Obama could veto defense authorization

The Obama administration is warning that the president might veto the fiscal 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, because of budget amounts and constraints on defense strategies and an ability to cut resources where officials see fit.

Officials said they appreciate provisions in the House Armed Services Committee’s authorization bill, H.R. 4310, that give combat troops the ability to handle the unconventional modern warfare of the day. However, they said many other provisions would inhibit Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's work carrying out the 2012 defense strategic guidance, according to a new Statement of Administration Policy on the authorization act.

The administration said the current bill veers too far from the president’s fiscal 2013 budget request. In particular, it increases the top-line request for the base budget over the administration's requested amount, at a time when the government needs to be trimming spending. The bill authorizes funding for national defense at $554.2 billion for the base budget, and $88.5 billion for overseas contingency operations. It's $3.7 billion above the president’s budget request.

In addition, provisions in the bill hinder Panetta and Energy Secretary Steven Chu from making management decisions to cut overhead costs or programs in order to direct scarce resources toward the administration’s highest national security priorities. Obama’s policy statement lays out a number of other troubling provisions, which could lead to problems in getting the House Armed Services Committee’s version into law.

“If the cumulative effects of the bill impede the ability of the administration to execute the new defense strategy and to properly direct scarce resources, the president’s senior advisers would recommend to the president that he veto the bill,” according to the policy statement.

Administration officials object to provisions related to prohibitions on base realignments and closures, reductions in the Army’s and Marine Corps’s end-strength, and limitations on DOD’s decisions to retire weapons systems.

More specifically, officials wrote that they are concerned with a provision that seeks to clarify military authority to conduct clandestine cyber operations. The administration said it recognizes the importance of cyberspace in national security, but the law needs to add value to DOD’s efforts in cyberspace.

They also disagree with language that would require defense officials to provide to Congress the administration’s internal planning and guidance information and also share information on internal deliberations on budgets and program decisions.

While the administration supports small business contracting, officials question two provisions.

Officials object to a provision on contract bundling—in which two or more smaller contracts are made one large contract for certain reasons—that would make the process for unbundling a contract too complex. They are concerned the process will increase litigation and unnecessarily constrain agency officials in deciding if bundling is necessary.

The administration also opposes an increase to the annual goal of awarding 23 percent of prime contract dollars to small businesses. The authorization bill would raise it to 25 percent.

The increase “would establish a laudable but overly ambitious governmentwide small business procurement goal and unrealistic individual agency goals that could undermine the goals process and take away the government’s ability to focus its efforts where opportunities for small business contractors are greatest,” according to the policy statement.

However, that goal could go higher. Two House members introduced an amendment to the authorization bill May 15 that could push the goal as high as 26 percent.

The House began debate on the defense authorization act May 16.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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