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:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download
  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

    Download

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