Mac Thornberry wants DoD to start failing

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) is focusing on experimentation and prototyping for his next iteration of Defense acquisition reforms.

That includes building a culture within the Defense Department that is OK with small failures.

Along with acquisition reforms, Thornberry said Jan. 13 his committee will look into military health care in 2016 and consider the reorganization of the National Security Council.

Thornberry’s committee is expected to release the language for the 2017 Defense authorization bill in the spring. The bill sets parameters for Defense spending and defines policy priorities for the coming years.

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Thornberry has been working with his Senate counterpart Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on changing the Defense acquisition cycle.

“One goal I have this year is to encourage more experimentation and prototyping,” Thornberry said at the National Press Club in Washington.

Experimentation “encourages innovative thinking, not just in developing the technology, but in how you use it. It helps ensure there is mature technology before you start production so that you don’t have those unexpected surprises. It reduces the odds that you are going to spend a lot of money on a program of record that you then have to cancel and have it all wasted,” he added.

Thornberry said when those attributes are coupled with open architecture, then systems will be upgraded at a lower cost as time goes on.

It is hard to get money for experimentation without attaching it to a program of record, Thornberry said.

He added that he wants to foster experimentation to make sure only mature technology goes into production.

“To do that a culture shift is needed, Thornberry said. “We have to accept or even expect regular, small failures in order to have greater success.”

Thornberry likely will release an acquisition reform bill in late March so stakeholders can make comments on the suggestions. Lawmakers then will fold that bill into the Defense authorization legislation.

Thornberry said another goal of the committee this year will be to work on reforms that affect the people within DoD.

The 2016 Defense authorization act gives more acquisition power to the service chiefs and tries to reduce redundant paperwork for program managers.

The House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee will examine the whole military health care system and take into account the recommendations from the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission report released last year, Thornberry said.

Aside from acquisition and health care, Thornberry said his committee will look into organizational issues within DoD and other national security organizations.

“While most everybody agrees that the Goldwater-Nichols reforms of 30 years ago were a success, I think many people agree that it’s time to take a new look at some of those reforms and not be afraid to make improvements,” Thornberry said.

The committee has already begun soliciting advice on how DoD can be changed organizationally.

Former DoD Undersecretary for Policy Michele Flournoy told the committee in December that wide duplication of efforts exists among staff in the Pentagon, especially in the policy realm.

Thornberry singled out what Flournoy called the “tyranny of the consensus,” in which the policy-building system, which consists of the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), the Joint Staff and the combatant commands, is diluting policy to the common denominator.

“If you look at the growth of staffs in the Pentagon and at the [combatant] commands, if you’re trying to get everybody to consensus, it’s going to take a long time to make a decision. … We’ve got a lot of simplifying to do,” Thornberry said.

Along with considering reorganization in DoD, Thornberry said there is an unprecedented degree of micromanagement among National Security Council staffers of the top management at DoD and also those serving in the field.

“Too often decisions are driven by political considerations, not security considerations. This unprecedented overreach endangers our people, complicates their mission and compromises our national security and I think it must end with this administration,” Thornberry said.

Thornberry said he did not have a fix in mind, but Congress created the NSC, it has adjusted the NSC and it may be time for Congress to look at it again.