By Andrea Shalal
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon and Congress have better-than-ever odds of reaching agreement on how to streamline myriad overlapping laws that slow the process for buying military equipment and services, a top Defense Department official said.
"I am optimistic," Andrew Hunter, a former congressional aide who helped draft many of those laws before joining the Pentagon four years ago, told reporters on Thursday. He said he saw emerging consensus among industry, lawmakers and defense officials about the need for changes.
Hunter, who runs the Pentagon's joint rapid acquisition initiative, has also led a drive to simplify current laws, which U.S. arms buyer Frank Kendall has said put "an extraordinary and unnecessarily complex burden on our program managers and staff."
U.S. defense officials have been in talks with congressional committees in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, and hope to submit some reform legislation as part of the fiscal 2016 budget process, said Hunter, who is moving to a job with the Center for Strategic and International Studies next month.
"We've come up with some proposals that we hope will be favorably received," he said. Hunter said the goal was to build on some key legislation already in place while giving program managers more flexibility to focus on the main issues.
The Pentagon initiative dovetails with fresh efforts by the House and Senate armed services committees to reform the slow, cumbersome U.S. military acquisition process and reverse years of schedule delays, cost overruns and other challenges.
Big weapons makers like Lockheed Martin Corp, Boeing Co and Northrop Grumman Corp, are keeping a close eye on efforts to reform a system at a time when the industry is grappling with a downturn in military spending.
Hunter said the idea was to tailor the acquisition process to focus on key priorities and move away from a compliance mindset.
The Defense Department's rapid acquisition effort has responded to about 500 joint service requests over the past decade, plus another 500 handled by individual military services.
About 30 requests were still in the works, he said, citing continued demand for intelligence and surveillance equipment, biometrics and systems to combat roadside bombs.
He said the Pentagon's work to outfit the Navy ship MV Cape Ray with special equipment to use for destruction of Syrian chemical agents took months, not years, and was an "exemplar" of how to quickly meet the military's urgent battlefield needs.
The biggest hurdle to reaching agreement on making current laws more flexible would be winning the trust of lawmakers concerned about a repeat of multibillion-dollar acquisition failures such as the Army's Future Combat Systems and the Marine Corps' Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle program, Hunter said.
"I see that that's an obstacle," he said. "When you’re arguing for flexibility, you’re basically saying 'Trust me.' And then the issue is: 'But what about the time you screwed up.'"
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; editing by Gunna Dickson)