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GAO: Knowledge Gaps Pose Risks to DoD’s Weapon Acquisition System

A GAO study has found that DoD weapons programs continue to not fully implement key knowledge-based acquisition practices.

The report assessed the Department of Defense’s $1.66 trillion portfolio of 86 major weapon systems acquisition programs and examined changes in the portfolio since 2016, including DOD’s progress implementing acquisition reforms. It also offered a quick look at the cost, schedule, and performance of 57 individual weapon programs.

GAO found that since DOD began to implement acquisition reforms 8 years ago, new defense weapon systems programs have done a better job staying within budget estimates than their predecessors. However, most programs continue to proceed without the key knowledge essential to good acquisition outcomes. Its analysis shows that programs initiated since 2010 had better cost performance between 2016 and 2017 than the rest of the portfolio– an estimated $5.6 billion decrease versus a $60.3 billion increase.

Programs that implemented acquisition strategies to promote competition, including competitive award of contracts, reported decreases in total acquisition cost estimates as compared to others. In 2010, DOD implemented reforms including some aimed at increasing competition to introduce greater affordability and efficiency. Subsequently, GAO observed that individual programs have taken steps to implement acquisition strategies that promote competition. Of the programs in this year’s assessment that awarded development, test, or production contracts, 61 percent did so competitively.

The report says: “While programs initiated since 2010– when sweeping acquisition reforms were implemented–have stayed within their cost estimates better than earlier programs, most continue to proceed without the key knowledge essential to good acquisition outcomes. Historically, this has translated to schedule delays, cost growth, and other inefficiencies that have beset DOD programs for years.”

GAO also found that DOD programs continue to not fully implement knowledge-based acquisition practices. It found that most of the 45 current programs have proceeded into system development, through critical design reviews, and into production without completing key knowledge-based practices associated with each of these three points, and almost all of the 12 future programs GAO reviewed, not yet in DOD’s portfolio, reported that they do not currently plan to fully meet all applicable practices when starting system development.

Overall GAO found that the DoD weapons acquisition programs that had the lowest cost and schedule growth were those that  demonstrated that all critical technologies were very close to final form, fit, and function, within a relevant environment, before starting development; completed a preliminary design review prior to starting development; and released at least 90 percent of design drawings by critical design review.

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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