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FY 2017 NDAA – Congress Tees Up DoD Tech and Acquisition Reorg

Published: December 07, 2016

Acquisition ReformIT ReformNational Defense Authorization ActOSD

The U.S. House approved the conference report for the fiscal year (FY) 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) with some somewhat controversial provisions to reorganize key technology and acquisitions jobs at the Pentagon.

The yearly NDAA has major impacts to the direction, operations and funding of the Department of Defense (DoD). The conference report was approved on Dec. 2 by a large margin of 375 to 34 and now goes to the Senate for consideration. Defense Daily reports that the legislation authorizes $619 billion in national defense spending, which is just $3.2 billion above President Obama’s FY 2017 budget request.

Defense Secretary’s Office Reorganization Measures

Not unlike other NDAA’s in recent years, the disposition of the bill has been a bit uncertain over the months due to funding and various provisions that raised the opposition of the White House and some in Congress. One such provision centered on the reshuffling of technology and acquisition roles. Under Section 901, Organization of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the U.S. Senate had proposed to eliminate the position of Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics (USD AT&L) and split responsibilities across two new positions – an Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering and an Under Secretary of Defense for Management and Support.

The mindset behind the proposals has been that by separating the roles and responsibilities of “chief acquisition officer” and “chief technology officer” that currently reside with the USD AT&L, as well as establishing a “chief management officer” role within the DoD, these sometimes-conflicting priorities are better addressed and that the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) will be better postured to meet future national security challenges. 

The report states three broad priorities that framed the discussions: (1) elevate the mission of advancing technology and innovation within the Department; (2) foster distinct technology and acquisition cultures to better deliver superior capabilities for the armed forces; and (3) provide greater oversight and management of the Department’s Fourth Estate, (entities in the DoD that are not in the Military Departments or the Combatant Commands.)

Underlying the proposal is the view that the DoD technology and acquisition missions and cultures are distinct would benefit from the focus and competing tensions of having each operate under separate positions. The Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering would drive innovation, experimentation and appropriate risk-taking. By contrast, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment would focus on acquiring timely and cost-effective products and services and risk minimization. The dichotomy would create a “healthy tension” that moves innovation forward with accountability.

To move the bill forward the House agreed to direct the OSD to implement the provisions and the bill includes guidance on the new positions and language that gives the OSD some latitude in downstream positions. The bill also acknowledges the need for further study to ensure effective implementation.

Assuming the bill is signed into law by the president, the OSD will have until February 1, 2018 to implement the positions, although Congress encouraged the appointments to be made as soon as possible.