…the Department of Defense’s (DOD) management of its major weapon system acquisitions—an area that has been on GAO’s high risk list since 1990. Prior to and since that time, Congress and DOD have continually explored ways to improve acquisition outcomes without much to show for their efforts. DOD’s major weapon system programs continue to take longer, cost more, and deliver fewer quantities and capabilities than originally planned. Current operational demands have highlighted the impact of these persistent problems as DOD has been forced to work outside of its traditional acquisition process to acquire equipment that meet warfighter needs.
Investment in weapons acquisition programs is now at its highest level in two decades. The department expects to invest about $900 billion (fiscal year 2008 dollars) over the next 5 years on development and procurement with more than $335 billion invested specifically in major defense acquisition programs. Given the size of this investment, poor outcomes in DOD’s weapon system programs reverberate across the entire federal government. Every dollar wasted during the development and acquisition of weapon systems is money not available for other internal and external budget prioritiries…
Highlights of GAO-08-782T, a testimony before the Committee on Armed Services, U.S. Senate
Since 1990, GAO has designated the Department of Defense’s (DOD) management of major weapon system acquisitions a high risk area. DOD has taken some action to improve acquisition outcomes, but its weapon programs continue to take longer, cost more, and deliver fewer capabilities than originally planned. These persistent problems—coupled with current operational demands—have impelled DOD to work outside of its traditional acquisition process to acquire equipment that meet urgent warfighter needs.
Poor outcomes in DOD’s weapon system programs reverberate across the entire federal government. Over the next 5 years, DOD plans to invest about $900 billion to develop and procure weapon systems—the highest level of investment in two decades. Every dollar wasted on acquiring weapon systems is less money available for other priorities.
This testimony describes DOD’s current weapon system investment portfolio, the problems that contribute to cost and schedule increases, and the potential impacts of recent legislative initiatives and DOD actions aimed at improving outcomes. It also provides some observations about what is needed for DOD to achieve lasting reform. The testimony is drawn from GAO’s body of work on DOD’s acquisition, requirements, and funding processes, as well as its most recent annual assessment of selected DOD weapon programs.
DOD’s portfolio of weapon system programs has grown at a pace that far exceeds available resources. From 1992 to 2007, the estimated acquisition costs remaining for major weapons programs increased almost 120 percent, while the annual funding provided for these programs only increased 57 percent. Current programs are experiencing, on average, a 21-month delay in delivering initial capabilities to the warfighter—often forcing DOD to spend additional funds on maintaining legacy systems.
Systemic problems both at the strategic and at the program level underlie cost growth and schedule delays. At the strategic level, DOD’s processes for identifying warfighter needs, allocating resources, and developing and procuring weapon systems—which together define DOD’s overall weapon system investment strategy—are fragmented and broken. At the program level, weapon system programs are initiated without sufficient knowledge about system requirements, technology, and design maturity. Lacking such knowledge, managers rely on assumptions that are consistently too optimistic, exposing programs to significant and unnecessary risks and ultimately cost growth and schedule delays. At the same time, frequent turnover of program managers and an increased reliance on contractors increases the government’s risk of losing accountability.
What GAO Found
United States Government Accountability Office
Why GAO Did This Study
June 3, 2008
Better Weapon Program Outcomes Require Discipline, Accountability, and Fundamental Changes in the Acquisition Environment