DEFENSE

What to expect when Ash Carter gets on the Senate hotseat

It is a new year, Congress now has a Republican majority, and soon, Ash Carter will step up to the plate during his confirmation hearing to be the next Secretary of Defense. Word on the street is that Carter will pass with flying colors, but the questions the committee will potentially ask him span a variety of topics.

There are the obvious questions like ones about international affairs. He will be asked about his stance on Ukraine and NATO, ISIS and Syria, Russia, Iraq and Afghanistan. According to an unnamed source, however, more controversial lines of questioning may arise during this discussion related to North Korea and Iran’s nuclear situations.

Carter will also be asked about acquisition reform, especially as he was the inventor of the Better Buying Power initiative. As secretary, he will have the job of making sure that government-unique requirements that are established don’t cut off access to the innovative, commercial technologies that are out there, said Trey Hodgkins, senior vice president, public sector, at the Information Technology Industry Council.

This discussion could lead into an interesting debate with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), said PSC president and CEO Stan Soloway, given that McCain has been very critical of some of the decisions that the Defense Department made while Carter was undersecretary and deputy secretary, especially regarding procurement. “[Carter] made it very clear that he wants to see a push toward things like fixed-price contracts, even for things like development,” Soloway said.

The confirmation hearing will include questions about the defense budget and sequestration, and what that means, Hodgkins said, to the contractor community, as well as what the department will be buying and how that will evolve.

Perhaps the most controversial questions Carter will get, however, have to do with his lack of a formal military background, and the impact that will or will not have on his role as Secretary of Defense. However, Soloway said and others agreed that Carter’s no stranger to the national security arena and has spent numerous years working with each of the services.

At the end of the day, this should not pose an issue for Carter. “He’s a known quantity, he’s been through confirmation before as deputy secretary, he’s not seen as partisan in any narrow political or ideological sense, he has a record of dealing with cost, technology, and budget issues with considerable skill," said Tony Cordesman, the Arliegh A. Burk Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "As far as I know, he comes to it with an advantage that few others do.”

About the Author

Mark Hoover is a senior staff writer with Washington Technology. You can contact him at mhoover@washingtontechnology.com, or connect with him on Twitter at @mhooverWT.

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