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Many Pentagon Offices Would Relocate or Vanish Under Thornberry Plan

House Armed Services chair would streamline “4th Estate” to create efficiency.

The Pentagon’s newly empowered chief management officer would abolish offices and reshuffle numerous functions under a draft plan released on Tuesday by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas.

Two bills aimed at improving acquisition and downsizing the 28 offices in the Defense Department’s so-called “4th Estate”—its human resources, procurement, information and auditing agencies—came as the House panel embarked on drafting of the fiscal 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 5515), beginning with the department’s requests.

“Now, more than ever, we have an obligation to make sure that [Defense] funds are used as efficiently and effectively as possible,” Thornberry said on the eve of a hearing on the draft bills scheduled for Wednesday morning. “These reforms will involve tough choices, but we owe it to the troops and taxpayers to rebuild a force that is more agile and more capable than the force we have today.”

Savings from scaling down the back offices would, the plan suggests, benefit troops and weaponry at a time when Defense spending is rising.

The bills envision a strong implementation role over the next three years by the department’s first chief management officer—a post filled this spring by John Gibson. The reforms also appear to be a response to a McKinsey & Co. study overseen by the Defense Business Board allegedly identifying $125 billion in Pentagon waste. If implemented, the Thornberry plan would save an estimated $25 billion, or 25 percent of the “4th Estate” budget, and abolish thousands of headquarters jobs, according to Capitol Hill staff.

The discussion draft of the acquisition bill, titled the ‘‘Accelerating the Pace of Acquisition Reform Act,” would by next February “streamline and rationalize acquisition statutes, enhance acquisition agility and increase private-sector participation in the defense sector.”

The second draft bill, the "Comprehensive Pentagon Bureaucracy Reform and Reduction Act," targets small agencies and offices for elimination or new review to reduce “duplication.”

For example, it would have the chief management officer abolish the Defense Technical Information Center, the Office of Economic Adjustment, the Test Resource Management Center and the Washington Headquarters Services by transferring their functions to undetermined offices.

Also eliminated by January 2021: the Defense Human Resources Activity, with an undersecretary assuming responsibility for such functions as the Defense Manpower Data Center; the Defense Suicide Prevention Office; the Defense Personnel and Family Support Center; and the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office.

By the same deadline, the Pentagon would abolish the Defense Technology Security Administration, its functions transferred to an office selected by the undersecretary for intelligence.

The Defense Information Systems Agency would also be doomed, with its functions and some personnel from the Defense Information Network transferred to U.S. Cyber Command.

The chief management officer would be instructed to minimize duplication in the functions of logistics management, services contracting, real estate management and civilian resources management. The manager would be tasked with “reducing the rates charged to customers, in aggregate, by not less than 10 percent,” while establishing “specific goals and metrics to ensure that the agency is fulfilling its mission of providing items and materials to customers with sufficient speed and in sufficient quantities to ensure the lethality and readiness of warfighters.”

The DoD Office of the Inspector General would be obligated, among other tasks, to reduce duplication among all department IG offices in such areas as public affairs, human resources and services contracting. But that office would also gain authority over reviews of the budgets of IGs for smaller Defense agencies.

New efficiency reviews would be conducted on the Defense Contract Audit Agency and the Defense Contract Management Agency under the draft bill, leading to a report by March 2020 on whether their functions “could be more appropriately performed by the other agency.”

The proposals are likely to prompt resistance.  “Every time I talk about regaining the pace and speed that we used to be known for, people think I’m talking about cutting out system engineering, testing or things like that. No, I’m not,” said Michael Griffin, Defense undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, at a Tuesday hearing on the culture for innovation at the Pentagon. “What I want to cut out is layers of bureaucratic decision making where way too many people think their opinion matters in the decision process. I don’t want to cut out tests, I want to cut the number of people who think they have a right to an opinion. Because that’s how we’re going to shorten the process. “

Patrick Tucker contributed to this report.