GAO: Top-level support makes for better buys

The Defense Department’s strategies to improve purchasing decisions rest on support from the department’s leaders, not only on officials' policies, according to the Government Accountability Office.

DOD plans to start new practices to give program managers more incentives and support as the department tries to improve what and how it buys, including major weapons systems.

DOD has problems with its purchases, Michael Sullivan, GAO’s director of acquisition and sourcing management, wrote in a Nov. 9 letter to several congressional committees, including appropriations panels. DOD begins more programs than it can afford and rarely prioritizes a program for funding purposes, he wrote. The department also allows programs to start without formal business cases or clearly defined requirements, Sullivan added.

Meanwhile, DOD officials have established a policy that requires formal agreements among program managers, their acquisition executives and others in the procurement process on setting up common goals for their programs, Sullivan wrote.

DOD also plans to open opportunities for managers to share their knowledge and insights. Officials intend to develop mentoring programs and management forums, including Webcasts for program managers, Sullivan wrote.

DOD’s plans could lead to better managers and acquisition outcomes, he wrote.

However, improving performance by program managers hinges on these initiatives, and they rely on officials' support.

Officials’ plans are useless unless there’s agreement among the officers developing acquisition requirements; the comptroller; the undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics and the military services, Sullivan wrote.

“If history is any judge, the overall environment within which program managers perform their work is very difficult to change simply with policy initiatives,” he also wrote.

About the Author

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

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