F-35 Sustainment: Enhanced Attention to and Oversight of F-35 Affordability Are Needed

What GAO Found

F-35 mission capable rates—a measure of the readiness of an aircraft fleet—have recently improved, but still fall short of warfighter requirements, as discussed in our draft report. Specifically, from fiscal year 2019 to fiscal year 2020, the U.S. F-35 fleet’s average annual (1) mission capable rate—the percentage of time during which the aircraft can fly and perform one of its tasked missions—improved from 59 to 69 percent; and (2) full mission capable rate—the percentage of time during which the aircraft can perform all of its tasked missions—improved from 32 to 39 percent. Both metrics fall below the services’ objectives. For example, in fiscal year 2020 the Air Force F-35A full mission capable rate was 54 percent, versus a 72 percent objective.

Since 2012, F-35 estimated sustainment costs over its 66-year life cycle have increased steadily, from $1.11 trillion to $1.27 trillion, despite efforts to reduce costs. The services face a substantial and growing gap between estimated sustainment costs and affordability constraints—i.e., costs per tail (aircraft) per year that the services project they can afford—totaling about $6 billion in 2036 alone (see fig.). The services will collectively be confronted with tens of billions of dollars in sustainment costs that they project as unaffordable during the program.

Gap between F-35 Affordability Constraints and Estimated Sustainment Costs in 2036

Note: Costs are in constant year 2012 dollars as that was the year when the F-35 program was most recently re-baselined.

aSteady state years for the F-35 program are defined in each respective service’s affordability analysis as: US Air Force/F-35A – 2036-2041; US Marine Corps/F-35B – 2033-2037; US Navy/F-35C – 2036-2043. Steady state refers to the program’s peak operating point.

The Air Force needs to reduce estimated costs per tail per year by $3.7 million (or 47 percent) by 2036 or it will incur $4.4 billion in costs beyond what it currently projects it could afford in that year alone. Cost reductions become increasingly difficult as the program grows and matures. However, GAO found there is no agreed upon approach to achieve the constraints. Without an assessment of cost-reduction efforts and program requirements (such as number of planned aircraft), along with a plan, the Department of Defense (DOD) may continue to invest resources in a program it ultimately cannot afford. Congress requiring DOD to report on its progress in achieving affordability constraints and making F-35 procurements contingent on DOD’s demonstrated progress would enhance DOD’s accountability for taking the necessary and appropriate actions to afford sustaining the F-35 fleet.

Why GAO Did This Study

The F-35 aircraft with its advanced capabilities represents a growing portion of DOD’s tactical aviation fleet—with the Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy currently flying about 400 of the aircraft. It is also DOD’s most ambitious and costly weapon system in history, with estimated life-of-program costs exceeding $1.7 trillion. DOD plans to procure nearly 2,500 F-35s at an estimated total acquisition cost of just under $400 billion. The remaining $1.3 trillion in life cycle costs is associated with operating and sustaining the aircraft.

This statement, among other things, assesses the extent to which (1) the F-35 has met warfighter-required mission capable rates; and (2) DOD has reduced the F-35’s estimated life cycle sustainment costs and made progress in meeting its affordability constraints. This statement is largely based on GAO’s draft report, which was provided to DOD in March for review and comment. For that report and this statement, GAO reviewed program documentation, analyzed performance and cost data, collected data from F-35 locations, and interviewed officials.

