House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry is wasting no time in his efforts to build on last year’s reforms to the defense acquisition system. Less than a year after he launched his opening salvo in a new round of changes, Chairman Thornberry previewed the year ahead with a recent hearing and a presentation at the National Press Club.
Chairman Thornberry plans to circulate draft reform legislation and incorporate the finished product into the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Emphasizing (once again) the themes of agility and innovation, the hearing featured the senior acquisition executives from each of the military departments. Chairman Thornberry expressed particular interest in finding ways to support their drive for greater flexibility in experimentation and prototyping.
The Chairman’s remarks at the National Press Club focused on key areas where the Committee will direct its energy—and where defense contractors should devote some attention in the coming months. These objectives include adding muscle to the ideas articulated in the administration’s Third Offset Strategy; expanding the Committee’s oversight and engagement on cybersecurity issues; pushing for continued modernization of the nuclear triad; and defining the proper scope of employment for the country’s over-extended special operations forces.
Chairman Thornberry conceded that reform will be an ongoing task for succeeding Congresses, and that the presidential elections are likely to divert attention in the second half of this year. Still, his early start this year conveys optimism, commitment, and openness to ideas from industry. Contractors of all sizes—including non-traditional defense contractors the Defense Department has been courting—can benefit from offering constructive recommendations early and often in the coming months. Of course, Senator John McCain, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also has a robust reform agenda. Whether McCain and Thornberry’s priorities align will be the story to watch in the coming weeks.