GAO: Most Pentagon weapons programs exceed cost estimates

At least half the weapons programs in the Defense Department's portfolio have exceeded costs, according to the Government Accountability Office.

The total cost of the 98 programs comprising the Pentagon's major defense acquisitions has risen since 2008 by $135 billion, of which $70 billion can be attributed to poor management or execution problems, GAO said in a recent report. A small number of programs are responsible for the procurement cost growth; the Joint Strike Fighter, for instance, because of unproven technology and other problems, accounted for $28 billion of increase without a change in quantities, according to the report.

"We simply cannot balance our budget when we consistently pay hundreds of billions of dollars more than expected for our major weapons systems," said Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., at a Tuesday hearing during his opening statement as chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management.

More than half of the portfolio's total cost growth since 2008 was driven by 10 of the department's largest programs, all currently in production, including the Joint Strike Fighter, DDG 51 Destroyer and C-17A Globemaster III.

"As these programs leave the portfolio through completion or cancellation, their cost will leave with them," said the GAO report that was highlighted during the hearing.

Many cost overruns are due to changes in design, schedule delays and immature technology, GAO found. Vacancies among the senior-level acquisition ranks also hindered effective management of the billions of dollars at stake, witnesses said. "Often there are vacancies in policy-making levels for extended periods of time, and it's not a helpful thing for anyone involved," said Richard Burke, deputy director of the Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation Office at Defense.

Carper talked about streamlining the confirmation process for senior acquisition officials to ensure effective oversight of the weapons programs, while Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., recommended greater accountability for program managers who do not perform up to par when it comes to reining in cost overruns. Brown, who said cost overruns "seem more like the norm than the exception," is the ranking member of the subcommittee.

John Young, senior fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, said the Obama administration needs to "empower" civil servants in the acquisition workforce to make responsible procurement decisions.

GAO praised the Pentagon for its efforts to incorporate the 2009 weapons system acquisition reform law. "To its credit, DoD has demonstrated a strong commitment, at the highest levels, to address the management of its weapon system acquisitions, and the department has started to reprioritize and rebalance its weapon system investments."

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.