Rep. Thornberry to Take “Slow and Steady” Approach to Acquisition Reform

The new House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas since 1994) has significant issues to tackle – from sequestration to military pay, to dealing with volatile global threats.

However, one priority is already rising to the top, which is acquisition reform. Having spent the past year leading the committee’s efforts on acquisition reform, Thornberry is no stranger to this issue.

In his first speech as HASC Chairman, Thornberry discussed how he will support a slow, steady, and consensus-seeking reform effort. This effort should produce some initial proposals this spring and will then require feedback before adding them into the 2016 defense authorization bill. This process will continue on a yearly basis.

Of course, he acknowledged how the procurement system is in dire need of an overhaul. Thornberry also believes that by taking another aggressive attempt to force change will not only be counterproductive, but is also dangerous.

“The system is so gummed up that it’s a wonder that anything ever comes out the other end,” he said during his recent speech at the American Enterprise Institute. “But to have a military that is both strong and agile means that we can’t tolerate the delays and cost overruns that have plagued our procurement system.”

As highlighted in this recent War on the Rocks article, Thornberry will most likely be able to get some cost-cutting measures through both houses of Congress, but he will need major support from his Senate counterparts and Pentagon leaders to actually change the system.

Gaining wholesale reform will be highly challenging, even in an era where there is an appetite for change, according to the War on the Rocks piece. Acquistion reform has historically been a difficult issue and some in Congress and in the Pentagon are more comfortable with the status quo than the effort it requires to truly overhaul even pieces of acquisition rules and law.

According to a recent article by Federal News Radio, the Congressman from Texas has not suggested which specific aspects of acquisition he will try to review first. He will work closely with the Pentagon’s acquisition chief, Frank Kendall, to encourage legislators “… to begin by trying to deconstruct previous generations of reform legislation and identify provisions that have added bureaucratic burdens to the system without any clear benefit.”

As Kay Sears, President of Intelsat General Corporation and her industry colleagues have stated many times, buying commercial satellite services on the short-term, spot market and not through true multi-year agreements is expensive and not as beneficial to the long-term economic health of the DoD. And as we move to a rapidly changing, more stressful space environment, the ability to pre-commit to commercial space capability before launch is another acquisition reform that needs to be tackled.

We need to be more innovative to counter our rivals’ competitive efforts in the space and defense arenas, while also driving down costs. We applaud Rep Thornberry’s efforts and encourage him to be even more aggressive as he tackles much needed acquisition reform.


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