The Pentagon cannot account for over 1 million F-35 Joint Strike Fighter spare parts since 2018, totaling over $85 million, according to a new May report from the Government Accountability Office.
The F-35 jet is the Department of Defense's costliest weapon system, and the program's life cycle is projected to cost over $1.7 trillion.
Despite the project's massive cost, the DOD's F-35 Joint Program Office does not manage or keep track of the parts in its global spare parts pool located in 50 domestic and international non-prime contractor facilities.
"The F-35 Joint Program Office does not track or enter these spare parts into an accountable property system of record that could enable it to capture and store real-time changes to property records," GAO reported. "Currently, the prime contractors maintain this information."
Spare parts for the jet include everything from engines, tires, and landing gear to bolts, screws, and fasteners.
The GAO explained that since some parts are not accountable under a contract, the contractors "will not enter these parts into the system DOD uses to track losses and disposition." Without this information, the JPO is unable to complete the necessary reporting.
"Without DOD taking steps to ensure that these spare parts are accountable under a contract, the F-35 Joint Program Office will be unable to either gain or maintain accountability over these spare parts and will not have data, such as locations, costs, and quantities, needed for financial reporting or to ensure that government interests are protected," the GAO explained.
After analyzing data from just one F-35 prime contractor, the GAO discovered that from May 2018 to October 2022, it had lost over one million spare parts totaling more than $85 million. Additionally, less than two percent of those "lost, damaged, or destroyed" parts were reviewed by DOD's F-35 Joint Program Office. Since October, that same contractor has failed to report over 900,000 spare parts totaling $66 million to the DOD.
The GAO provided the DOD with four recommendations to mitigate future losses.
First, the GAO advised the Pentagon and the JPO to "take steps to ensure that all spare parts in the global spares pool are categorized appropriately and are accountable under a contract." In the meantime, the DOD should create a process for contractors to report losses and document interim procedures, the GAO stated.
Additionally, the Pentagon was advised to "review all applicable guidelines and policies for asset accountability and update as necessary to ensure clarity regarding when an asset is considered government-furnished property."
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