Blackburn presses DOD management chief on Fourth Estate cuts

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) pressed DOD's acting chief management officer for answers on why the Pentagon can't find more cuts in Fourth Estate agencies.

Congress is looking for results when it comes to cost-cutting in the Defense Department's administrative agencies, known as the Fourth Estate. But it might not get all its asking for.

During a Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing Oct. 29, Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) asked DOD's acting chief management officer, Lisa Hershman to explain why her office missed two legislative reporting requirements regarding the Pentagon's plan to hit 25 percent cost savings across across civilian management, logistics management, services contracting, and real estate management to Congress.

"I think it is imperative that you began to hit your deadlines," Blackburn said. "Because we all know that within DOD there is a lot of waste and... a tremendous amount of focus on processes that have outlived their usefulness. That is incredibly frustrating."

Blackburn took issue with the Chief Management Office failing to produce an initial plan to meet the cost savings. An Oct. 4 report stated DOD wouldn't be able to cut expenses by 25% by Jan. 1, 2020 as sought in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act.

"How you are approaching…this report in January? What are the deliverables and the savings that you have identified? How are you going to reduce those covered activities, like services contracting, and real estate management, so that you are going to hit that target? Because this fourth estate reform, is vital to effectiveness and efficiency," Blackburn asked

Hershman responded, backing up the report's findings that DOD would only be able to hit 5% in a fiscal year because such steep cost-savings were prohibitive and required additional authorities. She's been working with Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the House Armed Services Committee ranking member, to develop a baseline with organizations such as the Washington Headquarter Service, she said. Thornberry is planning to retire from Congress at the end of this term.

"Some of the things we discussed was the focus on the Fourth Estate and particularly baselining within organizations like Washington Headquarters Services. Some of the things that we are doing within my own directorate, with regard to, say civilian management, which is one of the covered areas, we actually have a target of 30% in the fiscal year."

Hershman said there is a timeline with set deliverables to meet those cuts but didn't elaborate.

But in the wake of DOD's first failed audit as well as the prospect of operating under multiple continuing resolutions, it's unlikely Congress will let up on the matter. Thornberry introduced legislation earlier this year that would penalize DOD's CMO for not implementing mandated reforms. Defense Secretary Mark Esper also said he was initiating a Fourth Estate review to look for efficiencies.

This article first appeared on FCW, a partner site of Defense Systems.