Key Issues > Duplication & Cost Savings > GAO's Action Tracker > Weapon Systems Acquisition Programs (2011-38)
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Defense: Weapon Systems Acquisition Programs (2011-38)

Employing leading management practices could help the Department of Defense save money and avoid fragmentation and overlap in oversight of its weapon systems acquisition programs investments.

Action:

The Department of Defense (DOD) could continue achieving cost savings by more fully taking action to employ best management practices at all phases of its weapon system acquisition process —including early systems engineering, analyzing alternatives, managing changes in system requirements, and more prototyping early in program development testing.

Progress:

DOD has employed best management practices at all phases of its weapon system acquisition process, as GAO recommended in a series of reports. In November 2017 and November 2019, GAO reported that DOD had achieved substantial, acquisition-related cost avoidance savings, including $36.0 billion in development costs and $136.1 billion in procurement costs. These savings stemmed from Congress’ enactment, and DOD’s implementation, of the Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform Act (WSARA) of 2009, as amended, This act codified many of the recommendations we had made, including implementing best practices related to technology maturity, systems engineering, requirements management, and cost estimating.

In GAO’s analyses that identified the cost savings, GAO found that programs that started development after WSARA experienced less cost growth than those programs that began development prior to the act. GAO also found that the majority of more recent programs now incorporate the key practices of technology maturity, systems engineering, and requirements management. Further, GAO found that incorporation of the above practices led to more informed cost estimates and a corresponding lower rate of cost growth.

In addition, in June 2017, GAO reported that DOD had implemented more prototyping in programs prior to system development, including in 17 of 22 programs GAO reviewed. In June 2019, GAO reported on additional emphasis DOD had placed on prototyping, including use of new, alternative pathways referred to as middle-tier acquisition to rapidly prototype and field new weapon systems. GAO found in that report that as of March 2019, DOD had initiated a total of 31 unclassified, rapid prototyping programs. These programs should help DOD expedite its delivery of new capabilities to warfighters.

Implementing Entity:

Department of Defense

Action:

The Department of Defense (DOD) has started the process of reviewing the potential cost of individual weapon system programs to meet warfighters’ most pressing needs, but the department must still address the overall affordability of its major weapon system investment portfolio.

Progress:

DOD has taken steps to address the overall affordability of its weapon system investment portfolio as GAO suggested in March 2011. In March 2013, GAO reported that the total estimated acquisition cost of DOD’s 2012 portfolio of major weapon programs was $1.6 trillion, the smallest in more than 5 years. DOD completed or ended more programs than it began, which helped drive this decrease. DOD is also implementing guidance to set and enforce affordability targets for its major defense acquisition programs. For example, GAO reported in March 2013 that 31 of 57 current or future major programs that provided data to GAO had established these targets. DOD’s 2012 memorandum on its “Better Buying Power 2.0” initiative also emphasizes long-term investment planning and analysis that cover the entire life cycle of systems to achieve affordable programs.[1] These and other actions should help DOD create and maintain a more affordable portfolio of major weapon system investments.

[1] DOD Memorandum, Better Buying Power 2.0: Continuing the Pursuit for Greater Efficiency and Productivity in Defense Spending, (Nov. 13, 2012) at Attach 2, p. 1



Implementing Entity:

Department of Defense

Action:

The Department of Defense (DOD) needs to do a better job planning and executing programs on a day-to-day basis to achieve better outcomes. Critical to achieving successful outcomes is establishing and sustaining knowledge-based, realistic program baselines.

Progress:

DOD has employed best management practices at all phases of its weapon system acquisition process, as GAO recommended in a series of reports. In November 2017 and November 2019, GAO reported that DOD had achieved substantial, acquisition-related cost avoidance savings, including $36.0 billion in development costs and $136.1 billion in procurement costs. These savings stemmed from Congress’ enactment, and DOD’s implementation, of the Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform Act (WSARA) of 2009, as amended. This act codified many of the recommendations GAO had made, including implementing best practices related to technology maturity, systems engineering, requirements management, and cost estimating.

In GAO’s analyses that identified the cost savings, GAO found that programs that started development after WSARA experienced less cost growth than those programs that began development prior to the act. GAO also found that the majority of more recent programs now incorporate the key practices of technology maturity, systems engineering, and requirements management. Further, GAO found that incorporation of the above practices led to more informed cost estimates and a corresponding lower rate of cost growth.

As GAO reported in March 2009, reliable cost estimates are necessary to establish realistic baselines. In addition, in May 2019, GAO reported that programs DOD initiated after WSARA implementation continue to show lower total acquisition cost growth (on a percentage basis) than older programs. This performance should help DOD more efficiently acquire new warfighting capabilities.

Implementing Entity:

Department of Defense

Action:

The Department of Defense (DOD) should designate the Deputy Secretary of Defense, or some appropriate delegate, responsibility for providing sustained leadership for portfolio management efforts and implementing DOD Directive 7045.20 on Capability Portfolio Management.

This action was identified in GAO’s August 2015 report, Weapon System Acquisitions: Opportunities Exist to Improve the Department of Defense’s Portfolio Management, and was added to the Action Tracker in April 2016 under the “Weapons System Portfolio Management” area (2016 Area 3).

Progress:

No executive action taken. As of January 2020, DOD had not designated the Deputy Secretary of Defense, or some appropriate delegate, responsibility for providing sustained leadership for portfolio management efforts and implementing DOD Directive 7045.20 on Capability Portfolio Management, as GAO recommended in August 2015. In response to GAO's recommendation, DOD stated that it did not plan to designate an official responsible for overseeing portfolio management. DOD also stated that the Deputy Secretary of Defense already makes portfolio management decisions in the context of DOD's budget process and that, as long as these decisions are informed by the requirements and acquisition communities, they are sufficient to adjust portfolios to meet the military's needs. However, as GAO reported in August 2015, key DOD portfolio management-related efforts, including some designed to inform the budget process and some called for in guidance, have lacked sustained leadership and been inconsistently implemented. If the Deputy Secretary of Defense or an appropriate delegate assumed leadership for portfolio management, it could help ensure portfolio management policy as well as other portfolio management efforts are more consistently implemented throughout the department.

