Fast Facts

Federal contracts aren't the only way that the Army can fund research and development for modern technology. It can also make grants, develop research agreements to share costs or resources, and more.

The Army also uses alternative approaches—such as technology competitions and increased access to Army labs—to engage with academia and companies that don't usually participate in federal defense contracts.

Various parts of the Army organization use these agreements and approaches. But the Army hasn't analyzed how they're working or shared lessons learned Army-wide. We recommended doing so to help shape future decisions.

U.S. Army uniform

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Highlights

What GAO Found

In its effort to modernize weapon systems capabilities, the Army increasingly uses alternative agreements instead of Federal Acquisition Regulation-based contracts for research and development and has expanded the use of alternative approaches that engage industry and academia. The Army's use of these agreements and approaches provides flexibilities and reduces barriers to creating new partnerships. One type of alternative agreement—other transactions for prototype projects, which help evaluate the feasibility or utility of a technology—has driven the recent expansion in the overall use of alternative agreements to support Army modernization (see figure).

Army Alternative Agreement Obligations, Fiscal Years 2017-2019

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Army organizations use established processes to oversee alternative approaches and agreements. For alternative approaches, Army Futures Command—the Army's lead for requirements and technology development—demonstrates an awareness of how these activities support modernization through the command's role as senior leadership or as an active participant. For alternative agreements, Army Futures Command has not regularly analyzed the use of alternative agreements to gain insight on the distribution and trends in use. Such analysis could provide the command and other Army stakeholders in contracting and acquisition with improved information to help manage risks in decision-making for development and acquisition in support of modernization.

GAO found that Army organizations lack consistent, coordinated practices to identify and share lessons learned from entering into alternative agreements or executing alternative approaches. The use of consistent, coordinated lessons learned practices for alternative agreements can improve the processes leading up to an agreement by including more diverse perspectives and ensuring that lessons learned are not confined to a subset of organizations or officials involved in decision-making. In addition, improvements to the lessons learned practices used for the Army's alternative approaches would provide its personnel with increased access to what has worked well and what has not when interacting with industry and academia. Improved sharing of these lessons learned can help the Army more effectively engage with new partners in support of its modernization goals.

Why GAO Did This Study

The Army annually invests billions of dollars in science and technology projects to support weapon systems modernization. These projects often involve the use of alternative agreements outside the Federal Acquisition Regulation. The Army also uses alternative approaches to reduce barriers to partnerships with industry and academia. In doing so, the Army has lessons learned available to it about, for example, the type of alternative agreement to use or how to better execute an alternative approach.

GAO was asked to review the Army's alternative agreements and approaches for modernization. This report examines the Army's use, oversight efforts, and lessons learned practices for alternative agreements and approaches.

GAO reviewed information about the Army's use and oversight of alternative agreements and approaches; compared applicable Army portfolio management and lessons learned activities to GAO's leading practices; and interviewed Army officials.

