Yearly defense acquisition reform bill coming soon

House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) says he will release his yearly acquisition reform proposals to the public in the next few weeks.

This will mark Thornberry’s third tranche of updates to the Defense Department’s acquisition process over three years.

“I’ve got on my desk a final version of the draft to go over right now,” Thornberry told reporters April 27. “There are lots of areas we have not really touched on yet and so we are going to try and focus on those.”

Thornberry’s previous reforms focused on a new subject each year, 2016 reduced paperwork for program managers, 2017 increased prototyping and experimentation in the acquisition cycle.

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The chairman is keeping this year’s topic close to the chest.

Past defense authorization bills ended up making some blockbuster changes to acquisition like devolving milestone authority to the service chiefs and, more recently, splitting DoD’s acquisition office in two.

Thornberry said he has had some conversations with DoD about progress of setting up the two new acquisition offices in the Pentagon.

“It is a challenge the [defense] secretary is the only Senate confirmed person still there,” Thornberry said. President Trump still has not nominated anyone for undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.

The 2017 NDAA eliminates the position of undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics in 2018. That post is considered one of the most powerful in the department; it is responsible for more than $160 billion in procurement and research funds.

DoD “will essentially have … an undersecretary focused on research and engineering and another undersecretary focused on acquisition and support, which would be the chief acquisition officer,” a committee aide said on background.

“We have a whole other legislative cycle to make changes if necessary,” another aide said. “How many corporations in the world actually have the acquisition and the engineering folded in under one organization? The answer is none, actually. The reason is because they are two different skill sets, two different culture characters between engineering and acquisition. The attempt here was … to spur innovation and things like that.”

Thornberry usually puts the acquisition reforms out to the public for comment and then folds them into the defense authorization bill.

Budget battle

While Thornberry is just beginning his work on the 2018 NDAA, Congress is trying to finish off the budget for 2017.

Thornberry said earlier this year that he would not vote for a full year continuing resolution, but if Congress needs a few extra days he said he would vote for a short term CR.

Thornberry hinted that DoD might get a bit of an increase compared to the original 2017 budget request.

Congress may fold in some of President Trump’s $30 billion supplemental into the defense appropriations bill, but nowhere near all of it.

Thornberry said that extra money would go toward readiness.

“It is understandable that a new administration would want to have a chance to look at [the budget]. I understand that. I think there will be some supplemental funding that way may not have had in December. It’s not enough, but it’s something. But it’s also fair to say some amount of damage was done by operating under a CR,” Thornberry said.

The House has already passed its defense appropriations bill.