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Pentagon Acquisition Bosses Ho-Hum on Multiple Reviews for Passing Milestones

GAO finds weapons program managers valued input in only 10 percent of cases.

Defense Department major weapons buyers could streamline the acquisition process by eliminating some reviews in the years-long phase for passing each procurement milestone, the Government Accountability Office found.

“The process in some instances can include up to 56 organizations at eight levels and accounts for about half of the time needed to complete information requirements,” the watchdog said in a report released Tuesday.

Interviews with 24 program managers and participating organizations on major procurements such as aircraft showed that most “did not think these reviews added significant value to the documentation,” GAO said. “The program managers considered the value added to 10 percent of the documentation to be high,” GAO said in report required by the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act. “However, for the remaining 90 percent of the documents, the officials believed the reviews did not add high value.”Sixty-one percent said they provided moderate value while 29 percent said they provided less than moderate.

Milestone reviews average two years and 5,600 hours of staff time for documentation, GAO concluded. Reviews for many systems can be handed up the hierarchy on a circuitous route, from program office, to program executive officer staff, to program executive officer, to functional offices staff, to functional offices senior managers, to service acquisition executive, to the functional offices staff, to the functional offices senior managers, to the Office of the Secretary’s Milestone Decision Authority. (Classified programs have a slightly simpler path).

For comparison, GAO evaluated the Pentagon’s F-16 aircraft program, some classified programs, and five commercial firms that use a more streamlined review process with fewer documents required. “Establishing an efficient process for documentation and oversight is a key internal control to avoid wasteful spending,” the watchdog wrote. “The challenge is to find the right balance between effective oversight and the competing demands on programs. DoD, however, has not yet identified ways to achieve the right balance by minimizing the time spent on information requirements and reviews that contribute to its inefficient milestone decision process.”

Auditors recommended that the Pentagon identify and consider abolishing reviews and information requirements that are obsolete or nonessential. DoD managers agreed.