DOD Acquisition Reform: Increased Focus on Knowledge Needed to Achieve Intended Performance and Innovation Outcomes

What GAO Found

As the Department of Defense (DOD) drives to deliver innovative capabilities faster to keep pace with evolving threats and emerging adversaries, knowledge—about programs’ cost, schedule, and technology—increases the likelihood that these capabilities will be achieved.

GAO annually assesses selected DOD weapon programs and their likely outcomes by analyzing: (1) the soundness of a program’s business case—which provides evidence that the warfighter’s needs are valid and the concept can be produced within existing resources—at program start, and (2) the knowledge a program attains at other key points in the acquisition process. For example, the Navy’s Ford-class aircraft carrier program began with a weak business case, including an unrealistic cost estimate based on unproven technologies, resulting in over $2 billion in cost growth and years of delays to date for the lead ship.

DOD’s new acquisition framework uses six different acquisition pathways and offers programs a chance to tailor acquisition approaches, providing options to speed up the process. However, preliminary findings from GAO’s 2021 annual assessment show that programs using the new middle-tier pathway face increasing risk that they will fall short of expected performance goals as a result of starting without sound business cases. While these programs are intended to be streamlined, business case information is critical for decision makers to know if a program is likely to meet its goals (see figure below).

Completion of Key Business Case Documents by Selected Middle-tier Acquisition Programs

The framework also introduces new considerations for program oversight and reporting. DOD has made some progress in developing its approach to oversight for programs using the new pathways, but questions remain about what metrics DOD will use for internal oversight and report to Congress for external oversight.

Why GAO Did This Study

DOD spends billions of dollars annually to acquire new major weapon systems, such as aircraft, ships, and satellites, and deliver them to the warfighter. GAO has reviewed individual weapon programs for many years and conducted its annual assessment of selected major DOD weapon programs for 19 years. GAO added DOD’s weapon system acquisition process to its High-Risk List in 1990.

This statement discusses: (1) the performance of selected DOD weapon programs and the role of a sound business case in that performance, (2) DOD’s progress implementing recent acquisition reforms, (3) the status of DOD’s actions to support innovation, and (4) DOD’s efforts to improve data for acquisition oversight. This statement is drawn primarily from GAO’s extensive body of work on DOD’s acquisition of weapon systems, science and technology, and acquisition reforms conducted from 2004–2021, and observations from an ongoing annual review of selected DOD weapon programs.

To perform this work, GAO reviewed DOD documentation, program information, and relevant legislation. GAO also interviewed DOD officials.

