Defense panels to address technology issues

Leadership changes at the subcommittee level could have a big effect on technology-related policy.

New faces and priorities have reshaped the personalities of the Armed Services panels in both chambers of Congress. As debate heats up this session over the Iraq war and the global fight against terrorism, observers will be watching closely to see how action in both committees affects the technology sector.

A change in tone in both panels was evident this month in hearings conducted on the Iraq war. On the Senate side, Carl Levin, D-Mich., has replaced John Warner, R-Va., as chairman. Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., has taken charge on the House side.

Leadership changes at the subcommittee level could have an even bigger effect on tech-related policy, especially on how it relates to the war on terrorism.

Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., now chairs the House Terrorism and Unconventional Threats Subcommittee. Spokesman Derrick Crowe said Smith has a laundry list of high-tech priorities for the panel, including harnessing technology for the Defense Department, investing in research and development projects to develop technologies against future threats, and exploring alternatives forms of energy.

Several high-tech operations, including the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, fall under the jurisdiction of Smith's panel. Crowe said Smith plans to work to ensure that the Pentagon continues to invest wisely in critical research projects, and cited research at DARPA that laid the foundation for the modern Internet.

In the past, Smith also has pushed to create a special information technology acquisition office at the Pentagon to research commercial IT systems that could be of use to the military.

On the Senate side, Rhode Island's Jack Reed has taken charge of the Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee. That panel also has jurisdiction over DARPA, as well as the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency and U.S. Special Operations Command, or SOCOM.

Hawaii's Daniel Akaka has assumed leadership of the panel's Readiness and Management Support Subcommittee. His panel oversees military construction, information technology and base tech policies, among other things.

New faces also will help shape the personalities of the panels in the 110th Congress. Several new members on the House panel represent hubs for the defense tech industry.

CongressDaily reported last week that Pennsylvania Democrat Joe Sestak has pledged to push for cash for a large Boeing plant just outside of his district that manufactures aircraft for the Army and Marines. Sestak last fall defeated Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., who served as vice chairman of the Armed Services panel.

General Dynamics' Electric Boat business is based in the backyard of Connecticut Democrat Joe Courtney. Electric Boat has received several multimillion-dollar contracts recently to develop maritime defense technologies.

On the Senate side, freshmen Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Sen. James Webb, D-Va. have joined the committee. Webb, a former Republican, served as Navy secretary during the Reagan administration. Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., the new chairman of the Republican National Committee, also is a newcomer to Senate Armed Services.

The technology-related workload for both of the panels is likely increase next month when President Bush issues his fiscal 2008 budget. The defense technology industry is eager to learn how much money Bush will request for its kind of initiatives.

At his confirmation hearing in December, new Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he will continue some of the military transformation efforts of his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld.

According to a recently disclosed memorandum, the Army is planning budget cuts in the $160 billion high-tech Future Combat Systems program, one of the key components of Rumsfeld's transformation plan.