Fast Facts

DOD operates depots nationwide to overhaul, upgrade, and rebuild complex weapons and equipment. These depots are crucial to keeping the military ready to conduct operations and training.

While depots have sometimes struggled to meet repair needs in recent years, they reported benefits from sharing best practices and lessons learned with each other. For example, one shared an improvement that reduced service time for a type of aircraft gearbox—from a 95-week replacement to a 4-week repair.

We found DOD could do more to help depots share information. We recommended, among other things, creating a comprehensive list of depot working groups.

Depot maintainers shared information about repairing the tails of Navy MH-53E and Marine CH-53E helicopters and were able to increase helicopter safety, according to Navy officials.

A helicopter hovering over a runway on an aircraft carrier in the ocean

A helicopter hovering over a runway on an aircraft carrier in the ocean

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Highlights

What GAO Found

The Department of Defense (DOD) experiences benefits from sharing best practices and lessons learned among its depots, but communication and organization challenges exist. Best practices and lessons learned are shared among the depots through a variety of venues, including networking, working groups, and benchmarking trips to other depots. However, DOD has communication challenges, such as the lack of awareness of venues for sharing information. While Office of the Secretary of Defense officials reported posting a list of working groups, the list only contains three of the more than 60 working groups GAO identified. Without a centralized list of sharing venues and points of contact, it is unclear what groups exist and who to contact to participate, which may impede sharing of best practices and lessons learned. Further, while the Army stated it established lessons learned organizations for sharing maintenance best practices and lessons learned, it did not maintain them due to organizational restructuring and resource constraints. Establishing and maintaining effective organizations dedicated to sharing materiel best practices and lessons learned would encourage knowledge sharing among the Army depots.

Department of Defense's Benefits and Challenges with Sharing and Implementing Best Practices and Lessons Learned among the 17 Military Depots

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DOD is experiencing benefits and taking steps to mitigate challenges with implementing best practices and lessons learned among the depots. Depots reported that implementing some best practices and lessons learned has led to benefits, including time and cost savings. For example, Navy Fleet Readiness Center Southwest, California, implemented an intermittent fault detection system from Ogden Air Logistics Complex, Utah, on its F/A-18 aircraft generators. According to officials, the depot reduced repair time from 90 days to 30 days and quadrupled the generators' time between failures. Depots reported a variety of challenges to implementing lessons learned and best practices, including a lack of resources, lengthy approval processes, and acquisition and technology restrictions. DOD is taking steps to mitigate challenges to implementation, such as creating a new technology tool for viewing metrics on weapon systems' cost and availability which will allow senior leaders to steer resources to needed programs.

Why GAO Did This Study

DOD operates depots nationwide to maintain complex weapon systems and equipment through overhauls, upgrades, and rebuilding. These depots are crucial to sustaining military readiness by ensuring that the military services can regularly maintain critical weapon systems and return them to the warfighter for use in training and operations. For fiscal year 2018, DOD reported $19 billion in total maintenance expenditures and about 84,000 personnel performing depot-level maintenance. In June 2018, the Senate Armed Services Committee, in a report accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019, included a provision for GAO to review DOD's sharing and implementation of best practices and lessons learned among the depots. GAO evaluated the extent to which DOD experiences benefits and has challenges with (1) sharing and (2) implementing best practices and lessons learned among the depots. GAO reviewed agency guidance; surveyed 17 depots; conducted site visits at five depots; and interviewed DOD, military service, and depot officials.

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Recommendations

GAO is making two recommendations to improve the depots' ability to share best practices and lessons learned by creating a comprehensive list of sharing venues, including points of contact, and re-establishing and maintaining materiel lessons learned organizations. DOD concurred with the recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment The Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment should ensure that the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Materiel Readiness create, share, and maintain a comprehensive and up-to-date list of all DOD sharing venues (i.e., working groups), including points of contact, related to depot maintenance. (Recommendation 1)
Closed - Implemented
DOD concurred with this recommendation. In response to our report, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Materiel Readiness took action by creating a comprehensive and up-to-date list of all DOD sharing venues (i.e., working groups, communities of practice), including points of contact, related to depot maintenance. The list includes nearly four dozen depot maintenance communities of practice and was created in collaboration with members of the Maintenance Executive Steering Committee and military service maintenance representatives. The Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Materiel Readiness has shared the list with the depot maintenance community via a Materiel Readiness share drive and plans to share the list annually at the DOD Maintenance Symposium. Finally, the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Materiel Readiness will maintain the list through leveraging the DOD Maintenance Symposium as a venue to take annual action to update the list as well as whenever a stakeholder provides new or revised information on DOD sharing venues.
Office of the Secretary The Secretary of the Army should ensure that Army Materiel Command reestablish and maintain organizations dedicated to sharing materiel best practices and lessons learned, as required by Army regulations. (Recommendation 2)
Open
DOD concurred with this recommendation. In response to our report, the Army stated it is working to update policies to accurately reflect current activities for capturing, preserving, and distributing lessons learned and best practices throughout the organic industrial base. The estimated completion date is no later than December 2022. When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

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