Urgent Warfighter Needs:

Opportunities Exist to Expedite Development and Fielding of Joint Capabilities

GAO-12-385: Published: Apr 24, 2012. Publicly Released: Apr 24, 2012.

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What GAO Found

A majority of the initiatives GAO reviewed (26 of 30) met, or expected to meet, the Department of Defense’s (DOD) expectation for fielding a capability in response to joint urgent operational needs within 2 years. However, performance in meeting schedule estimates varied, and more than half of the initiatives experienced schedule delays.

Initiatives leveraged three types of solutions: (1) off-the-shelf products, (2) modifications of off-the-shelf items to add capabilities, and (3) products requiring technology development. Off-the-shelf solutions should be fielded the quickest because existing products are being bought. However, while off-the-shelf solutions were fielded quickly once a contract was awarded, it took longer than the two other types to identify, fund, and contract for off-the-shelf solutions. In addition to the program offices that manage traditional acquisition programs, initiatives were also managed by research laboratories and engineering centers, such as the Army Research Laboratory or the Naval Surface Warfare Center. Program offices fielded solutions faster, in part, because program offices are experienced in the full range of acquisition activities. Also, laboratories and engineering centers depended on funding provided by other organizations and delays in receiving this funding affected the start of some initiatives.

Acquisition organizations employed various practices to overcome challenges affecting fielding of capabilities within short time frames. For example, although these practices could affect the prices paid, shorter times were associated with using existing contracts, awarding contracts without agreeing on contract terms (prices), or awarding contracts without competition. U.S. Central Command officials stated that they were not aware of all initiatives underway or the expected schedule for fielding capabilities and this could affect planning activities. In some cases, initiative decision memorandums were prepared that documented schedule estimates but such memorandums are not required for all initiatives. Also, some organizations were proactive in communicating with U.S. Central Command and this facilitated a clearer understanding of requirements and plans for fielding initiatives, but regular communication is not required.

Why GAO Did This Study

With the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, DOD has had to accelerate efforts to field capabilities addressing urgent warfighter needs, including joint needs affecting more than one service. GAO was asked to assess (1) how quickly capabilities responding to joint urgent operational needs have been developed and fielded and (2) what key practices enabled executing organizations to overcome challenges. To do this, GAO studied a sample of joint urgent operational needs including all urgent needs over $100 million approved from April 2008 through December 2010 and a random selection of smaller urgent needs. GAO analyzed data on key events and issues in the development and fielding of solutions and met with service and DOD officials responsible for validating, assigning, and executing joint urgent needs.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that DOD reduce the time spent on identifying and contracting for off-the-shelf solutions, devise methods for providing early funding to research laboratories and engineering centers, require that initiative decision memorandums be prepared for all initiatives, and require acquisition organizations to communicate with the Central Command and other combatant commands about plans for fielding capabilities. DOD concurred with these recommendations.

For more information, contact Michael J. Sullivan at (202) 512-4163 or sullivanm@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Defense (DOD) issued policy document, Department of Defense Directive 5000.71 issued on August 24, 2012, that establishes a senior level warfighter integration group to facilitate an agile and rapid response to combatant commander urgent needs, and facilitate resolution of other warfighter needs. The policy establishes a framework for addressing key areas of recommendations made in GAO report 12-385. In response to the recommendation that the SecDef expedite fielding of off-the-shelf solutions by reducing the time it takes to identify the solution and awards a contract, Directive 5000.71 directs the DOD Components to "establish supporting policies and procedures...for the expeditious identification, submission, evaluation, validation and resolution of urgent needs and provide visibility to the warfigher integration group of their efforts to resolve urgent needs." The Components are further directed to use "all available authorities to fund, develop, assess, produce, operate, and sustain urgent need capabilities expeditiously." The DOD believes the Directive provides the impetus for expediting fielding of all solutions to include off-the-shelf solutions and more specifically reduce the time it takes to identify a solution and award a contract.

    Recommendation: To improve the process for responding to joint urgent operational needs, the Secretary of Defense should expedite fielding of off-the-shelf solutions by reducing the time it takes to identify the solution and award a contract.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: In its May 2013 response to the Congress, the Department of Defense (DOD) noted that funding of a reimbursable organization is a special case of the general situation associated with funding action to fulfill a joint urgent operational need (JUON). Appropriation of funds into the JUON fund, established in title 10 U.S.C., section 2216a, would enable the Department to provide resources to reimbursable organizations that are assigned action to fulfill JUONs. DOD states that it will continue to advocate for appropriations established in title 10, U.S.C., section 2216a. Policy considerations associated with capital funds will be considered by the Department and Service Comptrollers to determine if additional policy is needed to ensure such funds can be used to support the fulfillment of JUONs. The Department assessed two approaches to accomplishing the action recommended by the GAO: (1) providing direction to the acquisition community through a new Department Issuance or (2) including the requirement in a revision to an existing policy. In order to ensure a comprehensive approach to this and other recommendations of the GAO, it was determined that new policy should be incorporated into the existing policy describing the operation of the DAS.

    Recommendation: To improve the process for responding to joint urgent operational needs, the Secretary of Defense should devise methods for providing early funding to reimbursable organizations tasked to execute joint urgent needs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Defense (DOD) issued policy document, Department of Defense Directive 5000.71 issued on August 24, 2012, that establishes the senior integration group which serves as the forum for ensuring that combatant commands are kept abreast of the status of progress in executing their initiatives and plans for fielding capabilities. In addition, the directive directs the Joint Rapid Acquisition Cell to "Maintain visibility of DOD Component efforts to satisfy urgent needs and informs the senior integration group of the status of joint and emerging urgent need funding, contracting, delivery, performance, training, fielding, sustainment, and/or other issues affecting timely fulfillment. In addition, the Department provides that the Secretaries of the Military Departments are directed to "provide visibility to the senior warfighter integration group of all strategies developed and actions taken in response to validated urgent needs. These meetings occur with weekly working group meetings that include the appropriate combatant command representatives occurring even more often. The Department stated that "As a practical matter, Service acquisition activities routinely post the statuses of their initiatives on a SharePoint site managed by the Joint Rapid Acquisition Cell and used by the warfighter senior integration group secretariat to brief senior leaders at the meetings.

    Recommendation: To improve the process for responding to joint urgent operational needs, the Secretary of Defense should require acquisition organizations to communicate with the combatant commands, such as Central Command, regularly about progress in executing initiatives and plans for fielding capabilities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its May 2013 reponse to Congress, the Department of Defense (DOD) agreed that documentation of such initiative decisions is required to ensure a well regulated process. To this end, the Department noted that it established a common standard for identifying the urgent operational needs in the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Instruction (CJSCI) 3170.01H, an instruction that provides the framework for documenting joint capabilities to include documents that drive the development, procurement, and fielding of solutions for urgent needs. The Department reports it will continue to use this common approach to ensure responsibility through all phases until disposition of the urgent need.

    Recommendation: To improve the process for responding to joint urgent operational needs, the Secretary of Defense should require that an initiative decision memorandum be developed for all initiatives that identifies the acquisition organization responsible for the initiative, schedule estimates, and expectations for acquisition strategies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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