As Congress waits for the White House to deliver a full budget, leaders on Capitol Hill are already starting to find ways to cut costs and plan for the future of the military defense bill. House Armed Service Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash) believes that incentivizing both the Pentagon and defense contractors will help solve the current DoD budget debates.
Updating DoD Legacy Systems a Budget Breaker
DoD says divesting of legacy systems is essential to create the path for new technologies that in the long run will save the Defense Department money. But in the short term require not only an initial investment for the new but also ongoing maintenance for old systems as new systems begin to come online.
That is why Smith stated, “You have to be incentivized. And if you think the money’s always going to be there, you don’t have as much of an incentive,” during a virtual AEI event discussing the defense budget on April 22.
Smith stated, “The real problem is we don’t make the software upgradable enough quickly enough.” He believes that the current process allows for “vendor lock” particularly when it comes to software. And this “vendor lock” prevents DoD from being able to upgrade their capabilities as their needs and requirements change.
“I want to change the incentives so we start getting our money’s worth,” Smith said. One way he hopes to implement this change could be by including more pay at the start of a contract for intellectual property and amending existing contracts. And while he did not provide specifics on how this plan would be put into action. It is clear he wants to make the issue a priority while waiting for the release of Biden’s first budget. The hope is these incentives would push defense contractors to lower costs of production and maintenance.
Out With the Old is Challenging to do
But starting a new policy to incentivize defense contractors is one thing, but actually implementing it is another. Lt Gen Dennis Crall, CIO for the Joint Chiefs of Staff said April 21 during a C4ISRNET event, that although they make fiscal sense, DoD is limited by being constrained to legacy systems.
“Once legacy gets rolling, it is incredibly difficult to onboard a new thing. And then you have a kind of double billing, you’ve got to keep the legacy alive while your onboarding the very thing you’re trying to do.”
This leads to the problem DoD is currently facing. How do you correctly close out legacy programs that are not providing resources without preventing the mission from continuing on? The General says, “We have a mixed track record of doing that. And without doing that, we will not free up the capital necessary to onboard some of the modern pieces of JADC2”
But Congress and DoD can not wait much longer. Smith said, “If we don’t get the budget by a certain timeframe we can’t mark up the appropriations bills and the defense bill.” He stated they needed the budget before May 10 to be able to stay on track and avoid continuing resolutions.