Armed Services chair eyes Pentagon acquisition process

Reforming the Pentagon's acquisition process will be central to defense budget negotiations in the House as authorizers gear up for subcommittee markups next week, Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., said Wednesday.

In particular, Hunter and other committee members are concerned about the skyrocketing costs of weapons systems, a byproduct of defense officials tacking on expensive -- and sometimes unneeded -- requirements to its priciest platforms.

"It's become a requirements stampede," Hunter said in an interview with CongressDaily. "What we've been doing is analogous to someone who is designing a home and gives their architect all the must-haves and like-to-have and then is billed $300 per square foot."

Hunter plans to use the authorization bill to require the Defense Department to certify that any capabilities added to a weapon system are worth the additional money. Similar proposals are expected during the committee's markup.

"The marginal capability that is acquired at a great cost is no longer affordable," Hunter said.

A congressional aide said House members' interest in overhauling the acquisition process is not limited to Hunter, or to his party. "There's just a sense that this problem is getting much worse than it has been in the past," the aide said.

The House panel's interest in changing the Pentagon approach to weapons buying comes on the heels of overhaul championed by Senate Armed Services Airland Subcommittee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz. McCain recently helped dismantle a controversial agreement to lease aerial refueling tankers and successfully pushed the Army and Air Force to revise multi-billion-dollar contracts to allow more government oversight.

Congressional interest in defense acquisitions is "cyclical" and goes back decades, with hearings dating back to the 1970s on many of these issues, said Dov Zakheim, former Pentagon comptroller and a vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton. Zakheim, who left the Pentagon last year, said acquisition overhaul requires a multi-pronged approach that involves making major cultural changes in the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill, as well as updating the military's personnel system to develop more seasoned program managers.

Winslow Wheeler, a visiting senior fellow at the Center for Defense Information and a former congressional staffer, said requiring certification that capabilities are worth their cost does not go far enough. "If the Navy wants to add a requirement, they will call it cost effective. If they don't, they won't," Wheeler said.

The Pentagon needs program oversight by "truly objective entities," Wheeler added.

Lawmakers' acquisition concerns come as the Pentagon attempts to slash more than $30 billion from its budget through 2011 by trimming or canceling buys on major systems. Officials, for instance, have opted to scrap planned procurement of C-130J cargo planes to save $5 billion over the next five years.

"We have now extremely expensive platforms that will be difficult to produce in numbers large enough to equip the existing" force, Hunter said.

Sources said platforms that are gaining the most attention for their cost increases are aircraft and ships, two areas hit hardest in the Pentagon's five-year budget cut proposal.

For instance, procurement costs for the Navy's next aircraft carrier are expected to exceed $10 billion, more than $3 billion higher than what the Pentagon traditionally spends on carriers. Meanwhile, the sticker price on a C-130J is $65 million. In 1964, a C-130B -- in 2005 dollars -- cost just $11.8 million.

But cost hikes are not limited to ships and airframes. The massive Future Combat Systems, the centerpiece of the Army's transformation efforts, grew in the last year from $92 billion to $125 billion after the service decided to restructure the program and fund previously unbudgeted subsystems.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

    Download
  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.