The Defense Department procurement scandal is made to order for politicians - a chance for public hearings, press conferences, much "viewing with alarm," and the inevitable suggestions for reform of the Pentagon.
Congress need not wait for the end of the investigation or months of study and testimony to begin the reform process. There are several things it could do now - all involving the role of Congress in the process. The sad truth is that Congress must accept a large share of the responsibility for the current state of affairs.One of the uglier aspects of the Pentagon investigation is the profiteering by those who place personal self-interest above national security.
For years, Congress has refused to allow closure of unneeded military bases, despite a potential annual $2 billion to $5 billion savings. This year, after considerable pressure, both the House and Senate passed bills to allow closing of obsolete bases. However, a base closing bill cannot become law unless differences between the House and Senate versions are worked out in a conference committee, and such a committee has not yet even been formed.
Another example of congressional interference lies in its practice of forcing the Pentagon to buy unwanted or unneeded equipment. What's forgotten are the legitimate needs that remain unmet because of this selfishness.
There are other examples of congressional interference in the procurement process. By executive order, federal agencies (including the military) must bid jobs to see if they can be done cheaper and better by the private sector. Most experts agree that more government services can and should be contracted out to the private sector, which frequently can provide that service or product more efficiently without putting United States security at risk. But congressmen team up with local government employees and even local base commanders to short-circuit the process. The result: A program to save money is thwarted to save local government jobs.
Then there are "add-ons," or unrequested authorizations, to defense spending legislation. The FY 1989 Defense Authorization bill contained $4.3 billion in add-ons. In a defense bill whose spending level was set by last year's budget summit (and which, incidentally, represents the fourth straight year of real cuts in defense spending), these add-ons were made "affordable" only by diverting resources from other important programs.
Finally, Congress has refused to fund defense on a sensible and consistent basis. For too long, Congress has passed defense budgets that fluctuate wildly from year to year, making efficient and rational defense planning impossible.
Of course, there must be reform. Moreover, everyone inside and outside the Defense Department, including defense contractors found guilty of committing fraud with defense dollars, should be made to bear the full brunt of the law.
But it is not enough for Congress to rush into the fray with its typical ready, shoot, aim approach to reform. No, Congress ought to look into the mirror to see where reform should start. As the self-appointed "leader" in reform, Congress might heed the observation of presidential candidate Michael Dukakis: "The fish rots from the head first."
(Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., is a member of the House Committee on Armed Services.)