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Statement of Rep. Christopher Shays

May 10, 2000

The military procurement holiday is about to end. Defense budgets being debated today on both sides of the Capitol reflect a bi-cameral and bi-partisan consensus on the need to modernize the aging planes, ships, weapons and equipment used to win the Cold War. Today, we discuss the need to modernize the acquisition systems the Department of Defense (DoD) will use to procure post-Cold War weapons systems.

Just as the weaponry of the last century won’t win the peace in the next, the acquisition practices of the past will not efficiently or affordably meet future defense needs. Fifteen year development cycles enshrine old technologies now rendered obsolete in fifteen months. Massive cost overruns and schedule slippages are fueled in part by the launch of engineering and design work before hoped-for technologies have been refined. Extraneous, often perverse, incentives push program officials toward artificial deadlines and premature production commitments.

Various iterations of acquisition reform at DoD have attempted to address these problems and reinvigorate a hidebound acquisition culture inside and outside the Pentagon. In launching the $200 billion Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft acquisition, DoD promised the program would be a model of reform, driven by affordability and the technical knowledge base, not by the disingenuous optimism and defense budget politics that proved so costly in the past.

At the Subcommittee’s request, the General Accounting Office (GAO) analyzed the JSF acquisition strategy to determine if the promise of reform is being fulfilled in practice. Their report, released today, finds the Joint Strike Fighter program straying from commercial best practices and knowledge-driven benchmarks. As the date approaches to select a prime JSF contractor and begin engineering on the final system concept, DoD appears ready to abandon quantitative measures of technology maturity and revert to the "business as usual" of concurrent technology development and product development.

GAO recommends DoD focus on risk reduction efforts by maturing critical technologies prior entering the next phase of the JSF program, even if that means delaying contractor selection and contract awards beyond the planned March 2001 date. The program should be permitted to pursue the original, low-risk acquisition strategy, according to GAO, "without the penalty of withdrawal of funding support."

DoD disagrees, claiming critical technologies will be mature enough to proceed into final design and engineering early next year.

As this debate unfolds, the choice should not be between a fully funded Joint Strike Fighter and a commitment to acquisition reform. We can have both. If the program succumbs to Cold War acquisition habits, costs will skyrocket, the development cycle will stretch over the horizon, and the next generation fighter needed by the Air Force, the Navy and the Marines might never fly.

We welcome the testimony of all our witnesses on this important subject.