Thornberry's proposes consequences for DOD's failed reforms

A legislative proposal for the 2020 defense spending bill threatens to restrict funds to certain Defense Department offices if the organization fails to implement business reforms.

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Next year, the Defense Department will have to account for its unfulfilled business reforms. That's if Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the House Armed Services Committee's ranking member, has anything to say about it.

Thornberry unveiled two legislative proposals for the 2020 defense spending bill: one that continues previous efforts and reforms -- such as shrinking the DOD's Fourth Estate agencies' costs by 25 percent -- and another that aims to encourage venture-capital-funded small businesses to work with the department.

The proposed Continuing Acquisition Reform Act adds an enforcement component to previously enacted proposals, aiming for a sustained implementation effort rather than delivery of a sketch of a plan, which had been the case with previous proposals to streamline Fourth Estate agencies that provide DOD's back-office support and services.

Other unfinished business for Thornberry include creation of a defense business systems policy to help with planning, guidance and investments; an open, modular approach to defense acquisition systems; and policy to protect intellectual property.

Thornberry told reporters during a May 16 briefing announcing the proposals' release that DOD's Fourth Estate cost savings report was "too vague to give us any assurance" and said it required penalties to ensure implementation, namely restricted funding for responsible offices.

"The plan does not show us that they're going to get there," he said of the DOD's recently submitted report on Fourth Estate reforms, "It does not provide the roadmap toward achieving the savings that the law requires."

If adopted, the proposal would limit funds to DOD's chief management officer until further reports are submitted.

"None of this is revolutionary stuff. I don't want to be revolutionary right now," Thornberry said. "We've made some substantial progress. We need to implement and build upon what we have done... I want the department to implement what we have already set before them."

The second proposal, Accelerating Defense Innovation Act, focuses on increasing the number of small, investor-backed firms in the DOD's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. Right now, DOD doesn't do any business with majority venture-capital-owned firms via the programs, opting to forgo the permitted waiver process that requires determination from the Small Business Administration and notification of Congress, Republican staffers told reporters during the briefing. The proposal pushes the waiver requirement to the service acquisition executive level in hopes of getting participation up to the 15 percent cap allowed for in statute.

The proposal, which Thornberry said could also help small firms avoid the "valley of death" between funding rounds with DOD helping to prove a product's commercial viability. It would also help small businesses with technical and business cybersecurity assistance through the SBIR and STTR programs.

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