High-Risk Series:

Defense Weapon Systems Acquisition

HR-97-6: Published: Feb 1, 1997. Publicly Released: Feb 1, 1997.

Additional Materials:


Louis J. Rodrigues
(202) 512-4841


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

GAO reviewed the Department of Defense's (DOD) annual expenditure of billions of dollars to acquire new weapons systems, focusing on continuing weaknesses in the way major weapon system requirements are determined, planned, budgeted, and acquired.

GAO found that: (1) despite DOD's past and current efforts to reform the acquisition system, wasteful practices still add billions of dollars to defense acquisition costs; (2) many new weapons systems cost more and do less than anticipated, and schedules are often delayed; (3) moreover, the need for some of these costly weapons, particularly since the collapse of the Soviet Union, is questionable; (4) DOD has perpetuated its history of establishing questionable requirements for weapon systems, projecting unrealistic cost, schedule, and performance estimates, and beginning production before adequate testing has been completed; (5) DOD's leadership has emphasized its commitment to reforming its weapon system acquisition processes; (6) DOD's goal is to become the world's smartest buyer, continuously reinventing and improving the acquisition process while taking maximum advantage of emerging technologies that enable business process reengineering; (7) in the area of "what to buy", DOD is focusing its efforts on greater reliance on commercial products and processes, and more timely infusion of new technology into new or existing systems; (8) in the area of "how to buy", DOD's efforts have been directed at, among other things, increasing teamwork and cooperation, encouraging risk management rather than risk avoidance, reducing reporting requirements, and reducing nonvalue-added layers of review and oversight; (9) the ultimate effectiveness of DOD's current initiatives to reduce the costs and improve the outcomes of its acquisition processes cannot yet be fully assessed because they are in various stages of implementation; (10) DOD is pursuing a number of positive initiatives that should, over time, improve the cost-effectiveness of its acquisition processes and is reporting some success in terms of cost savings or avoidance and other benefits; (11) while these initiatives are commendable, DOD continues to generate and support acquisitions of new weapon systems that will not satisfy the most critical weapon requirements at minimal cost, and commit more procurement funds to programs than can reasonably be expected to be available in future defense budgets; (12) the fundamental reforms needed to correct these problems have not yet been formulated, much less instituted, by DOD and the Congress; and (13) however, the likelihood of continuing fiscal constraints and reduced national security threats should provide additional incentive for real progress in changing the structure and dominant culture of DOD's system acquisition processes.

Below are the reports in this series:

High-Risk Series: An Overview HR-97-1, Feb 1, 1997

High-Risk Series: Quick Reference Guide HR-97-2, Feb 1, 1997

High-Risk Series: Defense Financial Management HR-97-3, Feb 1, 1997

High-Risk Series: Defense Contract Management HR-97-4, Feb 1, 1997

High-Risk Series: Defense Inventory Management HR-97-5, Feb 1, 1997

High-Risk Series: Defense Weapon Systems Acquisition HR-97-6, Feb 1, 1997

High-Risk Series: Defense Infrastructure HR-97-7, Feb 1, 1997

High-Risk Series: IRS Management HR-97-8, Feb 1, 1997

High-Risk Series: Information Management and Technology HR-97-9, Feb 1, 1997

High-Risk Series: Medicare HR-97-10, Feb 1, 1997

High-Risk Series: Student Financial Aid HR-97-11, Feb 1, 1997

High-Risk Series: Department of Housing and Urban Development HR-97-12, Feb 1, 1997

High-Risk Series: Department of Energy Contract Management HR-97-13, Feb 1, 1997

High-Risk Series: Superfund Program Management HR-97-14, Feb 1, 1997

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