- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 6, 2000

The Defense Department has allowed Air Force operating costs to balloon out of control and failed to update security clearances for more than a fifth of its military and civilian personnel, according to the General Accounting Office.
The Pentagon is in "a death spiral" from rising aircraft operating costs, now exceeding $16 billion a year, because effective cost control has not been a priority, the congressional watchdog agency told a Senate Armed Services subcommittee last week.
The costs will top $20 billion by 2005, the report said, although the Pentagon has pledged to reduce operation and maintenance spending 20 percent by that time.
Military managers said skyrocketing operating costs were caused by delays in replacing aging aircraft because of procurement cutbacks under the current administration. They said cost control competes for priority with aircraft safety, readiness and combat capability.
"Unfortunately, we are trapped in a 'death spiral,' " the report quoted Jacques Gansler, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and technology, as saying in 1998. "The requirement to maintain our aging equipment is costing us much more each year in repair costs, down time and maintenance tempo. But we must keep this equipment in repair to maintain readiness."
The Air Force is buying 339 Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptors to replace 522 F-15s, but the projected maintenance and repair costs will be the same about $1.5 billion a year, the GAO said.
The F-15s, with all their problems due to age, cost $2.9 million each to maintain and repair, compared with $2.8 million to $4.4 million each for F-22s.
"There is no assurance that the fighter will cost 20 percent less to operate and support than the F-16 and A-10 aircraft that it will replace. Cost data provided by the program office and our analysis indicate that the fighter may cost more, perhaps considerably more, to operate," the congressional audit agency concluded.
The cost to operate the Air Force's 36 fielded aircraft systems increased from $15.3 billion to $16.6 billion a year from 1997 to 1999, and will continue increasing more than $700 million a year through 2005 despite modernization, the GAO said.
The Air Force has 1,372 F-16s with nearly 7,000 repairable parts that cost $509 million a year to maintain, the report said. "Of these, the 25 most fault-prone parts cost $224 million to repair in fiscal year 1998, accounting for about 44 percent of the system's repair parts total."
The F-16 has 16 engine parts and four radar components that break down regularly, causing most of the rising costs, Air Force flight line crews said.
The Pentagon disagreed with the GAO's claim that Air Force maintenance costs must be cut $7 billion a year for the next four or five years in order to cut costs 20 percent by 2005.
"The arithmetic that led to that conclusion is not clear," wrote George R. Schneiter, the Pentagon's director of strategic and tactical systems, in a response to the GAO.
Meanwhile, a backlog of 505,786 unrenewed security clearances has prevented military and Defense Department civilian personnel in sensitive positions from doing their jobs around the world and caused serious morale problems, military professionals told The Washington Times.
A separate GAO report to a House Government reform subcommittee blamed the problem on Pentagon carelessness, saying the current administration had not given sufficient priority to renewing security clearances for 2.4 million military and civilian personnel.
Top secret clearances must be renewed every five years, at a cost of $1,800 for each investigation, while personnel with secret clearances must be reinvestigated every 10 years at a cost of $250 each.
A third of the unrenewed clearances are held by more than 166,000 military contract employees, whose access to restricted facilities and data is affected by the backlog. Almost another third are Army personnel. More than 94,000 people with top secret clearances are in limbo because of the backlog, the report said.
Arthur L. Money, assistant secretary of defense, said the Pentagon had accelerated efforts to eliminate the backlog of security clearance renewals over the next two years, including turning over civilian investigations to the Office of Personnel Management.

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