Defense Budget

Observations on the Air Force Flying Hour Program Gao ID: NSIAD-99-165 July 8, 1999

During 1997 and 1998, the Air Force reported funding deficits of $171 million and $200 million in its flying hour program. It expects a similar deficit for 1999. The Air Force, concerned that shortfalls in this program would curtail flying operations and pose a serious risk to the readiness of aviation units, requested and received additional money for this program in each fiscal year. Members of Congress have raised concerns about the validity and accuracy of the Air Force's budget formulation process for its flying hour program. This report (1) identifies the extent to which the Air Force has flown the hours requested in its budget, (2) describes the process that the Air Force uses to determine flying hour requirements, (3) discusses how the requirements and specific cost factors are used to develop the budget estimate for the flying hour program, and (4) compares program funding and obligations incurred in 1997 and 1998 and provides the reasons for the difference.

GAO noted that: (1) in the last 4 years, the Air Force has requested funding for more flying hours than it has been able to fly; (2) from FY 1995 through FY 1998, the Air Force flew fewer hours than were programmed, ranging from a low of about 89 percent of programmed hours in FY 1995 to a high of about 94 percent in FY 1996; (3) programmed hours were not flown for a variety of reasons, including deployments, bad weather, and maintenance or supply problems; (4) the Air Force did not cite a shortage of flying hour funding as a cause for underflying the program; (5) in July 1997, the Air Force changed its method for determining its flying hour requirements by better linking these hours to missions required for maintaining readiness and proficiency; (6) for fighter and bomber aircraft, for example, the Air Combat Command has two readiness levels--basic mission-capable and combat mission-ready; (7) for each level, the new method specifies the number of sorties required, the training events to be accomplished, and the hours required for accomplishing them; (8) the Air Force Chief of Staff has also emphasized to its major commands the need to fly all programmed hours in FY 1999; (9) the remainder of this fiscal year should serve as a good indication of the Air Force's general ability to fly the hours it says are needed to maintain combat readiness and proficiency while maintaining support for contingencies in Europe and Southwest Asia; (10) the methodology used by the Air Force to cost out the flying hour program depends heavily on stable prices for its repairable and consumable spare parts; (11) management problems in determining prices for these items have led to multiple price changes that have led the Air Force to believe it would exhaust its flying hour funding before the end of the fiscal year; (12) as a result, for the last 2 fiscal years, it requested, and received, additional congressional funding for its flying hour program that ultimately proved to be in excess of its requirements since it flew fewer hours than programmed; (13) in total, Congress provided $5 million more for the flying hour program than the Air Force's obligations during FY 1997 and $357 million more than its obligations in FY 1998; and (14) ultimately, these excess funds were used to support unmet needs for funding in other operation and maintenance programs, such as real property maintenance and base operation support.

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