Defense Secretary Ash Carter voiced his disapproval Tuesday of provisions in versions of next year's defense budget bill that would erase the position of undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics in favor of two new jobs and deplete war funding to buy more equipment and fund maintenance.
Speaking at the Sea Air Space convention near Washington, D.C., Carter threatened to advise President Barack Obama to veto a bill that he said would threaten readiness and leave troops unprepared during a critical time for the nation. He also exhorted Congress to reduce the number of prescriptive measures in the annual bill, saying they undercut planners at the Pentagon and tied their hands.
As he spoke, the House Appropriations Committee had just passed its version of the fiscal 2017 defense appropriations bill, which follows the defense authorization bill in funding only roughly six months of the Overseas Contingency Operations, or war activities, requested by the president.
Carter said he had concerns about the Senate version of the authorization bill, which obliterates the job of chief weapons buyer, now held by Frank Kendall, dividing the tasks between a new undersecretary of defense for research and engineering and undersecretary of management and support.
Carter, a former defense acquisition chief, said he was sympathetic to the Senate Armed Services Committee's majority view that job had become "so preoccupied with program management including a lot of unnecessary bureaucracy associated with it, that perhaps takes some management attention away from the research and engineering function."
But, the secretary said, programs such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter had demonstrated how tightly coupled research and development needed to be with acquisition to avoid unnecessary expense and delay. Costs of procurement and sustainment, he said, were controlled by decisions made during the development process. And, he said, the change in jobs could derail the success Pentagon officials had already had in driving costs down.
"Procurement and sustainment are tightly coupled with technology and engineering and development, and those two together represent about 90 percent of program costs," he said. "So separating these functions makes no sense."
On the House side, Carter said the rearrangement of funds represented "gambling with war-fighting money in a time of war."
"It's another road to nowhere with uncertain chances of becoming a law … the same kind of terrible distraction we've had for years," he said.
The decision to undercut the president's budget and fund only a partial year of war "baffles friends and emboldens foes," Carter said, and risks unraveling the Bipartisan Budget Act, a measure adopted in 2015 to stave off sequestration budget cuts.
The strategy also threatened readiness by increasing the size of the force without ensuring long-term sustainment of training ranges and schoolhouses, which fall under the war budget, Carter said.
He said he remained hopeful that we would be able to work with both houses to reach alternative solutions, but added he would recommend a veto if the sections that concerned him remained.
Meanwhile, he said, he hoped to see future years produce bills that were less lengthy and prescriptive.
"I would respectfully suggest that informed expert judgement in DoD should receive greater support and be subject to less micromanagement," he said.