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Army Modernization: Army Futures Command Should Take Steps to Improve Small Business Engagement for Research and Development

GAO-19-511 Published: Jul 17, 2019. Publicly Released: Jul 17, 2019.
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Fast Facts

The new Army Futures Command oversees Army modernization—upgrading its weapons and capabilities. The command considers working with small businesses to be critical to its success.

Command officials say they will continue prior Army efforts to reach out and award contracts to small businesses. They are also exploring innovative ways to help small businesses develop technologies that address Army needs. However, we found they were not fully leveraging Army’s expertise, including that of the Army’s Office of Small Business Programs.

We recommend that the new command coordinate with other Army organizations and track its small business engagement.

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What GAO Found

Army Futures Command, established in June 2018 by combining several existing Army organizations and expected to be fully operational in July 2019, is engaging with small businesses. The command considers small business engagement critical to its success and officials reported it intends to continue the engagement activities of the organizations that are moving into it such as conducting outreach and awarding contracts. The Army recognizes the importance of small businesses and has awarded $2.3 billion to hundreds of small businesses from fiscal year 2013 through 2017. The command is also taking initial steps to enhance small business engagement (see figure). Army officials noted that these new efforts are intended to address concerns raised by small businesses in working with the government, such as delays between initial outreach and entering into contracts.

Examples of Army Futures Command Initiatives to Enhance Small Business Engagement

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However, the command has not fully leveraged other Army organizations that work with small businesses, such as the Army Office of Small Business Programs. According to command officials, they prioritized setting up the command structure and engaging with small businesses quickly, instead of focusing on coordination. The command has recently been working to improve coordination, but has not formally coordinated such as by establishing agreements with other Army organizations that have small business expertise. Doing so would help Army Futures Command leverage this past experience and avoid missing opportunities to engage with these companies and access innovative research and development.

The command does not track how frequently or in what ways it engages with small businesses for research and development across all command components. Similarly, command officials stated they have considered performance measures to assess the effectiveness of their engagement efforts, but have not yet developed command-wide measures or a plan to assess effectiveness. Tracking and measuring engagement would help ensure the command obtains quality information that may help the Army evaluate, and potentially enhance, its small business engagement

Why GAO Did This Study

The Army is modernizing its weapon systems to improve its ability to face near-peer adversaries. To consolidate and oversee these efforts, the Army established Army Futures Command. The command plans to work with small businesses to develop innovative capabilities through research and development activities.

GAO was asked how the establishment of Army Futures Command could affect small businesses that support research and development efforts. This report examines, among other objectives, how the command (1) engages with small businesses and coordinates with other Army organizations and (2) plans to track and measure the effectiveness of that engagement.

GAO reviewed the Army's internal analyses of its own modernization efforts; reviewed and analyzed policies and procedures on the command's small business engagement; and interviewed Army officials engaged in modernization efforts as well as two private companies selected because they facilitate Army's work with small businesses.


GAO is making three recommendations including that the Army Futures Command coordinate with relevant Army organizations on small business engagement efforts for research and development; systematically track its small business engagement; and develop command-wide performance measures and a plan to use them to assess the effectiveness of its small business engagement. The Army concurred with all three recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of the Army The Secretary of the Army should direct the Commanding General of Army Futures Command to formalize coordination roles and responsibilities for small business engagement in support of research and development with relevant Army entities. (Recommendation 1)
Closed – Implemented
In July 2020, Army Futures Command appointed a Director of Small Business Programs for the Command and that Director developed a command-wide small business program policy which includes guidelines for coordination within AFC and with other Army entities such as the Army Office of Small Business Programs. By taking these actions, AFC is improving its opportunities to engage with small businesses and obtain access to the innovative research and development they provide. These actions also address potential duplication, overlap, and fragmentation of the Army's efforts towards small business engagement.
Department of the Army The Secretary of the Army should direct the Commanding General of Army Futures Command to systematically track its small business engagement in support of research and development across its subordinate organizations. (Recommendation 2)
Closed – Implemented
As of April 2020, the AFC Director of the Office of Small Business Programs (OSBP) established a process to systematically track this information through a monthly data call to all command elements that engage with small businesses. Tracking small business engagement across the Command's components will help identify gaps and reduce inefficiencies, including overlap, fragmentation, and duplication of small business engagement efforts.
Department of the Army The Secretary of the Army should direct the Commanding General of Army Futures Command, in coordination with relevant Army entities, to establish command-wide performance measures and develop a plan to use these measures to systematically assess the effectiveness of small business engagement in support of research and development. (Recommendation 3)
Closed – Implemented
In fiscal year 2020, AFC developed both short-term and long-term performance measures to capture and monitor information on small business engagements across the command. In fiscal year 2021 AFC established a database to systematically track the progress of engagements and outcomes with small businesses. Establishing performance measures and developing the means to capture and monitor information on its small business engagement helps ensure AFC makes informed management and investment decisions for its research and development efforts. It also helps AFC evaluate the overall effectiveness of its small business engagement to provide support to the warfighter.

Full Report

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Government contractsMilitary forcesPerformance measuresResearch and developmentSmall businessSmall business contractsSmall business innovationTechnology modernization programsTechnology transfer programsWeapon systems