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    What GAO Found In April 2016, GAO evaluated Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plans to consolidate chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear security programs into the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD) office. GAO recommended DHS use, where appropriate, the key mergers and organizational transformation practices identified in prior work, such as conducting adequate stakeholder outreach. DHS agreed with and addressed the recommendation by soliciting employee feedback on the transformation and formed a leadership team for the consolidation, among other practices. However, GAO observed that significant challenges remained at the CWMD office—such as low employee morale and questions about program efficacy. GAO has ongoing work evaluating these issues and plans to issue a report in early 2022. Over the past decade, GAO has also conducted extensive work evaluating legacy and ongoing programs managed by the CWMD office and has identified program management challenges and opportunities for improvement in the following program areas: Biosurveillance programs: Since 2009, GAO has reported on progress and challenges with two of DHS's biosurveillance efforts—the National Biosurveillance Integration Center and the pursuit of replacements for the BioWatch program (aimed at detecting aerosolized biological attacks). For example, DHS faced challenges defining these programs' missions and acquiring suitable technologies. In December 2009 and September 2012, GAO highlighted the importance of following departmental policies and employing leading management practices to help ensure that the mission of each program is clearly and purposefully defined and that investments effectively respond to those missions. DHS agreed with and addressed these recommendations. Most recently, DHS agreed to a May 2021 GAO recommendation that it should follow best practices for conducting technology readiness assessments for a biodetection effort and described planned efforts to conduct one before the next key decision event. Nuclear/radiological detection: In May 2019, GAO found that the CWMD office lacked a clear basis for proposed changes to the strategies of the Securing the Cities program, which is designed to enhance the nuclear detection capabilities of federal and nonfederal agencies in select cities. GAO found the strategies were not based on threats or needs of the participating cities. DHS agreed with our recommendations aimed at improving communication and coordination with participating cities, but has not fully implemented them. Chemical defense: In August 2018, GAO found that DHS had not fully integrated and coordinated its chemical defense programs and activities, which could lead to a risk that DHS may miss an opportunity to leverage resources and share information. Improved program integration and coordination could lead to greater effectiveness addressing chemical threats. DHS agreed to develop a strategy and implementation plan to aid integration of programs, which it expects to finalize in September 2021. Why GAO Did This Study In December 2018, statute established the CWMD office, reorganizing several legacy offices, including the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office and Office of Health Affairs into one. The office manages programs intended to enhance the United States' ability to detect, deter, and defend against chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear threats. However, programs operated and managed by the CWMD office have faced longstanding challenges, some which predate the reorganization. This statement describes our 2016 work related to the CWMD office formation and findings from our past reports on CWMD programs from 2009 through May 2021, including challenges and opportunities for the effective operations and implementation of key programs related to biodefense, nuclear security, and chemical security. To conduct our prior work, GAO reviewed relevant presidential directives, laws, regulations, policies, strategic plans, and other reports and interviewed federal, state, and industry officials, among others.
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    A Maryland tax return preparer pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to defraud the United States and aiding in the preparation of a false tax return. According to court documents and statements made in court, Anita Fortune, 56, of Upper Marlboro, provided return preparation services under multiple business names, including Tax Terminatorz Inc. Fortune prepared and filed returns using co-conspirators’ electronic filing identification numbers and identifiers, which they provided in exchange for fees and office space. For the tax years 2011 to 2018, Fortune and her associates fraudulently reduced their clients’ tax liabilities and increased their refunds by adding fictitious or inflated itemized deductions and business losses to the clients’ returns. In total, Fortune caused a tax loss to the IRS of $189,748.
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    On May 28, 2021, pursuant to a court order, the United States seized two command-and-control (C2) and malware distribution domains used in recent spear-phishing activity that mimicked email communications from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
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  • Financial Company Bankruptcies: Congress and Regulators Have Updated Resolution Planning Requirements
    In U.S GAO News
