Smith: No more corona relief for defense businesses, stop messing with CMO

The leader of the House Armed Services Committee does not like the idea of floating more money to the Defense Department to keep its industrial base companies working as coronavirus continues to shake the economy.

Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said he thinks the more than $10 billion Congress afforded DoD in the March stimulus bill was enough aid for the most costly government agency.

“We don’t need to give them any more money,” Smith told reporters Tuesday during a Defense Writers Group teleconference. “The last time I looked they had not yet spent even half of the stimulus money. Gosh, everybody, every state, every locality, every federal agency, certainly every business has had to adjust in light of COVID-19 and the impact that it has had. I have yet to see evidence that DoD cannot adjust within their existing budget string.”

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This year’s defense budget for 2021 was set at $741 billion by the budget deal agreed to earlier this year; that is, only if Congress can pass an appropriations bill. However, some progressives and fiscal conservatives are joining forces in calling for a cut to defense spending to reinvest in domestic accounts or lessen the deficit accrued by the stimulus bill.

“I do understand and respect that progressives want to see that number cut,” Smith said. “That’s a conversation we’ll have in the future, but for this year $741 billion is the number we’re marking to.”

Smith said if the Pentagon did need money it could look to the funds it is reprogramming from military construction and drug interdiction funds for a border wall.

The defense industrial base, like many other industries, felt the coronavirus epidemic especially with cash flow and supply chain impacts.

DoD recently looked at space-related companies in its base and found half had adjusted their business strategies over the next couple years.

Chief of everything

It looks like a battle may be brewing between the House and Senate over the future of the DoD’s chief management officer (CMO) position.

The Senate version of the defense authorization bill axes the role. The provision comes after a Defense Business Board report stating the position has not met Congress’ intent of driving lasting and meaningful business reforms throughout the military services and Defense agencies.

Smith said he’s concerned about the Senate proposal.

“We keep changing this. In, out, you’re going to do it, you’re going to do it,” Smith said. “I know the CMO has presented some good information about here’s all the productivity we did. The CMO has only been around a couple of years. My initial take is let’s give them a chance to at least do their job before we rip the floor out from under them. But if someone thinks that getting rid of the CMO puts us in a more efficient position, I’m open to hearing that argument.”

Smith’s counterpart, Committee Ranking Member Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), said he’s open to getting rid of DoD’s number three position.

“I have come to the conclusion that Congress is largely responsible for making this an impossible job, and we need to figure out something different,” he said.

Defense health issues

Another issue Smith said he wants to get right is the Defense Health Agency. Congress planned to have everything including public health, research and treatment facilities consolidated under the organization, but there have been hiccups along the way.

“We’re trying to make significant changes like getting rid of the individual service member surgeons general for instance and trying to meld the systems together,” Smith said. “I see the merit of what they’re talking about doing in merging it and bringing it together. On the other hand, we have gotten some pretty good, solid, reliable information from the Air Force surgeon general around COVID.”

The House version of the defense authorization bill kicks some big questions around defense health down the road another year.

It delays the transfer of military research facilities to DHA until 2023 instead of 2022.

Earlier this year Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy pushed back on relinquishing the service’s medical arm until DHA could show it can handle managing military hospitals.

“Moving Army Medical Research and Materiel Command from Army management to agency management will specifically produce inefficiencies for the Army that are contrary to best practices described by the Government Accountability Office and others,” the Army states in a March memo. “As conditions during war may change rapidly, medical research and development is essential to respond quickly and effectively to support warfighter capabilities and survivability.”