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House approves defense procurement reform bill by unanimous 428-0 vote
House approves defense procurement reform bill by unanimous 428-0 vote

Congressman Ike Skelton
WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 17, 2009) — In 1940, as World War II tightened its grip in Europe, Congress prepared for eventual U.S. involvement by issuing billions of dollars in defense contracts. However, in early 1941, then-Sen. Harry S. Truman began hearing reports of widespread contract mismanagement and wasteful military spending. Convinced that this corruption would strangle the nation’s efforts to mobilize itself if left unchecked, Truman proposed a new committee, the Senate Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program. The Committee, which came to be known as the Truman Committee, saved our country millions of dollars by subjecting defense contracts to rigorous scrutiny.

The lessons of the Truman Committee have much to teach us to this day. The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office found that as of 2009, the Department of Defense had $296 billion of cost overruns on 96 major weapons systems. While this amount represents a cumulative cost over decades, it nonetheless is more than the amount spent on salaries and health care for the entire American military for two full years.

These exorbitant cost overruns highlight the need to reform our defense acquisition system. So, I was, of course, pleased when the House of Representatives recently approved H.R. 2101, the Weapons Acquisition System Reform Through Enhancing Technical Knowledge and Oversight Act of 2009, by a unanimous vote of 428 to 0. This bipartisan legislation, which I introduced in the House, is designed to tackle out of control cost growth in weapons spending, while providing for a strong national defense.

H.R. 2101 would require the Secretary of Defense to designate an official to oversee the weapons acquisition system. This official would report to the Department of Defense and Congress on the success of acquisition programs. The legislation would mandate that weapons systems that fail to meet standards would face an additional annual review from oversight officials and increased scrutiny by Congress.

As chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, I am also pleased that the legislation would set up a new system to track cost overruns and schedule changes that happen early on in the acquisition process — when most of the waste and the least oversight currently occur. The bill would also promote competition in weapons acquisition and would require the Department of Defense to prevent conflict of interest in the acquisition process.

The Senate passed its version of the bill on May 7 by a unanimous vote of 93 to 0. Any differences between the House and Senate bill must be ironed out in a conference committee and reconsidered in the Congress before it can be presented to the President for his signature. President Obama has indicated that this legislation is a top priority and has asked that Congress send a final bill to his desk by the end of the May.

Congressman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) serves as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Congressman Skelton’s website is at http://www.house.gov/skelton.

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