On March 23, 2018, President Trump signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018, a comprehensive appropriations measure that funds the federal government through the remainder of FY 2018 (September 30, 2018). The $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill includes $654.6 billion in discretionary funding for the DoD, including $89.2 billion for research, development, testing and evaluation of new defense technologies, and $144.3 billion for equipment procurement and upgrades. With midterm elections and a potential party shift or divided government looming, it is possible that Congress will not pass another major piece of legislation before November 2018 rolls around—with the exception of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 (NDAA). Congress' annual defense policy bill has been passed and signed into law for each of the past 57 years, and is expected to authorize approximately $716 billion in funding for DoD in FY19.
With passage of the FY18 spending bill complete and the potential for any additional legislative battles over short-term federal government funding measures (i.e., continuing resolutions) in FY18 eliminated, Congressional authorizers and appropriators have already shifted their focus to consideration of the FY19 federal budget. The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) is scheduled to hold subcommittee markups of the NDAA on April 26, and the marathon full committee markup is slated for May 9. Floor debate on the NDAA in the House has not been announced, but HASC Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-TX 13th) is targeting House passage of its version of the NDAA before Memorial Day. Although the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) has not, at this writing, released its NDAA markup schedule, its initial consideration of the bill at the subcommittee and full committee levels is expected to take place within a similar timeframe as the HASC's consideration.
Thornberry and SASC Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) have driven annual defense acquisition reform initiatives via the NDAA since taking control of their respective committees in 2015. However a nascent, but nevertheless genuine, cultural change is afoot at the DoD, which recognizes a need for speed in deploying new technologies and capabilities to its warfighters if the US is to maintain an asymmetric advantage over its adversaries. Ash Carter, former secretary of defense in the Obama administration, created the DoD's modern innovation and acquisition reform movement with the formation of components such as the Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental (DIUx) and the Strategic Capabilities Office, and by placing greater emphasis on, and increasing funding for, the missions of legacy components, such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Current Secretary of Defense James Mattis has strongly endorsed and continued Carter's innovation and acquisition reform efforts.
It is within this evolving defense acquisition reform landscape and renewed push by the DoD to innovate faster and smarter with the help of non-traditional commercial partners that Thornberry and bicameral, bipartisan supporters are expected to incorporate into the this year's NDAA additional defense acquisition reform and innovation solutions.