GAO: Missile defense initiative faces continuing challenges

New report says key programs still not following 'best practices'

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For years, the U.S. has pursued a reliable missile defense shield. But major parts of the program need better management or the entire effort will experience serious delays, says a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

Cost estimates and timetables for five key missile defense programs are “either not reliable or the program is missing information that could make it more efficient,” according to the report, released Friday.

Systems analyzed by the GAO were the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA, Aegis Ashore, Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD), Precision Tracking Space System (PTSS), and the Targets and Countermeasures Extended Medium-Range Ballistic Missile.

GAO lists ten “best practices” that the programs should be following, and found only four cases — out of a possible 50 — where the programs “fully” met these criteria. In ten cases the criteria were just “minimally” met. To help improve the “transparency and needed accountability” of the programs, GAO recommended that they be directed to “improve their compliance” with best practices. For long term solutions, managers need to do a better job of overseeing and pacing the work, the report said.

In its response to a draft version of the report, officials at the Pentagon said they agreed with GAO’s overall findings and recommendations.  

The GAO's review included a reminder that the agency has “consistently reported … troubled acquisition histories” for the missile defense effort. One such report came in April. That study found that President Barack Obama’s administration was repeating a mistake made by his predecessor, George W. Bush.

In 2004, the Bush administration rushed a missile interception system through the development process to meet deadlines, leading to “unexpected cost increases, schedule delays, test problems, and performance shortfalls,” the report stated. In the past decade alone, the Pentagon has spent $80 billion on all its missile defense efforts, and it forecasts spending another $44 billion over the next four years.

A similar scenario is now playing out involving U.S. missile defenses in Europe. In 2010, Obama chose to deploy missile systems across the continent and improve interceptors by 2020. But a series of missile test failures have hindered those plans, slowing production for three of four interceptors the U.S. plans to place in Europe.

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