. He said he plans to meet with his team Wednesday to go over the bill before its release.

{mosads}He provided few details on what will be included but said he hopes to beef up the department’s ability to engage in intellectual property rights negotiations, a long disputed issue between the Pentagon and its industrial base.

The bill will also address “streamlining some of the legislative requirements that have built up over the years that tie the department’s hands.”

“There is no magic bill that I can ever pass that’s going to fix acquisition,” Thornberry said. “I know this is shocking to y’all. But I am trying to take a sizable chunk a year … and make it better. Because if we don’t make it better we’re not going to be able to keep up with the threats or the pace of technology. The goal is agility.”

Thornberry is seeking to include the reforms in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which is the annual bill authorizing defense programs, activities and spending.  

Lawmakers for the past several years have attempted to fix an unwieldy acquisition system that has struggled to keep pace with changing technology and threats.

Thornberry in March 2016 released the Acquisition Agility Act, which included reforms to help get systems developed faster and at a lower cost. Provisions from the legislation were included in the fiscal 2017 NDAA signed by then-President Barack Obama in December.

“I’m not going to try to redo what we’ve already done,” Thornberry said of the new bill. “I am trying to touch some areas we have not gotten into yet. … There is some more work to do to help enable the acquisition workforce to be ready to deal with the challenges of acquisition when technology cycles move so quickly.”

The Senate also last year introduced legislation that in 2018 will abolish the post of undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics (AT&L).

The position will split into two posts in February 2018. One will be undersecretary of Defense for research and engineering — which will be the third-highest position at the Pentagon — while the other will be undersecretary of Defense for acquisition and sustainment. In addition, all political positions under AT&L will be done away with. 

Thornberry said the Senate bill “left some of the organizational reform unfinished” and will be addressed in his upcoming legislation. 

“There is some question about where some of the other pieces that were under AT&L fit in this new organization,” he explained. “It’s that sort of detail that we want to get right.”

When asked about how the bill will contend with President Trump’s desire to cut up to 200,000 federal jobs, Thornberry said the bill will also include a provision “that tries to make sure that the gains we are making in the acquisition workforce are not lost.”

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