Significant Management, Oversight Challenges Hamper DOD Space Efforts

With re-energized focus on space domination, the U.S. is investing significantly to keep its edge in the sky. But the Pentagon is facing various hurdles that could hinder its effort to accelerate those activities, according to the congressional watchdog.

In an April 3 hearing before the House Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, Cristina Chaplain, director of contracting and national security acquisitions at the Government Accountability Office, testified how threats to satellites, leadership changes, and funding and acquisition workforce challenges continue to hamper the Defense Department’s work in replenishing its satellite constellations.

For starters, cost spikes and schedule delays continue to plague major DOD space programs, Chaplain testified. For example, a satellite program ended up 117 percent costlier than first estimated -- and its first satellite was delayed by 3.5 years. Additionally, a missile warning satellite program grew 265 percent from its original estimate and the launch of the first satellite was nine years late.

The news isn’t better on terra firma, either. Ground systems have been delayed so long that satellites sometimes spend years in orbit before key capabilities can be fully leveraged, Chaplain said. The command and control system for GPS III satellites, for example, is currently nearly five years behind schedule, according to GAO.

Why these delays and swelling budgets? Over the past decade, GAO has narrowed it down to a few management and oversight issues, including “overly optimistic” cost and schedule appraisals and challenges with overseeing and managing contractors,” Chaplain said in her testimony.

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