Could frequent industry days help DOD deliver systems?

Better communication between government and industry could reduce schedule delays, overspending and unmet requirements that plague major weapons systems acquisition programs, DOD officials said.
DOD needs “to broaden our communications — up, down, across and within Congress, industry, academia and our coalition partners and especially within our DOD,” said James Finley, deputy undersecretary of Defense for acquisition and technology, before a House panel last month.

Finley and other DOD acquisition officials said more frequent industry days could provide new communication opportunities. At such events, contracting officers and program managers can speak with contractors and gather ideas for complex prototype programs.

Shay Assad, director of Defense procurement, acquisition policy and strategic sourcing, said DOD must be sure industry knows what it wants to buy and understands what the department needs.
Assad and John Young, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, have issued two recent memos to encourage contracting officers and program managers to talk with industry about planned acquisitions.

“At the end of the day, what we want is not only successful procurements but we want to have reliable, predictable results,” Assad said.

A recent Government Accountability Office report showed DOD’s 95 major weapons acquisition programs exceed their original budgets by nearly $300 billion. Those programs also average 21-month delays in delivering weapons systems.

DOD’s spending on weapons systems represents one of the largest discretionary items in the federal budget. DOD expects to spend about $900 billion in fiscal 2008 dollars during the next five years on development and procurement. Officials will also spend more than $335 billion in major defense acquisition programs, said Michael Sullivan, GAO’s director of acquisition and sourcing management.
“Every dollar spent inefficiently in acquiring weapon systems is less money available for other budget priorities, such as the global war on terror and growing entitlement programs,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan said the majority of weapons systems acquisition programs that GAO reviewed proceeded with insufficient knowledge at critical junctures. He advised developers and program managers to deliver a preliminary design of proposed weapons systems based on robust systems engineering processes before committing to development.

“Failure to capture key product knowledge can lead to problems that eventually cascade and become magnified throughout product development and production,” Sullivan said. 

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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