Army, FCS integrator relationship troubles GAO

Role of Lead Systems Integrator on Future Combat Systems Program Poses Oversight Challenges (.pdf)

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Defense Secretary Robert Gates should play a greater role in overseeing the development of the Army’s Future Combat Systems (FCS) program, and Pentagon leaders should ask themselves what lessons can be learned from running complex weapons programs with the help of a large defense contractor, according to a Government Accountability Office report released today.

The Army picked Boeing as a lead systems integrator to help develop FCS in 2003, arguing that the service lacks the staff and technical expertise to manage the multibillion-dollar program on its own.

As envisioned by the Army, FCS encompasses a family of manned and unmanned vehicles and systems connected by an advanced network. Since its inception, the program has become synonymous with the Army’s effort to transform into a modular, more agile force.

In recent years, schedule slips and burgeoning cost estimates have plagued the program.

According to GAO, the close working relationship between the Army and Boeing in managing FCS makes government oversight for the program difficult. “Depending on the closeness of the working relationship, the government can become increasingly vested in the results of shared decisions and runs the risk of being less able to provide oversight...especially when the government is disadvantaged in terms of workforce and skills,” the auditors wrote.

In his response on a draft version of the GAO report, a Pentagon official called the Army’s relationship with Boeing “typical of a prime contract for a major system.”

Defense officials concurred with GAO’s recommendation that the Office of the Secretary of Defense assert independent markers to judge program progress in the areas of cost, technological maturity, design maturity and production maturity, saying Pentagon acquisition policies are already being reworked to that effect.

In addition, they wrote, members of the high-powered Defense Acquisition Board are expected to deliberate a number of critical assessments to gauge FCS progress. These include a technology readiness assessment, an independent cost estimate and a system engineering assessment, according to the Pentagon’s written response to the GAO report.

Kenneth Krieg, outgoing undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, logistics and technology, is chairman of the Defense Acquisition Board. The panel’s next meeting on FCS is scheduled for June 13.

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