In the past five years, the US Department of Defense has doubled its planned investments in weapons systems, but this huge increase has not been accompanied by more stability, better outcomes, or more buying power for the acquisition dollar, according to a bi-partisan congressional study by the Government Accounting Office.
Rather than showing appreciable improvement, programs are experiencing recurring problems with cost overruns, missed deadlines, and performance shortfalls.
The Defense Department has a mandate to deliver high-quality products to warfighters, when they need them and at a price the country can afford. Quality and timeliness are especially critical to maintain military superiority over others, to counter quickly changing threats, and to better protect and enable the warfighter.
Cost is critical given Defense's responsibility for taxpayer money, combined with long-term budget forecasts which indicate that the nation will not be able to sustain its currently planned level of investment in weapons systems, and DoD's plans to increase investments in weapons systems that enable transformation of various military operations.
At this time, however, DoD is simply not positioned to deliver high quality products in a timely and cost-efficient fashion. It is not unusual to see cost increases that add up to tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, schedule delays that add up to years, and large and expensive programs frequently revamped or even scrapped after years of failing to achieve promised effectiveness.
Recognizing this dilemma, DoD has tried to embrace best practices in its policies, and instill more discipline in requirements setting, among numerous other actions. Yet it still has trouble distinguishing wants from needs, and many programs are still running over cost and behind schedule.
The GAO study shows that acquisition problems will likely persist until DoD provides a better foundation for buying the right things, the right way. This involves making tough tradeoff decisions as to which programs should be pursued, and more importantly, not pursued, making sure programs are executable, locking in requirements before programs are ever started, and making it clear who is responsible for what and holding people accountable when these responsibilities are not fulfilled.
These changes will not be easy to make. They require DoD to re-examine the entirety of its acquisition process--what's know as the "Big A"--including requirements setting, funding, and execution. Moreover, DOD will need to alter perceptions of what success means, and what is necessary to achieve success, according to the study.
In the last 5 years, the Department of Defense has doubled its planned investments in new weapon systems from about $700 billion in 2001 to nearly $1.4 trillion in 2006. While the weapons that DOD develops have no rival in superiority, weapon systems acquisition remains a long-standing high risk area.
There are 52 systems that represent an investment of over $850 billion, ranging from the Missile Defense Agency's Airborne Laser to the Army's Warfighter Information Network-Tactical.
The Defense Department often exceeds development cost estimates by approximately 30 to 40 percent and experiences cuts in planned quantities, missed deadlines, and performance shortfalls. Such difficulties, absent definitive and effective reform outcomes, are likely to cause great turmoil in a budget environment in which there are growing fiscal imbalances as well as increasing conflict over increasingly limited resources. While these problems are in themselves complex, they are heightened by the fact that this current level of investment is by no means final.
Sources: US Department of Defense, National Security Institute, Government Accounting Office, US Congress, US Army
Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police. He's former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed "Crack City" by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for a number of organizations. He's also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. He writes for many police and crime magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer, Campus Law Enforcement Journal, and others. He's appeared as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc. His book Assume The Position is available at Amazon.Com, Booksamillion.com, and can be ordered at local bookstores. Kouri holds a bachelor of science in criminal justice and master of arts in public administration and he's a board certified protection professional.