Defense Technology Development:

Management Process Can Be Strengthened for New Technology Transition Programs

GAO-05-480: Published: Jun 17, 2005. Publicly Released: Jun 17, 2005.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Michael J. Sullivan
(937) 258-7915
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

The Department of Defense (DOD) and Congress both recognize that Defense technology innovations sometimes move too slowly from the lab to the field. Three new programs have been recently created in DOD to help speed and enhance the transition of new technologies. A report accompanying the fiscal year 2003 National Defense Authorization Act required GAO to review two of these programs--the Technology Transition Initiative (TTI) and Defense Acquisition Challenge Program (DACP). The first is designed to speed transition of technologies from DOD labs to acquisition programs and the second is designed to introduce cost-saving technologies from inside and outside DOD. We were also asked to review the Quick Reaction Fund, which is focused on rapidly field testing promising new technology prototypes. We assessed the impact the programs had on technology transition and the programs' selection, management and oversight, and assessment practices.

The ability to spur and leverage technological advances is vital to sustaining DOD's ability to maintain its superiority over others and to improve and even transform how military operations are conducted. The three new transition programs we reviewed are all appropriately targeted on what has been a critical problem in this regard--quickly moving promising technologies from the laboratory and commercial environment into actual use. Moreover, by tailoring processes and criteria to focus on different objectives, whether that may be saving time or money or broadening the industrial base, DOD has had an opportunity to experiment with a variety of management approaches and criteria that can be used to help solve transition problems affecting the approximately $69 billion spent over the past 3 years on later stages of technology development. However, it is too soon for us to determine the impact the three new DOD technology transition programs are having. At the time of our review, the programs--the TTI, DACP, and Quick Reaction Fund--had completed only 11 of 68 projects funded in fiscal years 2003 and 2004; of those, only 4 were providing full capability to users. Additionally, the programs have limited measures to gauge success of individual projects and return on investment. Nonetheless, reports from the programs have pointed to an array of benefits, including quicker fielding of technological improvements, cost savings, and the opportunity for DOD to tap into innovative technologies from firms that are new to defense work. Some sponsored technologies are bringing benefits to warfighters, such as a small, unmanned aircraft that can detect chemical and biological agents, and a device the size of an ink pen that can be used to purify water on the battlefield or in disaster areas. Furthermore, DOD officials credit the programs with giving senior leaders the flexibility to rapidly address current warfighter needs and for highlighting smaller technology projects that might otherwise be ignored. Long-term success for the programs likely will depend on how well the programs are managed and overseen. The programs must have effective processes for selecting the best projects, and management and oversight processes that will catch potential problems early. Thus far, of the three programs, the DACP has adopted the most disciplined and structured process for selecting and managing projects, and has encountered few problems managing projects. However, the program has had some difficulties processing the large number of proposals it receives. The TTI has also established selection criteria and processes, but it is unclear the extent to which it is reaching its intended audience and has had less success in tracking its projects. The Quick Reaction Fund has the least structured processes of the three programs--a deliberate approach seen as providing the flexibility needed to field innovations rapidly. It has had some difficulty selecting, managing and tracking projects.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: For the Quick Reaction Fund (QRF), the fiscal year 2007 QRF data call requires transition agreements for proposals costing $2.5 million or more. Fiscal year 2005 QRF projects that have completed or are nearing completion, have letters prepared to be sent to the Services making them aware that these technologies exist and are available for further development and/or fielding. The fiscal year 2006 Appropriations Conference Report requested the Secretary of Defense to provide quarterly reports to the congressional defense committee. This report also increases the communication and oversight of the projects. The report includes project descriptions with their respective schedule and funding requirements, transition plans to the services for further development, and lessons learned from completed projects. For the Technology Transition Initiative (TTI), DoD plans to select an electronic database to help track the status of projects and facilitate program office reporting, which should help improve communications between the TTI office and program managers. No additional steps have been taken for the Defense Acquisition Challenge Program (DACP).

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should identify and implement mechanisms to ensure that transition program managers, developers, and acquirers are able to better communicate to collectively identify and resolve problems that could hinder technology transition. There may be opportunities to strengthen communication by improving the structure and content of interim progress meetings and possibly even designating individuals to act as deal brokers.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Technology Transition Initiative program specifies in its project submittal template that a signed technology transition agreement (TTA) will be required for all approved Technology Transition Initiative projects before being funded, and an explanation of what the TTA must include. Within this same template, technology readiness levels (TRLs) are defined and verification of sufficient levels is a mandatory element for acceptance into the program. For the Quick Reaction Fund (QRF) program, the fiscal year 2007 data call is requiring transition agreements for proposals costing $2.5 million or more. Additionally, fiscal year 2005 QRF projects that have completed or are nearing completion are to have letters prepared to be sent to the Services making them aware that these technologies exist and are available for further development and/or fielding. Regarding TRLs, the fiscal year 2006 QRF data call requested the proposals to identify the TRLs. QRF has no specific rules for technology maturity, but the fiscal year 2006 selection process did consider the TRL as a significant factor in the final selection process.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense (Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics) to implement the following, as appropriate, for each of the transition programs: (1) formal agreements to solidify up-front technology development agreements related to cost, schedule, and performance parameters that must be met at key points in time and (2) confirmation of technology readiness levels as part of the proposal acceptance process.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Office of the Secretary of Defense officials have instituted the use of monthly progress reports for Technology Transition Initiative projects. If these reports are not submitted, funding for the project in question is halted until the situation is reconciled. Within the Quick Reaction Fund (QRF) program, the Quick Reaction Special Projects Tracking System is used by the principal investigators to provide monthly status reports on their projects. This tracking system was implemented in April 2005. The monthly status report is an oversight tool to track the performance and completion of each QRF project. Listed below are some of the key information elements collected monthly on each project: 1) funding status, 2) period of performance, 3) schedule, 4) performance metrics, 5) major performers, 6) deliverables, and 7) transition plan. The program manager for the QRF program makes government and contractor site visits to articulate QRF program requirements, attend project kick-off meetings, review program plans, and provide feedback on the progress of the project. As required, the QRF principal investigators brief the Director, Plans and Programs to provide progress of the QRF projects and if corrective actions and/or significant changes are required to complete the project. The QRF program manager provides periodic status reports on each of the QRF projects to the Director, Plans and Programs in the form of briefs, financial reports, and meetings.

    Recommendation: To complement this effort, the Secretary of Defense should develop formal feedback mechanisms, consisting of interim and after action reporting, as well as project reviews if major deviations occur in a project. Deviations include, but are not limited to, changes in the technology developer, acquirer, or user, or an inability for the technology developer to meet cost, schedule, or performance parameters at key points in time.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Quick Reaction Fund (QRF) has developed metrics to gauge the performance of the QRF Program. The fiscal year 2006 QRF data call requested the proposals to identify the technology readiness level (TRL). However, there are no specific rules for technology maturity but, the fiscal year 2006 selection process did consider the TRL as a significant factor in the final selection process. After the final QRF project selections are made, the projects' principal investigator must agree to the following minimum QRF reporting requirements: 1) Monthly updates on the progress of the QRF project via a Director, Defense Research and Engineering (DDR&E) website 2) Quarterly Congressional Report 3) A complete program briefing (required mid-point and at completion of the project) 4) Quad Chart (ad hoc but mandatory at the completion of the project) 5) A "releasable" news article for the DDR&E Newsletter (required at the completion of the project) 6) After action summary (required at the completion of the project) 7) Agreement to complete the project within the stated Period of Performance unless waived by DDR&E. After the principal investigator agrees to the minimum reporting requirements, completes a statement of work and, a financial information sheet, funds are released. No additional metrics have been developed for the TTI or DACP programs.

    Recommendation: To optimize DOD's growing investment in the Technology Transition Initiative, the Defense Acquisition Challenge Program, and the Quick Reaction Fund, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense (Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics) to develop data and measures that can be used to support assessments of the performance of the three transition programs as well as broader assessments of the return on investment that would track the long-term impact of the programs. DOD could use measures already developed by other transition programs, such as Foreign Comparative Testing, as a starting point as well as the results of its study on performance measurement being conducted by the Naval Post Graduate School.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  5. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Since our recommendation that there be an assessment of how the Technology Transition Council can be better used, the Council has held its first meeting, and efforts are being made to coordinate future meetings based on the success of the initial meeting in November 2005. Ms. Cynthia Gonsalves from the DDR&E Technology Transition Program stated that the senior DOD leadership that attended the first council meeting found it engaging and provided positive feedback. As a result, efforts are being undertaken to schedule the next meeting and better define the role of the council and its meetings.

    Recommendation: As DOD considers solutions to broader technology transition problems, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense (Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics) to assess how the Technology Transition Council can be better used.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Sep 10, 2014

Jul 23, 2014

Jun 9, 2014

May 20, 2014

  • science icon, source: National Cancer Institute

    Nanomanufacturing and U.S. Competitiveness:

    Challenges and Opportunities
    GAO-14-618T: Published: May 20, 2014. Publicly Released: May 20, 2014.

Feb 7, 2014

Dec 20, 2013

Nov 4, 2013

  • science icon, source: National Cancer Institute

    Small Business Innovation Research:

    Data Rights Protections
    GAO-14-116R: Published: Nov 4, 2013. Publicly Released: Nov 4, 2013.

Jul 19, 2013

Apr 10, 2013

Feb 15, 2013

Looking for more? Browse all our products here