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Recommendations

GAO is making six recommendations to the Army, including that Army Futures Command regularly analyzes information on alternative agreement use to inform modernization decisions and that Army organizations demonstrate consistent, coordinated practices that support sharing of lessons learned information on alternative agreements and approaches. The Army concurred with all six recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of the Army The Secretary of the Army should direct the Army Futures Command, in collaboration with the Army Contracting Command and the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology, to regularly analyze information on the use of prototype other transactions for Army modernization. (Recommendation 1)
Open
The Department of the Army concurred with this recommendation but, as of July 2021, has not yet demonstrated actions to implement it. The Army indicated that Army Futures Command was expected to use data on prototype other transactions from fiscal years 2019 and 2020 to conduct an initial analysis. The Army also stated that the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Procurement is collaborating with Army Futures Command, Army Contracting Command, and other offices to establish an appropriate methodology by the end of 2021 for conducting an annual portfolio analysis of prototype other transaction use. We believe that the Army's plans and actions are consistent with actions that could address the intent of our recommendation. We will continue to monitor the Army's efforts to establish a defined, repeatable process--which could include publishing policy or guidance--that demonstrates Army implementation of this recommendation.
Department of the Army The Secretary of the Army should direct the Army Futures Command, in collaboration with the Army Contracting Command, to regularly analyze information on the use of grants, cooperative agreements, research other transactions, technology investment agreements, partnership intermediary agreements, and cooperative research and development agreements for Army modernization. (Recommendation 2)
Open
The Department of the Army agreed with this recommendation but, as of the July 2021, has not yet demonstrated actions to implement it. The Army stated that it intends for Army Futures Command to annually collaborate with Army Contracting Command on lessons learned related to the use of grants, cooperative agreements, research other transactions, technology investment agreements, partnership intermediary agreements, and cooperative research and development agreements for Army modernization. While the Army's collaboration plans can help build useful knowledge on the different agreement types, establishing a process for regular data analysis similar to what we recommended (and the Army has planned for prototype other transactions) would help the Army meet the intent of our recommendation. This recommendation is based on our finding that Army Futures Command has not regularly analyzed data, such as the number of agreements awarded or the kinds of development projects different agreement types support, to help improve information and manage risks in decision-making for Army modernization. We believe that collaboration between Army Futures Command and Army Contracting Command, which manages agreement awards data, would support such analysis.
Department of the Army The Secretary of the Army should ensure the Commanding General of the Army Contracting Command establishes consistent practices for its headquarters to collect, archive, and share lessons learned for research and prototype other transactions, grants, cooperative agreements, technology investment agreements, and partnership intermediary agreements. (Recommendation 3)
Open
The Department of the Army agreed with this recommendation but, as of the July 2021, has not yet demonstrated actions to implement it. The Army stated that the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Procurement will use the Army Procurement Management Review to collect leading practices and lessons learned for grants, cooperative agreements, and research and prototype other transactions from Army Contracting Command on a regular basis. The Army also stated that the lessons learned and leading practices will be analyzed, validated, and displayed on the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Procurement's knowledge management website for visibility across the Army acquisition enterprise. The lessons learned and leading practices will be shared with other interested DOD stakeholders through other means, such as training or briefings. By the end of 2021, the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Procurement intends to test the Army procurement management review question set for other transactions with the Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office, which will collect lessons learned and leading practices. We believe the Army's overall actions, if they also include technology investment agreements and partnership intermediary agreements, would be consistent with the intent of this recommendation.
Department of the Army The Secretary of the Army should ensure the Commanding General of the Army Contracting Command has the command's contracting centers work with its headquarters to establish consistent, coordinated practices for the contracting centers to collect, analyze, validate, archive, and share lessons learned for research and prototype other transactions, grants, cooperative agreements, technology investment agreements, and partnership intermediary agreements. (Recommendation 4)
Open
The Department of the Army agreed with this recommendation but, as of the July 2021, has not yet demonstrated actions to implement it. The Army stated the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Procurement will use the Army Procurement Management Review program to collect lessons learned on a regular basis for grants, cooperative agreements, and research and prototype other transactions from contracting centers within Army Contracting Command. The lessons learned will be analyzed, validated, and displayed on the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Procurement's knowledge management website for visibility across the Army acquisition enterprise, as well as shared with interested DOD stakeholders through other means, such as trainings or briefings. The Army also indicated plans to work with its grants-making organizations to identify, validate, and disseminate lessons learned by the end of 2021. Although the Army's plans support improvements in collecting and sharing lessons learned information for several agreement types, we believe additional measures would be needed to fully implement our recommendation. As outlined in our findings, Army Contracting Command Headquarters annually performs procurement management reviews for a subset of contracting centers and agreements awarded, with a sample of agreements reviewed once every 3 years for each contracting center. These reviews can contribute to collecting and sharing lessons learned from a relatively small subset of agreements, but they do not guarantee that lessons for all agreement types are considered and may not provide contracting center professionals with a mechanism for more real-time collection and sharing of lessons learned. The Army's additional efforts to obtain input from its grants-making organizations should also begin to address this recommendation, but omit other agreement types and may not provide for continuing opportunities to collect and share lessons learned.
Department of the Army The Secretary of the Army should ensure the Commanding General of the Combat Capabilities Development Command establishes consistent, coordinated practices for the command to collect, analyze, validate, archive, and share lessons learned for cooperative research and development agreements. (Recommendation 5)
Open
The Department of the Army agreed with this recommendation but, as of the July 2021, has not yet demonstrated actions to implement it. The Army stated that in response to this recommendation, the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Procurement will coordinate with relevant stakeholders including the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Research and Technology, Army Contracting Command, and the Combat Capabilities Development Command. The coordinated activities will include the review and updating or creation as necessary, of processes to collect, analyze, validate, archive, and share lessons learned and leading practices for cooperative research and development agreements. The Army stated that analysis to support the implementation of these processes will be completed by the end of September 2021.
Department of the Army The Secretary of the Army should ensure an archive is established to store and share lessons learned information related to the Army's alternative approaches for engaging industry and academia. (Recommendation 6)
Open
The Department of the Army agreed with this recommendation but, as of the July 2021, has not yet demonstrated actions to implement it. The Army stated that it intends to archive lessons learned information on the knowledge management website for the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Procurement. The Army's plan appears consistent with the intent of our recommendation, so long as it enables a lessons learned archiving mechanism for Army organizations that manage alternative approaches, such as the Army Applications Lab, Army Research Lab, and Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office. As we found, these organizations have demonstrated practices to collect and validate lessons learned on engaging industry and academia and reducing barriers to participation in Army research and development efforts, but lack a comprehensive, central archive to record and benefit from their overall lessons learned.

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