"House expected to pass Pentagon reform bill
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to pass legislation on Wednesday aimed at reforming massive waste in the Pentagon's biggest weapons programs, a bill that got a ringing endorsement from the White House on Tuesday.
The Obama administration said it strongly supported the bipartisan House bill, which was introduced last month by Democratic Representative Ike Skelton and the top Republican on the panel, Representative John McHugh.
Congressional aides said they expected a vote on the House floor on the measure on Wednesday afternoon, and passage was likely given widespread concern over chronic cost overruns and schedule delays in major weapons programs.
Congressional reform efforts are being closely watched by the Pentagon's top contractors: Lockheed Martin Corp, Boeing Co, Northrop Grumman Corp, General Dynamics Corp, and Britain's BAE Systems.
The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office estimated in March that cost overruns alone on major weapons programs amounted to nearly $300 billion, and President Barack Obama has repeatedly highlighted the need to reform weapons programs.
The Senate last week passed its own acquisition reform bill co-sponsored by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin and John McCain, the former Republican presidential candidate and the top Republican on the committee.
The Senate also approved an amendment introduced by Senator Patty Murray that would require the Pentagon to explain the effect of its decisions on U.S. jobs and the industrial base.
Congressional aides said the House and Senate should move quickly to appoint lawmakers to a conference committee to bridge differences between the two bills. The goal was to complete work on a compromise bill before Congress goes on its Memorial Day recess at the end of May, the aides said.
The Obama administration on Tuesday said it agreed with the House bill's sponsors that the Pentagon's process for buying weapons needed improvements in systems engineering, testing and evaluation, technological maturity, and cost estimation.
"The administration is committed to making trade-offs among cost, schedule, and performance to significantly reduce cost growth in major defense acquisition programs," the White House Office of Management and Budget said in a statement.
It said it was seeking some undefined changes, but believed those issues could be resolved.
Skelton last month said the goal was to "inject greater efficiency into the weapons acquisition system and truly ensure that we get the most bang for our taxpayer buck."
The House bill addresses major weapons programs, which account for about 20 percent of Pentagon acquisitions, but the committee is also working on broader reforms to be introduced next year that would touch on services and other areas.
The House bill would require the defense secretary to designate officials to oversee the cost estimating, systems engineering and performance assessment of new weapons.
The bill also elevates the importance of competition throughout a program's lifecycle, independent cost estimates, and seeks to strengthen the existing Nunn-McCurdy law that kicks in once programs' costs exceed a certain level.
The House bill requires more information about what caused the cost overruns in the first place, and kicks the program back to its previous milestone for more review.
The bill also requires the Pentagon comptroller to review current mechanisms for weighing trade-offs among cost, schedule and performance in the acquisition of big weapons programs and submit recommendations for improving that process.
Unlike the Senate bill, the House legislation gives the defense secretary more leeway in determining how to structure the new oversight offices, and seeks to avoid adding more layers of bureaucracy, lawmakers said.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa; Editing by Gary Hill)"