DOD Must Balance Its Needs with Available Resources and Follow an Incremental Approach to Acquiring Weapon Systems
Source: US Government Accountability Office
Ref: GAO-09-431T
Released March 3, 2009 (Testimony)
25 pages in PDF format


Since 1990, GAO has consistently designated the Department of Defense's (DOD) management of its major weapon acquisitions as a high-risk area. A broad consensus exists that weapon system problems are serious, but efforts at reform have had limited impact. Last year, GAO reported that DOD's portfolio of weapon programs experienced cost growth of $295 billion from first estimates, were delayed by an average of 21 months, and delivered fewer quantities and capabilities to the warfighter than originally planned.
At a time when DOD faces increased fiscal pressures from ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the federal budget is strained by a growing number of priorities, it is critical that the department effectively manage its substantial investment in weapon system programs. Every dollar wasted or used inefficiently on acquiring weapon systems means that less money is available for the government's other important budgetary demands.
This testimony by Michael J. Sullivan, GAO’s director of acquisition and sourcing management, describes the systemic problems that contribute to the cost, schedule, and performance problems in weapon system programs, recent actions that DOD has taken to address these problems, proposed reform legislation that the committee recently introduced, and additional steps needed to improve future performance of acquisition programs.
The testimony is drawn from GAO's body of work on DOD's acquisition, requirements, and funding processes.
In a nutshell:
1. DOD's processes for identifying warfighter needs, allocating resources, and developing and procuring weapon systems, which together define the department's overall weapon system investment strategy, are fragmented. As a result, DOD fails to balance the competing needs of the services with those of the joint warfighter and commits to more programs than resources can support.
2. DOD allows programs to begin development without a full understanding of requirements and the resources needed to execute them. The lack of early systems engineering, acceptance of unreliable cost estimates based on overly optimistic assumptions, failure to commit full funding, and the addition of new requirements well into the acquisition cycle all contribute to poor outcomes.
3. Moreover, DOD officials are rarely held accountable for poor decisions or poor program outcomes.


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