New laws in the United States actually can be made in a couple of different ways, depending in part on how much the President wants to endorse what Congress has sent up Pennsylvania Avenue. Without a doubt, the panache that comes with a White House signing ceremony brings the greatest profile of all - and that's what happened this morning to the new weapons acquisition reform law.
The link above is to the YouTube site from the minority Republican side of the House Armed Services Committee, and if you were to only listen to HASC members you'd be forgiven for thinking it's their bill that President Barack Obama embraced. That's partly true, but the real credit goes to Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz), the chair and ranking member on the Senate's equivalent committee, who got the legislation rolling in earnest.
As Aviation Week's John Doyle has been reporting since this issue gained momentum earlier this year, the language approved by the Senate-House compromise conference would overhaul the acquisition bureaucracy in the Defense Department, requiring more systems engineering and testing at the beginning stages of a weapons system’s acquisition.
It also creates the post of Director of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation to ensure unbiased data is available to senior managers. The new post would be subject to Senate confirmation. Two other new posts will answer to the cost assessment director: the Director for Developmental Test & Evaluation and the Director for Systems. The compromise language would also require a “root cause analysis” of programs declared in breach of Nunn-McCurdy cost and schedule provisions. The 1982 Nunn-McCurdy amendment requires the Pentagon to notify Congress when major programs go 15% over original budget and terminate them when costs run over 25%, although few programs are ever canceled this way. Another section of the bill directs the Joint Requirements Council (JROC), to get input from combatant commanders in assessing military requirements.
No matter who should take the credit in Congress or the Pentagon - and there were key proponents there too, especially in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, both pre- and post-inauguration - for pushing this much-needed reform along, I think it's worth noting that Congress essentially enacted this relatively quickly and with practically no opposition. Yes, the final version is watered-down so that the reigning U.S. prime contractors and others can provide both systems engineering and development work on the same program (technically requiring different sub-units of the same company). But for a bill that introduces such inherent systemic change, it is amazing that of hundreds of people who could have voted one way or another they all decided it had to be done now.