Defense Acquisitions:

Perspectives on Potential Changes to Department of Defense Acquisition Management Framework

GAO-09-295R: Published: Feb 27, 2009. Publicly Released: Feb 27, 2009.

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The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2008 directed GAO to report on potential modifications of the organization and structure of the Department of Defense (DOD) for Major Defense Acquisition Programs (MDAP). In preparing the report, the review was required to include the feasibility and advisability of seven potential modifications of DOD's organization and structure for MDAPs. We were charged with reporting on the feasibility and advisability of (1) establishing a process in which the commanders of combatant commands (COCOM) assess and provide input on the capabilities needed to successfully accomplish their missions over a long-term planning horizon of 15 years or more; (2) establishing a materiel solutions process for addressing identified gaps in critical warfighting capabilities, under which the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics (USD (AT&L)) circulates among the military departments and appropriate defense agencies requests for proposals for technologies and systems to address such gaps; (3) revising the acquisition process by establishing shorter, more frequent acquisition program milestones; (4) requiring the milestone decision authority (MDA) to specify at the time of milestone B approval the period of time that will be required to deliver an initial operational capability (IOC) to the commanders of the relevant COCOMs; (5) establishing a new office to provide independent cost and performance estimates; (6) requiring certifications of program status to the Defense Acquisition Executive (DAE) and Congress prior to milestone approval; and (7) modifying the role played by Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces in the requirements, resource allocation, and acquisition processes. In carrying out this review, as Congress directed, we obtained the views of current and prior senior DOD acquisition officials, currently serving senior military officers involved in setting requirements, and other experts including some who participated in previous reviews of DOD's organization and structure for carrying out the acquisition of major weapon systems.

Based on our discussions with acquisition experts and reviews of our own and key studies on DOD acquisition, we believe that six of the seven potential changes included in the fiscal year 2008 NDAA could help improve DOD's acquisition processes with some modifications, but only if they are accompanied by additional changes in the overall acquisition environment. Specifically, the six changes are (1) establishing a process in which the combatant commanders assess and provide input on the long-term capabilities needed to successfully accomplish their missions; (2) establishing a materiel solutions process for addressing identified gaps in critical warfighting capabilities, under which USD (AT&L) circulates among the military departments and appropriate defense agencies requests for proposals for technologies and systems to address such gaps; (3) revising the acquisition process by establishing shorter, more frequent acquisition program milestones; (4) requiring the MDA to specify at the time of milestone B approval the period of time that will be required to deliver an IOC to the relevant combatant commanders; (5) establishing a new office to provide independent cost and performance estimates; and (6) requiring certifications of program status to the DAE and Congress prior to milestone approval. The sixth potential change appears to have been instituted already in recent legislation. Finally, we could not determine whether the remaining potential change--modifying the role played by Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces in the requirements, resource allocation, and acquisition processes--would improve acquisition outcomes as this potential change requires further definition and more study. Our discussions with acquisition experts indicate that these changes may not achieve the desired improvement in acquisition outcomes unless they are accompanied by changes in the overall acquisition environment, its culture, and the incentives provided for success. Some of the DOD executives we interviewed--both current and former--emphatically stated that these changes will not improve the acquisition system until the department can significantly improve its prioritization of needs so that fewer programs are competing for available dollars. Furthermore, some of the experts expressed a strong belief that none of the potential changes may be acceptable to some process stakeholders because some stakeholders like the process as it is. Another expert characterized the acquisition process as a system in equilibrium. It will take strong, consistent strategic leadership to change the current culture and environment. DOD did not provide a written response to a draft of this correspondence, but provided technical comments which we have incorporated as appropriate.

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