Senate Panel Approves Pentagon Spending Bill
Saturday, May 14, 2005
The Senate Armed Services Committee said yesterday that it has approved a $441.6 billion defense authorization bill for fiscal 2006. The bill includes increased funding for armored vehicles and countering roadside bombs in Iraq and changes to the Pentagon's procurement process to prevent a recurrence of recent scandals.
The bill, which still must be approved by the full Senate, also includes $50 billion in supplemental funding to support ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for the year starting Oct. 1. That is in addition to the $82 billion emergency war-spending bill Congress sent President Bush earlier this week.
The bill would authorize $3.4 billion, as the president requested, for the Future Combat System, an Army modernization project, but cut $308.3 million from the Joint Tactical Radio System, a program critical to that effort that has encountered technical problems. It would increase funding for Navy shipbuilding.
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter would receive $5 billion, and the Air Force's F/A-22 Raptor fighter would get $3.7 billion. And $500 million would be authorized for a task force to rush improvements in tactics and technology against roadside bombs, which cause many of the U.S. casualties in the war zone.
The legislation proposes broad changes to the Pentagon's acquisition process, which has been under scrutiny since Darleen A. Druyun, a high-ranking Air Force acquisition official, admitted to steering contracts worth billions of dollars to Boeing Co., the Pentagon's second-largest contractor. Boeing hired Druyun's son-in-law and daughter and then Druyun herself.
Druyun's admissions prompted questions about the movement of government officials into industry jobs, known as the revolving door. The bill would require many contractors to tell the Pentagon when they hire former department officials.
"As long as you can watch where people are and who is paying them, it will have a deterrent effect to prevent future Darleen Druyuns," said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, a District-based watchdog group.
There was a similar requirement until 1996, said Jonathan Etherton, vice president of legislative affairs of the Aerospace Industries Association, an industry lobbying group. "That's one we're going to have to look at more closely," he said, adding, "I can think of ways it can be done in a streamlined way that would not be too burdensome."
The bill also would call for the Pentagon to establish a contract fraud risk-assessment team and to increase the size of its acquisition workforce by 15 percent. Despite more spending, the department's acquisition workforce fell to about 135,000 in 2004 from more than 450,000 in 1990, according to a Pentagon reports.
The legislation would also address concerns raised recently by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the airland subcommittee, by making it harder for the Pentagon to buy weapons without normal contract protections.
The House version of the bill, scheduled to be voted on next week, would address the Pentagon's acquisition system by targeting the rising costs of many weapons, aides there said.
Staff researcher Richard Drezen contributed to this article.