DoD Buzz

Your program has breached Nunn-McCurdy? Yawn.


Tax day usually falls on April 15, but this year it's today -- in case you need to hurry up and file. While you were enjoying your reprieve on Friday, DoD slipped out its latest report on the cost and performance of major weapons programs. The announcement, available here, is required reading if you want to get the latest on your favorite big programs. It also includes something else that's very interesting: The numbers and details for all the programs that endured Nunn-McCurdy breaches last year.

Nunn-McCurdy is shorthand for the 1982 law that requires the Pentagon to notify Congress if a program's costs grow too much, originally intended to impose a hard ceiling on Defense Department spending. The idea was that forcing DoD to notify Congress about its poor performance would at least embarrass DoD into doing better, and at most, let Congress or secretaries of defense get tough on wasteful spending. But instead of leading to program cancellations, DoD officials now treat Nunn-McCurdy breaches the way an NBA defender treats fouls against a big man: Nothing to be afraid of, and even a helpful tool if used properly.

In 2010, seven DoD programs breached the Nunn-McCurdy prohibition, but under the law, all that has to happen is for the Pentagon to explain why a given program is important. It does this in almost every case, and Congress almost always says, oh, all right. To be sure, in some instances the Pentagon agrees to "review" or restructure a program. That is, unless, a program already is in the crosshairs: The Marines' Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, eliminated earlier this year, was a dead man walking. Its Nunn-McCurdy breach was just another nail in its coffin -- although it still has its share of defenders on Capitol Hill.

Also of interest in Friday's announcement were DoD's latest figures, as of December, for how many weapons it's buying and how much it expects to pay. For example, the Army 1,375's UH-60M model Black Hawk helicopters are expected to cost around  $27.3 billion. The Navy's 75 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers: $88.4 billion. And the king of them all is, you guessed it -- the F-35. For 2,457 of those, you'll get to pay $379.4 billion.

Happy tax day!

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