Inefficient Pentagon management led to cost increases for key weapons programs that often fell short of production goals last year, government auditors said Monday.

In its sixth annual report on selected weapons purchases, the Government Accountability Office found that procurement costs came in 26 percent above original estimates for 72 major weapons programs in 2007. The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, also found that many programs were delayed or produced fewer weapons than initially planned.

The GAO blamed these problems on inefficient Pentagon practices, including changes in program requirements after weapons development had started, turnover in program management and the use of contractors and other outside personnel.

"Every dollar spent inefficiently in developing and procuring weapons systems is less money available for many other internal and external budget priorities," the report said.

Planned Pentagon investment in new weapons systems doubled to $1.6 trillion in 2007 from $790 billion in 2000, hitting its highest level in two decades, the GAO said. The Defense Department expects to invest about $900 billion in weapons development and procurement over the next five years, including $335 billion in new weapons systems.

The 198-page report highlighted cost increases at several high-profile programs, including:

_ the Joint Strike Fighter, a fighter jet being developed by Lockheed Martin Corp., which is now projected to cost $240 billion, up from a targeted $203 billion in 2001.

_ the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, an amphibious armored carrier developed by General Dynamics Corp. for the Marines, which is currently projected to cost $13.5 billion, up from a targeted of $8.7 billion in 2000.

_ Future Combat Systems, a massive Army modernization effort being led by Boeing Co. that will use futuristic communications technology to link manned and unmanned aircraft and vehicles in real time. The program's total cost is now projected at $128.5 billion, up from $88.3 billion as of 2003.

The annual GAO study will go to a number of key congressional committees, including the Armed Services Committees and the Defense Appropriations Subcommittees in the Senate and House.

In a statement, Lockheed Martin said the Joint Strike Fighter program is on schedule to make its first deliveries in 2010 and remains focused on affordability. A company spokesman added that the GAO report itself notes that Pentagon officials working on the Joint Strike Fighter program also take issue with the GAO's conclusions.

General Dynamics had no comment on the GAO report and Boeing could not immediately be reached for comment.