    Since 2015, Congress has not changed parts of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code (Code) related to financial companies or the Orderly Liquidation Authority (OLA). However, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (Federal Reserve) have updated the resolution planning process to better match resolution planning requirements to the risks of companies. OLA is a regulatory alternative to bankruptcy for resolving failed, systemically important financial institutions, and resolution plans describe how a financial company may be resolved in an orderly manner if it fails. In November 2019, FDIC and the Federal Reserve finalized amendments to the Resolution Plans Required rule, establishing different filing cycles and content requirements for resolution plans based on the asset size and risk profile of companies. Regulators also finalized other rules related to OLA and resolution planning and proposed several additional rules. The 2007–2009 financial crisis and the failures of large, complex financial companies led some financial and legal experts to question the adequacy of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code for effectively reorganizing or liquidating these companies. These experts, government officials, and members of Congress responded by proposing changes to the Code and the supervisory process leading to a bankruptcy filing. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank Act) established OLA as a regulatory alternative to bankruptcy. Under OLA, the Secretary of the Treasury may appoint FDIC as a receiver to resolve systemically important financial institutions. In addition to OLA, the Dodd-Frank Act requires financial companies to file periodic resolution plans with the Financial Stability Oversight Council, Federal Reserve and FDIC describing how they could be resolved in an orderly manner in the event of material financial distress or failure. The Dodd-Frank Act also includes a provision for GAO to study, at specified intervals, the effectiveness of the Code in facilitating the orderly liquidation or reorganization of financial companies and ways to make the orderly liquidation process under the Code more effective. This report examines (1) proposed or enacted changes to the Code related to financial companies and OLA since 2015, and (2) regulatory actions related to resolution planning and OLA. GAO reviewed proposed legislation, regulations, prior GAO reports, and agency reports and presentations on financial company bankruptcies, OLA, and resolution planning. GAO also reviewed comment letters to the 2019 proposed Resolution Plans Required rulemaking. GAO interviewed officials from the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, FDIC, and the Federal Reserve. GAO also interviewed six industry stakeholders, including academics, a consumer group, industry associations, and former regulatory officials, about the 2019 Resolution Plans Required Rule. For more information, contact Michael Clements at (202) 512-8678 or ClementsM@gao.gov.
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  • Border Security: CBP’s Response to COVID-19
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found According to data from the Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), through February 2021, over 7,000 Office of Field Operations (OFO) and U.S. Border Patrol employees reported being infected with COVID-19, and 24 died due to COVID-19-related illnesses. In addition, over 20,000 OFO and Border Patrol employees were unable to work at some point due to COVID-19-related illnesses or quarantining in the same time period. OFO officials noted that employee absences due to COVID-19 did not generally have a significant impact on port operations, given relatively low travel volumes. In contrast, officials interviewed by GAO at three of four Border Patrol locations said that COVID-19 absences had impacted operations to some extent. COVID-19 Cases within Customs and Border Protection, through February 2021 CBP regularly updated guidance, used workplace flexibilities, and implemented safety precautions against COVID-19. Between January and December 2020, CBP updated guidance on COVID-19 precautions and how managers should address possible exposures. CBP also used a variety of workplace flexibilities, including telework and weather and safety leave to minimize the number of employees in the workplace, when appropriate. Meanwhile, CBP field locations moved some processing functions outdoors, encouraged social distancing, and provided protective equipment to employees and the public. In addition, some field locations took steps to modify infrastructure to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as installing acrylic barriers or improving airflow in facilities. Challenges implementing operational changes included insufficient equipment for telework at three field locations, and shortages of respirators at a quarter of the ports of entry GAO contacted. CBP adjusted operations in response to COVID-19 and executive actions. As travel and trade volumes declined, some ports of entry reallocated personnel to other operations, such as cargo processing. In contrast, starting in May 2020 Border Patrol encounters with noncitizens steadily increased. As a result, Border Patrol requested additional resources. It also shifted its deployment strategy to operate as closely to the border as practical to intercept individuals who could be infected with COVID-19. Accordingly, some Border Patrol sectors modified interior operations, such as limiting resources at immigration checkpoints. CBP also assisted in implementing a Centers for Disease Control order that provided the ability to quickly expel apprehended individuals. Why GAO Did This Study The COVID-19 pandemic impacted nearly all aspects of society, including travel to and from the U.S. In response to COVID-19, the administration issued executive actions with the intention of decreasing the number of individuals entering the U.S. and reducing transmission of the virus. Within CBP, OFO is responsible for implementing these actions at ports of entry through which travelers enter the U.S., and Border Patrol is responsible for patrolling the areas between ports of entry to prevent individuals and goods from entering the U.S. illegally. Based