On Pentagon Waste: Just Give It to Us Straight

Often, bureaucracy-speak masks the real story.

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Sometimes it can be hard to get the point through the Washington bureaucratese.

Take, for instance, a new Government Accountability Office report on Pentagon overspending presented by Michael Sullivan, the GAO's director of acquisition and sourcing management, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.

The GAO study of defense weapons acquisitions finds that the Department of Defense "commits to more programs than resources can support."

Translation: It doesn't say "no" often enough.

What's more, the report notes that the DOD "fails to balance the competing needs of the services with those of the joint warfighter."

Translation: The services do not coordinate their needs, so they often duplicate systems and run up costs.

There is a body—with the fantastically bureaucratic name of Joint Capabilities and Integration Development System—that is supposed to prevent such duplication, but it reportedly approves nearly all of the proposals it receives from the services rather than prioritizing them. The services are supposed to coordinate with each other, but, according to the GAO, nearly 70 percent of the time they don't.

The study, released today, points to the Pentagon's "acceptance of unreliable cost estimates based on overly optimistic assumptions."

Translation: Defense officials wink at unrealistic price tags for complex weapons systems, leaving their successors—and taxpayers—to pay the full costs sometime in the future.

Moreover, the study adds, "DOD officials are rarely held accountable for poor decisions or poor program outcomes."

This one needs no translation.

The GAO study concluded that the Pentagon must more effectively resist "the urge to achieve revolutionary but unachievable capabilities," instead "allowing technologies to mature in the technology base before bringing [them] onto programs, ensuring requirements are well defined and doable, and instituting shorter development cycles."

In other words, they need more realistic goals with shorter timelines.

This in turn would make it easier to estimate costs accurately and, better still, keep them from skyrocketing out of control.

The GAO report raised a case in point: Last year alone, the DOD's portfolio of weapons programs went $295 billion over original cost estimates. What's more, the programs were running, on average, 21 months behind schedule. And when they were completed, they provided less than they promised.

In GAO parlance, the final products "delivered fewer quantities and capabilities to the warfighter than originally planned."

Jacques Gansler, the chairman of the Defense Science Board's Task Force on Industrial Structure for Transformation, testified that the Defense Department needs more acquisition officials who are qualified to review defense contracts. Currently, he said, they are short-staffed and their importance to the Pentagon's workforce is undervalued.

This, Gansler added, introduces opportunities for fraud, waste, and abuse. He testified that there are currently 90 acquisition fraud cases under review from the war zones.