Implementing Entity:

Department of Defense

Action:

The Department of Defense (DOD) should revise DOD Directive 7045.20 on Capability Portfolio Management in accordance with the best practices GAO has identified.

This action was identified in GAO’s August 2015 report, Weapon System Acquisitions: Opportunities Exist to Improve the Department of Defense’s Portfolio Management, and was added to the Action Tracker in April 2016 under the “Weapons System Portfolio Management” area (2016 Area 3).

Progress:

As of January 2020, the official within the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment responsible for revising DOD Directive 7045.20 on Capability Portfolio Management stated that DOD was planning to update the directive by the end of fiscal year 2020, as GAO recommended in August 2015. The official noted that DOD was in the process of developing concepts for the updated guidance to make sure the guidance would be executable with a defined governance structure. Having an enterprise-level portfolio management policy that is consistent with best practices is necessary to provide a solid foundation for future portfolio management efforts.

Implementing Entity:

Department of Defense

Action:

The Department of Defense (DOD) should require annual enterprise-level portfolio reviews that incorporate key portfolio review elements, including information from the requirements, acquisition, and budget processes.

This action was identified in GAO’s August 2015 report, Weapon System Acquisitions: Opportunities Exist to Improve the Department of Defense’s Portfolio Management, and was added to the Action Tracker in April 2016 under the “Weapons System Portfolio Management” area (2016 Area 3).

Progress:

As of January 2020, DOD had not required annual enterprise-level portfolio reviews that incorporate key portfolio review elements, including information from the requirements, acquisition, and budget processes, as GAO recommended in August 2015. However, DOD has taken steps to enhance portfolio reviews within the acquisition and budget communities. In January 2020, an official from the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment told GAO that the Under Secretary’s office was starting to determine the make up of enterprise-level portfolio reviews so that these reviews could start to be scheduled for the Under Secretary. The official also noted that the Director, Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation, had been tasked by the Deputy Secretary of Defense to consider a way to start looking across mission portfolios.

While these efforts are positive steps within the acquisition and budget communities, GAO continues to believe that conducting annual enterprise-level portfolio reviews incorporating integrated information from the requirements, acquisition, and budget processes would help ensure DOD has the information it needs to craft weapon system investment plans that are affordable, balance near- and long-term needs, and maximize return on investment.

Implementing Entity:

Department of Defense

Action:

The Department of Defense (DOD) should direct the requirements, acquisition, and budget communities to collaborate on their portfolio management data needs and develop a formal implementation plan for meeting those needs either by building on the database the Joint Staff is developing or investing in new analytical tools.

This action was identified in GAO’s August 2015 report, Weapon System Acquisitions: Opportunities Exist to Improve the Department of Defense’s Portfolio Management, and was added to the Action Tracker in April 2016 under the “Weapons System Portfolio Management” area (2016 Area 3).

Progress:

As of January 2020, DOD has taken some steps to develop a formal implementation plan for meeting its portfolio management data needs, as GAO recommended in August 2015. In response to GAO's recommendation, DOD agreed with the need to further develop portfolio management tools and ensure access to authoritative data. In January 2020, an official from the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment told GAO that the Deputy Secretary of Defense had recently tasked the Director, Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation to develop an implementation plan for the review of mission engineering threads that represent various mission portfolios.

Separately, the Joint Staff, which is part of the requirements community, continues to take steps to improve the databases it manages to help provide this information. In January 2020, the Joint Staff told GAO it had ongoing efforts to update one of these databases provide additional capabilities to improve the database's search capabilities. Joint Staff officials stated that the increased speed and better search engine will help the Joint Staff more effectively conduct portfolio reviews, assess potential redundancy, and collect and analyze the information needed prioritize capabilities across DOD. The Joint Staff has also previously reported that they completed a crosscutting study in collaboration with the acquisition community to improve the information sharing and analytical tools for their capability requirements database.

While these efforts are positive, without an implementation plan to address DOD's broader portfolio management data needs, DOD might not identify the data needs of all the key communities involved in portfolio management or put itself in a good position to meet those needs. These steps are needed to provide portfolio managers with the data and tools to develop a weapon system investment plan that is affordable, strategy driven, and balanced between near-term and long-term needs.

Implementing Entity:

Department of Defense

Action:

The Secretary of Defense should ensure that a comprehensive framework that clarifies the roles and responsibilities of the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the military departments for acquisition oversight is communicated by senior leadership. This framework should be detailed enough to address areas of continued disagreement among key stakeholders and serve to inform the department's revisions of other acquisition policies such as Department of Defense (DOD) Instruction 5000.02.

Progress:

DOD agreed with GAO’s June 2019 recommendation, and has issued guidance to address it. Specifically, in December 2019, the Deputy Secretary of Defense issued a memorandum to clarify roles and responsibilities for acquisition oversight. As of March 2020, DOD officials told GAO that the Chief Management Officer was taking actions necessary to implement the direction, including updating and integrating responsibilities into chartering directives for review and approval. The issuance of the memorandum is a positive step that should help strengthen DOD’s ability to effectively oversee its acquisitions.

Implementing Entity:

Department of Defense
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    • Shelby Oakley
    • Director, Contracting and National Security Acquisitions
    • oakleys@gao.gov
    • (202) 512-4841