Walker: DOD programs plagued by immature technology

The Army has moved major programs forward despite a lack of critical technologies, a problem that causes delays and cost overruns and sometimes makes it impossible to provide service members with capabilities they need, according to David Walker, comptroller general at the Government Accountability Office.

The programs were based on unrealistic expectations and suffer from a lack of accountability and oversight, Walker said.

Information technology systems, such as the Future Combat System and the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, were among the many programs that Walker identified as being ahead of their core technologies.

Walker detailed his criticisms in writing on Dec. 21 in response to questions posed by the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. He had testified before the subcommittee on Sept. 7.

DOD should separate technology development from system development to reduce risks, Walker said. Programs with immature technology see cost growth averaging 35 percent, compared to 5 percent cost growth in programs with mature technologies, he noted.

For the Future Combat Systems program, the Army has decided to proceed to the System Development and Demonstration phase even though more than 75 percent of its critical technology element is immature.

FCS should not have been advanced to this stage in violation of DOD policy, Walker wrote. DOD should limit financing of FCS products and production until the design is completed, he suggested. At that point, DOD should decide whether to go ahead with the project, he added.

Walker also said the Army is too dependent on its lead systems integrator (LSI), risking conflicts of interest and weakening oversight. Boeing was given the lead role through a nonstandard contracting tool that is not subject to the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR).

“The Army’s reliance on a LSI suggests that the FCS is so ambitious in scope, complexity and schedule that it exceeded the Army’s own ability to effectively manage such a complex program,” he wrote.

The Army’s Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, is another victim of immature technology development, Walker stated. DOD approved system development in 2003 when only three of 12 needed technologies were ready.

WIN-T’s mobile communications technologies, such as antennas and radios, have lagged, causing delays in the overall communications piece of FCS, which WIN-T was supposed to support. Reciprocally, the Army did not define FCS networking requirements well, hurting WIN-T development.

Overall, the Army’s schedule for WIN-T was tightly interpreted, allowing no room for error, Walker stated. Also, the ambitious all-or-nothing approach of WIN-T caused a gap for warfighters using legacy communications systems, he said.

“If the Army had followed DOD’s acquisition policy preferences, it might have been able to get needed communications capabilities to the warfighter sooner,” Walker wrote. DOD must take an incremental, evolutionary approach to avoid such gaps in the future, he added.

In 2004, DOD circumvented the acquisitions process to purchase and field the Joint Network Node-Network for ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Several existing Army contracts totaling over $1.5 billion was used to purchase JNN-N, including money from the WIN-T program.

Overall, shifting requirements in long-term programs is the biggest obstacle to acquisitions success at DOD, according to Walker. “Fundamentally, DOD will need to re-examine the entirety of its acquisition process and how it is affected by requirements and funding processes,” he wrote.

Recently passed legislation requires DOD to certify that technology is mature before Congress approves system development. The law is too new to gauge results, according to Walker.

GAO did not seek comments from DOD because Walker’s answers were based on prior reports, Walker wrote in a letter to the committee chairs.

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