House takes aim on Pentagon contracting reform

Thursday - 4/15/2010, 6:54am EDT

WFED's Max Cacas

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By Max Cacas
Reporter
Federal News Radio

It's rare, indeed, to find topics on which both Republicans and Democrats can find common ground these days. However, fixing the acquisition system at the Department of Defense appears to be one of those rare topics, according to Rep. Ike Skelton (D.-Missouri), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

Our troops rely on the acquisition system to buy the equipment they need to keep them safe on the battlefield and protect our country. When that system breaks down, they suffer. In recent years, we became increasingly concerned that this flawed defense acquisition system was not responsive enough to today's mission needs, not rigorous enough in protecting the tax dollars of families who are struggling financially, and not disciplined enough in the acquisition of weapons systems for tomorrow's wars.

And so, says Skelton, was born House Bill 5013 -- entitled "the IMPROVE Acquisition Act of 2010".

"This new legislation," he told reporters outside the Capitol, "will make sure that our brave men and women in uniform are getting the proper equipment in a more timely manner while also saving American taxpayers billions of dollars."

This measure grew out of the work of a temporary Defense Acquisition Reform Panel within the House Armed Services Committee. That panel was chaired by Rep. Rob Andrews (D.-NJ), who outlined the bill that emerged after the panel's report and recommendations were adopted by the full Armed Services panel.

Andrews cited instances where, for example, where the Pentagon spent hundreds of millions of dollars to transport fuel without a contract, where payment was rendered even before a contract was signed. He was also critical of the fact that it usually takes Pentagon agencies 87 months to deploy hardware or software in information technology.

"Any one who uses a laptop, or any teenager who uses a hand-held device, knows that in about 36 months, that piece of software is obsolete these days."

In addition to mandating improvements in a broad array of categories, including improving the requirement process, improving the acquisition workforce, and improving financial management, the bill also deals with something that is a major priority for Texas Republican Mike Conaway, the ranking member of the acquisitions panel: making sure that the Pentagon's financial reports can be audited.

"Every dollar that's being spent may be spent perfectly," he said. "But we don't know that, and we can't prove that to you, the taxpayer. That can only be proved by having independent audits that tell us they have assets in place that protect the proper reporting."

Chairman Skelton says the bill will either be marked up in committee as a stand-alone measure or attached to the Defense Authorization Bill sometime within the next month. Andrews is hopeful that the bi-partisan legislation will find support in the Senate, and at the White House.

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