How many parents would use candy to compel their child to stop their bad behavior? Yet that’s just the tack that Rep. John Murtha is taking by offering the Army $20 billion to straighten out its delinquent Future Combat Systems modernization program.
Like the lion's share of weapons contracts, Future Combat Systems (FCS) is underperforming, behind schedule and billions over budget. FCS comprises 14 separate weapons systems linked by a computer network and released in phases or “spin-outs.” The project was launched in 2003 when Boeing Corp. was named the FCS “lead systems integrator,” giving it responsibility for everything from hiring subcontractors to developing the network software.
Army brass originally told Congress the program would cost $77 billion; the Army’s number has since grown to $160 billion, and independent government auditors have estimated its total cost at up to $240 billion. An investigation of FCS recently released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) says the Army needs to create “viable alternatives to fielding [FCS] as currently envisioned” because of the likelihood that many of its components won’t be feasible or worthwhile.
Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), who chairs the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, reportedly told Army Chief of Staff George Casey in a February meeting that FCS faced cuts as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan take their toll on the federal budget and military. As a solution, Murtha offered to tack an extra $20 billion onto the Department of Defense budget if the Army would roll out the program’s most viable elements in the next five years and cut their losses on the rest.
But Murtha’s strategy of offering the Army an incentive to field FCS programs more quickly rewards failure by ignoring the shortcomings of the program. The Army has used only a couple of program elements on the ground in Iraq, such as bomb-detecting robots, and the first spin-out won’t even begin production until later this year. Yet that spin-out hasn’t been realistically tested, according to the GAO, “increasing the likelihood of costly discoveries” as it moves into the expensive production process. Worse, development of the software holding the whole system together has not only tripled in scope--from 32 to 95 lines of code--auditors seriously doubt it can work at all.
Murtha’s statements illustrate several recurring problems with the defense appropriations game. One is the audacious manipulation by committee leaders who think they can make things happen better and faster outside of the deliberative budget process. Murtha told Casey in a memo that “he has $300 billion to ‘play with’ in supplementals,” according to the publication Inside the Army. Another is the fallacious idea that more money equals more solutions. FCS’s problems are not about cash. Though Army officials have complained about Congressional cuts to the program, contractors say Army requirements for the networking software were poorly defined, late, or missing, according to the GAO. Finally, there’s appropriators’ overreliance on carrots to compel good spending practices when they really need a big stick.
There may well be some valuable research or weaponry that can be salvaged from FCS. But it makes more sense to weed them out following the next administration’s bottom-up defense review than to shove more dollars down the throat of a program already in danger of choking to death.
For more information, contact Laura Peterson at (202)-546-8500 ext. 114 or email@example.com.