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GAO Tips The Scales On ABM

The GAO report and its conclusions likely played a significant role in persuading some initially skeptical Democratic lawmakers that the MDA was on the right track. In so doing, it contributed to the unexpected bipartisan consensus that has emerged on major elements of the BMD program.
by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) June 01, 2007
A recent upbeat GAO assessment of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency's record in Fiscal Year 2006 may have influenced Democratic lawmakers in Congress to back the program. "Over the next five years the Missile Defense Agency expects to invest $49 billion in the Ballistic Missile Defense system's development and fielding. MDA's strategy is to field new capabilities in two-year blocks," said the March 2007 report, which the U.S. Congress mandated as the Government Accountability Office's annual record of the MDA's progress during fiscal year 2006.

"In January 2006, MDA initiated its second block -- Block 2006 -- to protect against attacks from North Korea and the Middle East," the GAO report said

Congress requires GAO to assess MDA's progress annually. GAO's latest report followed up on program oversight issues and the current status of MDA's quality assurance program. GAO assessed the progress of each element being developed by MDA, examined acquisition laws applicable to major acquisition programs, and reviewed the impact of implemented quality initiatives.

The report acknowledged that "during fiscal year 2006, MDA fielded additional assets for the Ballistic Missile Defense System, enhanced the capability of some assets, and realized several noteworthy testing achievements. ... The Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) element successfully conducted its first end-to-end test of one engagement scenario, the element's first successful intercept test since 2002.

"However, MDA will not meet its original Block 2006 cost, fielding, or performance goals because the agency has revised those goals," the report noted. "In March 2006, MDA: reduced its goal for fielded assets to provide funds for technical problems and new and increased operations and sustainment requirements; increased its cost goal by about $1 billion -- from $19.3 to $20.3 billion; and reduced its performance goal commensurate with the reduction of assets. MDA may also reduce the scope of the block further by deferring other work until a future block because four elements incurred about $478 million in fiscal year 2006 budget overruns."

However, the report applauded the MDA for its efforts to boost engineering standards and reliability across the spectrum of ballistic missile defense, or BMD programs.

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz abandoned cautious component testing and reliability assessment protocols for ballistic missile testing and development that had been in place for 40 years when they took office in a rush to deploy BMD assets as soon as possible. Previous GAO reports noted that for years the reliability of many key systems were questionable because this testing and assessment had not been done. Over the two years, MDA director Lt. Gen. Henry "Trey" Obering has spearheaded a highly successful "back to basics" drive for careful attention to engineering detail, reliability and testing of systems his agency has been developing. And as we noted in our May 7 column, the MDA has acknowledged encouraging progress in this key area.

"With the possible exception of GMD interceptors, MDA is generally on track to meet its revised quantity goals," the GAO report said. But it cautioned that "the deferral of work, both into and out of Block 2006, and inconsistent reporting of costs by some BMDS elements, makes the actual cost of Block 2006 difficult to determine."

Also, "GAO cannot assess whether the block will meet its revised performance goals until MDA's models and simulations are anchored by sufficient flight tests to have confidence that predictions of performance are reliable," the report said.

However, the GAO concluded: "MDA continues to identify quality assurance weaknesses, but the agency's corrective measures are beginning to produce results. Quality deficiencies are declining as MDA implements corrective actions, such as a teaming approach designed to restore the reliability of key suppliers."

The report could not have come at a more welcome time for the MDA. When it appeared, the new Democratic-controlled Congress was beginning its first assessment of budget priorities for the program. As previously noted in these columns, the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the Armed Services Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives cut more than three quarters of a billion dollars from the Bush administration's proposed BMD budget for the coming fiscal year. But the MDA's key development and deployment programs remained in place.

The GAO report and its conclusions likely played a significant role in persuading some initially skeptical Democratic lawmakers that the MDA was on the right track. In so doing, it contributed to the unexpected bipartisan consensus that has emerged on major elements of the BMD program.

Source: United Press International

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