Congressional Panel to Address Defense Procurement Reform

By Steve Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 9, 2009

Members of a special congressional panel will meet this week to begin charting an ambitious agenda: finding the underlying causes of failures in the defense acquisition process and recommending how to fix them.

The seven-member Panel on Defense Acquisition Reform, announced Friday by Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, is to release a report on its findings after six months. It will not be the first.

Last week, President Obama ordered a government-wide review of federal contracting procedures.

In pledging to get a handle on defense contracting, Obama cited a Government Accountability Office study last year that found $295 billion in cost overruns among major Pentagon weapons programs.

This "wasteful spending," Obama noted, comes from investments in unproven technologies, lack of oversight and "influence peddling."

Another GAO report, reviewing 77 weapon programs, is expected to be published March 30.

"You could probably build a building with the reports that have been written over the years," Rep. Robert E. Andrews (D-N.J.), chairman of the Panel on Defense Acquisition Reform, said in an interview.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates recently noted that nearly 130 such studies have been conducted since the end of World War II -- "to little avail," he added.

In a statement announcing the creation of the panel, Skelton acknowledged previous legislative attempts to reform the process -- "some successful, some not," he said.

But Skelton said the panel members represent "a fresh set of eyes on the problem, and I look forward to their recommendations."

Andrews pledged that his panel's review would result in improvements to the procurement system, noting that "there's a critical mass on both sides of the aisle" in the push for solutions. He said the economic crisis has added urgency to the cause.

The panel will be established for a six-month period, with the option of a six-month extension.

Andrews said committee members will meet in private this week to discuss their agenda, which will include sessions open to the public.

The panel's mandate includes studying how to evaluate the performance and value of weapons systems, the administrative and cultural pressures that lead to poor outcomes, and the recommendations made by previous studies.

Andrews said the review of the causes of the problems would include a look at Congress's role. Many major weapons systems have proven nearly impossible to kill over the years because of opposition by members reluctant to lose federal spending in their districts.

"I think we are institutionally part of the problem," Andrews said.

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