Carter airs grievances over congressional defense bills

Defense Secretary Ash Carter took issue with one of the biggest reforms in the Senate 2017 defense authorization bill.

The bill, which was passed by the Senate Armed Services Committee last week, would abolish the position of undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.

In lieu of the undersecretary position, the bill would create two separate offices. Research and development acquisition would be put under the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, while...

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Defense Secretary Ash Carter took issue with one of the biggest reforms in the Senate 2017 defense authorization bill.

The bill, which was passed by the Senate Armed Services Committee last week, would abolish the position of undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.

In lieu of the undersecretary position, the bill would create two separate offices. Research and development acquisition would be put under the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, while day-to-day procurement would be under the new position of undersecretary of defense for business management.

But Carter, a former acquisition undersecretary himself, is troubled by the provision.

“Separating research and engineering from manufacturing could introduce problems in the transition from the former to the latter, which is a frequent stumbling block for programs,” Carter said May 18.

He cited the Joint Strike Fighter’s “growing pains” in moving from design to low-rate initiation production as an example.

“Separating these functions makes no sense, as procurement and sustainment costs are controlled by decisions made during development. This proposal could also derail the success we’ve had lowering our contract cost growth on the most high risk contracts to a 35-year low,” Carter said at the Navy League Sea-Air-Space Exposition in National Harbor, Maryland.

Carter said he did share the view that over time the acquisition executive position has become so preoccupied with program management that it takes attention away from research and engineering.

A May 12 press release from the Senate Armed Services Committee stated the movement of acquisition power to the undersecretary for research and engineering “builds upon and updates the old USD R&E, a once-powerful position that helped to lead the development of stealth, precision guided munitions, and other advanced capabilities as part of the so-called ‘Second Offset’ strategy during the Cold War.”

Committee staffers said the change was a natural move after last year’s NDAA wrested some procurement authority from the acquisition office and gave it to the military service chiefs.

Carter also took a swipe at the House Armed Services budgetary plans in its version of the defense authorization bill.

“It’s gambling with warfighting money at a time of war — proposing to cut off funding for ongoing operations in the middle of the fiscal year. Moreover, it would spend money taken from the war account on things that are not DoD’s highest priorities across the joint force,” Carter said. “And it’s another road to nowhere, with uncertain chances of ever becoming law, and a high probability of leading to more gridlock and another continuing resolution — exactly the kind of terrible distraction we’ve seen for years, that undercuts stable planning and efficient use of taxpayer dollars, dispirits troops and their families, baffles friends and emboldens foes.”

What the committee plans to do is take $18 billion from Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) and move it into the base budget. That $18 billion would be used to fund an increased military pay raise and to bolster troop levels by 27,000.

What would be left in OCO is $41 billion, instead of the original $59 billion requested by the President. That’s enough to cover the wars until April 2017.

At that point, if the new President wants more money, he can ask Congress for an additional wartime fund.

“The new President has the opportunity to look at those [wartime] activities. Maybe he or she does not want to have a quadrupling of the European Reassurance Initiative, maybe he or she decides it’s hopeless against ISIS and chooses to reduce those OCO funded activities, in which case you don’t need as much money,” , said Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) of the House Armed Services Committee during an April 21 speech.

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