Watchdog Says Shape Up ISR Systems


Congress' watchdog agency, the Government Accountability Office, is warning that the Pentagon needs to improve how it plans for and manages development of critical intelligence and surveillance systems.

In a report released April 23, the GAO said the military has struggled "to improve integration across DOD and national intelligence agencies" hampered by the widely differing missions and bureaucratic cultures of the intelligence agencies.

This is not an academic exercise. The report notes that the military plans to spend $28 billion over the next seven years to field a wide array of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems. That's just airborne systems and does not include spy satellites, with their traditionally hefty price tags.

The GAO report cites one example where the Pentagon "had difficulty obtaining complete information" on top secret "national" assets - usually a veiled reference to highly classified radar and electro-optical satellites - "because of security classifications of other agency documents." Also, budget wars have hampered the effort to improve coordination across the intelligence enterprise, the GAO report says. In classic understated fashion, the report says that "disagreements about equitable funding from each budget have led to program delays."

The Pentagon has drawn up an "ISR Integration Roadmap" but it does not appear to help much, if the report's language is parsed carefully. The roadmap does not "provide a long-term view of what capabilities are required to achieve strategic goals or provide detailed information that would make it useful as a basis for deciding among alternative investments."

The GAO reviewed 19 intelligence and reconnaissance systems proposals and found that 12 "sponsors" - this could be a combatant command, an intelligence agency or a service -- "did not complete assessments, and the completeness of the remaining seven sponsors' assessments varied." Perhaps most worrying, was the office's finding that the entity charged with overseeing these crucial decisions - the Battlespace Awareness Functional Capabilities Board -- "lacks adequate numbers of dedicated, skilled personnel to engage in early coordination with sponsors and to review sponsors' assessments."

The report's authors recommend that Defense Secretary Robert Gates tells Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and James Clapper, undersecretary of Defense for intelligence, to work together and develop "a comprehensive source of information on all ISR capabilities." Also, Gates should also put in place a monitoring process to make sure the capabilities board and those it works with do a better job. Finally, the report's authors say the capabilities board's staffing levels and their expertise should be reviewed.

-- Colin Clark

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