Department of Defense Major Weapon Systems Acquisition Process

Gao ID: 115484 June 11, 1981

OMB Circular A-109 was issued to establish management policy for acquisition of major systems by the executive branch agencies. GAO has generally supported the concepts of A-109 and believes it provides sound management principles upon which to structure major weapon system acquisition programs. GAO recently reviewed the Department of Defense (DOD) acquisition process in six programs, paying particular attention to compliance with A-109 and the effect of the directive. All of the programs had been following the procedures prescribed by A-109, but none of the programs had progressed past the concept demonstration/validation stage. Solutions to approved needs were sought from Government laboratories or solicited from contractors. Parallel contracts for proposal and demonstration of weapon system concepts were competitively awarded to contractors and program management officials were drawing up acquisition strategy for new programs as recommended. Initially, Mission Element Need Statements (MENS) document preparation and approval was taking excessive time because of confusion about the desired content, format, and processing. Service disputes still occur over how to best express matters to obtain DOD approval. In some instances, attempts to avoid preparing MENS occurred. The Services have also experienced difficulty in refraining from specifying systems specifications to influence contractors; therefore, a clarification of what can be specified is needed. DOD has not established a standard, systematic method of analyzing missions to determine needs and establish acquistition program priorities. DOD should better utilize mission analysis to help resolve the problems of too many weapon system programs. Some problems have been experienced using competition. Acquisition strategy is not delayed because of changes in program funding. A-109 offers Congress a formal notification of DOD needs and intent, opportunity for debate, greater use of competition, and a clear stop or go decision point. For DOD, it provides better control over expenditure of large resources and opportunities to encourage better standardization of weapons, improved planning, flexibility, and control over program management. It gives industry a clearer picture of DOD needs and increased latitute for technical innovation. The Deputy Secretary of Defense's new initiatives should tighten up management of the acquisition process if agressively implemented.

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