Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on Tuesday met behind closed doors with dozens of executives from the Pentagon's biggest contractors.
Carter accepted an invitation from the Aerospace Industries Association, the National Defense Industrial Association and the Professional Services Council to participate in a discussion with 30 to 35 executives at AIA's headquarters in Arlington, according to Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a spokesman at the Pentagon.
AIA is an Arlington-based trade group that represents more than 300 major aerospace and defense companies and their suppliers, NDIA is another dedicated to promoting national security and PSC is another representing more than 370 small, medium and large firms that provide services to the federal government.
"The three primary industry associations requested this joint forum to discuss several topics of interest to both industry and DoD," Davis said in an email. "The forum centers around Secretary Carter's perspective on how industry can sustain and improve its collaboration with the Defense Department."
He said, "The meeting is closed to the press and off the record in order to allow for frank and open dialogue."
Davis added, "The Secretary's participation in this forum serves to reaffirm our sustained, ongoing commitment to modernization, and the technological superiority that has been the foundation of our national security advantage for the past several decades."
Carter has ruffled feathers in the defense and aerospace industry, which historically led the way in developing innovative technologies (think microwave, GPS, the Internet), by reaching out to Silicon Valley for ideas on how the military can maintain a technological edge over potential adversaries in the future.
The Pentagon last summer set up a new Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) next door to Google in Mountain View, California, designed to serve "as the nexus between non-traditional companies operating at the bleeding edge, and the DoD," according to the latter's website.
Another likely topic of discussion was the Pentagon's spending plan, which is budgeted at $583 billion for fiscal 2017 beginning Oct. 1, including $524 billion for the base budget and $59 billion for war spending.
Industry executives are particularly interested in the parts of the budget that most affect their bottom lines, namely, the accounts for procurement and research, development, testing and evaluation, which combined are budgeted to fall from $188 billion in the current fiscal year to $184 billion in the next, a decrease of $4 billion, or 2 percent, according to Pentagon budget documents. (By comparison, the overall spending plan is slated to slightly increase from $580 billion to $583 billion, or 0.4 percent.)
The Pentagon also recently released documents detailing long-term spending plans for major acquisition programs, which involve many companies in the trade groups and collectively are estimated to cost $1.64 trillion.
Those dollars, of course, all come from taxpayers, who are entitled to know about the conversations public officials are having about spending them.