Indefensible spending

The Baltimore Sun

Anyone who has ever built a home addition can see the danger. You strike a deal with a contractor, then ask for changes that end up costing a small fortune. It's been much the same way with the purchase of Pentagon weapons systems, except for this: Department of Defense officials have been indifferent to the problem, and the cost to taxpayers has been astronomical - large enough to impugn the professionalism of project managers and suggest that radical reforms in procurement are needed.

The Pentagon waste is predictable, according to the Government Accountability Office and private analysts. Military buyers recklessly order new systems with the goal of producing cutting-edge weapons. Then, as the work progresses, they change their minds again and again on just what the weapon should do. Contractors with dollar signs dancing before their eyes are unlikely to discourage such impulses.

A study provided to Congress by the GAO this week said 95 major weapons systems were delivered two years late on average and exceeded their original budgets by $295 billion, bringing their total cost to $1.6 trillion. That dismal performance comes after earlier GAO reports outlined similar problems.

Neither the military nor taxpayers can afford to continue this increasingly wasteful practice. Congress must find the will to reform Pentagon contracting procedures, call bad managers to account and require more conservative assessments of the weapons system that should be built . Priorities should be shifted from big-ticket, high-tech trophy systems to simpler, less expensive weapons that do more to help troops in modern insurgent combat. For soldiers fighting in Iraq, better vehicle and body armor have proved more important than billion-dollar ships or air superiority fighters.

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