WASHINGTON – It’s awards season over at the Pentagon. The latest list of “value engineering achievement award” winners announced this week (June 27) runs for seven pages, leading one to conclude that the Defense Department hands out awards much like the Little League presents every ballplayer a trophy regardless of where his team finished in the standings.What is value engineering and how do you win this award?
It turns out that VE is “an important contributor to the ‘Better Buying Power’ program of continuous improvement in defense acquisition,” explains Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s acquisition czar. Without explaining how it calculated the number, Kendall claims the program has delivered no less than $51 billion in savings and “cost avoidance” since 1980.
That’s a lot of dough, even by Pentagon standards.
We don’t doubt that the value engineering award winners are deserving of recognition. Our problem with the program and others like it is that it simply doesn’t square with the facts about U.S. weapon procurement, which is fraught with waste, lack of oversight and a cost-plus mentality the encourages contractors to jack up development costs.
A classic example of the problem was uncovered recently by veteran Pentagon reporter Walter Pincus of the Washington Post
. Pincus is old school. He actually read the 514-page Senate Armed Services Committee report defense authorization bill.Here’s what Pincus found
: For one weapon program alone, the F-35 Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter, the report quoted the program manager as acknowledging a budget “miscalculation” that will cost tax payers an additional $7.9 billion dollars and delay overall aircraft development by almost three years.
That’s $7.9 billion that won’t be available to U.S. troops fighting in Afghanistan.
The F-35 “miscalculation,” it turns out, was about “concurrency,” the Pentagon’s term for the overlapping development of subsystems like avionics, aircraft testing and production. Advanced fighter aircraft development appears to have become so complex that attempts to move down multiple development and production tracks no longer works.
Meanwhile, the soaring cost of the F-35 program continues to grow. Reuters reported
in March that the total cost to develop, buy and operate the aircraft is now estimated at an astounding $1.45 trillion.
Does the U.S. military need more than 2,400 fifth-generation stealth fighters? I would argue that our current fleet of fighter aircraft led by the F-22 is sufficient. But the F-35 is too far down the road, with contractors (giant U.S. weapon manufacturer Lockheed Martin Corp is the prime contractor) and subcontractors in nearly every state, to be shelved.
There were no Air Force “value engineering” awards announced this year. We’re guessing there won’t be anytime soon for the F-35 program.