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    What GAO Found In their role administering private sector employer-sponsored defined contribution (DC) retirement plans, such as 401(k) plans, plan sponsors and their service providers—record keepers, third party administrators, custodians, and payroll providers—share a variety of personally identifiable information (PII) and plan asset data among them to assist with carrying out their respective functions (see figure). The PII exchanged for DC plans typically include participant name, Social Security number, date of birth, address, username/password; plan asset data typically includes numbers for both retirement and bank accounts. The sharing and storing of this information can lead to significant cybersecurity risks for plan sponsors and their service providers, as well as plan participants. Data Sharing Among Plan Sponsors and Service Providers in Defined Contribution Plans Federal requirements and industry guidance exist that could mitigate cybersecurity risks in DC plans, such as requirements that pertain to entities that directly engage in financial activities involving DC plans. However, not all entities involved in DC plans are considered to have such direct engagement, and other cybersecurity mitigation guidance is voluntary. Federal law nevertheless requires plan fiduciaries to act prudently when administering plans. However, the Department of Labor (DOL) has not clarified fiduciary responsibility for mitigating cybersecurity risks, even though 21 of 22 stakeholders GAO interviewed expressed the view that cybersecurity is a fiduciary duty. Further, DOL has not established minimum expectations for protecting PII and plan assets. DOL officials told GAO that the agency intends to issue guidance addressing cybersecurity-related issues, but they were unsure when it would be issued. Until DOL clarifies responsibilities for fiduciaries and provides minimum cybersecurity expectations, participants' data and assets will remain at risk. Why GAO Did This Study Cyber attacks against information systems (IT) are perpetuated by individuals or groups with malicious intentions, from stealing identities to appropriating money from accounts. DC plans, which allow individuals to accumulate tax-advantaged retirement savings, increasingly rely on the internet and IT systems for their administration. Accordingly, the need to secure these systems has become paramount. Ineffective data security controls can result in significant risks to plan data and assets. In 2018, DC plans enrolled 106 million participants and held nearly $6.3 trillion in assets, according to DOL. This report examines (1) the data that sponsors and providers exchange during the administration of DC plans and their associated cybersecurity risks, and (2) efforts to assist sponsors and providers to mitigate cybersecurity risks during the administration of DC plans. GAO interviewed key entities involved with DC plans, such as sponsors and record keepers, DOL officials and industry stakeholders; and reviewed relevant federal laws, regulations, and guidance.
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    In Crime News
    Minnesota-based medical device maker Medtronic USA Inc. has agreed to pay $8.1 million to resolve allegations that it violated the False Claims Act by paying kickbacks to induce a South Dakota neurosurgeon to use certain Medtronic products, the Department of Justice announced today. Medtronic also agreed to pay an additional $1.11 million to resolve allegations that it violated the Open Payments Program by failing to accurately report payments it made to the neurosurgeon to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).
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  • Information Technology: Key Attributes of Essential Federal Mission-Critical Acquisitions
    In U.S GAO News
    Federal agencies are undertaking information technology (IT) acquisitions that are essential to their missions. GAO identified 16 of these acquisitions as particularly critical to missions ranging from national security, to public health, to the economy (see table). GAO has previously reported on these acquisitions and the programs they support, and has made numerous recommendations to agencies for improvement. The amount agencies expect to spend on the selected acquisitions vary greatly depending on their scope and complexity, as well as the extent of transformation and modernization that agencies envision once the acquisitions are fully deployed. For example, the Department of Defense plans to spend $10.21 billion over 21 years on its health care modernization initiative, while the Department of Homeland Security intends to spend $3.19 billion over 30 years on its system supporting immigration benefits processing. Agencies reported potential cost savings associated with 13 of the 16 mission-critical acquisitions after deployment due to factors such as shutting down legacy systems, eliminating physical paper processing, and improving security, monitoring, and management. Eleven of the 16 selected acquisitions were rebaselined during their development, meaning that the project's cost, schedule, or performance goals were modified to reflect new circumstances. Agencies reported a number of reasons as to why their acquisitions were rebaselined, including delays in defining the cost, schedule, and scope; budget cuts and hiring freezes; technical challenges; and changes in development approach. As shown below, ten of the acquisitions relate to an additional programmatic area that GAO has designated high risk. Federal Agency Mission-Critical Information Technology Acquisitions Department of Agriculture Modernize and Innovate the Delivery of Agricultural Systems Department of Commerce 2020 Decennial Census* Department of Defense Defense Healthcare Management System Modernization* Global Combat Support System-Army* Department of Homeland Security Student and Exchange Visitor Information System Modernization* U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Transformation* Department of the Interior Automated Fluid Minerals Support System II* Department of Justice Next Generation Identification System Terrorist Screening System Department of State Consular System Modernization Department of Transportation Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast Department of the Treasury Customer Account Data Engine 2* Integrated Enterprise Portal* Department of Veterans Affairs Electronic Health Record Modernization* Small Business Administration Application Standard Investment Social Security Administration Disability Case Processing System 2* Legend: *= Acquisition relates to a programmatic area that GAO has previously designated as being high risk. Source: GAO analysis of agency data. | GAO-20-249SP The acquisition of IT systems has presented challenges to federal agencies. Accordingly, in 2015 GAO identified the management of IT acquisitions and operations as a high-risk area, a designation it retains today. GAO was asked to report on federal IT acquisitions. GAO's specific objective was to identify essential mission-critical IT acquisitions across the federal government and determine their key attributes. To identify acquisitions for the review, GAO administered a questionnaire to the 24 agencies covered by the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990 asking them to identify their five most important mission-critical IT acquisitions. From a total of 101 acquisitions that were identified, GAO selected 16 mission-critical IT acquisitions to profile in this report. The selection was based on various factors, including the acquisition's criticality to providing service to the nation, its total life cycle costs, and its applicability to the President's Management Agenda. For each of the 16 selected acquisitions, GAO obtained and analyzed documents on cost, schedule, risks, governance, and related information; and interviewed cognizant agency officials. GAO requested comments from the 12 agencies with acquisitions profiled in its draft report and the Office of Management and Budget. In response, one agency (the Social Security Administration) provided comments that discussed the planned use of its system. For more information, contact Carol C. Harris at (202) 512-4456 or harriscc@gao.gov.
