DOD Acquisition Reform:

Leadership Attention Needed to Effectively Implement Changes to Acquisition Oversight

GAO-19-439: Published: Jun 5, 2019. Publicly Released: Jun 5, 2019.

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Shelby Stephan Oakley
(202) 512-4841
oakleys@gao.gov

 

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Members of Congress have been concerned that DOD's weapons acquisition process is too bureaucratic and slow to deliver innovations to the field. (DOD acquisitions are on our High Risk List.) Recent legislation included reforms to try to speed up the process.

DOD has begun to carry out these reforms, including shifting more oversight decisions from the Office of the Secretary of Defense to the military departments and using a more streamlined process in some cases. However, questions remain about oversight roles and how some reforms will be implemented.

Our recommendations include clarifying acquisition oversight roles and responsibilities.

 

An aerial view of the Pentagon.

An aerial view of the Pentagon.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Shelby Stephan Oakley
(202) 512-4841
oakleys@gao.gov

 

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

What GAO Found

The Department of Defense (DOD) has made progress in implementing reforms to restructure the oversight of major defense acquisition programs. As a result of one of these reforms, decision-making authority for many programs shifted from the Office of the Secretary of Defense to the military departments (see figure).

Decision Authority Level for Major Defense Acquisition Programs from 2012 to 2019

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Questions remain about how some reforms GAO reviewed will be carried out. For example, no programs have been required to have cost and fielding goals set under DOD's new process yet, and DOD has formed a working group to determine when to delegate risk assessments to the military departments.

DOD also began using new pathways referred to as middle-tier acquisition to rapidly prototype and field new weapon systems. Middle-tier programs are expected to field capabilities within 2 to 5 years. As of March 2019, military departments were using this authority for 35 unclassified programs (see table).

Number and Type of Unclassified Middle-Tier Acquisition Programs Started as of March 2019

 

Rapid Prototyping

Rapid Fielding

Air Force

20

4

Army

8

0

Navy

3

0

Total

31

4

Source: GAO analysis of Department of Defense data. | GAO-19-439

DOD has yet to fully determine how it will oversee middle-tier acquisition programs, including what information should be required to ensure informed decisions about program selection and how to measure program performance. Without consistent oversight, DOD is not well positioned to ensure that these programs—some of which are multibillion dollar acquisitions—are likely to meet expectations for delivering prototypes or capability to the warfighter quickly.

DOD also continues to face implementation challenges, including one related to disagreements about oversight roles and responsibilities between the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the military departments. Senior DOD leadership has not fully addressed these disagreements. As a result, DOD is at risk of not achieving an effective balance between oversight and accountability and efficient program management.

Why GAO Did This Study

Amid concerns about the ability of DOD's acquisition process to keep pace with evolving threats, Congress included numerous reforms in recent National Defense Authorization Acts that could help to streamline acquisition oversight and field capabilities faster.

GAO was asked to examine DOD's efforts to implement these reforms. This report addresses (1) the progress DOD has made implementing selected oversight reforms related to major defense acquisition programs; (2) how DOD has used middle-tier acquisition pathways; and (3) challenges DOD faces related to reform implementation. GAO reviewed five reforms: milestone decision authority designation; cost, fielding, and performance goals; independent technical risk assessments; restructuring of acquisition oversight offices; and middle-tier acquisition. GAO analyzed applicable statutes and implementing guidance, collected information from DOD about the number and types of middle-tier acquisition programs, reviewed relevant documentation, and interviewed DOD officials.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is making four recommendations, including that DOD should identify the types of information needed to select and oversee middle-tier acquisition programs consistently, and clarify the roles and responsibilities of the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the military departments for acquisition oversight. DOD concurred with GAO's recommendations and described actions planned to address them.

For more information, contact Shelby S. Oakley at (202) 512-4841 or oakleys@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation, and stated that it expects to identify business case elements in its final guidance on middle-tier programs, which it expects to complete in September 2019.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment to identify in final guidance the types of business case elements potential middle-tier acquisition programs should develop and decision makers should consider at program initiation to assess the soundness of programs' business cases, including whether programs are well positioned to meet statutory objectives. (Recommendation 1)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation, and stated that it plans to determine performance metrics in coordination with its release of its final guidance on middle-tier programs, which DOD expects to release in late 2019.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment to determine and identify in final guidance for middle-tier acquisition programs the metrics that will be used to assess the performance of middle-tier acquisition programs across the military departments, including whether programs are meeting statutory objectives. (Recommendation 2)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation, and stated that these roles and responsibilities will be finalized through the issuance of chartering directives and updated acquisition policy; issuance is expected by the end of 2019. GAO does not believe, however, that the steps outlined by DOD are likely to fully address the disagreements about acquisition oversight roles and responsibilities that we identified in the report. These disagreements are persistent and focused on fundamental acquisition oversight issues. Simply issuing chartering directives and finalizing policy as planned may not be enough to ensure that areas of disagreement are resolved and that officials within the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the military departments have a shared understanding of an acquisition oversight framework for the entire Department that will serve as the basis for any policy. Furthermore, without senior leadership within DOD communicating this framework in sufficient detail to address areas of disagreement among key stakeholders, disagreement will likely persist and the intended impacts of reforms could be stymied.

    Recommendation: 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 DOD Instruction 5000.02. (Recommendation 3)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation, and stated that it has included a division in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition to analyze the effect of recent acquisition reforms and other high-level oversight and policy issues.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should develop a plan for how the department will assess the effect of recent acquisition reforms, including identifying who will be responsible for the assessment and what data will be needed. (Recommendation 4)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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