Frank Kendall says life will go on inside the Pentagon regardless of the political temperature on Capitol Hill. By Marcus Weisgerber
The morning after Republicans won control of the U.S. Senate with a tidal wave of Election Day victories, the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer said he is still “not highly optimistic” that Defense Department will get a reprieve from sequestration budget caps in 2016.
“I have no idea how this is going to play out politically. We’ll all have to wait and see on that,” Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s acquisition executive, said at breakfast sponsored by the Navy League.
Republicans next year will regain control of the Senate for the first time since 2006. At the time of this posting, the GOP has secured at least 52 seats with three races still too close to call.
Kendall said there could be an opportunity to break through some of the gridlock that has engulfed Washington during President Barack Obama’s administrations. Despite the political climate on Capitol Hill, work at the Pentagon will go on, Kendall said.
“For us it’s not a major change,” he said. “By one path or another the Congress is going to appropriate a lot of money that I’m going to have to worry about and try to spend as wisely as I can for the warfighters and the taxpayers and we’re going to continue to do that.”
But exactly how much money Republicans will give Kendall to buy expensive, new fighter jets, ships and ground vehicles is up for debate. Instead of a larger defense budget, Obama’s Pentagon leaders have asked Congress to find cost savings in skyrocketing personnel costs that include medical care and global military basing. Right now, budget caps, known as sequestration, are scheduled to hit the Pentagon again in 2016 after being suppressed in 2014 and 2015 by two-year congressional budget deal.
Kendall said he is happy to meet with the Senate’s new Republican leadership at any time. He also said that he is holding out hope that sequestration would become less likely in a Republican controlled Senate.
Kendall said that it will be fine to work with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who is expected to take the chairmanship of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which oversees Pentagon budget and policy issues.
“Chairman McCain has been around for a long time; he’s got a lot of experience at this, he understands the issues pretty well and he’s as frustrated as all of us are at some of the [program cost] overruns,” Kendall said.