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Newcomer’s placement on Pentagon spending panel attracts notice

Rep. Mike Garcia gets rare second-term appointment to powerful subcommittee

Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Calif., nominates Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., for speaker on Friday, Jan. 6, 2023.
Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Calif., nominates Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., for speaker on Friday, Jan. 6, 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Mike Garcia‘s rapid ascent to a seat on the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, among the most sought-after assignments on Capitol Hill, is turning heads in Washington. 

A former Navy pilot and Raytheon Technologies Corp. executive, Garcia, R-Calif., came to Congress after winning a special election in spring 2020 to replace former Rep. Katie Hill, D-Calif., who resigned the previous November, winning former President Donald Trump’s endorsement along the way. 

Garcia went on to win a very tight general election in November 2020, by just 333 votes; House GOP leaders promptly named him to the Appropriations panel for the 117th Congress. He widened his victory margin last November in a redrawn district. But as one of just 18 House Republicans whose constituents backed President Joe Biden over Trump in 2020, he’s still a top Democratic target.

Garcia is vowing to use his role to overhaul the Pentagon’s procurement process to make the U.S. more nimble and able to counter China’s growing capabilities. 

“We need to be willing to say … this contract is good enough to award, it’s OK if [defense contractors] make a little more money or if there’s a little more risk, we’re trading that for speed right now,” he said. “We have to go fast and allow the development programs to move forward.” 

The defense panel, which controls roughly half of annual discretionary spending — currently running at almost $1.7 trillion — is considered by many to be the holy grail of Appropriations subcommittee assignments.

Appropriations Chairwoman Kay Granger, R-Texas, selected Garcia for the panel over several members with longer tenures on the committee. She cited Garcia’s professional experience and his district in announcing his assignment. 

“Congressman Garcia’s experience as a veteran and a former executive in the defense industry makes him a perfect fit to serve on the Subcommittee on Defense,” Granger said in a press release. 

Garcia, 46, also serves on the Intelligence Committee, establishing himself as a rising star among Republicans in the national security space.

He was also in the spotlight last month as one of those who gave a nominating speech for fellow California Republican Kevin McCarthy‘s speaker bid.

Fighter pilot, to Raytheon, to Congress 

After graduating from the Naval Academy, Garcia became an F/A-18 Super Hornet pilot during the Iraq War. He flew more than 30 combat missions during that stint, and he said that experience gave him a good sense of military technology, the country’s strategic and tactical gaps, and the stresses of combat on both personnel and equipment. 

However, Garcia said his experience as a Raytheon executive really makes him stand out in a Congress with many veterans, including many with combat experience. At Raytheon, Garcia rose from middle management to program manager for the F-15EX, the next-generation fighter jet that the company is outfitting with radar systems.

During his time at Raytheon, Garcia said he saw “the challenges that the Pentagon presents, that the buyer presents, and really got a good understanding of where all the choke points are, where all the barriers to going faster lie, where all the inefficiencies lie, and where the entire complex sort of fails in many cases.” 

Defense Subcommittee Chairman Ken Calvert, R-Calif., said Garcia’s experience in the Navy and at Raytheon prepares him well for the subcommittee. California’s role in the defense industry also makes Garcia a good fit, Calvert said. 

“He was in industry at Raytheon, he understands the procurement side, which is extremely important,” Calvert said. “That’s one of the things we need to fix, because the procurement system is broken.” 

Appropriations goals 

Garcia agrees with Calvert’s assessment that the Pentagon’s procurement process needs work. He said the Pentagon blames contractors for delayed and over-budget procurement programs, while the contractors blame the Pentagon. Both blame Congress, he said. 

The Pentagon needs to move faster to award contracts once they have the authorization and funding, not change requirements in the middle of competitions and award more sole-source contracts for smaller programs, Garcia said. 

The Defense Department is not keeping pace with China, Garcia said, and that needs to change. 

