Finally, sanity may be coming to the subject of defense acquisition. In a speech yesterday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Mac Thornberry, described a new “low key” approach to reducing the enormous waste in the current defense budget.
Thornberry started his speech by making two basic observations. The first is that Congress has been a major cause of the dysfunctional acquisition system. As the Congressman observed, for decades his institution has been adding reform law on top of reform law seeking to prevent fraud and abuse. The result has been to create a more ponderous, slower and ultimately more expensive system.
His second point is that the Pentagon has compounded the problem by adding new regulations and mandates, new oversight offices and new micromanagement. Each new regulation, audit, review and reporting requirement adds to cost on both sides, the government’s as well as the private sector.
Thornberry’s proposal is not to undertake a new study or organize a new blue ribbon commission. Nor does he envision a grand new reform plan. Rather, he proposes bringing government and industry together to go line-by-line through the 2,000 pages of federal acquisition regulations to weed out those that are irrelevant, antiquated or too costly.
Thornberry’s most profound insight is that the system needs to accept some level of risk, particularly when pursuing advanced military capabilities. Government managers need to be empowered to make decisions and the private sector to make a profit. Both need to be judged on results. His point is that the effort to prevent any mistakes, cheating or excessive pricing is much more costly than all the losses the government might suffer under a simplified, less hidebound acquisition system.
Thornberry wants to build trust between government, Congress and industry. This alone makes his effort worthwhile. Every member of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees should sign on to the Congressman’s proposals.
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