Acquisition reform bill clears House panel

Legislation would require the Pentagon to establish better accountability systems.

The House Armed Services Committee Wednesday unanimously approved legislation intended to save the taxpayers billions of dollars by increasing efficiency and accountability on the Defense Department's massive acquisition process.

The measure, approved 56-0, would require the Pentagon to establish better accountability systems "to ensure we get the best value for the money we spend," said Rep. Robert Andrews, D-N.J., chairman of the seven-member panel tasked with developing the reform legislation. It also would attempt to reduce duplication in development and procurement by emphasizing collaboration and would set higher standards for starting a major program.

"We should know why we are buying something before we buy it," Andrews said.

House Armed Services Chairman Committee Ike Skelton, D-Mo., said the bill also would require the Pentagon "to develop meaningful consequences for success or failure in financial management" and would seek to strengthen the defense industrial base and increase competition.

In addition to wasting billions of dollars, failure in the acquisition system threatens service members who rely on effective weapons and equipment on the battlefield, Skelton said.

The bill augments the committee-created Weapons Systems Acquisition Reform Act enacted last year and would affect the 80 percent of defense procurement not covered by that act. Major targets include service contracts, which consume 50 percent of the military's procurement spending, and information services and software.

The measure also builds on last year's effort to expand the defense acquisition work force, by improving the training and support for the procurement professionals. "Last year, we added quantity. This bill adds quality," Andrews said.

Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, co-chairman of the reform panel, noted that although the federal government is required to pass annual financial audits, the Defense Department "does not have a financial management process in place to provide accurate data. ... The money may be well spent, but they can't prove it."

The bill expands the membership and role of the Joint Requirements Oversight Committee, which is supposed to determine whether proposed weapons or equipment is needed, by allowing the chairman to include a regional combatant commander when the JROC considers a program that would affect his mission.

It also writes into law the specific requirements for the four service chiefs to establish processes for contracting for services, including the need for the work, the number of personnel required and their qualifications.

With the deep cuts in full-time acquisition workers -- mandated by legislation drafted by this committee a decade ago -- and reductions in military service-support personnel, the military has had to contract with private companies for billions of dollars in services, such as meals, transportation and even security in Iraq and Afghanistan. Government investigators have revealed hundreds of millions of dollars in fraud or spending that could not be accounted for.