Urgent Warfighter Needs:

Opportunities Exist to Expedite Development and Fielding of Joint Capabilities

GAO-12-385: Published: Apr 24, 2012. Publicly Released: Apr 24, 2012.

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What GAO Found

A majority of the initiatives GAO reviewed (26 of 30) met, or expected to meet, the Department of Defense’s (DOD) expectation for fielding a capability in response to joint urgent operational needs within 2 years. However, performance in meeting schedule estimates varied, and more than half of the initiatives experienced schedule delays.

Initiatives leveraged three types of solutions: (1) off-the-shelf products, (2) modifications of off-the-shelf items to add capabilities, and (3) products requiring technology development. Off-the-shelf solutions should be fielded the quickest because existing products are being bought. However, while off-the-shelf solutions were fielded quickly once a contract was awarded, it took longer than the two other types to identify, fund, and contract for off-the-shelf solutions. In addition to the program offices that manage traditional acquisition programs, initiatives were also managed by research laboratories and engineering centers, such as the Army Research Laboratory or the Naval Surface Warfare Center. Program offices fielded solutions faster, in part, because program offices are experienced in the full range of acquisition activities. Also, laboratories and engineering centers depended on funding provided by other organizations and delays in receiving this funding affected the start of some initiatives.

Acquisition organizations employed various practices to overcome challenges affecting fielding of capabilities within short time frames. For example, although these practices could affect the prices paid, shorter times were associated with using existing contracts, awarding contracts without agreeing on contract terms (prices), or awarding contracts without competition. U.S. Central Command officials stated that they were not aware of all initiatives underway or the expected schedule for fielding capabilities and this could affect planning activities. In some cases, initiative decision memorandums were prepared that documented schedule estimates but such memorandums are not required for all initiatives. Also, some organizations were proactive in communicating with U.S. Central Command and this facilitated a clearer understanding of requirements and plans for fielding initiatives, but regular communication is not required.

Why GAO Did This Study

With the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, DOD has had to accelerate efforts to field capabilities addressing urgent warfighter needs, including joint needs affecting more than one service. GAO was asked to assess (1) how quickly capabilities responding to joint urgent operational needs have been developed and fielded and (2) what key practices enabled executing organizations to overcome challenges. To do this, GAO studied a sample of joint urgent operational needs including all urgent needs over $100 million approved from April 2008 through December 2010 and a random selection of smaller urgent needs. GAO analyzed data on key events and issues in the development and fielding of solutions and met with service and DOD officials responsible for validating, assigning, and executing joint urgent needs.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that DOD reduce the time spent on identifying and contracting for off-the-shelf solutions, devise methods for providing early funding to research laboratories and engineering centers, require that initiative decision memorandums be prepared for all initiatives, and require acquisition organizations to communicate with the Central Command and other combatant commands about plans for fielding capabilities. DOD concurred with these recommendations.

For more information, contact Michael J. Sullivan at (202) 512-4163 or sullivanm@gao.gov.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To improve the process for responding to joint urgent operational needs, the Secretary of Defense should require that an initiative decision memorandum be developed for all initiatives that identifies the acquisition organization responsible for the initiative, schedule estimates, and expectations for acquisition strategies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To improve the process for responding to joint urgent operational needs, the Secretary of Defense should require acquisition organizations to communicate with the combatant commands, such as Central Command, regularly about progress in executing initiatives and plans for fielding capabilities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To improve the process for responding to joint urgent operational needs, the Secretary of Defense should devise methods for providing early funding to reimbursable organizations tasked to execute joint urgent needs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To improve the process for responding to joint urgent operational needs, the Secretary of Defense should expedite fielding of off-the-shelf solutions by reducing the time it takes to identify the solution and award a contract.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

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