Key Issues > National Defense and Space System Acquisitions
defense icon, source: [West Covina, California] Progressive Management, 2008

National Defense and Space System Acquisitions

Federal agencies, such as the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, face significant challenges in managing their largest acquisitions.

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The federal government’s annual budget for developing and acquiring major defense, homeland security, and space systems is about $90 billion. These systems include fighter aircraft and submarines, electronic baggage screening equipment, and telescopes intended to explore the universe – each of which will cost billions of dollars to acquire.

Managing complex, major system acquisitions has been a long-standing challenge for the federal government. Systems often cost more and take longer to develop and produce than originally planned, which forces agencies to request more funding to complete them, make trade-offs among programs, defer other priorities, or cancel programs after significant amounts of money have already been spent.

Federal agencies can reduce risk on major system acquisitions by focusing on several areas:

  • Setting realistic requirements and holding them stable by conducting early systems engineering analysis of requirements, working closely with industry to ensure requirements are clearly defined, and making trade-offs as necessary.
  • Establishing reliable cost and schedule estimates that reflect best practices and are based on high levels of knowledge about program attributes, such as its requirements and the technology needed to meet them.
  • Acquiring key product knowledge before moving forward bydemonstrating the maturity of critical technologies, completeness and performance of the design, and predictability of manufacturing processes by key points in the acquisition process.
  • Maintaining stable program funding by balancing investments in major systems with available funding and making decisions to reduce the number of programs if funding needs outstrip an agency’s projected resources.
  • Developing strong program managers who are experienced, willing to engage in direct and candid communication, and empowered to make good decisions.
Looking for our recommendations? Click on any report to find each associated recommendation and its current implementation status.

Homeland Security:

DHS Requires More Disciplined Investment Management to Help Meet Mission Needs
GAO-12-833:
Published: Sep 18, 2012. Publicly Released: Sep 19, 2012.

GAO Schedule Assessment Guide:

Best Practices for Project Schedules—Exposure Draft
GAO-12-120G:
Published: May 30, 2012. Publicly Released: May 30, 2012.

Defense Acquisitions:

Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs
GAO-12-400SP:
Published: Mar 29, 2012. Publicly Released: Mar 29, 2012.

NASA:

Assessments of Selected Large-Scale Projects
GAO-12-207SP:
Published: Mar 1, 2012. Publicly Released: Mar 1, 2012.

GAO Cost Estimating and Assessment Guide:

Best Practices for Developing and Managing Capital Program Costs (Supersedes GAO-07-1134SP)
GAO-09-3SP:
Published: Mar 2, 2009. Publicly Released: Mar 2, 2009.

More Reports

NASA:

Assessments of Selected Large-Scale Projects
GAO-14-338SP:
Published: Apr 15, 2014. Publicly Released: Apr 15, 2014.

Presidential Helicopter Acquisition:

Update on Program's Progress toward Development Start
GAO-14-358R:
Published: Apr 10, 2014. Publicly Released: Apr 10, 2014.

Missile Defense:

Mixed Progress in Achieving Acquisition Goals and Improving Accountability
GAO-14-481T:
Published: Apr 2, 2014. Publicly Released: Apr 2, 2014.

Missile Defense:

Mixed Progress in Achieving Acquisition Goals and Improving Accountability
GAO-14-351:
Published: Apr 1, 2014. Publicly Released: Apr 1, 2014.

Defense Acquisitions:

Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs
GAO-14-340SP:
Published: Mar 31, 2014. Publicly Released: Mar 31, 2014.

Major Automated Information Systems:

Selected Defense Programs Need to Implement Key Acquisition Practices
GAO-14-309:
Published: Mar 27, 2014. Publicly Released: Mar 27, 2014.

Regional Missile Defense:

DOD's Report Provided Limited Information; Assessment of Acquisition Risks is Optimistic
GAO-14-248R:
Published: Mar 14, 2014. Publicly Released: Mar 14, 2014.

Space Acquisitions:

Acquisition Management Continues to Improve but Challenges Persist for Current and Future Programs
GAO-14-382T:
Published: Mar 12, 2014. Publicly Released: Mar 12, 2014.

Defense Health Care:

Acquisition Process for TRICARE's Third Generation of Managed Care Support Contracts
GAO-14-195:
Published: Mar 7, 2014. Publicly Released: Mar 7, 2014.

Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle:

Introducing Competition into National Security Space Launch Acquisitions
GAO-14-259T:
Published: Mar 5, 2014. Publicly Released: Mar 5, 2014.
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  • portrait of Cristina Chaplain
    • Cristina Chaplain
    • Director, Acquisition and Sourcing Management
    • chaplainc@gao.gov
    • (202) 512-4841
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    • John Hutton
    • Director, Acquisition and Sourcing Management
    • huttonj@gao.gov
    • (202) 512-4841
  • portrait of Mike Sullivan
    • Mike Sullivan
    • Director, Acquisition and Sourcing Management
    • sullivanm@gao.gov
    • 202-512-4841