Washington, D.C. — An initiative to streamline DOD’s support agencies by cutting duplicative activities and reorganizing others led by House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) likely will take several years to complete, although it still is not clear what ultimately will be achieved through the effort, a panel of Washington-based experts said Wednesday at the 2018 Defense Communities National Summit. “I think it will be a big issue for some time,” said Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “[But] I don’t think there’s a lot of agreement” as to the initiative’s precise goals, he said.
Mackenzie Eaglen, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, echoed Harrison’s comments: “This is not going to be a one-year effort … but the details are wildly up in the air.” After troop levels dropped following the height of the armed forces’ buildup in Iraq and Afghanistan, the fourth estate — civilian-dominated agencies that fall outside the military departments — was perceived as an overdue area for reform, she said.
There’s also the question as to whether an internal review of defense agencies led by Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Chief Management Officer (CMO) John Gibson II will result in the kind of changes and level of savings Thornberry is looking for. If so, Congress may not seek to intervene further, Eaglen said.
Thornberry’s initiative, part of the fiscal 2019 defense authorization bill passed by the House, calls for the CMO to reduce or eliminate duplicative cross-enterprise functions across all defense agencies and field activities related to civilian resource, services contracting, logistics and real estate management. The provision also directs the CMO to certify that the department has achieved at least 25 percent savings from those functions by Jan. 1, 2021. A separate section calls for the CMO to report to Congress on any recommendations to eliminate an agency or activity, or transfer some or all of its functions to another entity, following a review of the efficiency and effectiveness of defense agencies and field activities. Thornberry’s plan is subject to change, or possibly could be stripped out of the final version of the defense policy bill, as the Senate version does not contain similar language.
“I think there are too many eyes on fourth estate for nothing to happen,” said Frederico Bartels, a policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation.