Weapons Acquisition:

DOD Should Strengthen Policies for Assessing Technical Data Needs to Support Weapon Systems

GAO-06-839: Published: Jul 14, 2006. Publicly Released: Jul 14, 2006.

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A critical element in the life cycle of a weapon system is the availability of the item's technical data--recorded information used to define a design and to produce, support, maintain, or operate the item. Because a weapon system may remain in the defense inventory for decades following initial acquisition, technical data decisions made during acquisition can have far-reaching implications over its life cycle. In August 2004, GAO recommended that the Department of Defense (DOD) consider requiring program offices to develop acquisition strategies that provide for future delivery of technical data should the need arise to select an alternative source for logistics support or to offer the work out for competition. For this review, GAO (1) evaluated how sustainment plans for Army and Air Force weapon systems had been affected by technical data rights and (2) examined requirements for obtaining technical data rights under current DOD acquisition policies.

The Army and the Air Force have encountered limitations in their sustainment plans for some fielded weapon systems because they lacked needed technical data rights. The lack of technical data rights has limited the services' flexibility to make changes to sustainment plans that are aimed at achieving cost savings and meeting legislative requirements regarding depot maintenance capabilities. GAO identified seven weapon system programs that encountered such limitations--C-17, F-22, and C-130J aircraft, Up-armored High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, Stryker family of vehicles, Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft, and M4 carbine. Although the circumstances surrounding each case were unique, earlier decisions made on technical data rights during system acquisition were cited as a primary reason for the limitations subsequently encountered. As a result of the limitations encountered, the services had to alter their plans for developing maintenance capability at public depots, developing new sources of supply to increase production, or soliciting competitive offers for the acquisition of spare parts and components to reduce sustainment costs. For example, the Air Force identified a need to develop a core maintenance capability for the C-17 at government depots to ensure it had the ability to support national defense emergencies, but it lacked the requisite technical data rights. To mitigate this limitation, the Air Force is seeking to form partnerships with C-17 sub-vendors. However, according to Air Force officials, some sub-vendors have declined to provide the needed technical data needed to develop core capability. Although GAO did not assess the rationale for the decisions made on technical data rights during system acquisition, several factors, such as the extent the system incorporates technology that was not developed with government funding and the potential for changes in the technical data over the weapon system's life cycle, may complicate program managers' decisions. Current DOD acquisition policies do not specifically address long-term technical data rights for weapon system sustainment. For example, DOD's policies do not require program managers to assess long-term needs for technical data rights to support weapon systems and, correspondingly, to develop acquisition strategies that address those needs. DOD, as part of the department's acquisition reforms and performance-based strategies, has deemphasized the acquisition of technical data rights. Although GAO has recommended that DOD emphasize the need for technical data rights, DOD has not implemented these recommendations. The Army and the Air Force have recognized weaknesses in their approaches to assessing and securing technical data rights and have begun to address these weaknesses by developing more structured approaches. However, DOD acquisition policies do not facilitate these efforts. Unless DOD assesses and secures its rights for the use of technical data early in the weapon system acquisition process when it has the greatest leverage to negotiate, DOD may face later challenges in sustaining weapon systems over their life cycle.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007, Congress added a provision requiring program managers to assess long-term technical data needs for weapon systems and to establish corresponding acquisition strategies. The legislative provision approved by Congress drew heavily from GAO's recommendations. On July 19, 2007, DOD issued a policy memorandum that requires program managers, regardless of planned sustainment approach, to assess the long-term technical data needs of their systems and reflect the assessment in a data management strategy, which shall be integrated with other life cycle sustainment planning and included in the system acquisition strategy. These changes in legislation and DOD policy should improve DOD's acquisition strategies by better addressing the technical data needed to sustain weapon systems.

