GAO Highlights The Consequences of Starting More Programs Than DoD Can Afford
“There is a widespread belief among DOD and other officials involved with space programs that DOD starts more programs than it can afford in the long run, forcing programs to underestimate costs and over-promise capability and creating a host of negative incentives and pressures. Specifically, officials we have spoken with cited the following.
- Because programs are funded annually and priorities have not been established, competition for funding continues over time, forcing programs to view success as the ability to secure the next installment rather than the end goal of delivering capabilities when and as promised.
- Concurrently, when faced with lower budgets, senior executives within the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Air Force would rather make across-the-board cuts to all space programs than hard decisions as to which ones to keep and which ones to cancel or cut back.
- Having to continually “sell” a program creates incentives to suppress bad news about a program’s status and avoid activities that uncover bad news.
- When combined with the high cost of launching demonstrators into space, the competition for funding often encourages programs to avoid testing technologies in space before acquisition programs are started.
Our previous reports have found that these pressures are long-standing and common to weapon acquisitions, not just space acquisitions. The competition within DOD to win funding and get approval to start a new program is intense, creating strong incentives to make a weapon system stand out from existing or alternative systems. Moreover, overall DOD funding constraints put a high priority on appearing affordable, making it important for program sponsors to provide cost estimates that will fit within the funding constraints. Instead of forcing trade-offs, challenging performance requirements-when coupled with other constraints, such as cost or the weight of the satellite-can drive product developers to pursue exotic solutions and technologies that, in theory, can do it all.”