WASHINGTON, D.C. – Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), chairman of the congressional panel overseeing the Pentagon, indicated earlier this week that lawmakers could reconsider some defense programs put in place by the Obama administration.
“Are we going to have a major rewrite of those this year? I’m not sure, but I think there’s interest in exploring some of those things,” the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee told reporters during an off-camera press gaggle on Monday.
One such program could be the Navy’s biofuels program.
“There has been a concern among a number of members of this committee that some of the energy efforts of the Pentagon have not been based on what’s best for the military, that there’s some other sort of agenda,” Thornberry, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said.
“I think the hope is the focus is on what helps defend the country and not some other agenda that people may want to pursue,” he added.
The committee is working on a bill authorizing defense spending for 2018, along with its Senate counterpart. Thornberry and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) predict a defense budget of at least $640 billion, $54 billion up from current projections.
Thornberry previewed the bill, known as the National Defense Authorization Act, during the briefing.
He said the panel would also look at other initiatives begun by former Defense Secretary Ash Carter that dealt with reforming military personnel policies and innovation.
“I don’t think we throw them all out,” Thornberry said. “We say, yeah, that’s a really important, good goal… are the specifics quite right? Ask the question first, and then figure out how we can push in those directions he said.”
Specifically, on an initiative dubbed “DIUx” for Defense Innovation Unit Experimental – aimed at spurring better partnerships between the Pentagon and technology firms – Thornberry said the intentions behind the program were “right on.”
“Pushing innovation is essential, I think the sorts of technologies they were looking at in third offset are some of the right ones. I think outreach to Silicon Valley and others is a good thing,” he said.
Thornberry also endorsed the Force of the Future, Carter’s pet program to reform outdated Pentagon personnel policies, such as ones that would allow troops to take sabbaticals, or allow civilians to enter at higher ranks.
“Force for the Future got a bad rap and probably wasn’t thought through adequately, probably had some ideas that were not the best, but the idea that whatever personnel policies we have lived with – whether it comes to promotion or making it easier for some folks to move into the military laterally – some of those ideas are at least worth exploring,” he said.
He said he looked forward to continuing to implement reforms begun last year on military retirement and health care systems, as well as how the Pentagon buys weapons, though he did not elaborate exactly how.
“I’m proud of what we have done so far and fully aware that there is much, much more that needs to be done in a careful, thoughtful but determined way,” he said. “We’re not going to pass something and walk away from it. We will do a lot of oversight working with the department to implement those things in a positive way.”
Thornberry said he would introduce an acquisition reform bill separately, as was done last year, to give the defense industry and other stakeholders a chance to look at it and comment before incorporating it into the defense bill.