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Congressional hold'em


It’s been a long summer for Heidi Shyu, the Army’s acting acquisition’s chief.

Shyu has been stuck in a holding pattern waiting for the Senate to confirm her as the service’s next Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisitions, Logistics and Technology as she shoulders the post’s responsibilities of overseeing $28 billion worth of Army programs.

Things began to look up at the start of August when Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., released his nomination hold on the Shyu’s confirmation. Coburn placed a hold on Shyu in early June because he was frustrated by the sluggish pace of the Army’s Improved Carbine Competition, an effort that began in June 2011 and is slated to last for another two years.

Coburn still isn’t satisfied with Army small arms modernization, but said he was pleased at Shyu’s responsiveness to his demands for information.

But that’s only half of Shyu’s problem since her confirmation to acquisition’s chief is still on hold.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, has also decided to stall Shyu’s nomination. He placed a hold on Shyu in June to shine a spotlight on a Defense Department contract with a Russian state-controlled arms export firm that has sold military equipment to Syria.

The U.S. Defense Department spent $171 million on a no-bid contract with Rosoboronexport to buy 30 Mi-17 helicopters for the Afghan air force. Cornyn said he wants to open up the competition and for the U.S. to buy the helicopters from a company that is not selling arms to Syria.

This subtle game of political extortion is commonplace in the complex world of senior military posts.

Shyu is not the only military nominee to become ensnared in the hold process. Air Cornyn just released his hold on Air Force Gen. Mark Welsh’s nomination to become that service’s next Chief of Staff. Cornyn originally placed the hold on Welsh over his concerns with the sexual assault scandal at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.

So what has been accomplished here? Aside from the political mileage that Coburn and Cornyn have gained, what has changed? It’s unlikely that Welsh will stamp out the ugliness of sexual assault that seems to fester in the ranks despite countless reform efforts.

Coburn has managed to pressure the Army to consider new carbine designs that could possibly replace the long-serving M16/M4 family of individual weapons. But new carbines fade off the pages of Army procurement priorities – a list that features a sophisticated communications network, the new Ground Combat Vehicle and the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle at the top.

So, congressional nomination holds – a vital tool of democracy or selfish ploy for political grandstanding? You decide.

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