How the Pentagon’s $1.4 Trillion Weapons Portfolio Got a Little Smaller
Policy + Politics

How the Pentagon’s $1.4 Trillion Weapons Portfolio Got a Little Smaller

iStockphoto/The Fiscal Times

The U.S. Defense Department is doing a better job controlling costs for its major acquisition programs, according to a new watchdog report.

The Government Accountability Office says the cost of the Pentagon’s top 79 weapons programs – with a total value of about $1.44 trillion -- declined by roughly $15 billion since the last review in 2014.

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The annual study encompasses such high-profile weapons programs as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Littoral Combat Ship, and the Ohio-class submarine replacement – all of which have cost the American taxpayer billions.

"Our current assessment shows that DOD is making progress in decreasing the amount of cost growth realized in the portfolio," the report states. "When assessing just the 79 programs in the 2015 portfolio, costs have decreased by $2.5 billion over the past year, a net decrease largely attributable to quantity reductions in the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 Missile Segment Enhancement program.”

But the report isn’t entirely good news for the Pentagon. The average schedule for the diverse efforts GAO looked at actually increased by 2.4 months, “due in part to the significant delays experienced by a few programs.” The study notes that 13 programs in the existing portfolio reported a schedule change over the past year, 11 of which were delays.

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However, if the “effect of the Airborne Maritime/Fixed Station radio system’s delay is removed from the analysis, the average schedule increase for 2015 is 1.1 months, similar to what we reported in our last assessment,” according to GAO.

The report included a recent memo from Nancy Spruill, the Pentagon’s director of acquisition, resources and analysis, stating the department was pleased with GAO’s findings.

The results “appear to validate our focus on continuous improvement on the cost, schedule and performance measures of our programs through employment of Better Buying Power initiatives,” she wrote, referring to the Pentagon’s ambitious acquisition reform initiative that began in 2010.

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Spruill refers to a chart showing the Pentagon’s progress on controlling costs but GAO chose not to include it because "there could be other explanations for this decrease."

Still, the watchdog admitted the sprawling department’s reforms efforts may have had something to do with keep program costs in line.

Specifically, “programs that started development after the implementation of the Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform Act of 2009 (WSARA) and DOD’s 'Better Buying Power' initiatives began in 2010 have achieved cost reductions or shown less cost growth than those that began development before 2010, indicating that recent reforms may be having a positive effect," according to the report.