Defense may have wasted $8 billion on bad software

The Defense Department may have spent as much as $8 billion in fiscal 2003 reworking software "because of quality-related issues," according to a General Accounting Office report released today.

The reported stated, "In recent years, DOD has attributed significant cost and schedule overruns of software-intensive systems to difficulties in developing and delivering software."

The report was made to John Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the committee's ranking minority member. The committee had asked the GAO to examine practices used by private companies when they acquire software and compare them to Defense Department procedures.

In reviewing five Defense Department programs, the GAO found that two programs adhered to good practices, while three programs, including the recently discontinued Comanche helicopter program, experienced schedule delays and cost overruns because they did not follow software management strategies. The Army spent $6.9 billion and 21 years on the Comanche project before it was canceled last week for a variety of reasons.

The GAO identified three strategies that successful software developers and procurers followed: They worked in an evolutionary environment, employed disciplined development processes, and collected meaningful metrics to gauge progress.

In addition to the Comanche program, the GAO studied the Space-Based Infrared System, a missile-detection program, and the F/A-22, an air superiority and ground attack aircraft. Neither employed what the GAO identified as best practices in acquiring software. Such lapses have contributed to a 127 percent increase in the research, development, test, and evaluation cost estimate for the F/A-22 and an 88 percent overrun for the SBIRS program.

The two successful programs that the GAO studied?the Tactical Tomahawk missile and the F/A-18 C/D fighter aircraft?were also deemed late and over budget, but not by as much as the other programs. Both programs employed the three best practices identified by the GAO.

According to the report, the Defense Department and the Missile Defense Agency are currently taking steps to improve their software acquisition processes.

The Defense Department estimates it spends about 40 percent of its the research, development, test, and evaluation budget on software, which has become a larger and more critical component of weapon systems. In the 1960s, 10 percent of the functionality in the F-4 fighter jet was provided through software. The F/A-22, under development today, will rely on software for 80 percent of its functionality, according to the Defense Science Board.

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