Hicks talks budget and CMO duties in confirmation hearing

Kathleen Hicks, President Biden's pick to serve as deputy secretary of defense, pressed for new incentives to improve DOD's business reform efforts at her confirmation hearing.

Deputy Secretary of Defense nominee Kathleen Hicks at her Senate confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C. Feb. 2, 2021. (DoD photo by EJ Hersom)
 

Deputy Secretary of Defense nominee Kathleen Hicks at her Senate confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C. Feb. 2, 2021 (Photo credit: EJ Hersom/DOD)

Kathleen Hicks, the Biden administration's pick to serve as the deputy secretary of defense, will have to take over business reform efforts since Congress eliminated the chief management officer position. She told senators at her Feb. 2 confirmation hearing that she'd push for changing incentives to improve defense spending.

"I think we have to change the incentives around how you promote business reform and, exactly, if the incentive structure is you only get your money if you spend it inefficiently and can hold onto it and hide the ball, we're never going to get the business reform we need. So we need to change the incentive structure," Hicks testified.

In her opening remarks, Hicks said DOD needs to "manage its business operations efficiently and in line with performance goals" and would "make any adjustments needed to improve oversight of these operations" with respect to the breakup of the CMO's role and responsibilities.

David Norquist, the current deputy defense secretary, issued a memo in January directing how the CMO office and role would transition to various DOD components. Hicks wrote that so far the approach did "appear reasonable", according to a response to advance policy questions, but said she would want to "ground myself in an assessment" and review the CMO transition plans laid out.

A smaller topline, delayed 2022 budget

Budget concerns were raised throughout the three-hour hearing, but Hicks indicated there may be a delay in getting the fiscal 2022 budget, which is the first in recent years that won't be subject to the Budget Control Act, to Congress due to snags in the administration transition.

"The Trump administration worked on an FY22 budget. That's not unusual but typically that information is shared with the transition team," Hick testified, adding that the transition team likely saw some of the information in late January.

Hicks led the Biden-Harris national security transition team asked Congress for support and preemptive grace on the matter.

"The inability to look at that information... I think it will cause some delay in the timeline by which we can give budget quality information back to Congress."

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) asked Hicks directly if she would support lower, but more efficiently spent, defense budgets and Hicks agreed with a caveat: "so long as we're willing to make some decisions that may incur risk themselves."

"The focus on the topline number can really obscure a more important conversation about what is it we want our military, in the case of the Defense Department, to do and what hard choices are involved," Hicks said.

"I do think there are ways for the Defense Department to be more efficient, to be more effective," Hicks said, including having a competitive industrial base and operational concepts. But "it would be hard to significantly squeeze the defense budget in light of the threats that we face."

NEXT STORY: SASC gavel set to change hands

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