Under the leadership of Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) Chairman John McCain and House Armed Services Committee (HASC) Chairman Mac Thornberry, Congress took some major steps forward in reforming the defense acquisition system. Both committees were operating from the shared perspective that the acquisition process is weighed down by too many rules, too much bureaucracy and too much oversight and regulation. Generally speaking, the goal of the committees’ efforts was to simplify the process, reduce the labyrinthine decisionmaking system and improve responsiveness to the needs of the warfighter. In particular, the FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) seeks to reduce the power of the 800-pound gorilla, Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, by vesting more of it in the military services and their program managers.
So it is puzzling that these same committees would have slipped into the FY2016 NDAA provisions virtually guaranteed to undermine the very goals its leadership have espoused. One of the most noteworthy examples of the NDAA’s internal contradictions is the way the bill treats the Joint Improvised-threat Defeat Agency (JIDA), formerly known as JIEDDO. This is the organization that all-but defeated the improvised explosive device (IED) threat. It did so by being able to short circuit the Pentagon’s acquisition system, identifying off-the-shelf technologies that could be rapidly refashioned and deployed and rapidly producing evolutionary improvements to deployed capabilities. JIEDDO had unique acquisition authorities and a freedom to spend resources denied to traditional acquisition programs. It also had an attitude that focused first and foremost on meeting the warfighters’ urgent needs.
The FY2016 NDAA calls on the Secretary of Defense to submit to the congressional defense committees a plan and timeline to completely transition JIDA into an existing military service or defense agency, merge its primary funds to a successor’s pot of money, eliminate its standalone IED intelligence center and subsume its research, development and acquisition activities in a larger military or defense agency. You might as well take JIDA out to the Pentagon’s central quad and put a bullet in its head. Such a plan will destroy the agency.
How can the SASC and HASC, on the one hand, push for decentralization of acquisition authorities and responsibilities, demand more agility from program managers and defense agencies and seek greater access to non-traditional and commercial capabilities and, on the other hand, take a step that will recentralize the capability to defeat IEDs, add bureaucracy and complicate the acquisition process? JIDA/JIEDDO is one of the few DoD entities that has pioneered exactly the attributes that Chairmen McCain and Thornberry are seeking to instill in the overall acquisition system. This proposed move virtually guarantees that the capabilities extant in JIDA and the lessons learned regarding agile acquisition will be smothered by the bureaucracy.
Moreover, as U.S. forces are being sent into the charnel house that is ISIS-controlled Syria, why would the committees’ take a step guaranteed to undermine the effectiveness of the one Pentagon agency capable of responding to the evolving IED threat? ISIS has turned the creation and use of IEDs into a major tactical and operational strength. It bombards its targets with waves of vehicle-borne IEDs. Since leaving Iraq at the end of 2011, the U.S. military has been limited in its ability to gather intelligence on new IEDs developed by ISIS. It makes no sense to hamstring JIDA at precisely the time the U.S. military will again be facing this threat.
Over the past decade or so, the Pentagon created a set of unique entities including JIEDDO and the Rapid Equipping Force with the mission, authorities and funding mechanism to rapidly field capabilities in response to urgent operational needs. The utility of these entities has not diminished. If anything, events in the Middle East and Europe underscore the continuing requirement for rapid fielding organizations. The Rapid Equipping Force continues to function, although it has been subordinated to the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command. The NDAA’s proposal for JIDA inevitably means its effectiveness will be undermined.
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