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  • Federal Real Property: Additional Documentation of Decision Making Could Improve Transparency of New Disposal Process
    In U.S GAO News
    In 2016, the Federal Assets Sale and Transfer Act (FASTA) created the independent Public Buildings Reform Board (the Board) to support a new, three-round process for disposing of unneeded federal real property. The first of these rounds required the Board to identify and recommend at least five high-value disposal candidates with a total market value between $500 and $750 million. To identify these properties, the General Services Administration (GSA) collected and evaluated agency recommendations; a GSA-hired contractor analyzed real property data; and the Board held public hearings, visited properties, and met with federal officials. This process resulted in identifying 44 properties. The Board then took various steps to evaluate the 44 properties and recommended 12 final disposal candidates that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approved in January 2020. (See figure.) However, the Board did not fully document the process used to evaluate these candidates. For example, the Board's rationales for why individual candidates were or were not recommended were vague or incomplete. Full documentation on the decision-making process would better position stakeholders, including members of Congress, to understand the Board's rationales, especially for decisions with financial implications. Process Used by Stakeholders for Identifying and Recommending High-Value Federal Real Property for Potential Disposal Candidates According to Board and selected federal agency officials, FASTA made it easier for agencies to pursue high-value property disposals due, in part, to exemptions from some requirements, such as having to first offer properties to federal, state, or local agencies. However, FASTA's effect on other long-standing challenges, including funding to prepare properties for disposal, is unclear. For example, FASTA created a dedicated funding source to implement Board recommendations including those related to covering disposal costs, such as relocating agency staff. However, officials expressed concern that access to these funds is not automatic and must go through the annual appropriations process, which rarely coincides with the timing of these projects. The administration proposed legislative language to make proceeds from the sale of assets in fiscal year 2021 available without additional actions by Congress. However, as of January 2021, legislation containing the proposed language had not been enacted. This report discusses elements Congress may wish to evaluate when determining whether to grant such budget-related flexibility. GAO designated federal real property management, including the disposal of properties, as a high-risk area in 2003. FASTA included a provision for GAO to review the recommendations and selection processes such as those used in the first round of identifying and recommending high-value properties as candidates for disposal. This report examines: (1) how stakeholders implemented FASTA to identify and evaluate high-value properties as potential disposal candidates and (2) stakeholder views on the extent to which FASTA helped agencies with the disposal of unneeded high-value properties and addressed long-standing challenges in disposing of federal properties. GAO reviewed FASTA and analyzed documents from the Board, OMB, GSA, and selected 14 federal agencies to examine the processes they used and the challenges they encountered under the FASTA process. Agencies were selected based on their recommendations of high-value properties and inclusion on the Board's final list, among other things. GAO also interviewed officials from the Board, OMB, GSA, and selected federal agencies. GAO is recommending that the Board fully document its process for recommending FASTA disposal candidates, including the rationales behind disposal decisions. The Board noted plans to develop more documentation of its future disposal decisions. For more information, contact David Trimble at (202) 512-2834 or trimbled@gao.gov.
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  • Small Business Administration: COVID-19 Loans Lack Controls and Are Susceptible to Fraud
    In U.S GAO News
    In April 2020, the Small Business Administration (SBA) moved quickly to implement the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which provides loans that are forgivable under certain circumstances to small businesses affected by COVID-19. Given the immediate need for these loans, SBA worked to streamline the program so that lenders could begin distributing these funds as soon as possible. For example, lenders were permitted to rely on borrowers' self-certifications for eligibility and use of loan proceeds. As a result, there may be significant risk that some fraudulent or inflated applications were approved. Since May 2020, the Department of Justice has publicly announced charges in more than 50 fraud-related cases associated with PPP funds. In April 2020, SBA announced it would review all loans of more than $2 million to confirm borrower eligibility, and SBA officials subsequently stated that they would review selected loans of less than $2 million to determine, for example, whether the borrower is entitled to loan forgiveness. However, SBA did not provide details on how it would conduct either of these reviews. As of September 2020, SBA reported it was working with the Department of the Treasury and contractors to finalize the plans for the reviews. Because SBA had limited time to implement safeguards up front for loan approval, GAO believes that planning and oversight by SBA to address risks in the PPP program is crucial moving forward. SBA's efforts to expedite processing of Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL)—such as the reliance on self-certification—may have contributed to increased fraud risk in that program as well. In July 2020, SBA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) reported indicators of widespread potential fraud—including thousands of fraud complaints—and found deficiencies with SBA's internal controls. In response, SBA maintained that its internal controls for EIDL were robust, including checks to identify duplicate applications and verify account information, and that it had provided banks with additional antifraud guidance. The Department of Justice, in conjunction with other federal agencies, also has taken actions to address potential fraud. Since May 2020, the department has announced fraud investigations related to the EIDL program and charges against recipients related to EIDL fraud. SBA has made or guaranteed more than 14.5 million loans and grants through PPP and EIDL, providing about $729 billion to help small businesses adversely affected by COVID-19. However, the speed with which SBA implemented the programs may have increased their susceptibility to fraud. This testimony discusses fraud risks associated with SBA's PPP and EIDL programs. It is based largely on GAO's reports in June 2020 (GAO-20-625) and September 2020 (GAO-20-701) that addressed the federal response, including by SBA, to the economic downturn caused by COVID-19. For those reports, GAO reviewed SBA documentation and interviewed officials from SBA, the Department of the Treasury, and associations that represent lenders and small businesses. GAO also met with officials from the SBA OIG and reviewed OIG reports. In its June 2020 report, GAO recommended that SBA develop and implement plans to identify and respond to risks in PPP to ensure program integrity, achieve program effectiveness, and address potential fraud. SBA neither agreed nor disagreed, but GAO believes implementation of this recommendation is essential. For more information, contact William B. Shear at (202) 512-4325 or shearw@gao.gov.
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