WASHINGTON — The Government Accountability Office last week released a biting report on the satellite ground control software that Raytheon is developing for the Air Force’s Global Positioning System, warning that the program — already five years behind schedule — is likely to suffer further delays.

In response, Raytheon issued a statement calling GAO’s findings “inaccurate.” The company also claimed that GAO’s assessment was “never discussed with Raytheon.”

These comments did not sit well with GAO. “We were puzzled by that statement,” Cristina Chaplain, GAO’s director of contracting and national security acquisitions, told SpaceNews on Tuesday.

The $6 billion program known as the next-generation operational control system for the GPS 3 constellation, or OCX, has been in development since 2012 and is closely watched by congressional committees — and therefore a frequent subject of GAO investigations, most of which are directed by Congress.

Because of the program’s troubled history, GAO in its May 21 report recommended an independent review of the OCX schedule. Raytheon’s contract with the Air Force requires delivery of a complete system by June 2021 and GAO questioned the contractor’s ability to meet that deadline.

“We do stand by our findings,” Chaplain said.

She disputed Raytheon’s suggestion that GAO analysts never discussed their work with the company. “We had multiple meetings with them and a lot of followup emails, getting confirmation and updates,” Chaplain said. “We always meet with contractors to the extent we can on these types of reviews.”

Raytheon has a different take. “We answered a few questions about very narrow aspects of the program, and we were not given an opportunity to review their findings before they were distributed,” Raytheon spokeswoman Heather Uberuaga said Tuesday in a statement. “The conclusions they outline in their report are inaccurate, and we stand by our previous statement.”

Chaplain noted that while GAO analysts do share information about their research with contractors — and was adamant that GAO’s investigation of OCX was discussed with Raytheon officials — it’s not up to GAO to disclose the final conclusions of a review. Analysts give extensive “exit” briefings to the government program offices — in this case to Air Force and Defense Department officials. “At that point it’s up to the government to decide what to share with the contractor.”

Raytheon’s promise to deliver the OCX Block 1 software by June 2021 is optimistic, in Chaplain’s estimation. “They made reforms, we did see some improvements in the pace of software development but we still saw risk,” she said. “If they’re that confident, they should actually welcome the recommendation we’re making to do an independent review because it would validate their progress.”

GAO believes an independent assessment of the OCX schedule should be performed by the end of this year, when Raytheon says it will have fully implemented a new agile software development methodology, said Chaplain. “We would then have a better picture of where we stood, and a better picture of the government’s testing that has to occur after delivery,” she said. “There’s risk there too.”

Chaplain recommended that the independent review be conducted by the Pentagon’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office, known as CAPE. “They’re pretty familiar with the program and they do these kinds of reviews routinely,” she said. Although CAPE is under the office of the secretary of defense, “they’re used to fulfilling an independent role.”

The Air Force in a written response to the GAO report disagrees with the call for an independent review of the OCX schedule. Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, wrote in a May 2 letter to GAO that the program has undergone multiple reviews and continues to be closely watched by CAPE and by Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord. He said Lord and Raytheon CEO Thomas Kennedy meet twice a year to review OCX and the next meeting is scheduled for Aug. 28.

Chaplain said she is aware that the program is receiving high level attention in the Defense Department, but a meeting with the CEO is not the same as an in-depth assessment of the schedule “where you actually analyze the whole work structure,” she said. “A program this size, this important, and this late, deserves a little bit more.”

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...