White House threatens to veto Senate Defense bill

The White House is threatening to veto the $631 billion annual Defense bill the Senate is debating this week unless Congress makes changes.

The administration took issue with a number of provisions included in the 2013 National Defense Authorization Bill, which Senate leaders hope to vote on by the end of the week.

Civilian workforce cuts

The White House objected to a measure sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that would reduce the Defense Department’s civilian workforce by 5 percent over the next five years. McCain said with the Pentagon planning reductions to military troop numbers, the department should also cut the civilian workforce.

“The administration believes the size of the civilian workforce should be determined based on workload and funding, not on arbitrary comparisons to the military,” according to a statement of administration policy released by the Office of Management and Budget. “To comply with this legislation, the Department would need to significantly divest workload and impose workforce caps.”

Earlier this week, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) introduced a floor amendment, seeking to strike the McCain provision from the bill, calling it a “slash and burn approach.”

White House also objects to cybersecurity, contracting provisions

The White House also took issue with a measure requiring the DoD chief information officer to discontinue use of the National Security Agency’s “Accumulo” open-source software program if a viable commercial alternative can be found.

“The provisions significantly limit the administration’s flexibility by specifying technical choices that do not allow the National Security Agency to most effectively execute its mission and take advantage of the economic and technological advantages of cloud and next generation technologies,” according to the statement of administration policy.

The White House said the measure could set a “dangerous precedent” for the use of open-source software.

The Senate bill would also reorganize the Pentagon’s suspension and debarment structure, requiring at least one suspension-and-debarment official for each military department, who would operate outside the purview of agency acquisition offices and inspectors general.

“The proposed restrictions would unnecessarily force DoD to make disruptive and costly changes to its existing programs — especially at the Army and (Defense Logistics Agency) — that already are among the most active and effective in the federal government in protecting taxpayers from fraud, waste and abuse,” according to the statement. “DoD should be allowed to retain the discretion to appropriately tailor its suspension and debarment programs so that they may operate in the most efficient and effective manner possible. ”

The Senate, which hopes to finish the bill this week, already eliminated one provision that had attracted White House objections. In a strong bipartisan vote Wednesday, the Senate voted to allow Pentagon investment in alternative fuels.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)


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