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A “Quick Look” at DOD, NASA, and DHS Acquisitions

Posted on July 13, 2017

For the past 15 years, we’ve been reviewing the federal government’s largest acquisition programs in our “Quick Looks”—and our latest reports featured the Department of Defense, NASA, and the Department of Homeland Security.

While each agency serves a different mission, they each rely on an array of complex equipment and systems (such as warplanes, rockets, or multifaceted IT networks) to meet their goals.

But how well are these agencies doing at efficiently developing and buying what they need?  Today’s WatchBlog explores.

DOD: Making strides, with a few missteps

DOD is currently investing more than $1.4 trillion in 78 major weapon systems, including aircraft, ships, and ground vehicles. While the department has made major strides in addressing past inefficiencies, it is still missing out on key opportunities to reduce costs by increasing competition. In fact, compared to our assessment of last year’s programs, there has been an increase in the number of DOD programs that reported having no plans for competition.


Additionally, 49 percent of DOD’s programs are declaring that they are capable of initial operations—though they haven’t been fully tested to ensure that these programs are effective or suitable for their missions.

Watchdog ReportListen to Mike Sullivan, who led this year’s DOD Quick Look team, further discuss the work DOD has done to improve its acquisition process, and what remains to be done:


NASA: Are improvements sustainable?

NASA plans to spend over $6 billion on 22 major projects this fiscal year, and has continued to improve its ability to stay on time and on budget for these projects.

However, two projects—a Mars seismology instrument and lander, and an upgrade to NASA’s space communications network—both experienced significant increases in costs and delays in 2016. Additionally, eight NASA projects are in the phase of development when these types of issues are most likely to occur. For example, we reported that the first integrated test flight of three of NASA’s most expensive programs (Orion Crew Vehicle, Space Launch System, and Exploration Ground Systems), known as Exploration Mission-1, will likely be delayed.

Percentage Cost Growth and Average Launch Delay for Major NASA Projects over the Last 9 Years(Excerpted from GAO-17-303SP)

Watchdog ReportListen to Cristina Chaplin, who led this year’s Quick Look team, discuss NASA’s progress in managing its projects, as well as where it could improve:

2017 NASA Major Projects Quick Look


DHS: Significant progress, but shortfalls remain

Finally, the Department of Homeland Security planned to invest about $7 billion in fiscal year 2016 on major acquisitions like procuring Coast Guard ships, TSA screening equipment, and border surveillance technology.

However, the agency has been on GAO’s High Risk List since 2005 due to ongoing program management and funding issues.

DHS has taken steps to strengthen the management of its major acquisitions over the past several years. We reviewed 26 of DHS's major acquisition programs and found that, for the first time, they all had approved cost, schedule, and performance baselines to measure progress.

Yet nine of these programs experienced schedule slips, including four that also saw increased costs. Furthermore, several programs operated for several years before establishing baselines—which help track and measure performance and identify potential problems.

To see our recommendations to DHS, check out our full report.

US Coast Guard(Excerpted from GAO-17-346SP)

GAO Contacts

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Marie A. Mak
Former GAO Director
Christina T. Chaplain
Cristina T. Chaplain

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