Spawar skips testing

Actions to Improve Navy SPAWAR Low-Rate Initial Production Decisions

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The Navy's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command regularly rolls out large portions of information systems in the early stages of contracts before those systems have been properly tested, the General Accounting Office reported.

Spawar buys and fields the equipment so the fleet can have new information systems as soon as possible, according to a GAO report released earlier this month. But a review of several of the systems found that six had experienced operational problems that hurt the fleet, the report stated. The problem arises from Spawar buying and rolling out information technology systems in relatively large quantities — sometimes exceeding 50 percent of the total inventory — at the early stage of a program before completing operational testing, the report said. This practice "has inherent risks, and Spawar's practice of buying high percentages of a system's total inventory objective during low-rate initial production raised these risk concerns," GAO said.

The main purpose of low-rate initial production is to produce enough units for operational testing and evaluation and to establish production capabilities for full-rate production. "Limited initial production affords the opportunity to confirm the stability and soundness of a new system before producing larger quantities," GAO auditors wrote in the report "Defense Acquisitions: Actions to Improve Navy Spawar Low-Rate Initial Production Decisions."

GAO reviewed eight of the 21 deployed Spawar programs with a high percentage of low-rate initial production quantities and found that "all had performance problems, all had interoperability problems and six had suitability problems," the report said.

The report quotes Navy officials as saying that it is important to get information systems into action sooner rather than later. "Officials in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations said the fleet would rather have an information system with 75 to 80 percent capability than to wait until Spawar completes all necessary testing to ensure a system will meet all of its capability," the report said.

"The Spawar commander noted that the high percentage reflects the desire to quickly field information systems to keep up with rapid advances in technology," the report said. Furthermore, the Spawar commander told GAO that those purchases are considered low-risk because they use proven commercial technologies and are relatively low-cost items when compared with the cost of ships and aircraft.

Spawar and the Navy have taken steps to assess the risk of projects and provide greater discipline in buying procedures. For instance, Spawar officials now require program managers to use a standardized checklist and report template as part of reviewing and approving low-rate initial production purchase requests.

"The GAO investigation and report were helpful to Spawar in taking an objective look at the command's [low-rate initial production] acquisition strategy," Spawar spokesman Richard Williamson said. "Spawar will continue to move as rapidly as possible to deploy advanced command, control, communications and information technology to the fleet" to ensure that the fleet has the equipment necessary for success.

About the Author

Christopher J. Dorobek is the co-anchor of Federal News Radio’s afternoon drive program, The Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, and the founder, publisher and editor of the DorobekInsider.com, a leading blog for the Federal IT community.

Dorobek joined Federal News Radio in 2008 with 16 years of experience covering government issues with an emphasis on government information technology. Prior to joining Federal News Radio, Dorobek was editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week, the leading news magazine for government IT decision-makers and the flagship of the 1105 Government Information Group portfolio of publications. As editor-in-chief, Dorobek served as a member of the senior leadership team at 1105 Government Information Group, providing daily editorial direction and management for FCW magazine, FCW.com, Government Health IT and its other editorial products.

Dorobek joined FCW in 2001 as a senior reporter and assumed increasing responsibilities, becoming managing editor and executive editor before being named editor-in-chief in 2006. Prior to joining FCW, Dorobek was a technology reporter at PlanetGov.com, one of the first online community centers for current and former government employees. He also spent five years at Government Computer News, another leading industry publication, covering a variety of federal IT-related issues.

Dorobek is a frequent speaker on issues involving the government IT industry, and has appeared as a frequent contributor to NewsChannel 8’s Federal News Today program. He began his career as a reporter at the Foster’s Daily Democrat, a daily newspaper in Dover, N.H. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California. He lives in Washington, DC.


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