Broken Government

Published — December 10, 2008 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Mismanagement of major weapons acquisitions

Department of Defense went $300 billion over estimates for new weapons acquisitions, and weapons deliveries run 21 months behind


The Department of Defense (DOD) has long been plagued with cost increases and delays in buying new weapons, but an already bad situation became worse over the course of the Bush administration. In 95 weapons programs that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reviewed in 2007, costs grew by nearly $300 billion over the initial estimates, and weapons deliveries were behind schedule by an average of 21 months. The GAO testified before Congress in September 2008 that: “Since fiscal year 2000, DOD significantly increased the number of major defense acquisition programs and its overall investment in them. During this same time period, the performance of the DOD portfolio has gotten worse.” As costs rose, DOD typically bought smaller quantities of new weapons. Meanwhile the need for new equipment has grown more dire, as conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have used up the supply of ground vehicles and aircraft faster than expected. The GAO stated that the Pentagon’s “implied definition of success” is whether it gets funding for programs, not how well it manages programs. The DOD “cannot continue to view success through this prism,” the GAO stressed.

DOD Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics John Young has changed some policies in response to the GAO’s criticisms, such as linking award fees to contractors more closely to their performance. The GAO noted, however, that these policies will have to be “adopted and implemented,” and only then may “provide a foundation” for addressing key problems. The DOD press office did not respond to a request for comment, but James Finley, a high-level Pentagon procurement official, told Congress in April 2008 that although Pentagon’s acquisition process was “not broken,” there is a need “to add discipline into the process.” He also noted that DOD was more than two years into a plan to address acquisition problems.

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