GAO: DOD needs better process improvement management

Call to strengthen efforts meant to improve processes related to the development, acquisition, and engineering of software and systems

The Defense Department needs better management of its work to improve processes for the development, acquisition, and engineering of software and systems, congressional investigators have said.

In a new report, the Government Accountability Office found the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) and the military departments had not met all statutory requirements meant to improve processes for acquiring software-intensive systems. However, GAO did give the military credit for having satisfied some of the statutory requirements.

The requirements come from the law that authorized defense programs for fiscal 2003. GAO performed a performance audit from December 2008 to September to determine the extent that DOD had met the law’s process improvement requirements and the effects of the department’s efforts.

According to GAO, such process improvement efforts – named software and systems process improvement (SSPI) programs – can have a positive effect on the quality and cost of programs involving software-intensive system acquisition and development.

GAO said the effects of SSPI efforts could be significant for DOD because of the size and significance of many of the department’s programs. The department is expected to invest $357 billion in major acquisition programs, including largely software-intensive weapons systems, over the next five years, GAO said.

Meanwhile, in addition to not having satisfied all of the statutory requirements, OSD and military departments hadn’t fully satisfied key aspects of relevant guidance for SSPI programs to meant to measure the effects of the efforts.

“As a result, DOD does not know whether it is meeting organizational SSPI goals and achieving desired institutional outcomes, and thus whether program changes are warranted,” GAO’s report states. “Given that studies by us and others continue to identify weaknesses in DOD’s implementation of key software and systems development and acquisition process areas, the department has yet to realize the full potential of an effectively and efficiently managed corporate approach to SSPI.”

GAO recommended that DOD and military departments jointly:

  • Develop a DOD-wide strategic plan to ensure that statutory requirements and the relevant guidance are met.
  • Periodically report to the congressional defense committees on progress in putting the plan in place and the effects of doing so.

In response to a draft of the report, DOD said the report was insightful and important. The department partially concurred with both recommendations.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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