March 16, 2001The Pentagon routinely approves new weapons systems before evaluating their feasibility, according to a new General Accounting Office report. The report, "Best Practices: Better Matching of Needs and Resources Will Lead to Better Weapon Systems Outcomes" ( GAO-01-288), surveyed the development of nine big-ticket weapon projects to identify why new weapons are subject to cost overruns and production delays. The Defense Department does not square the performance requirements of new weapons with the manufacturer's resources until projects have already been approved, leading to budget-busting delays when engineers try to design the weapons, the report said. Defense develops weapons this way because each of the military services is locked in a fight for a larger slice of the Defense budget, GAO said. "The competition within [Defense] to win funding and get approval to start a new program is intense. This creates strong incentives for requirements setters to write performance requirements that will make their particular weapon system stand out from existing or alternative systems," said GAO. "Requirements setters" are Pentagon officials who determine the performance requirements that new weapons should meet. While the customers of these weapons tend to concentrate on current needs, requirements setters focus on developing weapons with future needs in mind. Because the Pentagon is reluctant to purchase costly new systems, requirements setters have an incentive to outfit new weapons with cutting-edge capability so they are clearly superior to existing systems. The production of the Army's Crusader tank is a case in point, according to GAO. To win internal approval for the Crusader, requirements setters outfitted it with a liquid propellant that enabled it to shoot farther than existing tanks. But after two years in production, the contractor developing the Crusader concluded it lacked the resources to create the propellant, forcing a major redesign. The Pentagon should identify gaps between resources and weapons requirements before approving new projects, the report concluded. GAO also called on the Pentagon to increase the involvement of high-level officials in the requirements setting process, a move that has achieved more workable weapon designs in pilot projects. The Defense Department concurred with each of the report's recommendations and pledged to step up the use of commercial business practices in the weapons acquisition process.
March 16, 2001