Thornberry talks acquisition reform in 2021 NDAA

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) is hopeful that lasting change comes with his latest provisions in what is set to be his last National Defense Authorization Act.

Rep. Mac Thornberry (Photo: House Armed Services Committee)
 

The Defense Department has been slow to reform its acquisition process, but outgoing ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), is hopeful that lasting change comes with the latest provisions to the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act.

"They've never done enough, so part of what I'm trying to do in this bill is push them to do some of the things that we've told them to do in the past," Thornberry told reporters during a June 29 Defense Writers Group meeting.

"We could change the laws, but to get meaningful acquisition change in the department would take some time and would take a change of attitude and culture."

Thornberry, who announced last year he won't seek reelection, is known for championing DOD organizational streamlining. In what is slated to be his last NDAA, some of Thornberry's preferred provisions that target acquisitions and requirements processes made it into the chairman's mark, including one that sets out to consolidate defense acquisition statutes to make them more accessible to companies that want to do business with DOD.

The chairman's mark also includes a requirement for military department heads to assess the requirements process and report back "with recommendations to improve the agility and timeliness" to better align with the defense acquisition and budget process. Another provision aims at reducing sustainment costs and increasing visibility into supply chain vulnerabilities.

The bill omits funding limitations to enforce compliance, which Thornberry may later introduce during the legislative process. But even without that enforcement, Thornberry said DOD is "getting there," just not quickly enough.

"What you're seeing is a change of culture with greater flexibility -- program managers willing to stick their neck out a little bit and experiment and try things even before they know whether it will succeed," he said.

"We are starting to see some real payoff from what we've done in recent years. No, they're not moving fast enough; no, it's not enough, and we're trying to hold their feet to the fire on things we've already told them to do in previous years."

But there's no guarantee that pressure will continue, although Thornberry hopes someone "nerdish" enough can continue the work. The ranking member championed the reorganization of DOD's acquisition, technology, and logistics branch into two entities.

"I still believe that splitting [Acquisition and Sustainment] and [Research and Engineering] was the right decision because AT&L had just gotten too big, too cumbersome to deal with all of the responsibility that had been placed under it -- and we had to have a greater focus and emphasis on the future and developing future capabilities," Thornberry said. "It's an evolving thing."

And while splits like this are "messy," he said having a separate organization focus on research, development and engineering was the right move to develop and field future capabilities.

"This is not an area where we're going to pass a law and fix it, it's an area where Congress, and only Congress, can keep pushing and pushing to make it better," Thornberry said.

The full markup of the 2021 NDAA is scheduled for July 1.

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