Editor’s note: The following is an opinion piece. The writer is not employed by Military Times and the views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of Military Times or its editorial staff.
Last month, Congress reversed the decline in military funding after years of budget cuts forced our troops to do too much with too little. Congress must now ensure these funds are spent wisely. That means reforming outdated Pentagon bureaucracies to bolster agility, cut red tape and ensure more cost-effective use of taxpayer money.
Since 2015, Congress has worked to improve the Defense Department, reforming how goods and services are purchased, increasing accountability in the acquisition of major weapons systems, improving the military health care system and modernizing military retirement. Together, these reforms will save billions of dollars. Still, there is more to do.
This year, I am proposing reforms to agencies within DoD known as the “fourth estate.” These organizations, 28 of which I have identified for some level of reform, do not report to a military service and have proven difficult to manage or oversee. However, they have enormous bureaucratic influence on day-to-day operations. They account for approximately 20 percent of DoD’s budget and 25 percent of its workforce.
These are largely analog agencies struggling to operate in a digital world. The Defense Logistics Agency, for example, is paid by the military services to provide timely logistical support for our troops. Too often, critical equipment like Bradley Fighting Vehicles, F/A-18 Super Hornets, and F-15 Eagles sit idle for lack of parts that it sometimes takes DLA months to procure. Meanwhile, the Washington Headquarters Service, which manages military agencies in the Washington, D.C., area, has grown its civilian workforce by 100 percent since 2009 while other parts of DoD were cut.
Most tasks of the Defense Information Systems Agency, which coordinates IT services and protects against cyber intrusions, could be better managed by U.S. Cyber Command. The Office of Economic Assistance is charged with helping communities affected by base closures, which hasn’t happened since 2005.
Accountability for and enforcement of “fourth estate” reforms is essential.
The first step is putting someone in charge. My proposal gives the newly created Pentagon chief management officer direct authority over the “fourth estate” in the same way that the secretary of the Army has authority over his service. The CMO will be empowered to rationalize redundant functions like logistics, human resources, real estate management and services contracting. The CMO will be asked to reduce the overall size of these functions by 25 percent in two years.
While the CMO is consolidating functions, Congress must do its part. Among the proposed reforms is for Cyber Command to take over management of DoD networks within two years. The director of the DLA will be charged with updating that agency, making it more efficient and transparent, and saving customers a minimum of 10 percent by 2021.
Thirteen years after the last BRAC round, we should ask if OEA has done its work and can be closed. Likewise, my bill will give the CMO two years to redistribute essential WHS functions to the military services or the secretary of defense and eliminate the rest.
To hold the CMO accountable, and to ensure appropriate congressional oversight, my bill requires a 25 percent across-the-board reduction in these redundant functions of the “fourth estate” within two years. This reduction will be imposed at the end of that time if the CMO is unable to certify that those savings have been achieved. To guard against unintended consequences, DoD is given one legislative cycle to come back to Congress and suggest changes.
These reforms ensure more of the taxpayer dollar goes to troops and help speed decision-making. Authoritarian adversaries can instantly order a change of direction for their militaries. Our slow, cumbersome bureaucracy does not respond so fast. Thinning down the bureaucratic layers, ensuring that there is a clear, direct chain of command, and holding that chain responsible for results are key to ensuring our nation is defended.
It is morally wrong to ask our men and women in uniform to go into harm’s way without the resources they need. I am proud that Congress has begun to deliver those resources. Outdated and wasteful bureaucracies can sap troops’ fighting strength just as surely as denied training and broken equipment does.
Congress’ responsibility to insist on reform is as important as our role in providing resources. It is a job we have pursued vigorously for the past three years, and one we will not shrink from in the coming months.
Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, is the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.