WASHINGTON — The US Air Force's botching of a 10-year cost estimate for its next-generation bomber two years in a row has been corrected and will not impact the service's planning for the program, according to US Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James.
"The mistake was a regrettable error, but it has been corrected, so it is not going to affect us internally," James said Monday during a press conference at the Pentagon.
James' remarks come as the Air Force scrambles to do damage control after reports emerged of massive cost discrepancies in the service's most recent cost estimates for the long-range strike bomber. Last year, the Air Force estimated costs for the LRS-B from fiscal years 2015 to 2024 at $33.1 billion. This year, the service pegged costs for fiscal 2016 to fiscal 2025, a similar 10-year period, at $58.2 billion.
The mistake occurred partially due to human error and partially due to "process error," James said.
"A couple of our people got the figures wrong and the process of coordination was not fully carried out," James said. "Coordination of course means other people are providing a check and balance and looking at the numbers, so that typically is how something like this would get caught."
The Air Force has notified Congress of the error, James added.
"We also notified them that we are counseling the people involved and that we've tightened up on the process of coordination to make sure that something like this doesn't occur again," she said.
But members of Congress are already coming out of the woodwork to decry the error.
Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat and the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee's subcommittee on oversight and investigations, called the discrepancies "alarming" in an Aug. 24 letter.
"This sudden 76 percent increase in estimated cost is alarming, because it raises questions about the management of a crucial program that lacks transparency, on which we cannot afford serious cost overruns, development errors, and reduced production numbers that would deprive the United States of one of its core military capabilities," Speier wrote.
The Air Force has since said the true cost estimate for both 10-year periods should be $41.7 billion.
The service also double checked all of the other figures in the report "out of caution," and verified that the remaining numbers are accurate, James said.
"We were surprised by the numbers as well," Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said during the press conference, adding that the Air Force has been using the cost estimate contained in the service's five-year budgeting plan. This number accurately reflects the bomber's 10-year cost estimate, he said.
James noted that the contract award for the bomber would be awarded "soon," but did not give additional details.
And despite congressional murmurs of a year-long continuing resolution, the bomber should be insulated from the worst impacts of a stopgap measure to fund the government, James said.