Defense Acquisition Workforce:

Opportunities Exist to Improve Practices for Developing Program Managers

GAO-18-217: Published: Feb 15, 2018. Publicly Released: Feb 15, 2018.

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Michael J. Sullivan
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sullivanm@gao.gov

 

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Cost and schedule overruns have plagued DOD’s major defense acquisition programs, with current projected costs exceeding initial expectations by $484 billion and delays averaging 31 months. To keep programs on track, DOD relies on program managers who can balance factors that influence cost, schedule, and performance.

The military services have taken steps to develop top-notch talent for this role. We compared their practices for training, mentoring, retaining, and selecting program managers to those of leading organizations and found shortfalls.

We made recommendations for improvements, such as making more use of financial incentives.

 

Photographs of military defense acquisitions.

Photographs of military defense acquisitions.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Michael J. Sullivan
(202) 512-4841
sullivanm@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

What GAO Found

Leading organizations use 10 key practices to train, mentor, retain, and ultimately select skilled program managers. GAO found that military service practices for developing program managers align extensively with four of the leading practices, as shown in the table below.

Leading Practices That All Military Services Align with Extensively

Leading practices

Air Force

Army

Navy

Training classes that allow program managers to share experiences

On-the-job learning and information repositories

Recognition

Assignment based on skills, experiences, and program needs

Legend: ● = extensive alignment ◑ = partial alignment ○ = little to no alignment

Source: GAO analysis of Department of Defense information. | GAO-18-217

At least one military service's practices do not align extensively with five of the leading practices, as shown in the table below.

Leading Practices That Not All Military Services Align with Extensively

Leading practices

Air Force

Army

Navy

Rotational assignments

Mentoring programs with senior leader involvement

Career paths that describe skills needed to advance

Education subsidies

Identification of high-potential talent by senior leaders

Legend: ● = extensive alignment ◑ = partial alignment ○ = little to no alignment

Source: GAO analysis of Department of Defense information. | GAO-18-217

For the remaining leading practice, none of the military services' practices align extensively, as shown in the table below.

Leading Practice That No Military Service Aligns with Extensively

Leading practice

Air Force

Army

Navy

Financial rewards for good performance

Legend: ● = extensive alignment ◑ = partial alignment ○ = little to no alignment

Source: GAO analysis of Department of Defense information. | GAO-18-217

Military service officials generally agreed with the assessments. More consistent alignment with leading practices—adapted for military and civilian personnel as appropriate and including greater use of existing financial rewards—would enhance the services' ability to manage acquisition programs.

Why GAO Did This Study

The Department of Defense's (DOD) major acquisition programs continue to experience cost and schedule overruns. GAO previously found that selecting skilled program managers is a key factor to achieving successful program outcomes. DOD relies on military and civilian program managers to deliver its most expensive new weapon systems, meaning its approach to training, mentoring, retaining, and selecting program managers is critical.

House Report 114-537 included a provision for GAO to review the career paths, development, and incentives for program managers. This report addresses how leading organizations train, mentor, retain, and ultimately select program managers; and the extent to which military service practices align with those leading practices. To conduct this work, GAO identified leading practices documented in prior work and by the Project Management Institute, and interviewed commercial companies identified by the Institute as leaders in this field. GAO also analyzed military service practices for developing program managers and compared those to leading practices.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is making eight recommendations, including that the military services improve practices that do not align extensively with leading practices and make greater use of existing financial rewards for good performance. DOD concurred with the recommendations.

For more information, contact Michael J. Sullivan at (202) 512-4841 or sullivanm@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation, and indicated the Department of the Air Force is in the process of implementing a centralized selection board for civilian program managers similar to the command boarding process for military personnel in each of the military services.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Air Force should take steps to address areas of civilian and military program manager retention and selection that do not align extensively with leading practices. This could include using approaches already used by the other military services or commercial companies. (Recommendation 1)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Air Force

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation, and indicated the Department of the Air Force plans to increase its use of existing financial tools such as DAWDF across the program management community and the acquisition workforce as a whole.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Air Force should make greater use of existing financial mechanisms such as the Defense Acquisition Workforce Development Fund (DAWDF) to recognize high performers. (Recommendation 2)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Air Force

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation, and indicated the Department of the Air Force plans to increase its use of the AcqDemo tool across the program management community and the acquisition workforce as a whole.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Air Force should identify lessons learned by the Army related to the Army's experience to extend coverage of the Civilian Acquisition Workforce Personnel Demonstration Project (AcqDemo) across the civilian program management workforce. (Recommendation 3)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Air Force

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation, and indicated the Department of the Army plans to improve its civilian and military program manager training, mentoring, and retention programs across the management community and the acquisition workforce as a whole.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Army should take steps to address areas of civilian and military program manager training, mentoring, and retention that do not align extensively with leading practices. This could include using approaches already used by the other military services or commercial companies. (Recommendation 4)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

  5. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation, and indicated the Department of the Army plans to increase its use of existing financial tools such as DAWDF across the program management community and the acquisition workforce as a whole.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Army should make greater use of existing financial mechanisms such as DAWDF to recognize high performers. (Recommendation 5)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

  6. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation, and indicated the Department of the Navy plans to improve its civilian and military program manager training, mentoring, retention, and selection programs across the program management community and the acquisition workforce as a whole.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Navy should take steps to address areas of civilian and military program manager training, mentoring, retention, and selection that do not align extensively with leading practices. This could include using approaches already used by the other military services or commercial companies. (Recommendation 6)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Navy

  7. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation, and indicated the Department of the Navy plans to increase its use of existing financial tools such as DAWDF across the program management community and the acquisition workforce as a whole.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Navy should make greater use of existing financial mechanisms such as DAWDF to recognize high performers. (Recommendation 7)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Navy

  8. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation, and indicated the Department of the Navy plans to increase its use of the AcqDemo tool across the program management community and the acquisition workforce as a whole.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Navy should identify lessons learned by the Army related to the Army's experience to extend coverage of AcqDemo across the civilian program management workforce. (Recommendation 8)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Navy

 

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