Weapons Acquisition and Contract Management Make GAO’s High Risk List – Again

Black Hawk Helicopters

Last week, the U.S. Government Accountability Office released its biennial update to its High Risk List – a compilation of government programs that are identified as “high risk due to their greater vulnerabilities to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement or the need for transformation to address economy, efficiency, or effectiveness challenges.” Department of Defense weapon systems acquisition and Department of Energy contract management have both been on the GAO’s High Risk List for the last 25 years.

An area must meet the following five criteria to be removed from the list: leadership capacity, agency capacity, an action plan, monitoring efforts, and demonstrated progress. Both ‘DOD Weapons System Acquisition” and “DOE’s Contract Management for the National Nuclear Security Administration and Office of Environmental Management” only met one criterion this year: leadership commitment.

According to the report, the DOE spends around 90% of its budget on “contracts and large capital asset projects.” Yet contractors only comprise 5% of the department’s federal workforce.

Refurbishment of the B61 nuclear weapon life extension program (LEP) and construction for the Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility at Savannah River are two NNSA programs plagued with significant cost overruns and completion delays. In February 2014, GAO “reported that DOE had forecasted a cost increase of approximately $2.9 billion and a schedule delay of about 3 years for NNSA’s Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility…” A November 2014 review of the B61 LEP concluded that the estimated cost for B61 would be “3.6 billion more than NNSA’s 2011 estimate of 6.5 billion.”

The Department of Defense and Congress have struggled to reform and improve weapons system acquisition for years. “Many DOD programs are still falling short of cost, schedule, and performance expectations. The results are unanticipated cost overruns, reduced power, and in some cases a reduction in the capability ultimately delivered to the warfighter.”

That NNSA contract management and weapon systems acquisition reform are high-risk federal activities is not new news. But the fact that these areas have been in peril since last century speaks to the dire need for reform and attention in both of these areas.