May 13, 2009 / 10:48 PM / 11 years ago

U.S. House approves buying reforms

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved legislation on Wednesday that aims to end chronic cost overruns and delays in the Pentagon’s biggest weapons programs.

The bipartisan legislation is backed by the White House. A similar weapons-buying reform bill was approved last week by the Senate, and congressional negotiators hope to work out a compromise version by the end of May.

Congressional reform efforts are being closely watched by the Pentagon’s top contractors: Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N), Boeing Co (BA.N), Northrop Grumman Corp (NOC.N), General Dynamics Corp (GD.N), and Britain’s BAE Systems (BAES.L).

The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office estimated in March that cost overruns alone on major weapons programs amounted to nearly $300 billion (198 billion pounds), and President Barack Obama has repeatedly highlighted the need to reform weapons programs.

The House bill was introduced by Democrat Ike Skelton and Republican John McHugh, and was approved by a vote of 428-0.

It addresses major weapons programs, which account for about 20 percent of Pentagon acquisitions, but the committee is also working on broader reforms to be introduced next year that would touch on services and other areas.

The legislation would require the defence secretary to designate officials to oversee cost estimates, systems engineering and performance assessment of new weapons. It also would strengthen the existing Nunn-McCurdy law that kicks in once programs’ costs exceed a certain level, and would require more information about what caused cost overruns.

“Passage of this legislation is an essential step at a time when the federal budget, including defence spending, must be brought under control,” said Rob Andrews, a New Jersey Democrat. “I look forward to continuing our work on the Defence Acquisition Reform Panel and finding solutions for the other 80 percent of the defence acquisition process that will continue saving precious taxpayer dollars.”

The Senate’s version, sponsored by Democrat Carl Levin and Republican John McCain, included an amendment that would require the Pentagon to explain the effect of its decisions on U.S. jobs and the industrial base.

Unlike the Senate bill, the House legislation gives the defence secretary more leeway in determining how to structure the new oversight offices, and seeks to avoid adding more layers of bureaucracy, lawmakers said.

Reporting by Julie Vorman and Andrea Shalal-Esa; Editing by Tim Dobbyn

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