The House Armed Services Committee may not have the cachet among defense industry lobbyists that the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense has, but K Streeters who work for military contractors say their peers ignore Armed Services at their own peril.
Armed Services does not dole out specific pots of cash for programs and systems, but the committee does put together an annual authorization bill that can help set the stage for appropriations. And Armed Services helps set the bigger policy picture. This year, for example, the committee is working on reforms to the entire Defense Department procurement process.
“Obviously the appropriators control the money, so a big part of the lobbying community focuses on them,— said Michael Herson, president of American Defense International. “However, the Armed Services Committee does play a major role in how defense dollars are spent and are key players in the process. In addition, when authorizers finish their bills first, the appropriators look at it. And defense policy is done through the Armed Services Committee.—
Herson, along with his colleague Michael Khatchadurian, an alumnus of the Armed Services staff, works the panel for clients. Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) and ranking member John McHugh (R-N.Y.) run a mostly bipartisan ship, he said.
“It’s always been a committee that’s worked well with Republicans and Democrats working together and that continues to this day,— he said.
In fact, the Subcommittee on Air and Land Forces, chaired by Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii), retained most of the staff that had worked for the previous Republican majority.
Larry Grossman, who runs the Grossman Group and is another former Armed Services staff member, said there are policy areas where the Democratic and Republican sides don’t see eye to eye.
“But I think because the issues that the committee deals with — national defense and more broadly security issues — these things tend to transcend party lines,— he said. “Certainly, Mr. Skelton and his ranking member, McHugh, there is no daylight between them on their starting place. Whatever the committee does, it will be good for our national security and for our soldiers in the field.—
While that undertone may remain constant, the committee has seen a lot of personality changes in the past couple of years.
The GOP side of the committee has lost some of its more colorful personalities, such as Curt Weldon (Pa.) and former Chairman Duncan Hunter (Calif.) — though Hunter’s son, also named Duncan Hunter, is now on the panel. On the Democratic side, potentially vulnerable freshmen such as Reps. Glenn Nye (Va.) and Frank Kratovil (Md.) can expect to receive fundraising attention from the defense industry, lobbyists said.
More staffing changes are likely on the horizon, especially among Democratic staffers on the committee. Lobbyists expect that as the Obama administration continues to staff up at the Pentagon, some of the Armed Services aides will get plucked.
Grossman, whose clients include SAP America and General Dynamics, said the committee is an important stop for defense lobbyists.
“It isn’t just as simple as the appropriators appropriate funds and you need not worry about anything else,— he said.
Especially when it comes to the recent task of acquisition reform, he said, Armed Services could affect the bottom line of many big defense contractors.
“They are trying to make better the way that the Pentagon develops and ultimately buys things,— Grossman said.
Jim Ervin, president of the defense-focused shop Ervin Technical Associates whose clients include Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics, said the Armed Services Committee has taken the acquisition reform matter very seriously. Skelton, he said, is “notoriously bipartisan— and is tackling the effort from that perspective.
Ryan Vaart, a lobbyist with Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, spent 10 years working on the panel and continues to check in with the committee for clients that range from communities that have military installations, like the Hampton Roads Military and Federal Facilities Alliance, to military contractors and construction companies.
As for acquisition reform, Vaart said he is monitoring what the committee is doing.
“If you change the acquisition system, it has the potential for great impacts for anybody who sells anything to the Department of Defense,— he said.