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Defense Acquisitions: An Analysis of the Special Operations Command's Management of Weapon System Programs

GAO-07-620 Published: Jun 28, 2007. Publicly Released: Jun 28, 2007.
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Special Operations Command's (SOCOM) duties have greatly increased since the attacks of September 11, 2001. Today, Special Operations Forces are at work in Afghanistan and Iraq, and SOCOM has been assigned to lead U.S. efforts in the Global War on Terrorism. SOCOM's acquisitions budget has also greatly increased in this period--more than doubling from $788 million in 2001 to approximately $1.91 billion in 2006. In light of SOCOM's expanded duties, Congress requested that GAO review SOCOM's management of its acquisition programs. GAO's evaluation includes an assessment of: the types of acquisition programs SOCOM has undertaken since 2001 and whether the programs are consistent with its mission; the extent to which SOCOM's programs have progressed as planned; and the challenges SOCOM faces in managing its acquisition programs.

SOCOM has undertaken a diverse set of acquisition programs that are consistent with the command's mission to provide equipment that addresses the unique needs of the Special Operations Forces. SOCOM has committed to spend about $6 billion on these programs. About 88 percent of the programs are relatively small, have short acquisition cycles, and use modified commercial off-the-shelf and nondevelopmental items or modify existing service equipment and assets. SOCOM's acquisition plans--as reflected in its current 5-year plan--continue to focus on relatively small-scale, short-cycle programs with modest development efforts. Overall, SOCOM's acquisition program performance has been mixed. About 60 percent of the acquisition programs SOCOM has undertaken since 2001 have progressed as planned, staying within the original cost and schedule estimates. Included in this grouping are programs that had cost increases because of the need to buy additional quantities of equipment for ongoing combat operations. The other 40 percent of SOCOM's acquisition programs have not progressed as planned and experienced modest to, in a small number of cases, significant cost increases and schedule delays because of a range of technical and programmatic issues. Although fewer in number, the programs that experienced problems comprise about 50 percent of acquisition funding because they tend to be the larger and costlier, platform-based programs that SOCOM is acquiring and those where SOCOM depends on one of the military departments for equipment and program management support. SOCOM faces management and workforce challenges to ensure its acquisition programs are consistently completed on time and within budget. Urgent requirements to support SOCOM's ongoing combat missions have and will continue to challenge SOCOM's ability to balance near- and long- term needs against available funding resources. In addition, SOCOM has difficulty tracking progress on programs where it has delegated management authority to one of the military departments and has not consistently applied a knowledge-based acquisition approach in executing programs, particularly the larger and more complex programs. Furthermore, SOCOM has encountered challenges ensuring it has the workforce size and composition to carry out its acquisition work.


Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Defense To better position SOCOM to achieve the right acquisition program outcomes, the Secretary of Defense should ensure that SOCOM establishes sound business cases for its more complex and military department-managed acquisition programs. Integral to this is applying the elements of a knowledge-based acquisition strategy (That is: programs match requirements with resources.) and having effective agreements in place with the military departments that specify clear roles, responsibilities, and expectations for executing programs.
Closed – Implemented
Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has taken several steps to strengthen the development of sound business cases before initiating acquisition programs: (1) the Command has instituted an agreement with the Navy to provide experienced cost estimators who will develop independent cost estimates for SOCOM programs; and (2)the Command has begun using a Defense Acquisition University tool for calculating technology readiness levels to improve technology readiness assessments prior to initiating programs. SOCOM is also taking steps to update memorandums of agreement with the military departments who manage certain SOCOM programs. The Command has developed an overarching agreement with the Navy and is in the process of establishing agreements with the other services. In addition, the Command has updated its operating procedures to better define the roles and responsibilities for service offices that have been designated to manage SOCOM programs.
Department of Defense To better position SOCOM to achieve the right acquisition program outcomes, the Secretary of Defense should ensure that, as SOCOM increases its acquisition workforce, it (1) obtains personnel with the skills and abilities needed for more complex acquisitions, (2) makes sure personnel meet DOD acquisition certification level requirements, and (3) has the ability to make the hiring process as efficient as possible.
Closed – Implemented
DOD concurred with this recommendation. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has taken several actions to improve the size and composition of its workforce and ensure it matches the acquisition workload undertaken by the Command. For example, the Command has established a more formal screening process to assess the education, training, and experience of applicants being considered for acquisition program management positions. In addition, to provide improved oversight of acquisition certification requirements, SOCOM established a team to develop process maps, templates, and metrics for assessing whether personnel meet certification requirements. Also, to improve workforce hiring, SOCOM has initiated an advertising campaign to target personnel at the acquisition centers of the military services and streamlined internal processes, including establishing electronic work flow packages, to help reduce the length of time it takes to hire new personnel.
Department of Defense To better position SOCOM to achieve the right acquisition program outcomes, the Secretary of Defense should ensure that SOCOM improves the accuracy, timeliness, and usefulness of its acquisition management information system. To accomplish this, SOCOM should (1) establish enforcement mechanisms to make sure program managers submit updated information on a regular basis and (2) conduct quality checks to make sure the information is reliable.
Closed – Implemented
DOD concurred with this recommendation. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has taken steps to improve its acquisition management information system. The Command has made hardware and software improvements to the system, including a new hardware architecture to improve the capability and speed of the application. The Command has also required program managers to update information in the system to ensure the information matches existing programs of record. In addition, the Command has established measures to review the accuracy of the information in the system on a more regular basis, including the use of metrics to track when data have been updated and validated.

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