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McCain Wants to Fire Those Responsible for Weapons Cost Overruns

FILE - In this Sept. 15, 2016 file photo, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
FILE - In this Sept. 15, 2016 file photo, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee is playing hardball with the Pentagon when it comes to acquisition programs that end up billions of dollars over budget or deliver years late.

In a hearing before the committee Thursday, Sen. John McCain took to task Ellen Lord, the new under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, for recent examples of acquisition malpractice, including the Army's Future Combat Systems and the USS Gerald S. Ford, the first of the Navy's new class of supercarriers.

FCS was canceled in 2009 after six years of work and more than $6 billion in taxpayer investment; the Ford was delivered earlier this year, more than $2 billion over budget and 15 months later than expected.

McCain said he asked Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson who was responsible for cost overruns and was told Richardson didn't know.

"I mean, there's such a thing as accountability, and all of the things that were just covered by the witnesses here ... there's no penalty for failure," the Arizona Republican said. " ... When I go to a town hall meeting and tell my constituents that we blew $6 billion and there has not been anyone fired or replaced or -- or -- or new way of doing things, they're not really very happy."

Lord declined to talk about specific personnel actions in an open hearing, telling McCain she preferred to discuss the matter privately in his office.

"We, as a team, are working very closely together to look at functions and individuals in OSD and in the services, the duties they're required to perform," she said, "and are determining whether or not we have the right people in the right slots, and I don't want to talk about individuals here in a broad forum."

Army Secretary Mark Esper, who also testified, was more direct.

"Senator, I'm not aware of anyone being fired for FCS, to your point," he said.

McCain has been a longtime critic of a number of major defense acquisition programs that saw large cost overruns or failed to live up to their initial promise.

On Thursday, he said the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, now with a $1 trillion lifetime cost, still "operated in dysfunction," and other programs, such as the Army's Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, still didn't work as planned.

"That's why this committee enacted the most sweeping acquisition reforms in a generation through the last two National Defense Authorization Acts," he said. "And yet, despite that legislation, and in the face of our eroding military advantage, the department has been unable or unwilling to change."

Lord, who previously served as CEO of Textron Systems and assumed her current position in August, told reporters following the hearing that she expects to address personnel issues going forward, though she may not reveal all actions to the public.

She added that she is prohibited by law from making any personnel changes or reassignments in the first 120 days of her tenure. That milestone, she added, has only recently passed.

"I think you should expect to see some movements," she said.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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