Senate approves weapons acquisition overhaul

The Senate passed legislation Thursday, 93-0, to overhaul the Pentagon's weapons acquisition process, but the bill's sponsors warned of a potential conference dispute over the details about the role of a new oversight official.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said putting that official in charge of the existing Cost Analysis Improvement Group could present "a major sticking point" in negotiations with the House. The Senate-passed bill would place the group under the purview of a new Director of Independent Cost Assessment, a Senate-confirmed official who would report directly to the Defense secretary, while companion legislation in the House would not mandate those changes. Levin added that the elevated authority the Senate bill grants the new director is a key feature of the legislation.

"It's a major advance in our bill," Levin said. "We give clout to that person." The Michigan Democrat added that, if the House passes the bill within the next week, he hopes to wrap up conference negotiations before Memorial Day.

But President Obama's goal of signing the bill into law by the end of the current work period will depend on how quickly the House completes its version.

Despite the "significant differences" between the House and Senate versions, Levin and Armed Services ranking member John McCain said they are optimistic about efforts to control the swelling price tags on weapons programs. "There's a real determination here on a bipartisan basis, and it's bicameral, to act in the area of these cost overruns," said Levin. "They just simply are unaffordable. They endanger not just our taxpayers but our troops."

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