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Levin Moves to Cut Waste, Fraud and Abuse from Missile Programs

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Coauthored by Ploughshares Fund Research Assistant Benjamin Loehrke.

Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) put the hammer down on the Missile Defense Agency this week -- at a conference designed to boost the agency's $13 billion-a-year program. Diplomatic but forceful, Levin served notice that the lax policies of the Bush administration were over.

Sen. Levin detailed a few of the agency's costly failures, including deployment of systems without realistic testing and without fully developed critical technologies. Citing the billions of dollars lost in these ventures, Levin said,

"This is the high price that we have paid for our failure to impose needed discipline on our overall acquisition system, and for our failure to complete needed system engineering tasks, perform appropriate developmental testing, and build and fully test prototypes."

Levin has set his sights on restoring responsible acquisitions requirements to the renegade Missile Defense Agency. If Levin -- and the Obama administration -- prevail, the agency will have conduct realistic tests, return to responsible budgets, and comply with normal government acquisition rules.

Testing: To force MDA to make a functional product, Levin said, "testing and evaluation must be restored to the central place in MDA programs that it occupies with other major weapon systems." Such tests will have to demonstrate that the systems are "operationally effective, suitable, and survivable" to provide confidence in the system.

Kinda makes you wonder why they are not doing this now?

For years MDA's tests set the bar low with highly scripted, unrealistic scenarios that prove nothing about capabilities. Levin would force the agency to respect science and efficiency when testing. This will be a big step. As Levin noted, the agency last year did not conduct a single intercept flight test -- let alone a successful one -- of the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system it rushed to deploy in Poland.

Budget: Levin said, "MDA programs have suffered from extensive schedule delays, and from billions of dollars of added costs."

This is because a Bush-era exemption allowed the agency to skip firm cost and schedule estimates -- the metrics of performance. Not worried about performance or efficiency, the missileers racked up a $3 billion cost overrun in 2008 alone. That is twenty times the cost of the AIG bonuses, and such overruns happen annually! In Levin's short words, "This is going to have to change."

Oversight: "We need to bring MDA programs into compliance with acquisition measures that are designed to protect the taxpayers and ensure that the systems we field are fully tested and will actually work as intended," said Levin.

While regular defense acquisition requirements are designed to prevent wasteful programs, MDA does not currently abide by them. Forcing MDA into responsible acquisition programs will bring upon the agency previously dodged oversight requirements like independent cost-benefit and alternative analyses. Though hardly novel, Sen. Levin's proposals are part of what is needed to reform MDA.

If enacted, Senator Levin's proposals would curtail Bush-era missile defense excesses, support the Obama administration's position on pursuing functional missile defense capabilities, and promote fiscal responsibility.

It is policy change long overdue.