    Recommendation: To ensure that DOD can support sustainment plans for weapon systems throughout their life cycle, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense (Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics) to specifically require program managers to assess long-term technical data needs and establish corresponding acquisition strategies that provide for technical data rights needed to sustain weapon systems over their life cycle. These assessments and corresponding acquisition strategies should apply to weapon systems that are to be supported by performance-based logistics arrangements as well as to weapon systems that are to be supported by other sustainment approaches.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007, Congress added a provision requiring program managers to assess long-term technical data needs for weapon systems and to establish corresponding acquisition strategies. The legislative provision approved by Congress drew heavily from GAO's recommendations. On July 19, 2007, DOD issued a policy memorandum that requires program managers, regardless of planned sustainment approach, to assess the long-term technical data needs of their systems and reflect the assessment in a data management strategy, which shall be integrated with other life cycle sustainment planning and included in the system acquisition strategy. These changes in legislation and DOD policy should improve DOD's acquisition strategies by better addressing the technical data needed to sustain weapon systems.

    Recommendation: To ensure that DOD can support sustainment plans for weapon systems throughout their life cycle, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense (Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics) to specifically require program managers to assess long-term technical data needs and establish corresponding acquisition strategies that provide for technical data rights needed to sustain weapon systems over their life cycle. These assessments and corresponding acquisition strategies should address the potential for changes in the sustainment plan over the weapon system's life cycle, which may include the development of maintenance capability at public depots, the development of new sources of supply to increase production, or the solicitation of competitive offers for the acquisition of spare parts and components.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007, Congress added a provision requiring program managers to assess long-term technical data needs for weapon systems and to establish corresponding acquisition strategies. The legislative provision approved by Congress drew heavily from GAO's recommendations. On July 19, 2007, DOD issued a policy memorandum that requires program managers, regardless of planned sustainment approach, to assess the long-term technical data needs of their systems and reflect the assessment in a data management strategy, which shall be integrated with other life cycle sustainment planning and included in the system acquisition strategy. These changes in legislation and DOD policy should improve DOD's acquisition strategies by better addressing the technical data needed to sustain weapon systems.

    Recommendation: To ensure that DOD can support sustainment plans for weapon systems throughout their life cycle, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense (Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics) to specifically require program managers to assess long-term technical data needs and establish corresponding acquisition strategies that provide for technical data rights needed to sustain weapon systems over their life cycle. These assessments and corresponding acquisition strategies should address the merits of including a priced contract option for the future delivery of technical data.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007, Congress added a provision requiring program managers to assess long-term technical data needs for weapon systems and to establish corresponding acquisition strategies. The legislative provision approved by Congress drew heavily from GAO's recommendations. On July 19, 2007, DOD issued a policy memorandum that requires program managers, regardless of planned sustainment approach, to assess the long-term technical data needs of their systems and reflect the assessment in a data management strategy, which shall be integrated with other life cycle sustainment planning and included in the system acquisition strategy. These changes in legislation and DOD policy should improve DOD's acquisition strategies by better addressing the technical data needed to sustain weapon systems.

    Recommendation: To ensure that DOD can support sustainment plans for weapon systems throughout their life cycle, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense (Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics) to specifically require program managers to assess long-term technical data needs and establish corresponding acquisition strategies that provide for technical data rights needed to sustain weapon systems over their life cycle. These assessments and corresponding acquisition strategies should be developed prior to issuance of the contract solicitation.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007, Congress added a provision requiring program managers to assess long-term technical data needs for weapon systems and to establish corresponding acquisition strategies. The legislative provision approved by Congress drew heavily from GAO's recommendations. On July 19, 2007, DOD issued a policy memorandum that requires program managers, regardless of planned sustainment approach, to assess the long-term technical data needs of their systems and reflect the assessment in a data management strategy, which shall be integrated with other life cycle sustainment planning and included in the system acquisition strategy. These changes in legislation and DOD policy should improve DOD's acquisition strategies by better addressing the technical data needed to sustain weapon systems.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense (Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics) to incorporate these policy changes into DOD Directive 5000.1 and DOD Instruction 5000.2 when they are next updated.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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