Defense Acquisition:

Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration Program Can Be Improved

NSIAD-99-4: Published: Oct 15, 1998. Publicly Released: Nov 17, 1998.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the current Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration (ACTD) program, focusing on: (1) whether the selection process includes criteria that are adequate to ensure that only mature technologies are selected for ACTD prototypes; (2) whether guidance on transitioning to the normal acquisition process ensures that a prototype appropriately completes product and concept development and testing before entering production; and (3) the Department of Defense's (DOD) current practice of procuring more ACTD prototypes than needed to assess the military utility of a mature technology.

GAO noted that: (1) through the determination of military value of mature technologies and their use in the acquisition process, ACTDs have the potential to reduce the time to develop and acquire weapon systems; (2) however, several aspects of the ACTD program can be improved; (3) DOD's process for selecting ACTD candidates does not include adequate criteria for assessing the maturity of the proposed technology and has resulted in the approval of ACTD projects that included immature technology; (4) DOD has improved its guidance on the maturity of the technologies to be used in ACTD projects but the revised guidance describes several types of exceptions under which immature technologies may be used; (5) where DOD approves immature technologies as ACTD program candidates and time is spent conducting developmental activities, the goal of reduced acquisition cycle time will not be realized; (6) further, guidance on entering technologies into the normal acquisition process is not sufficient to ensure that a prototype completes product and concept development and testing before entering production; (7) the guidance does not mention the circumstances when transition to development may be appropriate or the kinds of developmental activities that may be appropriate; (8) while commercial items that do not require any further development could proceed directly to production, many ACTDs may still need to enter the engineering and manufacturing development phase to proceed with product and concept development and testing before production begins; (9) through the ACTD early user demonstration, DOD is expected to obtain more detailed knowledge about its technologies before entering into the acquisition process; (10) however, in the one case in which an ACTD has proceeded into production, DOD made that decision before completing product and concept development and testing, thereby accepting programmatic risks that could offset the schedule and other benefits gained through the ACTD process; (11) DOD's current practice of procuring prototypes beyond those needed for the basic ACTD demonstration and before completing product and concept development and testing is unnecessarily risky; and (12) this practice risks wasting resources on the procurement of items that may not work as expected or may not have sufficient military utility and risks a premature and excessive commitment to production.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with this recommendation. It stated that it had revised the guidance to improve clarity and comprehensiveness. It believes the definition of mature technology is appropriate and that the review process is robust. It also stated that selecting the appropriate acquisition entry point is important. To this end, it stated that the operational testing community participates in the ACTD assessment process.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should clarify the ACTD program guidance to: (1) ensure the use of mature technology with few, if any, exceptions; and (2) describe when transition to the development phase of the acquisition cycle is necessary and the types of development activity that may be appropriate.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with this recommendation. It stated that it had restructured programs to ensure that all necessary information is available for the procurement decision.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should limit the number of prototypes to be procured to the quantities needed for early user demonstrations of mature technology until the item's product and concept development and testing have been completed.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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