WASHINGTON (AP) - The Pentagon’s system for buying large weapon projects has wasted billions of taxpayer dollars, and efforts to reform it will be difficult, according to a congressional investigator and a top Defense Department official.
Michael Sullivan, director of acquisition and sourcing management at the Government Accountability Office, said the department’s efforts to improve its acquisition process along with proposed legislation will not be as effective without an overhaul of government contracting.
“These changes will not be easy to make,” Sullivan said at a House Budget Committee hearing. “DOD has tough decisions to make about its weapon systems portfolio.”
Robert Hale, an undersecretary of defense who helps oversee the Pentagon’s budget, said the department is looking for ways to “reduce cost growth, minimize schedule delays and improve performance.”
“We need to improve government contracting,” Hale said. “Such initiatives are especially important because of the economic crisis that the country is facing.”
In its current state, the Pentagon’s acquisition system has cost taxpayers billions of dollars as a result of poor planning, overly optimistic cost estimates and lack of oversight, Sullivan said. It also has led to significant delays in delivering the latest technology and weapons to soldiers.
For example, the Army’s Future Combat Systems, which is “still dealing with significant technical risk,” was anticipated to cost $20 billion to develop but has since grown by another $8 billion, he said.
The Army program would outfit brigades with tools meant to incorporate high-speed communications and unmanned sensors with troops on the battlefield. Boeing Co. is the lead contractor on the program, with SAIC Inc. also playing a large role.
The Army has disputed recent cost estimates by the GAO, arguing that claims of immature technology are unproven. The GAO also recommended that Congress not approve full funding for the Army project until the Pentagon gives a complete picture of the budgets involved.
Still, the GAO last year reported that 95 defense projects had overrun their budgets by $295 billion _ and the average delivery delay was 21 months.
“Major weapon programs continue to cost more, take longer, and deliver fewer quantities and capabilities than originally planned,” said Sullivan. And defense officials are “rarely held accountable for poor decisions or poor program outcomes,” he said.
The GAO criticism comes as the Pentagon works to craft a detailed fiscal 2010 defense budget. President Barack Obama last month proposed a 4 percent increase in defense spending to $534 billion during the next fiscal year.
Obama also has pledged to conduct rigorous reviews of weapons programs to make sure their technologies are proven before they go into production. A bill introduced by Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and John McCain, R-Ariz., would set similar requirements.
Hale said the department will have to make a number of tough budget decisions in the weeks ahead, but he did not identify any likely cuts. Details on the budget for specific Pentagon programs are expected in April.
Defense companies and military experts expect make major cuts on projects like Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-22 fighter jet program or the Army’s modernization effort.