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Weapon Systems Management: Product Support Managers' Perspectives on Factors Critical to Influencing Sustainment-Related Decisions

GAO-17-744R Published: Sep 12, 2017. Publicly Released: Sep 12, 2017.
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What GAO Found

Product support managers' (PSM) principal responsibility is to develop and implement support strategies for Department of Defense (DOD) weapon systems that maintain readiness and control life-cycle costs. PSMs that GAO spoke to in focus groups and interviews identified several factors that helped them to influence sustainment-related decisions during the development and acquisition of their assigned weapon systems. Specifically, they stated that teamwork and collaboration, early implementation of the PSM position, and organizational support and emphasis on sustainment were important to their success as PSMs. These PSMs also stated that they were generally able to perform their PSM duties, but they identified several challenges that hindered their ability to influence sustainment-related decisions. They stated that these challenges include resource constraints, competing priorities, and differing approaches to institutionalizing the PSM position.

In 2014, GAO made five recommendations to DOD and the Army on how they could improve the implementation of PSMs in the department. Since then DOD and the Army have implemented two of these recommendations. Specifically, DOD developed a comprehensive career path and associated guidance to develop, train, and support future PSMs, and the Army revised its guidance to clarify the Army-wide roles and responsibilities for the sustainment portion of the life cycle of major weapon systems. However, additional steps are needed to implement the remaining three recommendations. Specifically, DOD has not fully implemented GAO's recommendations to systematically collect and evaluate information on the effects, if any, that PSMs are having on life-cycle sustainment decisions for their assigned major weapon systems and to issue clear, comprehensive, centralized guidance regarding the roles and responsibilities of PSMs. The Army has not fully implemented a recommendation aimed at ensuring that PSMs have visibility over sustainment funding. These recommendations, if fully implemented, could further institutionalize the role of PSMs and thereby help to increase their influence on sustainment-related decisions.

Why GAO Did This Study

DOD spends billions of dollars each year on operating and support costs for weapon systems, and these costs have historically accounted for approximately 70 percent of a weapon system's total life-cycle cost. While the majority of operating and support costs are incurred after a weapon system has been produced and fielded, these costs result in part from program decisions made earlier in the acquisition process--during system development--and are generally set before production begins. In 2009, as part of legislation aimed at improving the life-cycle management of major weapon systems, Congress required DOD to assign a PSM to each major weapon system program. The principal responsibility of the PSM is to develop and implement support strategies for weapon systems that maintain readiness and control life-cycle costs.

House Report 114-537, accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017, included a provision for GAO to review DOD's progress in implementing PSMs and integrating them in the lifecycle management of major weapon systems. In this report GAO describes factors that PSMs identified as critical to their ability to influence sustainment-related decisions during weapon system development and any challenges to their ability to influence these decisions. GAO also tracked DOD's progress on implementing recommendations from its 2014 report.

GAO conducted seven focus groups with 34 PSMs from eight locations and interviewed 12 PSMs from the Navy, Army, and Air Force who were assigned to major weapon systems early in the acquisition process. GAO also interviewed officials from the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the headquarters of the military departments and reviewed pertinent documents, including DOD instructions, military department policies, memorandums, and other guidance regarding DOD's actions to implement the recommendations made in the 2014 report.


We are not making any recommendations in this report.

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Defense capabilitiesDefense procurementLife cycle costsMilitary forcesMilitary readinessNational defenseProgram evaluationProgram managementStrategic planningWeapons systemsNational defense operations