Conferees reach deal on Defense acquisition reform bill

The House and Senate Armed Services committees reached agreement Tuesday on a compromise version of legislation aimed at changing the way the Pentagon buys weapons, fueling hopes that Congress will send the bill to President Obama's desk this week.

In the last two weeks, the House and the Senate gave unanimous approval to defense acquisition reform bills, underscoring the widespread support on Capitol Hill for getting control of the ever-escalating costs and schedule delays that have become endemic to military weapons programs.

The two bills shared the same goals and focused heavily on tracking weapons during their early development stages to prevent significant cost increases before a program's price tag spirals out of control.

Lawmakers and staff worked over the last several days to resolve differences between provisions, paving the way for a brief conference meeting of House and Senate lawmakers Tuesday afternoon, aides said.

The conference report creates positions within the Defense Department, including a director for developmental test and evaluation and a director for systems engineering. It also requires the Defense secretary to designate a senior official to conduct performance assessments for and analyze the root causes of any problems with weapons programs.

In addition, the bill requires the Joint Requirements Oversight Council to seek input from combatant commanders when assessing the military's requirements and directs GAO to review how the four-star council is implementing its new requirements.

Conferees agreed to a provision that presumes any weapons program that exceeds costs by more than 25 percent will be terminated. If the program is not canceled, it must be restructured and go through its last major review again.

Every year, the Armed Services panels try to change the Pentagon's acquisition process, but weapons programs have continued to be plagued with problems at great cost to taxpayers.

GAO reported last year that the Defense Department's 96 largest weapons programs had exceeded their original costs estimates by a combined total of $296 billion and were, on average, two years behind schedule.

Problems with defense weapons procurement have grabbed the attention of Obama, whose interest has injected urgency in the latest effort to deal with Pentagon weapons buying.

In March, Obama announced he wants to change the way the government -- the Defense Department and military services, in particular -- does business to save as much as $40 billion annually. He has given the House and Senate measures his general endorsement and has said he wants a final bill before Congress begins its weeklong Memorial Day recess.

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