Defense Acquisitions:

Improvements Needed in Space Systems Acquisition Policy to Optimize Growing Investment in Space

GAO-04-253T: Published: Nov 18, 2003. Publicly Released: Nov 18, 2003.

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The Department of Defense is spending nearly $18 billion annually to develop, acquire, and operate satellites and other spacerelated systems. The majority of satellite programs that GAO has reviewed over the past 2 decades experienced problems that increased costs, delayed schedules, and increased performance risk. In some cases, capabilities have not been delivered to the warfighter after decades of development. DOD has recently implemented a new acquisition policy, which sets the stage for decision making on individual space programs. GAO was asked to testify on its assessment of the new policy.

Similar to all weapon system programs, we have found that the problems being experienced on space programs are largely rooted in a failure to match the customer's needs with the developer's resources--technical knowledge, timing, and funding--when starting product development. In other words, commitments were made to satellite launch dates, cost estimates, and delivering certain capabilities without knowing whether technologies being pursued could really work as intended. Time and costs were consistently underestimated. DOD has recognized this problem and recently revised its acquisition policy for non-space systems to ensure that requirements can be matched to resources at the time a product development starts. The space community, however, in its newly issued policy for space systems, has taken another approach. As currently written, and from our discussions with DOD officials about how it will be implemented, the policy will not result in the most important decision, to separate technology development from product development to ensure that a match is made between needs and resources. Instead, it allows major investment commitments to be made with unknowns about technology readiness, requirements, and funding. By not changing its current practice, DOD will likely perpetuate problems within individual programs that require more time and money to address than anticipated. More important, over the long run, the extra investment required to address these problems will likely prevent DOD from pursuing more advanced capabilities and from making effective tradeoff decisions between space and other weapon system programs.

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