“The Pentagon needs to trade some of these efficiencies and cost-savings efforts for speed right now,” he said. “We, as Congress, need to be OK with that. We need to give them the tools to contract in a certain way and move quicker.”    

Garcia said Congress and the Pentagon can’t always default to blaming contractors when programs are behind schedule and over budget. 

“Trust me, as a former contractor, I’m not trying to protect those guys,” he said. “There are a lot of areas they can do better, but they do invest in these programs, and they don’t recognize the highest profit margins.” 

Garcia received $104,911 from defense contractors in his last campaign, placing him 33rd among House members, according to, which tracks donations by industry.

Top Garcia donors in the 2022 cycle include his former employer Raytheon; Northrop Grumman Corp., which is building the B-21 Raider stealth bomber at its Palmdale facility in his district; and AeroVironment Inc., which makes the Switchblade drones that the Ukrainian military has used in its fight against Russian armed forces. AeroVironment is based in Simi Valley, which used to be in Garcia’s district and is now just over the border.

Additionally, Lockheed Martin Corp. has an aircraft manufacturing facility in Palmdale; the work performed there is classified, according to local reports.

Military pay raise

Garcia has pushed to raise pay for junior enlisted military members, and he argued for an amendment to previous appropriations bills to ensure no servicemember makes less than $32,000. He said he will continue that push in this Congress. 

Calvert said Garcia has been a leader on improving pay for soldiers during his time in Congress.

“We need to give these young men and women additional compensation,” Calvert said. “Right now, an E1,” a reference to the lowest military pay grade, “starts at $11 an hour, and that’s just not right. We’ve got to fix that system, so we’re going to work on it.” 

McCarthy’s promise to write the fiscal 2024 appropriations bills at the fiscal 2022 topline has led to concerns from some about potential cuts to the defense budget. Granger and other senior appropriators have come out against defense cuts. 

Garcia, however, was less quick to defend the $858 billion level of defense and security-related spending in the fiscal 2023 omnibus. He said he believes there is some fat in the budget, including climate programs and social justice training efforts, along with room to identify additional efficiencies. 

“Whatever that number is, if it’s $800 billion, it can actually behave like $900 billion,” he said. “$850 billion is a record-high number, so it’s not an anemic appropriations number; neither is $775 billion. These are still very large quantities we are talking about.”

Selection process 

It’s not typical for a member in just their second term to earn a slot on the Defense subcommittee, Michael Higdon, a onetime top aide to former Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., said.

While the committee looks at seniority, it also weighs capacity, district makeup, professional background and leadership potential, he said. 

“The committee is always thinking about strengthening the bench,” said Higdon, now a lobbyist. “As it is, the future of the [Defense Department] is about wisely investing in and procuring rapidly developing technology to keep up with the fight, and Mike Garcia intimately understands this space.” 

In the last Congress, the Republicans’ Defense Subcommittee lineup consisted of seven senior appropriators who were ranking members on other subcommittees. 

Moving into the majority, Republicans added slots, with Garcia and Reps. David Joyce, R-Ohio, and Chris Stewart, R-Utah, joining the subcommittee. Joyce is also a senior appropriator who is the ranking member of the Homeland Security Subcommittee, and Stewart has been on the Appropriations Committee since late 2013. 

Garcia said he’s encouraged that Republicans don’t base subcommittee assignments on seniority, like the Navy did. 

“Time and rank is one thing, but aligning the skill sets and experience and expertise to that subcommittee is just as important,” he said. “So I really appreciate Kay Granger, Ken Calvert, Kevin McCarthy recognize, hey, we have a member with a very niche expertise, and it happens to align to [the Defense Subcommittee] perfectly.”  

Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., who also sits on the Defense Subcommittee, has worked with Garcia on appropriations matters in the past and said Garcia is “a quality guy, a quality member, who brings a lot to the table.”

Womack himself joined the Defense panel during his second term on Capitol Hill.

“The Defense Subcommittee does find people, who are highly qualified, early on,” Womack said. 

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