By Emelie Rutherford

The nominee for deputy defense secretary told lawmakers yesterday that if confirmed Pentagon acquisition reform would be a near-term priority of his and programs including the Army’s Future Combat Systems (FCS) would undergo complete reviews.

Senate Armed Service Committee (SASC) members pledged speedy confirmations for William Lynn, President-elect Barack Obama’s pick for the number-two Pentagon post, and three other top defense nominees at a hearing that included only brief mentions of specific weapon systems.

"At a time when we face a wide-range of national-security challenges and unprecedented budget pressures, acquisition reform is not an option, it is an imperative," said Lynn, a Raytheon [RTN] executive and former Pentagon comptroller. "It is time to improve all aspects of the (Defense) Department’s acquisition and budget processes so that every dollar we spend at the Pentagon is used wisely and effectively to enhance our national security."

Lynn in written responses to committee questions said it "is not clear that reform efforts over the past several years have achieved the desired objectives in terms of better outcomes in cost in schedule control as well as responsiveness."

SASC Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) emphasized the need to address cost overruns with defense acquisition programs, saying "we cannot afford this kind of continued inefficiency" during the current economic crisis.

Lynn said if confirmed he would focus on three "initial challenges:" pursing an "active" management-reform agenda that includes tackling acquisition oversight and program and budget development; reviewing the Pentagon’s forthcoming requests to Congress for a fiscal year 2009 war-funding supplemental bill and FY ’10 base budget while also working to complete the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR); and ensuring a smooth leadership transition for the new administration.

The FY ’10 base-budget request will be sent to Congress "in the late-March to mid-April timeframe," Lynn said in writing.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the number-two Republican on the SASC, asked Lynn to include him in discussions about the fate of the varied elements of the FCS program, developed by Boeing [BA] and SAIC [SAI]. FCS is one of the few Pentagon efforts Obama surrogates have mentioned by name that could be hit with budget cuts.

"The elements that are in the Future Combat System are going to be essential to the modernization of the Army and the next generation of equipment," Lynn told Inhofe. "We’ll want to do I think a complete review of that program. But the underlying technologies need to be part of the future force, and we’ll certainly work with you and with the other members of Congress as we undertake that review."

The appropriate mix of F-22 stealth fighters and F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, both developed by Lockheed Martin [LMT], also is a "critical question" that must be answered, Lynn said in writing.

"I would expect this to be a key issue for the early strategy and program-budget reviews that the Department will conduct over the next few months," Lynn wrote.

New SASC member Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) asked the Pentagon nominees to support funding for the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system in his state, a program dear to the Republican Begich unseated in last November’s election, Ted Stevens.

Michele Flourney, Obama’s nominee for under secretary of defense for policy, said missile-defense efforts need to be looked at "holistically."

"There are some imminent vehicles for looking at a broad review of missile defense, not only for long-range systems but medium-and shorter-range systems, and I think that will be an important element of both the QDR and the upcoming budget program reviews," said Flourney, the president of the Center for a New American Security.

Lynn warned the committee that the current investment budget for major defense systems may not be affordable, given their rising costs along with the price of operations, end- strength increases, and asset recapitalization.

"If current trends continue, it will be very difficult to sustain a force large enough to meet the demands associated with both near-term operations and the long-term defense strategy," he said in writing, adding such resource issues will be addressed while formulating the QDR.

Robert Hale, Obama’s nominee for Pentagon comptroller and chief financial officer, said if confirmed his top priority would be "to help the Department of Defense obtain the necessary resources so that the men and women of the department can meet our national security objectives."

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) was alone at the hearing in mentioning Lynn’s use of the "revolving door" between the Pentagon and defense industry. He has lobbied Congress for Raytheon.

Lynn said he followed strict ethics procedures after leaving the Pentagon and will follow such guidelines if he returns to the department.

The SASC yesterday also considered Obama’s nomination of Jeh Charles Johnson, a New York lawyer, to be Pentagon general counsel.

Levin and Ranking Member John McCain (R-Ariz.) said they expect the four defense nominees’ Senate confirmations to be speedy. While Levin said the delivery of some routine material may slightly delay some of the confirmations, Lynn’s confirmation is expected to proceed quickly.

McCain said during brief comments he looks "forward to a very productive year or two" on the SASC. Yesterday was the first time he appeared with the committee since his failed presidential bid.

"Very tough decisions are going to have to be made, whether it be the F-22 or it be a larger issue of our…disengagement in Iraq or further engagement in Afghanistan," McCain said.

In addition to Begich, new Sens. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) are joining the SASC this session, though those three committee assignments are not yet official, Levin said.