Defense Acquisitions:

Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs

GAO-09-326SP: Published: Mar 30, 2009. Publicly Released: Mar 30, 2009.

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This is GAO's seventh annual assessment of selected Department of Defense (DOD) weapon programs. The report examines how well DOD is planning and executing its weapon acquisition programs, an area that has been on GAO's high-risk list since 1990. This year's report is in response to the mandate in the joint explanatory statement to the Consolidated Security, Disaster Assistance, and Continuing Appropriations Act, 2009. The report includes (1) an analysis of the overall performance of DOD's 2008 portfolio of 96 major defense acquisition programs and a comparison to the portfolio performance at two other points in time--5 years ago and 1 year ago; (2) an analysis of current cost and schedule outcomes and knowledge attained by key junctures in the acquisition process for a subset of 47 weapon programs--primarily in development--from the 2008 portfolio; (3) data on other factors that could impact program stability; and (4) an update on changes in DOD's acquisition policies. To conduct our assessment, GAO analyzed cost, schedule, and quantity data from DOD's Selected Acquisition Reports for the programs in DOD's 2003, 2007, and 2008 portfolios. GAO also collected data from program offices on technology, design, and manufacturing knowledge, as well as on other factors that might affect program stability. GAO analyzed this data and compiled one- or two-page assessments of 67 weapon programs.

Since 2003, DOD's portfolio of major defense acquisition programs has grown from 77 to 96 programs; and its investment in those programs has grown from $1.2 trillion to $1.6 trillion (fiscal year 2009 dollars). The cumulative cost growth for DOD's programs is higher than it was 5 years ago, but at $296 billion, it is less than last year when adjusted for inflation. For 2008 programs, research and development costs are now 42 percent higher than originally estimated and the average delay in delivering initial capabilities has increased to 22 months. DOD's performance in some of these areas is driven by older programs, as newer programs, on average, have not shown the same degree of cost and schedule growth. For 47 programs GAO assessed in-depth, the amount of knowledge that programs attained by key decision points has increased in recent years; but most programs still proceed with far less technology, design, and manufacturing knowledge than best practices suggest and face a higher risk of cost increases and schedule delays. Early system engineering, stable requirements, and disciplined software management were also important as programs that exhibited these characteristics experienced less cost growth and shorter schedule delays on average. Program execution could be hindered by workforce challenges. A majority of the programs GAO assessed were unable to fill all authorized program office positions, resulting in increased workloads, a reliance on support contractors, and less personnel to conduct oversight. In December 2008, DOD revised its policy for major defense acquisition programs to place more emphasis on acquiring knowledge about requirements, technology, and design before programs start and maintaining discipline once they begin. The policy recommends holding early systems engineering reviews; includes a requirement for early prototyping; and establishes review boards to monitor requirements changes--all positive steps. Some programs we assessed have begun implementing these changes.

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