Robert Hale testifies during the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in Washington March 5, 2013.

Robert Hale testifies during the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in Washington March 5, 2013. Joint Chiefs of Staff / Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Daniel Hinton

Panel Seeks Ways to Accelerate Pentagon Budgeting—and Keep Up with China

Recommendations are expected soon on adapting a decades-old way of doing things for the modern era.

A congressionally chartered panel is poised to make recommendations for ways to overhaul the way the Pentagon requests and spends hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars each year—in part so the U.S. military can keep pace with China’s weapons development.

The goal is to modernize the Planning, Programming, Budgeting & Execution Process so that the military can get its hands on newer technology much faster than it can today.

“We spent a year…gathering information. Now it is time to assess that,” said Robert Hale, who served as Pentagon comptroller during the Obama administration and is the chair of the so-called Commission on PPBE Reform. “We are on track to provide what I believe will be a useful report with some actionable recommendations on the timeframes that Congress has specified.”

The 13-person panel is made up of a bipartisan group of former Pentagon and congressional officials who were appointed by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and members of Congress.

The commission is on track to finish its work one year from now. If its recommendations are adopted, it could be the most comprehensive overhaul of the U.S. Defense Department budget process in more than a half century.

In the year since it was created, the panel has held 27 meetings and interviewed more than 280 members of Congress, current and former Pentagon officials, industry executives, trade group leaders. 

Hale and Ellen Lord, a former industry CEO who was the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer during the Trump administration, shared with Defense One several suggestions that were made to the commission during its numerous meetings and interviews. They both stressed that the panel has not yet made any formal recommendations and the fact that they are referencing specific suggestions should not be considered an endorsement.

So what do the people the commission interviewed recommend? The commission’s status report released Thursday includes nearly two-dozen suggestions.

“We're trying to be actionable when we come up with recommendations, not just broad recommendations, but giving both DOD and the Hill some decision space where they could pick a few things and go do them without a lot of further research as to how to do them,” Lord said.

Among them: linking strategy to budgets and being able to field weapons more quickly. Moving faster has been a common theme at the Pentagon in recent years as it tries to outpace Chinese weapon advancements. More recently, it has looked for ways to boost weapons production  to resupply arms given to Ukraine to defend against a Russian invasion. Officials have also looked for new, more flexible ways to purchase new technology, like software.

“A theme that we have all heard many, many times is how does DOD rapidly and as comprehensively as possible supply data that helps decision making on the Hill,” Lord said.