Wow. Our experiment is off to a great start—let's see if we can finish it off sooner than expected.
Every year, the Pentagon is required to send Congress a round-up of the total cost of major weapons systems. The Select Acquisition Report, or SAR, is one of the few publicly available tools with which to keep track of how major programs measure up with their original cost estimates—you can find them here. GAO uses the SARs to calculate that the DOD's biggest programs are currently running nearly $300 billion over budget. Outside analysts have combed the reports to estimate that if the Pentagon doesn't change its ways, those programs will go an average 46 percent over budget in the next 10 years.
But this year, the Pentagon won't be compiling a SAR. The official excuse so far is that the weapons portfolio will be dramatically overhauled during the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) later this year, and so the DOD plans to put together a SAR after that review is completed. That doesn't strike me as very convincing. The Pentagon is required by law to submit a SAR every year. Even if the weapons portfolio happens to change in 2010, Congress and the public are entitled to an explanation of weapons spending as it stands now. In fact, releasing that information would surely help Obama and Gates make the case during the QDR that more troubled weapons programs should be slashed—and would also lend weight to their ongoing efforts to overhaul the Pentagon's messed-up procurement process.
Given Obama's rhetoric on the campaign trail about making government more transparent to citizens to help them pressure elected officials to serve their interests, one might have hoped that his DOD would make this kind of information more accessible, not less so. Indeed, because pro-defense industry lawmakers are predictably resisting Gates' weapons cuts, getting the public on board is probably the only hope Obama has of making those cuts stick—and there's never been a better time to argue that the country can't afford the DOD's out-of-control spending. But right now, the information the DOD does release about acquisitions programs is slapped haphazardly onto this epicly crappy website. It's hard to use and difficult to navigate. Even if a concerned citizen wanted to learn more about how the Pentagon is wasting his money, it's likely that all he'd get for his trouble is a bunch of "file not found" messages and a giant migraine. A Pentagon rep will be meeting with congressional representatives next week to discuss the missing SAR. Let's hope lawmakers press the DOD to change its mind.