Stunning Cost Overruns in Weapons Development Programs

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Had Benjamin Franklin ever served as Secretary of Defense, he might well have added “cost overruns” to his now famous adage about “nothing is certain but death and taxes,” given how predictable the Pentagon has become in going over budget with weapons programs. The latest report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on the Defense Department’s spending habits reveals, yet again, that of nearly a hundred programs totaling more than a trillion dollars, more than 70% are behind schedule, incurring added costs and forcing military planners to downsize their orders (also yet again).

According to the GAO, research and development costs for 96 weapons programs have increased 42% more than originally estimated, and Pentagon officials are, on average, 22 months behind schedule in delivering new weapons. The only good news contained in the GAO report is the fact that the Pentagon’s 2008 cost growth of $296 billion is actually $5 billion less than the 2007 cost growth of $301 billion—but that’s primarily because defense officials have decided to purchase fewer weapons than originally planned.
Meanwhile, another report by investigators at the Center for Public Integrity has revealed that while defense contracting has doubled over the last 15 years (from $200 billion in 1993 to $400 billion in 2008), the number of fraud and corruption cases sent to federal prosecutors dropped 76% during the Bush administration. “No one is minding the store,” said William G. Dupree, former director of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, which looks into contracting fraud. “Someone needs to address that.”
But don’t count on the FBI to take up the slack. In addition to the precipitous drop in cases reported by Defense Department examiners, from 2001-2008 the FBI sent 55% fewer government-wide contracting fraud and corruption cases to prosecutors at the Justice Department.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
Defense Acquisitions Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs (Government Accountability Office) (PDF)
GAO: Staggering Cost Overruns Dwarf Modest Improvements in Defense Acquisition (by Katharine McIntire Peters, Government
Fraud Cases Fell While Pentagon Contracts Surged (by Nick Schwellenbach, Center for Public Integrity)


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