Lack of oversight endangers missile defense

Inspector general and defense analysts point to network security and policy missteps

A fast-track procurement that freed the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) from normal acquisition oversight led to systems engineering and network security problems that could compromise the system intended to defend the United States.

Several recent reports from the Defense Department’s inspector general describe the problems, defense analysts say. According to those reports, MDA failed to develop a comprehensive systems engineering plan for deploying the multibillion-dollar Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS). That lack of planning could pose a threat to fielding the system, the department’s IG said in a report released in March.

Philip Coyle, a senior adviser at the Center for Defense Information, said a systems engineering plan is essential to the development of any weapons system, just as a blueprint is necessary to build a house.

Coyle, who served as assistant secretary of Defense and director for operational test and evaluation from 1994 to 2001, said that without an adequate systems engineering plan, MDA is building an expensive, complex system without a blueprint. “If you build a house without a blueprint, you’re going to end up with a very expensive house whose roof might leak,” he said.

Coyle said the agency can ignore basics such as systems engineering because of a 2002 DOD policy decision that allows the agency to operate outside the bounds of procurement regulations and oversight protocols that apply to other DOD agencies.

David Wright, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the IG’s report on a lack of systems engineering discipline indicates that the agency is “more interested in fielding components than making sure they work.” He added that “the attitude at MDA is that this project is so important that they simply don’t have the time to do it right.”

The IG wrote that MDA officials frustrated their efforts to investigate the agency’s projects, policies and procedures during the past two years.

A spokesman for the department’s IG said the missile agency also asked the IG’s office to remove a report from its Web site. That report, released in February, describes serious security flaws in the network linking radar and missile sites and command and control centers for the ground-based defense system.

A separate IG report on systems engineering slams the missile agency for not completing an engineering and sustainment plan and states that it is “at risk of not successfully developing an integrated ballistic missile defense system.” The agency, which has received funding for the past two years, could receive another $11.1 billion in fiscal 2007.

The systems engineering IG report faulted the agency for unresolved problems in major system components: the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense element, the ship-based Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense element and the Airborne Laser element housed in a modified Boeing 747.

Coyle said he was not surprised that the agency tried to stymie IG auditors. It also tried to delay investigations by the Government Accountability Office, he said. That behavior, he added, is consistent with the agency’s exemption from normal procurement regulations. Other DOD agencies tend to cooperate with the IG, he said.

In a written response to the Defense IG, MDA officials wrote that the “progress of systems integration is constantly monitored and evaluated to provide the best approach to an integrated BMDS.”

They also wrote that although the agency does not wish to “impose a one-size-fits-all systems engineering process…it does want to ensure there is a sound systems engineering process that supports the element/component integration into BMDS.”

David Altwegg, MDA’s deputy director of operations, said agency officials asked the IG to remove the report on network security problems because of concerns that the report’s public release could jeopardize network security.

A promise to deliver documents on time

The Defense Department’s inspector general criticized the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) for unreasonable delays in releasing agency documents to the IG’s auditors.

During a review of MDA’s systems engineering work, the IG office received only 20 percent — 49 out of 245 — of the documents it requested within five days. A DOD policy allows MDA as many as 10 days to release documents.

Now MDA says it has new polices that streamline procedures for releasing information to DOD and the Government Accountability Office. The new procedures will permit the release of most documents, as required by DOD policy, according to MDA.

— Bob Brewin

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