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Levin, McCain to Introduce Defense-Procurement Restrictions

It looks like Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) is taking a break from embarrassing himself to do something seemingly valuable. At noon, he and Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, are scheduled to hold a press conference announcing new legislation they’re introducing to put limits on weapons-programs acquisition in the defense budget.

A joint press release claims their bill will address “unreasonable cost and schedule estimates, unrealistic performance expectations, immature technologies, and repeated program changes that have led to explosive cost growth and costly schedule delays on so many of our major defense acquisition programs.” And a pool report from yesterday’s White House-Congressional fiscal responsibility summit quotes Levin as saying that the bill will require “will require defense contracts to be reexamined if its cost increase more than 25 percent over its initial estimate.” (sic)

Sounds promising, but one wonders how much teeth the bill will have. “Reexamining” a contract once it overruns its cost by a quarter doesn’t sound like an onerous disincentive for a defense contractor to control program costs. This fiscal year’s defense budget put up something like $104.2 billion for procurement. (If you click the link, you’ll see that the analysis I’m citing was penned by Steve Kosiak, who now oversees defense at the White House Office of Management and Budget.) Assume for the sake of argument that the fiscal 2010 defense budget hits the $537 billion cap, procurement stays level from 2009 and every procurement program projects an overrun. That’s still about a fifth of the defense budget — actually, less than a sixth when including the costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. And, again, what actually happens when the “reexamination” bell gets rung?

I’d like to ask Levin and McCain those questions. Unfortunately, the briefing is in the Capitol building and The Washington Independent is currently in the application process for credentials from the Senate Periodical Gallery — and I missed my opportunity to get a day pass to attend the presser – so alas.

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