The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released yet another report (pdf) on the dismal state of major weapons acquisition programs, which the Defense Department plans on spending $1.3 trillion between 2005 and 2009. Cost overruns for some of our government's largest programs--the Army's Future Combat Systems and the service-wide Joint Strike Fighter--have had double digit percentage growth in their price tags. And the C-130 Avionics Modernization and Global Hawk programs have ballooned well over 100% from their original estimates.
Despite "reforms" over the past five years, the Defense Department has "not eliminated cost and schedule problems for major weapons development programs." GAO says the main problem is that too often the Defense Department begins weapons acquisition programs that embrace "revolutionary" technologies that are immature and fraught with high risk leading to poor initial estimates of their true cost and time to complete.
In fact, the DoD is not even following its own policy guidance which eschews "revolutionary" leaps in technology in favor of evolutionary or incremental changes, the GAO points out. Furthermore, there is a lack of effective controls which ensure that DoD is following its own policies and a lack of specific criteria, allowing decisionmakers "to make decisions on the basis of subjective judgment." For example:
Nearly 80 percent of the programs we [GAO] assessed were permitted to bypass the policy's initial major decision review and the associated systems-engineering process that are intended to ensure that a system's requirements match available resources and that a sound business case is developed prior to starting system development.
Because key processes which are supposed to take place are constantly allowed to be skipped, transparency and accountability are weakened, which as GAO and numerous others tell us, leads to less bang for the buck.