Floor Statements

Washington, D.C. ­– U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, delivered the following opening statement today at a hearing on Department of Defense acquisition reform:

“The Senate Armed Services Committee meets today to receive testimony on the Department of Defense acquisition reform efforts. We welcome our witnesses:

  • “Ellen Lord, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics;
  • “Mark Esper, Secretary of the Army;
  • “Heather Wilson, Secretary of the Air Force; and
  • “James Geurts, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition.

“Acquisition reform is one of the most important—and frustrating—topics this Committee addresses. For years, we have been warned that America is losing its technological advantage. I hope you all have seen the work by RAND on this topic. This is why the Department of Defense needs acquisition reform—not just for efficiency or to save money. Simply put, we will not be able to address the threats facing this nation with the system of organized irresponsibility that the defense acquisition enterprise has become.

“We are still dealing with a trillion dollar F-35 program that continues to operate in dysfunction…the Air Force still subsidizes ULA for space launch with cost plus fixed fee contracts…the Army has sunk nearly $6.5 billion into WIN-T, a network that doesn’t work…and the Navy’s LCS program is delayed, the costs are now $6 billion and rising, and many of the key capabilities remain unproven.

“That is why this Committee enacted the most sweeping acquisition reforms in a generation through the last two National Defense Authorization Acts. And yet, despite that legislation and in the face of our eroding military advantage, the Department has been unable—or unwilling—to change.

“While the previous administration offered some rhetoric about reform, this Committee was disappointed that we saw no meaningful action. Though I remain deeply concerned about the state of our acquisition system, I am encouraged by the early signs from your team. It appears that you are beginning to make progress.

“Let me remind you of our expectations: 

  • “First, the Office of the Secretary of Defense needs to let the Services manage their programs. Congress has returned significant authority to the Services, but we will be watching closely to make sure that you do business differently and use that authority wisely.
  • “Second, while we have empowered the Services, that doesn’t mean you can go and do whatever you like. The Services must let OSD set strategy and policy and do real oversight. That means being transparent—providing data to, and following the guidance set by, OSD. Again, we will be watching. This Committee takes its own oversight role seriously, and we will rely on you to keep us informed so that we can do our job.
  • “Third, the experiment and prototype phases must move faster. Time is of the essence. The work of groups like DIUx, the Strategic Capabilities Office, and the Rapid Capabilities Offices should become standard practice, not work-arounds to the regular system. And we need these innovations for Major Defense Acquisition Programs, not just Science and Technology efforts.
  • “Fourth, you need to be willing to take more risk and be willing to fail when you try new things. We recognize that Congress can make that difficult. Keep us informed of your plans so that we can work together and so that we’re not surprised when things don’t go exactly as planned. We would rather have a small failure that teaches us something early in the acquisition process than deal with a multi-billion dollar program that becomes ‘too big to fail.’
  • “Fifth, invest in the acquisition workforce and empower them to succeed. Too often we hear that acquisition personnel are unfamiliar with new authorities or are nervous about using them.
  • “And finally, reform your organizations and business practices to simplify and move faster. The major changes we have instituted through legislation are intended to give you the opportunity to make more detailed changes in your organizations. This is an opportunity to update your organizational structures and internal processes accordingly. 

“The Congress has provided you with all the tools you require. We expect you, as part of a new administration, to use these tools—unlike your predecessors. As you do so, you will have a willing partner in this Committee. If you choose not to take advantage of this opportunity, we will continue to push reform through legislation. 

“Ultimately, reform is about leadership, which is why we’ve asked you as the senior-most leaders of your organizations to be here. I want to hear how you will lead your organizations and work together to create the structure and culture required to deliver our service members the technological advantages they expect and deserve.”