Defense budget reform panel back to work after ‘organizational problems’

WASHINGTON — A core group exploring an overhaul of Pentagon budgeting is making “significant progress” with meetings and research efforts after some “organizational hiccups,” according to its chairman.

The Congress-mandated Commission on Planning, Programming, Budgeting, and Enforcement Reform has been meeting quietly for more than five months, interviewing witnesses and hiring staff, according to its chairman, former Pentagon Comptroller Bob Tan. The panel — made up of former congressional, Pentagon and industry officials — also hired two federally funded research and development centers to help with its work.

“We have made significant progress. We had some organizational issues, but since our first meeting in March, we will have our 10th meeting tomorrow,” Hale told Defense News in an interview last week. “We have finally started hiring staff; it was related to some of the organizational issues that we faced.

Although the panel is approved by Congress, it is funded by the Department of Defense, which sparked internal debates that delayed its plan to hire staff, according to Hale.

Tasked by the 2022 Defense Policy Bill with recommending improvements to the Pentagon’s 40-year-old process for allocating its immense resources, the panel’s findings could have far-reaching effects. It comes as critics say the process is too slow and cumbersome for the Pentagon to quickly buy cutting-edge technology and outpace China.

“I spent 12 years as a political appointee in DoD finance, trying to make PPBE work, and I think for the most part we did. But I never had time to step back and ask: how well is the system working? How long does it take? I hope the commission can do that,” said Hale, who served as comptroller for the Department of Defense from 2009 to 2014.

Among the panel’s 13 members are its vice chair, Ellen Lord, former undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment and former chief executive of Textron Systems; former Air Force Undersecretary Lisa Disbrow; former director of the Defense Innovation Unit, Raj Shah; Eric Fanning, CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association, and David Norquist, CEO of the National Defense Industrial Association.

“We all have a common goal: to see if we can make changes to this process that will make it more apt to support the fighter,” Hale said.

So far, the panel has heard from Under Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, Pentagon Comptroller Mike McCord, DoD Director of Costing and Programs Susanna Blume, and Armed Forces officials. The committee met with industry leaders, former Pentagon officials and personnel from the Congressional Armed Services and Defense Appropriations Committees, Hale said.

“What we did was a listening tour as we try to hear people’s different perspectives and concerns about the PPBE system – or their support,” Hale said. “We are now at how we are digesting this and starting to think about areas for change. Now that we are starting to recruit staff, we can do research and not just get expert advice. »

Part of the ripple effect is that the panel could miss the September 2023 deadline for its interim report and the March 2024 deadline for its final report. In the meantime, researchers will likely focus on how to make the system more communicative and transparent to Congress and more flexible overall, Hale said.

“From the time departments begin their programming and planning process, with congressional review and contracting, it can take two to four years for an idea to go to contract,” said Tan. “It won’t work for high-tech products where the technology can change in two to four months. Can we speed up the process? Are there ways to improve flexibility and execution? »

The panel engaged the Rand Corp. to study budgeting systems in other countries, such as China and Russia, and its allies Australia and the United Kingdom. Another area of ​​research the panel explores is budgeting in the private sector and in federal agencies other than the Department of Defense that have “discontinued the use of the DoD PPBE,” Hale said.

Joe Gould is the Pentagon’s senior reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He was previously a congressional reporter.

Aubrey L. Morgan