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Will Personalities Determine How the Pentagon Buys Weapons?


The ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee had an interesting insight into a wild card that could play a part in forming future defense policy and acquisition reform.

The chairmen of the two most powerful Congressional defense committees are relatively new to the job and still establishing their working relationships in their new roles. How that relationship is established is "going to be one of the most fascinating things for me to watch," Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., told a group of defense reporters last week.

He pointed out that HASC Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain have different personalities, or as Smith put it: "You could not possibly have two more different personalities."

On one hand you have Thornberry, who Smith described as one of the "most thoughtful, quiet, calm guys I think I've every seen in Congress." He said there were times when the two would travel together across the globe on a jet when both sat on the terrorism subcommittee and "I swear if I hadn't engaged we could have gone 11 hours without saying a word. And not in a bad way. Mac likes me ... He's just contained where he's at."

And then there's the former presidential candidate from Arizona. "I can't imagine John McCain getting to the end of the tarmac without having something to say."

Both McCain and Thornberry have their eye on trying to fix the Pentagon's broken acquisition system and both have introduced policy measures to do it. However, both will likely need to work together to get meaningful legislation through Congress to adjust how the Pentagon does business.

"So what happens when the two of them try to sit down and talk about how they are going to style their acquisition reform policy?" Smith asked.

HASC's ranking member went on to explain the challenges of improving the way the military buys weapons and try to alter a track record that has been littered with cancellations, cost overruns and missed deadlines on high profile programs like the Joint Strike Fighter, Expeditionary Fight Vehicle and Future Combat Systems.


"The key to acquisition reform is smart people intelligently implementing decisions for the most part. You can't legislate that," Smith said.

-- Michael Hoffman can be reached at

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