Over the past 50 years, Congress has had a propensity to impose restrictions on the Department of Defense acquisition process in ways that centralize authority. House Armed Service Committee vice chairman Mac Thornberry (R–TX) is trying to change all that by spearheading new efforts to reform the byzantine process.
But why now?
“The situation has gotten so bad,” he said, “that in order to supply our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, entire new streamlined procurement systems were created in order to circumvent the normal process.”
Explaining his role in the process, Thornberry listed the causes of increased acquisition costs, including the fact that nearly 2,000 pages of arcane acquisition regulations govern current transactions. As he argued, “Too much money and manpower is poured into processes and systems that do not yield a single bullet or minute of training.”
Congress, for its part, needs to be willing to listen to constructive criticism and respond with reforms that encourage self-restraint. This begins with recognizing that excessive centralization in the defense acquisition system begins at the top and that such centralization neither meets Congress’s legislative and oversight responsibilities nor serves the overall effectiveness of the acquisition system.
Earlier this year, Secretary Hagel listed the acquisitions process as a key driver of defense spending:
Left unchecked, spiraling costs to sustain existing structures and institutions, provide benefits to personnel, and develop replacements for aging weapons platforms will eventually crowd out spending on procurement, operations and readiness—the budget categories that enable the military to be and stay prepared.
Today, America faces a number of threats to its vital national interests: the return of great-power competition, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and weapons of lethal precision, the spread of violent extremism, and the dangers presented by failed or failing states. Reforming the acquisitions process is critical for making the most of each dollar spent on our national security.
Heritage has proposed several reforms for acquisitions:
- Baker Spring, “Congressional Restraint Is Key to Successful Defense Acquisition Reform,” Backgrounder No. 1885, October 19, 2005;
- Baker Spring, “Congress Needs to Focus on the Big Picture in Defense Acquisition Reform,” WebMemo No. 984, February 2, 2006;
- James Carafano and Eric Sayers, “Defense Spending Fraud, Waste, and Abuse: Hype, Reality, and Real Solutions,” Backgrounder No. 2212, November 20, 2008; and
- Jeff Kueter and John B. Sheldon, “An Investment Strategy for National Security Space,” Special Report No. 129, February 20, 2013.
These reforms would help to free up resources for badly needed weapons modernization and put the Department of Defense on a sustainable fiscal path. The sooner Congress and the Pentagon work together to implement these reforms, the better for U.S. security, forward-deployed troops, and allies around the world.