Defense Acquisitions:

Department of Defense Actions on Program Manager Empowerment and Accountability

GAO-08-62R: Published: Nov 9, 2007. Publicly Released: Nov 9, 2007.

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In November 2005, we issued a report on the environment within which the Department of Defense (DOD) program managers perform their work. We identified areas where program managers believe they are insufficiently empowered to execute programs, and therefore, because much is beyond their control, accountability is difficult. We also compared department policies and practices to those of leading commercial companies we visited and discussed actions DOD could take to improve program manager accountability, while also providing them with timely support as they manage the development of weapon systems. We recommended that DOD take a number of actions to ensure program managers are well positioned to successfully execute acquisitions and be held accountable. The John Warner National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007 directed the Secretary of Defense to develop a comprehensive strategy for enhancing the role of DOD program managers in developing and carrying out defense acquisition programs and to revise guidance for major defense acquisition programs to address the qualifications, resources, responsibilities, tenure, and accountability of program managers for the program development and execution periods. In addition, GAO was directed to report on the actions taken by the Secretary of Defense to implement the requirements of the Act. To identify DOD actions to implement the Act, we met with DOD officials and reviewed documents they provided to determine what actions were planned to address and implement the congressional mandate, including DOD's required strategy. We reviewed existing DOD policies, directives, and guidance on the qualifications, resources, responsibilities, authority, tenure, and accountability of program managers. Finally, we made extensive use of our prior work in this and other related areas. We conducted our work from January to September 2007 in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.

As part of DOD's strategy to enhance the role of program managers in carrying out its major weapon system acquisitions, the department has established a policy that requires formal agreements among program managers, their acquisition executives, and the user community intended to set forth common program goals. In addition, as part of a new strategy for program manager empowerment and accountability, DOD plans a variety of actions to enhance development opportunities, provide more incentives, and arrange knowledge-sharing opportunities. For example, DOD intends to increase "just-in-time" training, establish a formal mentoring program, and establish program management forums. The department also acknowledges that any actions taken to improve accountability must be based on a foundation whereby program managers can launch and manage programs toward greater performance, rather than focusing on maintaining support and funding for individual programs. This foundation should include an overarching strategy and decision-making processes that prioritize programs based on a balanced match between customer needs and available department resources. Within its strategy and other reports, DOD has highlighted several initiatives that, if adopted and implemented properly, could provide such a foundation. For example, the new Concept Decision Point initiative, guidance for Time-Defined Acquisitions, and the establishment of Configuration Steering Boards are all designed to enable more informed decisions by key department leaders well ahead of a program's start, decisions that provide a closer match between each program's requirements and the department's resources. DOD acquisition leaders stated that any improvements to program managers' performance hinge on the success of these departmental initiatives.

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