Air Force Drone Program Soars $74 Million Over Budget

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May 20 2015

Federal agencies have a history of slow-walking information requests from journalists, watchdog organizations and concerned citizens looking to get answers about how the government is spending its money or implementing certain programs. 

There’s even an active lawsuit against the Obama administration filed by a watchdog group, called Cause of Action, that is alleging 12 different agencies have purposely delayed or failed to cooperate with FOIA requests in an effort to conceal information. 

Related: Group Sues Obama Over Access to Information 

Whether it’s intentional or not, agencies have a bad reputation of not answering or prioritizing FOIA requests. Just last month, a study by Syracuse University revealed that two-thirds of federal agencies fail to fulfill basic Freedom of Information requests in a timely fashion, GovExec reported. 

The latest example of the federal government’s FOIA fail, comes from the Pentagon, which just responded to a request from the Dayton Daily News in Ohio for an internal Inspector General report from 2011 on the Air Force’s troubled drone program. 

Nearly three years ago, the Department of Defense’s IG released a report warning that the Global Hawk drone fleet had soared more than $74 million over budget-- and the cost was poised to keep flying.

The report was never made public, and despite the FOIA request, the newspaper was never able to access it…until now, nearly four years later.

The newly released 2011 report exposes cost overruns and oversight problems that plagued the Global Hawk drone fleet, which is based at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

Related: How the DoD’s $1.5 Trillion Jet Broke the Air Force 

The auditors said the program needed to improve transparency and accountability—or it would continue to fall behind schedule and climb further over its original budget allocation of $862 million for 10 drones. 

"As a result, the (Global Hawk Block 40) program is at risk for continued cost increases, additional security delays, and not meeting the needs of the warfighter," the report said, according to the paper.

In the report that up until now has been kept internally at the Pentagon, the IG recommended that the Air Force improve its cost estimates for the program and keep better track of how much they’ve actually spent.

The IG also suggested that the drones’ funding be withheld until the DOD makes improvements. The Air Force disagreed, but its reasoning was redacted, the Daily News reported.

Related: New Red Alert for Billions-Over-Budget F-35

The report was released to the Pentagon at the end of 2011—just a little more than year before the DOD’s budget was slashed by sequestration cuts.

Around that time, Pentagon officials had tried to scale back and even end the Global Hawk program, but pressure from lawmakers and the drone’s manufacturer Northrop Grumman, derailed those plans.

Though the report is nearly four years old, it’s release is important because it raises the question about what would have happened to this specific program, had the public been aware of the auditors’ warnings?

For now, the Air Force’s Global Hawk drone continues receiving funding.  And now the Navy is investing in its own fleet, which is expected to cost about $11.4 billion to develop and build at least 65 drones, and potentially more if it runs into the same problems at the Air Force – a lot more.

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