on their role in facilitating legitimate travel and trade and securing the borders, CBP employees risk exposure to COVID-19 in the line of duty. GAO was asked to review how CBP managed its field operations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This report describes: (1) available data on the number of CBP employees diagnosed with COVID-19 and unable to work; (2) actions CBP has taken related to protecting its workforce and the public from COVID-19; and (3) the extent to which CBP adjusted operations in response to the pandemic and related travel restrictions. GAO reviewed key guidance documents and analyzed data on travel and trade at ports of entry, Border Patrol enforcement, and COVID-19 exposures among CBP employees. GAO also interviewed officials at CBP headquarters, employee unions' representatives, and 12 CBP field locations, selected for factors such as geographic diversity, traffic levels, and COVID-19 infection rates. For more information, contact Rebecca Gambler at (202) 512-8777 or GamblerR@gao.gov.
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  • Chemical Security: Overlapping Programs Could Better Collaborate to Share Information and Identify Potential Security Gaps
    In U.S GAO News
    Eight federal programs addressing chemical safety or security from four departments or agencies that GAO reviewed contain requirements or guidance that generally align with at least half of the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) 18 Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) program standards. At least 550 of 3,300 (16 percent) facilities subject to the CFATS program are also subject to other federal programs. Analyses of CFATS and these eight programs indicate that some overlap, duplication, and fragmentation exists, depending on the program or programs to which a facility is subject. For example, six federal programs' requirements or guidance indicate some duplication with CFATS. CFATS program officials acknowledge similarities among these programs' requirements or guidance, some of which are duplicative, and said that the CFATS program allows facilities to meet CFATS program standards by providing information they prepared for other programs. more than 1,600 public water systems or wastewater treatment facilities are excluded under the CFATS statute, leading to fragmentation. While such facilities are subject to other programs, those programs collectively do not contain requirements or guidance that align with four CFATS standards. According to DHS, public water systems and wastewater treatment facilities are frequently subject to safety regulations that may have some security value, but in most cases, these facilities are not required to implement security measures commensurate to their level of security risk, which may lead to potential security gaps. The departments and agencies responsible for all nine of these chemical safety and security programs—four of which are managed by DHS, three by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and one each managed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the Department of Transportation (DOT)—have previously worked together to enhance information collection and sharing in response to Executive Order 13650, issued in 2013. This Executive Order directed these programs to take actions related to improving federal agency coordination and information sharing. However, these programs have not identified which facilities are subject to multiple programs, such that facilities may be unnecessarily developing duplicative information to comply with multiple programs. Although CFATS allows facilities to use information they prepared for other programs, CFATS program guidance does not specify what information facilities can reuse. Finally, DHS and EPA leaders acknowledged that there are differences between CFATS requirements and the security requirements for public water systems and wastewater treatment facilities, but they have not assessed the extent to which potential security gaps may exist. By leveraging collaboration established through the existing Executive Order working group, the CFATS program and chemical safety and security partners would be better positioned to minimize unnecessary duplication between CFATS and other programs and better ensure the security of facilities currently subject to fragmented requirements. Facilities with hazardous chemicals could be targeted by terrorists to inflict mass casualties or damage. Federal regulations applicable to chemical safety and security have evolved over time as authorizing statutes and regulations established programs for different purposes, such as safety versus security, and with different enforcement authorities. GAO has reported that such programs may be able to achieve greater efficiency where overlap exists by reducing duplication and better managing fragmentation. GAO was asked to review issues related to the effects that overlap, duplication, and fragmentation among the multiple federal programs may have on the security of the chemical sector. This report addresses the extent to which (1) such issues may exist between CFATS and other federal programs, and (2) the CFATS program collaborates with other federal programs. GAO analyzed the most recent available data on facilities subject to nine programs from DHS, EPA, ATF, and DOT; reviewed and analyzed statutes, regulations, and program guidance; and interviewed agency officials. GAO is making seven recommendations, including that DHS, EPA, ATF, and DOT identify facilities subject to multiple programs; DHS clarify guidance; and DHS and EPA assess security gaps. Agencies generally agreed with six; EPA did not agree with the recommendation on gaps. GAO continues to believe it is valid, as discussed in the report. For more information, contact Nathan Anderson at (206) 287-4804 or AndersonN@gao.gov.
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