The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Thornberry’s Attempt at Acquisition Reform

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.

Over the past 15 years, the budget of the Department of Defense (DoD) has swollen to encompass more than 50 percent of discretionary spending in fiscal year (FY) 2016, and is expected to increase by an additional $54 billion in FY 2018.  Unbelievably, it is the lone federal agency to have never undergone an audit, as is required by law.  The vital nature of the Pentagon’s mission means that inefficiency in this sector is too dangerous to tolerate.  Wasted spending costs taxpayers and undermines the capability of the armed forces. 

The DoD has numerous areas where it could increase efficiency, including the acquisition process.  Several infamous acquisition disasters, such as the Joint Strike Fighter and the Littoral Combat Ship, have plagued the Pentagon.  In addition, financial overhead and auditing accounts for about a third of defense acquisition costs; audits on average took 885 days to complete in 2016. Simply put, the DoD is in desperate need of reform.

Fortunately, in May 2017, House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) proposed the Defense Acquisition Streamlining and Transparency Act (H.R.2511) with the aim of implementing common sense reform for the DoD.  This act proposes simple fixes that would save time and taxpayers money.  For example, instead of relying on independent contracts for basic office supplies and other non-military commercial goods, the bill would allow the DoD to use e-commerce markets like Amazon or W.W. Grainger, as any large, private sector entity would.

Additionally, the bill aims to revolutionize the way the DoD acquires intellectual property (IP).  When contracting for IP, DoD officials often face trouble in determining specific rights and ownership.  Technology contractors prefer to license IP, while the DoD often seeks full ownership of technical data, claiming that it lowers weapon and system sustainment costs.  However, recent examples, such as the failure of the Army’s Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS-A), illustrates that an agency choosing to build its own platform, as opposed to utilizing existing private sector technology, typically results in increased cost and reduced effectiveness.  To address these issues, Thornberry’s bill would create the Office of Intellectual Property with the purpose of “providing oversight and coordination of the efforts within the Department of Defense to acquire or license intellectual property” as well as requiring IP negotiations to start earlier in the acquisition process.

To maintain a strong and cost effective military, bills like Chairman Thornberry’s are a step in the right direction.  However, areas like vendor auctions and service contracts are still in dire need of change.  Hopefully, the legislation will spur Congress to implement common-sense reforms of DoD acquisition.

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