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‘Not making ****ing widgets here’: Smith defends acquisition process

Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, US Representative Adam Smith, Democrat of Washington, speaks during a House Armed Services Committee on September 29, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by ROD LAMKEY/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

WASHINGTON: The chairman of the House Armed Services committee today passionately pushed back on the idea that wasteful spending on defense systems is the result of ineptitude or a lack of oversight in Congress, telling reporters, “We’re not making ****ing widgets here.”

The comments from Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., came in response to a reporter’s assertion that the Pentagon routinely spends billions of dollars on systems that fail, including some high-profile controversies like the Navy’s LCS program, and that there’s little consequence for officials involved in those decisions.

“What, we didn’t take anyone out and execute them?” Smith responded.

“The key point here is the modernization, what’s gone on in the last 20 years and how to fix it,” he told reporters at a Defense Writers’ Group meeting. “But to presume that it’s just because we’ve just let these people go along and waste money, I don’t think [that] accurately reflects what’s happening in terms of who is accountable or not, and also, the degree of difficulty is not properly calculated.

“I think this presumption that there’s this group of clowns working around in Congress and the Pentagon just throwing money around because they’re too stupid to know anything… is bull****,” he said. “And it’s not helpful in terms of trying to fix it.”

Smith said, “What’s actually happening is a lot of very smart, dedicated people are dealing with an incredibly complicated situation and making mistakes, not correctly anticipating what is going to be possible and what’s not going to be possible.”

Smith’s comments come just days after the Government Accountability Office released its regular report on the status of the Pentagon’s major weapons systems, which found delays in more than half the programs it studied.

RELATED: GAO finds delays in major weapons programs, broad cybersecurity concerns

The chairman today acknowledged that the Pentagon had a “terrible run” from 2000 to 2015, but said part of the problem was that technology was progressing far faster than development could keep up. Now, he said, the acquisition process is in a much better place.

He pointed to programs like the Navy’s attack submarine initiative and the forthcoming B-21 bomber as examples of improvements.

Smith did, however, express strong skepticism for one of the biggest potential acquisition programs on the military’s horizon: the NGAD sixth-generation fighter jet. Essentially Smith said that he’s wary of making massive bets on single programs, and the NGAD represents a “whole lot of chips in the middle of the table.”

He said he’s not saying the US doesn’t need a sixth-gen fighter, but said some serious analysis should be done to ensure the NGAD actually solves a strategic or tactical problem.

“And maybe you gotta do it. Maybe it’s a technology that if somebody gets there first and you haven’t gotten there, you’re in a really bad place. You gotta make the investment. You gotta try and make it work even if the odds are long,” he said. “But I’d prefer a solution that puts you in a position to meet your defense needs without having to make such a large investment on sort of betting on the [coming] technology. But again, you don’t know for sure.

“What I do believe is that we gotta really take a hard look at this. The idea of just going off third generation, fourth generation, fifth generation, sixth generation — of course you have to have a sixth generation. Let’s take a look at what is that […] capability? How survivable is it? In what situation?”

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