GAO reveals recipe for DOD programs success

The Government Accountability Office reviewed several Defense Department programs and found how officials established the successful ones

Here’s the Government Accountability Office’s recipe for creating successful programs: a mix of high-ranking officials’ support and proactive managers poured over sound a business case.

GAO officials reviewed several Defense Department programs and found officials established the successful ones with sound, knowledge-based business cases before moving forward. Then they carried them out with discipline, according to a May 6 report.

To reach their goals, the programs need strong support from a department’s senior leaders and disciplined program managers who know how to get good results, GAO wrote. In addition, the managers of the successful programs had some similar traits that helped them in making smart decisions. They tended to share key attributes, such as experience and a part of stable leadership for the program as well as good communication skills. These attributes brought about an open and honest discussion about major decisions, according to GAO.

Having built their programs on a solid business case, the managers then took incremental approaches in their purchasing, and they used mature technologies, instead of the undeveloped, cutting-edge technologies. They also lived by realistic cost and schedule estimates that accounted for the risk associated with their programs’ work. The managers invested in planning early on, and they made trade-offs between meeting their needs and using the available resources, according to the report.

As important, after getting approval for their programs, the managers resisted the temptation of adding new requirements, GAO wrote.

“These practices are in contrast to prevailing pressures to force programs to compete for funds by exaggerating achievable capabilities, underestimating costs and assuming optimistic delivery dates,” GAO wrote.

GAO added that cultural and environmental forces in DOD work against sound management practices. “These forces encourage programs to pursue overly ambitious requirements and lengthy development efforts, and to move forward with risky and unexecutable acquisition strategies,” the report states.

A panel of members from the House Armed Services Committee found similar results.

For example, “obtaining consistent, realistic requirements as a basis for the acquisition process is a critical problem in the defense acquisition system,” the panel wrote in its report on defense acquisition reforms, which was released in March.

The panel said the Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System, for instance, which governs requirements in weapons systems acquisitions, can’t prioritize well, and doesn’t understand the costs and trade-offs inherent in establishing a project’s requirements. The panel also found the system failing to monitor the expansion of the requirements as the project moves along, according to the report. The panel’s findings played a major role in the IMPROVE Acquisition Act (H.R. 5013), which the House passed April 29.

With the defense acquisition reforms since 2009, GAO believes now could be time to see changes in DOD’s culture.

“The opportunity to achieve meaningful improvements may now be at hand,” GAO wrote.


About the Author

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


  • IT Modernization
    shutterstock image By enzozo; photo ID: 319763930

    OMB provides key guidance for TMF proposals amid surge in submissions

    Deputy Federal CIO Maria Roat details what makes for a winning Technology Modernization Fund proposal as agencies continue to submit major IT projects for potential funding.

  • gears and money (zaozaa19/

    Worries from a Democrat about the Biden administration and federal procurement

    Steve Kelman is concerned that the push for more spending with small disadvantaged businesses will detract from the goal of getting the best deal for agencies and taxpayers.

Stay Connected