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Pentagon cannot account for thousands of F-35 parts, GAO says

The Department of Defense can’t account for spare parts worth millions of dollars that use its costliest weapon, the F-35 jet, auditors say. (Master Sgt. Darnell T. Cannady/U.S. Air Force/TNS)

The Pentagon can’t account for hundreds of thousands of spare parts worth millions of dollars that are stored worldwide for the U.S. and allies that use its costliest weapon, the F-35 jet, according to congressional auditors.

The findings by the Government Accountability Office offer a concrete current example of “material weaknesses” in the Pentagon’s financial management that resulted in the military’s failure to pass a department-wide audit for the fifth consecutive year, according to the review that was released Tuesday.

Unlike scores of GAO reports and other assessments that analyze the fighter jet’s cost, schedule and flying performance, the new audit delved into the more mundane and largely invisible work of supporting the aircraft once it’s delivered to international customers. The operation and support bill for the F-35 may reach an estimated $1.4 trillion through 2088.

Allies don’t own parts and tap into the Defense Department’s worldwide shared pool of spares, including engines, tires, landing gear and items such as bolts, screws and other fasteners. The Pentagon’s F-35 program office doesn’t maintain accountability over the parts, “the total value of which is unknown,” the GAO said.

The parts are held at more than 50 locations worldwide, including subcontractors’ facilities, domestic and international military bases, facilities managed by foreign partners in the F-35 program’s supply chain and Defense Logistics Agency warehouses, the GAO said.

Although the F-35 program office “has taken initial steps to establish property records, after spending approximately $12 million to conduct the inventory,” it “was unable to provide the cost, total quantity, and locations of spare parts in the global spares pool,” the GAO said and continues to rely on contractor Lockheed Martin Corp.’s “records for this information.”

“As a result of this lack of accountability, the total value and quantity of the spare parts is currently unknown,” the watchdog agency found.

The Pentagon’s F-35 program office said that although it agreed with the GAO’s recommendations for improvement, “it is important for the American people and our global partners to understand that we know where the vast majority of F-35 spare parts are in the global supply chain” and “we will continue to work with the services to improve parts accountability and drive readiness” improvements.

The F-35 parts issue is emblematic of the Pentagon’s chronic failure to succeed in conducting a department-wide audit, the GAO said. Its “lack of accountability over the global spares pool affects its ability to resolve the material weakness related to the F-35 program, as well as other DOD material weaknesses,” the GAO said.

That “increases the risk of misstatement on DoD’s financial statements and the risk of mismanagement of the F-35 global spares pool,” it said of the Department of Defense.

The GAO said that Defense Department officials it interviewed said that “the material weakness related to the F-35 program may affect DoD’s ability to resolve other material weaknesses because of the department’s lack of accountability over the F-35 assets and the sheer volume of these assets — the total value of which is currently unknown, but estimated to be in the billions of dollars.”

The “ongoing issues with reporting the F-35 assets will most likely continue to contribute” to the Pentagon’s inability to certify an audit until that’s remedied, the GAO said.


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