The Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) required report on the Department of Defense’s (DoD) statutorily-mandated report on Regional Ballistic Missile Defense found that DoD could have provided more comprehensive information to the congressional defense committees and its risk assessment is optimistic.

Pentagon_anddowntown_The National Defense Authorization Act For Fiscal Year 2013 mandated a DoD report on regional ballistic missile defense programs and efforts, including a specific list of topics. The measure also required GAO to provide its views on the DoD report and on acquisition risks, “if any, that could affect the planned delivery of capability” for the U.S. ballistic missile defense of Europe.

GAO found that DoD generally described the plans and processes for regional missile defense, but could have included more information to “better reflect its current efforts and activities.”

More information would aid the defense committees during their authorization and appropriation considerations, the report said.

One of the required topics to address was a description of progress in system development and testing for the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA)–the 2009 Presidential policy– and an assessment of technical and schedule risk.

“DoD’s report characterizes technical and schedule risks as being minimized; based on GAO’s body of work on missile defense, that characterization is optimistic,” the report, GAO-14-248R Regional Missile Defense, found.

Since GAO’s first review of EPAA in 2010, DoD has progressed in establishing some acquisition management practices for EPAA and has delivered some capabilities, technical, schedule, and other risks remain, it said.

The dates have not changed for declaring when technical capabilities for EPAA are delivered, but development delays have reduced both the capability the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) plans to deliver and the understanding of how that capability will perform, the report points out.

The DoD acquisition approach has three challenges as GAO sees it: “Fully implementing a management process that synchronizes acquisition activities and ensures transparency and accountability; Improving execution of development and integration plans to stem fragmentation of development activities, schedule delays, and concurrency between key events; and, Executing plans for tests and assessments so that these activities can be completed before MDA declares that a technical capability has been delivered.”

GAO concluded MDA’s decision to delay delivery of some EPAA capabilities compared to initial plans and to make subsequent upgrades after EPAA phase declarations reflects the complexity of developing and integrating systems that provide an increasingly capable defense of Europe.

This approach allows flexibility, GAO wrote, but “it does so at the risk of delivering less capability than expected without demonstrating the actual performance of what is delivered.”

GAO is making no new recommendations in the report, having previously made recommendations related to EPAA.

In 2011 GAO recommended that DoD establish an integrated schedule and develop life-cycle cost estimates.

In 2012 GAO recommended that DoD assess the extent to which the EPAA capability dates announced in 2009 are contributing to acquisition risk and recommend schedule adjustments.

“Based on DoD’s response and subsequent follow-up, GAO does not expect these to be fully implemented,” it said. “GAO continues to believe implementing its prior recommendations is important to improve transparency and accountability of acquisitions for EPAA, especially given DoD’s commitment to deploy capabilities that are proven, cost-effective, and fiscally sustainable over the long term.”