The More Things Change...

A sampling of viewpoints about problems in defense acquisitions over the last 25 years

This is part of IEEE Spectrum's Special Report on What's Wrong with Weapons Acquisitions?

PHOTO: Dietmar Klement/Jose Antonio Santiso Fernández/iStockphoto

Problems with defense acquisitions are nothing new. Below are quotations from several people who served as Comptroller General of the United States over the last quarter century. Each was addressing what was at the time the current state of weapons acquisitions, but their observations are remarkably, depressingly similar.

”Overly ambitious performance requirements; combined with low initial cost predictions, optimistic-risk estimates, and quick deployment; lead almost inevitably to engineering changes, schedule slippages, and cost increases. To keep total program cost from rising, planned quantities are reduced which, in turn, increases unit cost.”

—Elmer B. Staats, statement before the U.S. House Committee on Armed Services, 28 March 1973

”In recent years, there has been increasing concern about the way DOD acquires major weapon systems. There is a perception that the acquisition process does not ensure the selection and development of the most cost-effective weapons. Cost growth, prohibitively long and growing acquisition times, plus program stretch-outs resulting in less efficient production rates have been common problems in the past. These factors, plus others, increase concerns about the current efficiency and effectiveness of DOD’s acquisition policies, procedures, and practices.”

—Charles A. Bowsher, in ”Major Defense Issues Being Addressed by the General Accounting Office,” 1 March 1985

”Individually, participants act rationally, for they see their needs as aligned with the national interests. However, collectively, these needs create an environment that encourages ”selling” programs, along with undue optimism, parochialism, and other compromises of good judgment. For example, is it reasonable to expect program sponsors to present objective risk assessments, report realistic cost estimates, or perform thorough tests of prototypes when such measures expose programs to disruption, deferral, or even cancellation?”

—Charles A. Bowsher, in ”Weapons Acquisition: A Rare Opportunity for Lasting Change,” December 1992

”Despite good intentions and some progress, our ongoing reviews of DOD’s major weapon system acquisitions are showing that significant reforms have not yet been reflected in the management and decision-making on individual programs. The flagship systems, as well as many other top priorities in each of the services, continue to cost significantly more, take longer to produce, and deliver less than was promised.”

—David M. Walker, testimony before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support, 26 April 2000

”Today we are at a key crossroad. In the next few decades, the nation will be struggling with a large and growing structural deficit. At the same time, however, weapons programs are commanding larger budgets as DOD undertakes increasingly ambitious efforts to transform its ability to address current and potential future conflicts. These costly current and planned acquisitions are running head-on into the nation’s unsustainable fiscal path. In the past 5 years, DOD 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. Rather than showing appreciable improvement, programs are experiencing recurring problems with cost overruns, missed deadlines, and performance shortfalls.”

—David M. Walker, testimony before the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, 5 April 2006

To Probe Further

For more articles and special features, go to What's Wrong with Weapons Acquisitions?

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