Defense Acquisitions:

Joint Forces Command's Limited Acquisition Authority

GAO-06-240R: Published: Nov 22, 2005. Publicly Released: Nov 22, 2005.

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In recent years, Congress has expressed concern that urgent joint warfighting requirements are not always met in the most expeditious manner, particularly command and control and blue-force-tracking capabilities that reduce the chances of friendly-fire casualties. In the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2004 (P.L. 108-136), Congress gave the U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) Limited Acquisition Authority (LAA) to address these and other joint-warfighting challenges. LAA is an authority aimed at ensuring that measures to meet urgent, unanticipated joint warfighting needs are conceived, developed, and fielded in an expeditious manner. Enacted for a 3-year period, LAA will expire after September 30, 2006. The Act required GAO to determine the extent to which LAA has been used. Specifically, we focused on (1) how JFCOM used the authority during fiscal years 2004 and 2005, (2) the processes and procedures JFCOM developed to implement the authority, and (3) the challenges of implementing it. In covering these areas, we did not evaluate the quality of the projects undertaken or the value added of the equipment provided to the warfighter under LAA.

During the first 2 years, fiscal years 2004 and 2005, JFCOM used LAA for six projects. Five were completed 2 to 17 months after being approved, while the sixth is not yet complete. Fielded capabilities include a precision air drop system for small (e.g., 2,000 pounds) logistics packages; a system designed to identify and locate improvised explosive devices; a system to improve blue-force-tracking to prevent friendly-fire casualties; and advanced, mobile, command and control systems for commanders. According to JFCOM, these projects accelerated capabilities to the warfighter by providing 60- to 80-percent interim solutions rather than waiting years for a 100-percent solution. The Command leverages existing technologies, Advanced Concept Technology Demonstrations, and on-going agency research and development efforts for its LAA projects. Funding for completed projects has totaled about $9 million in research, development, test, and evaluation funds, ranging from about $500,000 to $3 million per project. No procurement funding has been used. Funding has mostly come from JFCOM. The sixth project is a hands-free two-way translator that seeks to provide real-time translation between spoken English and other spoken languages, particularly Iraqi Arabic. For the six projects, JFCOM has been following a set of policies and practices, which it formalized in July 2005. To use the LAA, JFCOM can only consider those requests that are to meet a combatant command's needs. Once a request is received, JFCOM follows a process to define, fund, and execute a project to satisfy the request. In general, the process consists of multiple phases, including concept development; proposal review using specified criteria, including checks for duplication of effort; feasibility studies and final approval by the JFCOM commander; finding project funding; arranging for contracting; and executing the project. JFCOM has decided to manage its process with a staff of generally 2 part-time people. For contracting, JFCOM mostly relies on other organizations, including five Department of Defense (DOD) organizations that have been directed by the DOD to assist with the LAA. Finally, while the JFCOM LAA staff brokers the LAA process and facilitates the projects, it does not actually execute them. Execution is mostly handled by traditional acquisition organizations, such as service development organizations. In implementing LAA, JFCOM has faced challenges in finding funding for and sustaining LAA projects. Our work has shown that assessing the effectiveness and utility of the capabilities after they have been fielded has also been a challenge. Because LAA is an authority, not a program, it does not have budgeted funds. To implement an LAA project, JFCOM LAA staff must find a source for the funds, such as from a service, existing program of record, or defense agency. This keeps the projects austere, but adds to the time it takes to get a new capability to the field. In some cases, JFCOM has taken funds from its own programs to pay for LAA projects. After a capability has been acquired, an obligation for sustainment is created, which LAA does not cover. JFCOM tries to identify a Service, defense agency, or other entity's program of record to adopt it for long-term sustainment. Finally, JFCOM has not had a systematic process to assess the effectiveness and utility of the LAA capabilities after fielding. JFCOM officials informed us that they are currently changing LAA processes and procedures to require effectiveness assessment plans as part of LAA proposals.

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