Defense Acquisitions:

DOD Can Improve Its Management of Configuration Steering Boards

GAO-11-640: Published: Jul 7, 2011. Publicly Released: Jul 7, 2011.

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GAO has previously reported that requirements changes are factors in poor cost and schedule outcomes on Department of Defense (DOD) weapon programs. In 2007, DOD introduced Configuration Steering Boards (CSBs) to review requirement and configuration changes that could adversely affect programs. In 2008, Congress made annual CSB meetings a requirement for all of the military departments' major defense acquisition programs. In response to the Senate report accompanying the bill for the Ike Skelton National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011, GAO assessed (1) the extent to which DOD has complied with the statutory requirements for CSBs, and (2) the extent to which CSBs have been effective in controlling requirements and mitigating cost and schedule risks. To conduct this work, GAO surveyed DOD's major defense acquisition programs, reviewed CSB documentation, and interviewed relevant military service and program officials.

The military departments varied in their compliance with the CSB requirements in statute. The Air Force and Navy did not fully comply with the requirement to hold annual CSB meetings for all major defense acquisition programs in 2010, while the Army did. In total, the military departments held an annual CSB meeting for 74 of 96 major defense acquisition programs they managed in 2010. According to GAO's survey results, when the military departments held CSB meetings, 19 programs endorsed requirements or configuration changes. In most of these cases, strategies were developed to mitigate the effects of these changes--a key provision in the statute and DOD policy. However, key acquisition and requirements personnel were often absent from Air Force and Navy CSB meetings when these issues were discussed. Two major defense acquisition programs--the Ballistic Missile Defense System and the Chemical Demilitarization-Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives programs--are not subject to the CSB provisions in statute because the statute only applies to programs overseen by military departments; the programs are managed by other DOD components. These programs are subject to DOD's CSB policy, which differs from the statute in that it only requires major defense acquisition programs that are in development to hold annual CSB reviews. Individual programs varied in the extent to which they utilized CSBs to control requirements and mitigate cost and schedule risks. According to GAO's survey results, the majority of CSB meetings neither reviewed requirement changes nor discussed options to moderate requirements or reduce the scope of programs. There were a number of specific instances where CSB meetings were effective in mitigating the effect of necessary changes, rejecting other changes, facilitating discussion of requirements, and endorsing "descoping" options with the potential to improve or preserve cost or schedule. However, in response to a survey, program officials cast some doubts about the effectiveness of CSBs, and in interviews, acquisition officials indicated that program managers may be reluctant to recommend descoping options due to cultural biases that encourage meeting warfighters' stated needs rather than achieving cost savings, a preference not to elevate decisions to higher levels of review, and concerns that future funding may be cut if potential savings are identified. In response, the Army and Air Force have issued additional descoping guidance and set savings or budget targets. The types of discussions for which CSBs were useful changed based on whether programs were in development or production. Development programs found them more useful to consider requirements changes and descoping options, and production programs found CSBs more useful to prevent changes. In an effort to further increase effectiveness and efficiency of CSBs, some of the military departments have taken steps to coordinate CSB meetings among programs that provide similar capabilities and align CSB meetings with other significant reviews. Among GAO's recommendations for DOD components are that they amend their CSB policies to be consistent with statute and align CSBs with other reviews when possible. In comments on a draft of this report, DOD concurred or partially concurred with all seven of GAO's recommendations and agreed to take action to address six of them.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Navy updated its acquisition instruction to have CSBs explicitly include the Joint Staff and OSD.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Navy to amend its policy on CSBs to ensure that all statutorily required participants, particularly the Joint Staff, are included.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with our recommendation, but it does not appear that it will take further action to address it. In its comments on the report, DOD stated that Joint Staff participation would provide little value because the Joint Staff is not a stakeholder in the detailed execution of the MDA Ballistic Missile Defense System acquisition process and requirements are not derived from Joint Capabilities Integration Development Systems. We continue to believe that if the Program Change Board is to act as the forum for discussing configuration and requirements changes, it is important that the user communities, as represented by the Joint Staff, participate in these discussions.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) to amend its policy to ensure that all statutorily required participants for military department CSBs are included in MDA's Program Change Board, particularly the Joint Staff, if it is to serve as an equivalent review.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In November 2013, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics issued an interim update of its primary acquisition instruction specifying that DOD components are to include all statutorily-required participants in configuration steering boards, including the comptroller.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (USD (AT&L)) to amend its acquisition instruction to ensure that all statutorily required participants, in particular the comptroller, are included on CSBs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In November 2013, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (USD (AT&L) issued an interim update of DOD's primary acquisition instruction specifying that DOD components are to hold configuration steering board (CSB) meetings for all major defense acquisition programs in production. Additionally, USD (AT&L) officials told us that, through coordination, they have determined that CSBs for programs throughout production, and even into sustainment, are valuable.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct USD (AT&L) to amend its acquisition instruction to require CSB meetings for major defense acquisition programs in production as well as development but also coordinate with the military departments and the Congress to evaluate the effectiveness of CSB meetings for programs well into production.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  5. Status: Open

    Comments: In its response to the report, DOD partially concurred with this recommendation stating that, rather than amending acquisition policy, the Department plans to issue configuration steering board (CSB) "best practices" to the military departments that would address the need for the military departments to ensure adequate tracking vehicles were in place to ensure compliance with CSB statute and policy. However, an official from the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics stated that DOD is no longer pursing this "best practices" report because of recent updates to DOD's primary acquisition instruction. According to this official, there are no formal measures in place to ensure that CSBs are held annually, but informally this is done through status updates that are a part of DOD's Better Buying Power 2.0.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct USD (AT&L) to amend its acquisition instruction to develop the means to better track CSBs and ensure compliance with the requirement that CSBs hold a meeting at least once each year.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In July 2014 officials from the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics stated they have communicated with service officials and found that while practices differ for configuration steering boards held administratively through "paper CSBs", the process as a whole is working and there are no plans to amend policy to account for "paper CSBs".

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct USD (AT&L) to work with DOD components to determine whether paper CSBs are as effective as in-person meetings and, if not, amend the acquisition instruction accordingly.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In November 2013, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics issued an interim update of its primary acquisition instruction which linked CSB meetings with complementary reviews.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct DOD components to amend their policies to encourage alignment between CSB meetings and other complementary reviews whenever possible.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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