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First Chop on DoD Authorization Markup

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The Senate's draft version of the 2009 defense authorization bill creates new steering boards to review requirements for major weapons systems, targeting one of the main causes of cost growth in weapons systems.

We're still trying to get some details on exactly what the Senate Armed Services Committee means by this, but it sounds as if Congress has finally - after years and years of grumbling from experts and from congressional staff about this - gotten the message that requirements really do matter a great deal and that the Joint Requirements Oversight Council and its attendant parts really don't work very well.

There are two big increases approved for weapons systems: $430 million in research and development and $35 million in advance procurement for the Joint Strike Fighter program to support the GE/Rolls Royce F136 engine program.; and $350 million for the Transformational Satellite Communications systems known as T-Sat.

Neither add is a shocker. After all, Congress told the Air Force in 1996 to create an alternative engine program for the JSF. Of course, DoD has tried to whack the funding for three years in a row, eager to move the money to other programs, and the Hill has not so gently reminded the military of the benefits of engine competitions.

We understand that, while the Senate authorizers approved this money, their colleagues who appropriate the funds have not yet looked at the T-Sat issue in detail, busy as they are with the looming supplemental spending bill.

The T-Sat increase isn't a great surprise since the key congressional staff dealing with space issues were extremely unhappy with the Air Force for cutting the size of the program's request last year and then virtually gutting the effort in this year's budget request - slicing $4 billion from it over the six years of the 2009 budget request. Those cuts came just when congressional watching this had decided the high-speed communications system was on the right track after years of pushing for more funding than its immature technologies could really sustain.

Lockheed Martin and Boeing are competing for the prime contract on this system.

Two snarky observations on the Senate markup. First, the Senate rarely moves first on a bill but the House Armed Services Committee won't get to its markup til next Wednesday. Second, we applaud the generous but futile effort of Sen. Claire McCaskill to open the Senate committee's work to public purview.

"It is my firm and simple belief that we make better laws when we do our work fully open and transparent to the public. The public deserves to know what our views and our actions are and to be able to freely scrutinize, support or oppose them," McCaskill said Tuesday.

When you talk to Senate aides they usually tell you that their bosses don't want to have to deal with a lot of lobbyists hassling them about details in the draft bill if it were open to the public. Of course, many of those lobbyists have already had their chop, since they get better access than most members of the public. (Sure, we're jealous) The official reason offered by the committee is that closed session allows them to discuss classified issues at any time.

"It doesn't make sense to close the hearing when we are working on a section of the defense bill that doesn't contain any classified information," McCaskill said. "There's no reason why the committee can't just close the parts of the meetings that do contain sensitive information and open the rest."

More on the Senate markup as we get details from staff through the week.

-- Colin Clark

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