Members of Congress have been concerned that DOD’s weapons acquisition process is too bureaucratic and slow to deliver innovations to the field. Amid these concerns, Congress included numerous reforms in recent National Defense Authorization Acts that could help to streamline acquisition oversight and field capabilities faster.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) was asked to examine DOD’s efforts to implement these reforms. GAO reviewed five reforms: milestone decision authority designation; cost, fielding, and performance goals; independent technical risk assessments; restructuring of acquisition oversight offices; and middle-tier acquisition.
GAO’s investigation found that DOD has made progress in implementing reforms to restructure the oversight of major defense acquisition programs. However, questions remain about how some reforms GAO reviewed will be carried out. For example, no programs have been required to have cost and fielding goals set under DOD’s new process yet, and DOD has formed a working group to determine when to delegate risk assessments to the military departments.
DOD also began using new pathways referred to as middle-tier acquisition to rapidly prototype and field new weapon systems. Middle-tier programs are expected to field capabilities within 2 to 5 years. As of March 2019, military departments were using this authority for 35 unclassified programs.
DOD has yet to fully determine how it will oversee middle-tier acquisition programs, including what information should be required to ensure informed decisions about program selection and how to measure program performance.
GAO found that DOD also continues to face implementation challenges, including one related to disagreements about oversight roles and responsibilities between the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the military departments.
GAO is making four recommendations to the Secretary of Defense:
- Identify in final guidance the types of business case elements potential middle-tier acquisition programs should develop and decision makers should consider at program initiation to assess the soundness of programs’ business cases, including whether programs are well positioned to meet statutory objectives.
- Determine and identify in final guidance for middle-tier acquisition programs the metrics that will be used to assess the performance of middle-tier acquisition programs across the military departments, including whether programs are meeting statutory objectives.
- Ensure that a comprehensive framework that clarifies the roles and responsibilities of the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the military departments for acquisition oversight is communicated by senior leadership.
- Develop a plan for how the department will assess the effect of recent acquisition reforms, including identifying who will be responsible for the assessment and what data will be needed.
DOD concurs with the recommendations and has described planned actions to address them. Specifically, in response to the first recommendation, DOD stated that it expects to identify these business case elements in its final guidance on middle-tier programs, which it expects to complete in September 2019. In response to the second recommendation, DOD stated that it plans to determine performance metrics in coordination with its release of its final guidance on middle-tier programs. DOD expects to release this guidance in late 2019. In response to the third recommendation, for senior leadership to clarify acquisition oversight roles and responsibilities, DOD stated that these roles and responsibilities will be finalized through the issuance of chartering directives and updated acquisition policy; issuance is expected by the end of 2019. Finally, in response to the fourth recommendation, DOD stated that it has included a division in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition to analyze and assess this and other high-level oversight and policy issues.
GAO believes DOD’s planned actions to address the first, second, and fourth recommendations, if implemented effectively, should address the concerns. With regard to the third recommendation, however, GAO does not believe that the steps outlined in DOD’s written comments are likely to fully address the disagreements about acquisition oversight roles and responsibilities that we identified in the report.
In its June 5 report, GAO said these disagreements are persistent and focused on fundamental acquisition oversight issues. “Simply issuing chartering directives and finalizing policy as planned may not be enough to ensure that areas of disagreement are resolved and that officials within the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the military departments have a shared understanding of an acquisition oversight framework for the entire Department that will serve as the basis for any policy,” stated the report. “Furthermore, without senior leadership within DOD communicating this framework to the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the military departments in sufficient detail to address areas of disagreement among key stakeholders, disagreement will likely persist and the intended impacts of reforms could be stymied.”