Defense Acquisition:

DOD Should Clarify Requirements for Assessing and Documenting Technical-Data Needs

GAO-11-469: Published: May 11, 2011. Publicly Released: Jun 10, 2011.

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Some of the Department of Defense's (DOD) weapon systems remain in the inventory for decades. Therefore, decisions that program officials make during the acquisition process to acquire or not acquire rights to technical data, which may cost $1 billion, can have far-reaching implications for DOD's ability to sustain and competitively procure parts and services for those systems. DOD needs access to technical data to control costs, maintain flexibility in acquisition and sustainment, and maintain and operate systems. In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the extent to which: (1) DOD has updated its acquisition and procurement policies to reflect a 2007 law and 2006 GAO recommendations; (2) selected acquisition programs adhered to requirements to document technical-data needs; and (3) DOD took actions to improve technical-data decisions by program managers. GAO interviewed DOD officials, reviewed acquisition strategies and acquisition plans from 12 programs, and compared those documents to relevant DOD policies.

DOD updated its acquisition and procurement policies to require that acquisition program managers document their long-term technical-data needs in a manner that reflects a 2007 law and GAO's 2006 recommendations. Together these policies require documentation of: (1) an assessment of technical-data requirements, (2) the merits of a "priced-contract option" that enables DOD to obtain additional technical data that it did not acquire in its initial contract, (3) the contractor's responsibility to verify its assertions of limits to DOD's ability to use the technical data, and (4) the potential for changes in the system's sustainment plan. According to DOD officials, these policy updates do not require changes to the way program managers assess technical-data needs. Sampled acquisition programs partially addressed the four updated technical-data-documentation requirements. Ten of the 12 programs GAO reviewed addressed at least 1 of the 4 requirements in their acquisition strategies and acquisition plans; however, none of the programs addressed all 4 of the requirements. Specifically, 9 of the 12 strategies documented an assessment of their technical-data requirements. For example, the strategy for a Navy communications system stated that the program planned to obtain technical data and associated rights to sustain the system over its life cycle and allow for competitive procurement of future systems. In contrast, 3 of the 12 strategies documented the contractor's responsibility to verify its assertions of limits to DOD's ability to use the technical data. Each of the three strategies noted that the program planned to include a clause in its contracts that identifies the contractor's responsibilities. DOD has issued guides--that are voluntary for the program managers to use--to improve technical-data decision-making. These guides may help program managers with decisions and documentation on technical data. However, DOD technical-data policies remain unclear. Effective internal controls help organizations implement their directives. GAO found that, because DOD has not issued clarifications to its policy, DOD policies that require documentation of long-term technical-data needs are unclear. As a result, acquisition strategies have not always documented required information on technical data--a point the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics recently emphasized. Because of the ambiguity in the policies, DOD's ability to implement effective internal control over those policies is limited. Moreover, DOD recently added a requirement that program managers conduct a business-case analysis for systems' long-term technical-data needs. However, DOD has not issued policy or other internal controls that describe how to conduct this analysis. GAO has previously reported that the military services inconsistently completed similar business-case analyses because DOD had not issued instructions on how to conduct them. Without instructions that describe how to conduct the business-case analysis, senior acquisition decision makers may not receive the information they need to decide whether to approve programs at major milestones in the acquisition process. GAO recommends that DOD (1) update policies to clarify its technical-data documentation requirements and (2) instruct program managers on the elements to include and the information to report for technical-data business-case analyses. DOD concurred with GAO's recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In May 2011, GAO reported that a sample of acquisition programs partially addressed four technical-data-documentation requirements. We also reported that DOD had issued guides--that are voluntary for program managers to use--to improve technical-data decision making. Despite these voluntary guides, DOD technical-data policies remained unclear. As a result, program managers had not always documented required information on technical data in acquisition strategies. We therefore recommended that DOD clarify requirements for documenting long-term technical-data requirements in program acquisition strategies and acquisition plans. In December 2011, DOD issued the "Open Systems Architecture Contract Guidebook for Program Managers." This guidebook provides direction that program managers may voluntarily choose to follow as they develop their technical-data strategies and it is therefore a positive step. However, as was the case for guidebooks in place at the time of our 2011 report, program managers are not required to follow this guidebook. In November 2013, DOD issued an interim acquisition policy that modified technical data requirements, however the new policy does not clarify the information that program managers are required to document in acquisition strategies.

    Recommendation: To establish effective internal controls over technical-data policies that improve DOD's ability to efficiently and cost-effectively acquire and sustain weapon systems over their life cycles, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics to issue updates to the acquisition and procurement policies that clarify requirements for documenting long-term technical-data requirements in program acquisition strategies and acquisition plans. Among other things, DOD should clarify the level and type of detail required for acquiring technical data and technical-data rights that should be included in acquisition strategies and acquisition plans.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In May 2011, GAO reported that a sample of acquisition programs partially addressed four technical-data-documentation requirements. We also reported that DOD added a requirement that program managers conduct a business-case analysis for systems' long-term technical-data needs. However, DOD had not issued policy or other internal controls that described how to conduct this analysis. In 2008, we reported that the military services inconsistently completed similar business-case analyses because DOD had not issued instructions in policy on how to conduct them. Because OSD has not issued policy instructing program managers on how to conduct and document the analyses, program managers may conduct incomplete or inconsistent analyses and report inconsistently on important elements of the analyses and findings. Similar to the situations we described in our 2008 report, program managers may not include key required elements of business-case analyses, such as assumptions, feasible alternatives, and costs and benefits that support their technical-data decisions. We therefore recommended that DOD issue instructions for program managers to use when conducting business-case analyses that are part of the process for determining the levels and types of technical data and technical-data rights needed to sustain DOD's systems. In August 2011, DOD issued the "Open Systems Architecture /Data Rights Business Case Analysis Guide & Templates," which is a positive step that is consistent with GAO's recommendation. However, this guidebook did not include required instructions for program managers to use when conducting business-case analyses for determining the technical data needed to sustain DOD's systems. In November 2013, DOD issued an interim acquisition policy, however the new policy does not include required instructions for program managers to use when conducting business-case analyses for determining the technical data needs.

    Recommendation: To establish effective internal controls over technical-data policies that improve DOD's ability to efficiently and cost-effectively acquire and sustain weapon systems over their life cycles, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics to issue instructions for program managers to use when conducting business-case analyses that are part of the process for determining the levels and types of technical data and technical-data rights needed to sustain DOD's systems. The instructions should identify the elements to be included in the analyses and the types of information to be documented in reports on the analyses.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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