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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    The Department of Defense (DOD) has made progress in establishing valid and reliable cost baselines for its enterprise business operations and has additional efforts ongoing. DOD's January 2020 report responding to section 921 of the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 addressed most of the key requirements from that section but also had some limitations, which DOD acknowledged. For example, the baselines included only labor and information technology costs because DOD's financial data do not attribute costs to other specific activities required under section 921. However, DOD officials told GAO they have developed and are continuing to refine baselines for all of the department's enterprise business operations, such as financial and human resource management, to enable DOD to better track the resources devoted to these operations and the progress of reform. While still in progress, this effort shows promise in addressing the weaknesses in DOD's section 921 report and in meeting the need for consistent baselines for DOD's reform efforts that GAO has previously identified. GAO found that DOD's reported savings of $37 billion from its reform efforts and a Defense-Wide Review to better align resources are largely reflected in its budget materials; however, the savings were not always well documented or consistent with the department's definitions of reform. Specifically: DOD had limited information on the analysis underlying its savings estimates, including (1) economic assumptions, (2) alternative options, and (3) any costs of taking the actions to realize savings, such as opportunity costs. Therefore, GAO was unable to determine the quality of the analysis that led to DOD's savings decisions. Further, some of the cost savings initiatives were not clearly aligned with DOD's definitions of reform, and thus DOD may have overstated savings that came from its reform efforts rather than other sources of savings, like cost avoidance. For example, one initiative was based on the delay of military construction projects. According to DOD officials, this was done to fund higher priorities. But if a delayed project is still planned, the costs will likely be realized in a future year. Without processes to standardize development and documentation of savings and to consistently identify reform savings based on reform definitions, decision makers may lack reliable information on DOD's estimated reform savings. In coordinating its reform efforts, DOD has generally followed leading practices for collaboration, but there is a risk that this collaboration may not be sustained in light of any organizational changes that Congress or DOD may make. This risk is increased because the Office of the Chief Management Officer (OCMO) and other offices have not formalized and institutionalized these efforts through written policies or agreements. Without written policies or formal agreements that define how organizations should collaborate with regard to DOD's reform and efficiency efforts, current progress may be lost, and future coordination efforts may be hindered. DOD spends billions of dollars each year to maintain key business operations. Section 921 of the NDAA for FY 2019 established requirements for DOD to reform these operations and report on their efforts. DOD has also undertaken additional efforts to reform its operations in recent years. Section 921 called for GAO to assess the accuracy of DOD's reported cost baselines and savings, and section 1753 of the NDAA for FY 2020 called for GAO to report on the OCMO's efficiency initiatives. This report assesses the extent to which DOD has (1) established valid and reliable baseline cost estimates for its business operations; (2) established well-documented cost savings estimates reflecting its reforms; and (3) coordinated its reform efforts. GAO assessed documents supporting costs, savings estimates, and coordination efforts; interviewed DOD officials; observed demonstrations of DOD's reform tracking tools; and assessed DOD's efforts using selected criteria. GAO is making three recommendations—specifically, that DOD establish formal processes to standardize development and documentation of cost savings; ensure that reported savings are consistent with the department's definition of reform; and formalize policies or agreements on its reform efforts. DOD concurred with GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Elizabeth Field at (202) 512-2775 or fielde1@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Secretary Blinken’s Meeting with French President Macron
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Office of the [Read More…]
  • The United States Welcomes the Breakthrough To Restore Gulf and Arab Unity
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • Briefing With State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Scott W. Busby
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Scott Busby, Deputy [Read More…]
  • Azerbaijan Republic Day
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Antony J. Blinken, [Read More…]
  • Manufacturers of “Spice” Sentenced for Operating a Continuing Criminal Enterprise and Other Crimes
    In Crime News
    Two defendants were sentenced Wednesday to 20 years each in federal prison for crimes committed in connection with the manufacture of synthetic cannabinoid products (commonly referred to as “spice”), operating a continuing criminal enterprise, manufacturing and distributing controlled substance analogues, wire fraud, mail fraud, money laundering, maintaining a drug premises, and possession of a listed chemical with the intent to manufacture a controlled substance.
    [Read More…]
  • FY 2021 National Census of Victim Service Providers
    In Justice News
    (Solicitation)
    The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Office of Justice Programs (OJP), Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) is seeking applications for funding for the National Census of Victim Service Providers (NCVSP). This program furthers efforts to expand the statistical infrastructure around victim services, including the availability and use of services to support victims of crime or abuse.
    Deadline: Grants.gov Application Deadline: 11:59 p.m. eastern time on June 14, 2021; JustGrants Application Deadline: 11:59 p.m. eastern time on June 28, 2021 [Read More…]
  • Department of Justice Revises Policy Governing Grants Associated with Foreign-Made Unmanned Aircraft Systems
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice today announced that its Office of Justice Programs (OJP) has issued a revised policy governing the award of grants for the purchase and operation of foreign-made Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). The new policy requires grant recipients to utilize OJP funds to procure and operate UAS only in a manner that promotes public safety, protects individuals’ privacy and civil liberties, and mitigates the risks of cyber intrusion and foreign influence.
    [Read More…]
  • Mississippi Prison’s Deputy Warden Charged with Civil Rights Offense for Beating Inmate
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department announced yesterday that a federal grand jury indicted Melvin Hilson, 49, currently a deputy warden at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, for repeatedly striking an inmate and knocking him to the ground, resulting in injury to the inmate.
    [Read More…]
  • Statement from Attorney General Merrick B. Garland
    In Crime News
    U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland today made the following statement:
    [Read More…]
  • Statement from Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband and Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Michael Sherwin on Legal Victory Protecting Religious Worship in the Nation’s Capital
    In Crime News
    Judge enjoins District [Read More…]