The Government Accountability Office said in Feb. 25 report that the Defense Department needs to get a better handle on its very considerable weapons systems software sustainment costs, which it estimated may run at least $15 billion over the next five years.

“DoD may not know the full costs” of software sustainment, GAO said of software for systems including aircraft, ships, submarines, and missiles. “Some of DoD’s systems have incomplete cost data, which could make it harder to ensure that DoD has the necessary resources available,” it said.

Two major culprits identified in the report are the U.S. Navy, and DoD’s Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE).

On the first front, GAO explained that the Navy does not categorize and report software sustainment as part of core logistics, while the Army and Air Force do.

“Without the Navy’s categorizing and reporting its software sustainment costs, DOD and Congress are not fully informed of the magnitude and cost of core software sustainment capability requirements,” GAO said, adding, “This impedes DOD’s efforts to plan for a ready and controlled source of technical competence, and to budget resources in peacetime while preserving necessary surge capabilities.”

On the second issue, GAO said that CAPE’s Cost and Software Data Reporting system historically did not collect weapon system cost data from DoD software centers, and that even though CAP made an effort in early 2017 to remedy that, it acknowledged that it lacked an implementation plan to execute and monitor the requirement for the software centers to submit cost and software data.

GAO also said it found that the military departments’ operating and support cost systems have incomplete software sustainment cost data. “DOD policy requires the military departments to collect and maintain actual operating and support costs, including software sustainment costs,” GAO said. It continued, “Without CAPE’s taking steps to prioritize obtaining complete information on operating and support costs for software sustainment, CAPE is challenged in its ability to accurately compile total program costs or provide reliable life-cycle cost estimates to DOD and Congress.”

According to GAO, DoD has concurred with five recommendations from the watchdog agency, including ones urging that the Navy categorize and report its software sustainment costs in accordance with DoD policy, and another that CAPE improve its collection of weapon system software cost data. The status of each of the five recommendations remains open until GAO confirms that DoD as taken actions to address them.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk's Assistant Copy & Production Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.