Congress Wants to Teach Defense How to Buy Weapons
Policy + Politics

Congress Wants to Teach Defense How to Buy Weapons

REUTERS/The Fiscal Times

Lawmakers are once again taking aim at the Pentagon’s painfully inefficient acquisition process that, they say, will force the U.S. military to lag behind other countries like China and Russia who are quickly catching up the U.S. in developing critical battlefield technology.

Nearly everyone agrees that the Defense Department’s process for buying weapons is buried in bureaucratic reams of red tape. It often slows down the development of major weapons programs, often leading to significant cost overruns and program delays. And sometimes the expensive programs aren’t even put to use.

Related: U.S. Weapons Worth $500 Million Vanish in Yemen​​

The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments estimated that after September 11, the Pentagon spent $46 billion on procuring more than a dozen weapons programs over 10 years that never ended up being used.

The lengthy and often wasteful process has drawn criticism from lawmakers on Capitol Hill, officials in the Pentagon and reformists stretched across the country who have been calling for an overhaul to the program. Now it might happen.

For more than a year, the House Armed Services Committee met with Pentagon acquisition officials to hammer out some proposals to streamline the process and make it easier to ensure the weapons programs are getting the best negotiated prices.

On Wednesday, committee chair Mac Thornberry (R-TX) will unveil a measure to begin overhauling the entire program. The proposals focus on four main areas -- personnel and training, strategies for acquisition programs, consolidating the chain of command, and eliminating unnecessary reporting requirements that consume time and money.

Related: How to Build a $400 Billion F-35 That Doesn’t Fly

During a speech Monday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Thornberry explained that his measure would eliminate some of the major obstacles that make it difficult for military members to serve in procurement; it would also improve training for those working in the acquisition program.

The bill would also give managers more responsibility and accountability over their programs. Right now, the managers have to wait until federal lawyers and officials sign off on each of the programs’ achievements.

The new legislation would no longer require managers to file countless reports and updates on the programs for Congress, and it would no longer require repeated tests and certification requirements that many say are unnecessary and prolong the process.

Related: How DoD’s $1.5 Trillion F-35 Broke the Air Force

Under the current rules, it can take years for federal officials to sign off on major weapons systems. A report from the Government Accountability Office said it took about two years just to complete the steps to document milestone requirements.

Though complete overhaul over a decades-old system seems like an uphill battle, there is a glimmer of hope—especially under the new leadership.

Sen. John McCain, chair of the Armed Services Committee in the Senate has signaled his support for similar proposals—and the new Defense Secretary Ash Carter has also previously supported Pentagon acquisition reform. 

Top Reads from The Fiscal Times: