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Pentagon Programs Still Cost Too Much, Too Slow

Pentagon procurement accounts are being squeezed by the costs of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well growing pressures to reduce defense spending in the face of looming entitlement costs soon to hit the federal budget.

In a new report, the Government Accountability Office said once again that too many weapons programs have "cost increases that add up to hundreds of millions of dollars, schedule delays that add up to years, and capabilities that fall far short of what was promised."

This over-promise, under-deliver culture turns program managers into less than straightforward product marketers. It's caused by the failure to adequately fund the Pentagon's programs, which promotes an "unhealthy competition among and within the services." To get funding, program officials exaggerate what their weapons can do while providing overly rosy cost estimates, the auditors said.

Ultimately, the problem gets dumped in Congress' lap. Lawmakers are then faced with the difficult choice: "pull funds from other federal programs to support DOD's acquisitions or accept less warfighting capability than promised."

In a review of 20 of the 95 major weapons programs in the Pentagon's portfolio, GAO said weapons development costs are typically underestimated by 30 to 40 percent when programs are started. Along with the tendency to lowball projected costs to get the program approved, overly optimistic assumptions are made about critical technologies and system requirements that don't pan out.

For example, the Army vastly understated its original costs for the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) [pictured above] by nearly 160 percent, or $1.3 billion, in part because the service wrongly assumed the program could use commercial-off-the-shelf technology. What was to have been a $338 million program has mushroomed into a $2 billion program.

The Joint Strike Fighter was supposed to provide the Air Force, Navy and Marines with a low-cost common airframe that would be produced in three different versions. Now, "significant design issues" have forced an 18-month development delay and the hoped for commonality across airframes has decreased, GAO said. The disappearing efficiencies have meant JSF development costs have increased by 20 percent, or at least $7.1 billion.

The Army originally estimated that its Future Combat Systems modernization effort would need 32 million lines of code to run the communications network and various robotic and manned platforms. The current estimate is that 95 million lines of code are needed, leading to an increase in software development costs, just the software, approaching $8 billion.

The Marine Corps' new armored amphibian designed to assault enemy beaches, the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, was originally projected to cost $1.1 billion to develop. The program is now expected to cost at least $3.6 billion to develop. It's a long list and it doesn't seem to get any shorter each time GAO does one of these reports.

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