WASHINGTON — The Defense Department’s portfolio of 121 key defense acquisition programs now has a price tag of $1.86 trillion, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office.
The number comes from the GAO’s annual assessment of Pentagon acquisition, delivered to the public on Wednesday. The figure involves a 4 percent increase over the previous year but also factors in, for the first time, 15 major IT investments ($15.1 billion) and 13 middle-tier acquisition programs ($19.5 billion).
The vast majority comes from 93 major defense acquisition programs, or MDAP, worth $1.82 trillion. Of those, 85 MDAPs worth a total of $1.8 trillion are already underway, with the rest expected to enter production in the near future. The $1.8 trillion figure marks the largest level of investment in MDAPs since 2011, and an increase of $44 billion over the department’s 2018 MDAP portfolio.
The current MDAP portfolio has accumulated more than $628 billion in cost growth over the life of its programs — or 54 percent more than the projected cost when programs began — with schedule growth overshooting targets by 29 percent at an average capability delivery delay of more than two years.
Over the last year, 42 MDAPs reported a combined total acquisition cost increase of more than $80 billion. Nine programs that saw cost estimates increase by over 25 percent made up more than half of that total. While some of that is driven by increased procurement numbers, such as with the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile for the Air Force, those changed procurement plans are not the major driver of the cost increase.
However, it’s not all bad fiscal news: The remaining 43 MDAPs saw a cost decrease of more than $16 billion. And 19 programs that increased procurement managed to drive costs down through those updated plans.
One worrisome trend the GAO highlighted is the lack of factoring in cybersecurity to early development of key performance parameters on MDAPs. The watchdog dug into a sample of 42 MDAPs as a test case, it and found that 25 of those programs had zero cybersecurity factored into the key performance parameters. Another 10 programs had one KPP related to cybersecurity, which is unlikely to be enough in the modern, wired world.
For the middle-tier programs, which are designed for rapid prototyping and fielding, the GAO warned there is “inconsistent cost reporting and wide variation in schedule metrics” across the programs, adding that this poses “oversight challenges for Office of the Secretary of Defense and military department leaders trying to assess performance.” However, the watchdog agency also said the Department of Defense is in the process of addressing those issues.
One notable program challenge identified in the report: The Navy’s presidential helicopter replacement program, known as the VH-92A, has yet to “demonstrate that it can meet the requirement to land on the White House South Lawn without causing damage.”
Parts of the helicopter are too hot, which will damage the lawn under “certain conditions.” As a result, the program is studying everything from lawn surface treatments to changes in aircraft design.
“Due to concurrency in the program, which entered production while simultaneously addressing problems identified during the operational assessment, a design change to address this or other deficiencies discovered in the future may require modifications to units already in production,” the GAO found.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.