Following the report earlier this week from the GAO on the explosive cost growth and systematic delays in DOD’s portfolio of 96 major defense acquisition programs, new testimony from the GAO outlines the steps needed to fix the issues and get the defense acquisition system back on track.
The GAO outlines their approach to measure knowledge, processes, and outcomes that are critical to achieving the recommended improvements through the prism of best practices to gauge the health of these programs. According to the report:
GAO employs a set of knowledge metrics to determine whether programs have attained the right knowledge at critical points over the course of a weapon system acquisition, and facilitate the identification of potential problems that could lead to cost, schedule, or performance shortfalls. In essence, knowledge supplants risk over time. Key knowledge points and metrics include 1) achieving a high level of technology maturity at the start of program development, 2) reaching design stability at the system-level critical design review, and 3) demonstrating that critical manufacturing processes are in control before starting production.
GAO acknowledges that favorable outcomes are not possible if defense acquisition programs to not begin with realistic plans and clear requirements baselines prior to start of development. The report outlines GAO’s prerequisites to a program’s acquisition strategy that includes a knowledge-based business case for each acquisition, limiting time and requirements for product development to manageable levels, employing sound systems engineering practices early on in the process to ensure realistic cost and schedule estimates are created, fully funding programs upon approval, ensure programs are vetted against needs, and sound program management plans for delivery.
DOD’s performance will improve when the focus of defense acquisition programs are knowledge and outcomes. Knowledge metrics provide decision makers with the information for determining whether programs have met the requisite objectives to proceed with the next phase in development, thus lowering the risk of cost and schedule overruns. Outcomes metrics, combined with earned value, will ensure cost, schedule and performance goals are met and informed decision making is possible to effectively manage programs.