Schedule Best Practices Provide Opportunity to Enhance Missile Defense Agency Accountability and Program Execution

GAO-12-720R: Published: Jul 19, 2012. Publicly Released: Jul 19, 2012.

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What GAO Found

Based on our analysis, none of the five MDA schedules we reviewed fully met all nine of the schedule best practices, including the practice of capturing all activities. The schedules were inconsistent in meeting best practices, and some had major deficiencies. These results are significant because a reliable schedule is one key factor that indicates a program is likely to achieve its planned outcomes. Our analysis suggests that estimated time frames and costs of these programs are either not reliable or the program is missing information that could make it more efficient. The MDA schedule results are similar to those of other agencies that GAO has analyzed. We are recommending actions that would better ensure compliance with schedule best practices for the five programs reviewed as well as for the long-term MDA program. The Department of Defense (DOD) concurred with our recommendations.

Why GAO Did This Study

During the course of our annual assessment of the Missile Defense Agency’s (MDA) ongoing cost, schedule, testing and performance progress for the Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS), we performed a detailed analysis comparing the schedules for five MDA programs—the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA, Aegis Ashore, Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD), Precision Tracking Space System (PTSS), and the Targets and Countermeasures Extended Medium-Range Ballistic Missile (eMRBM) target—to best practices GAO has identified for schedule development. We did not report on this detailed analysis, which has implications for transparency and accountability of MDA programs, in the April 2012 review; instead, we are providing in this report (1) the results of how the MDA program schedules compare to the nine best practices and (2) a summary of how these MDA program results compare to the results of analysis GAO has conducted of program schedules in other agencies. During our review, management officials for the MDA programs we reviewed expressed a willingness to learn from best practices for scheduling and identified steps they were already taking to address deficiencies we identified. We selected the five MDA programs based on recent congressional interest, program budget and trends, program phase, value to other programs or GAO work, and program variety. Four of the five programs we reviewed had schedules owned and maintained by contractors rather than by the government. Of the five programs we selected, only Aegis Ashore, which does not have a prime contractor, maintained a government schedule. In addition, we were unable to conduct the analysis on GMD’s prime contract due to technical difficulties with the software used to maintain the program schedule and therefore, selected a different GMD contract that includes an upcoming flight test and post-test analysis for this program. Finally, PTSS was in early stages of development at the time of our review, which affected the program’s ability to develop its schedule.

For more information, contact Cristina Chaplain at (202) 512-4841 or chaplainc@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On March 6, 2014 MDA established the Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) Scheduling Policy, MDA Directive 5012.01, to provide direction to all MDA program and functional managers to improve their compliance with scheduling best practices. This policy is based on scheduling best practices as outlined in GAO's Schedule Assessment Guide and it references the recommendations outlined in GAO-12-720R. While our recommendation highlights specific MDA programs, current or former, this newly established policy applies to all MDA programs. MDA plans to issue an accompanying manual that provides specific direction to all of its program and functional managers on how to ensure that scheduling is aligned with schedule best practices, as outlined in GAO's Schedule Assessment Guide. At the time of this review, we have not been provided a draft or final version of the manual to assess. However, the establishment of the scheduling policy that applies to all programs is a significant step and implements our recommendation to create such direction. Therefore, in the future, we will be able to determine whether MDA's programs are improving their compliance with schedule best practices, as now directed by MDA policy.

    Recommendation: To improve the transparency and needed accountability over the BMDS over the near and long term, the Director of MDA should, for the near term, direct the SM-3 Block IIA, Aegis Ashore, GMD, PTSS, and eMRBM programs to improve their compliance with the schedule best practices as outlined in GAO's Schedule Assessment Guide.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Office of the Secretary of Defense: Missile Defense Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2012, as a part of our annual assessment of the Missile Defense Agency's (MDA) cost, schedule, testing, and performance progress, we found that none of the MDA programs we reviewed fully met all of the scheduling best practices, including the first best practice of capturing all activities, government and contractor, in an integrated master schedule for the life of the program. For example, many of the programs' schedules we reviewed did not capture all activities as they were owned and maintained by contractors rather than the government, were limited to a specific contract and inconsistent across programs and contractors. As a result, the estimated timeframes and costs for these programs were either unreliable or missing information that could make them more efficient. A schedule's reliability is a key factor in determining whether a program will achieve its planned outcomes because it provides a roadmap for program execution, a means to gauge progress and identify and address potential problems, and promote accountability. The failure to fully meet the first best practice raises uncertainties about how well a schedule meets other best practices, such as whether activities are sequenced in the correct order and reflect the resources needed to accomplish the work. Consequently, we recommended, for the near-term, that the Director of MDA direct programs to improve their compliance with the schedule best practices as outlined in GAO's Schedule Assessment Guide, and, for the long-term, develop a plan and direction to ensure best practices are applied to its programs' schedules. On July 20, 2015, in response to our long-term recommendation, the Director of MDA issued a manual, MDA 5012.01-M, to provide programs detailed direction to ensure their schedules adhere to MDA's policy which aligns with schedule best practices as outlined in GAO's Schedule Assessment Guide. For example, the manual defines concepts, identifies processes and techniques to use, and establishes tasks, milestones, and reviews that must be included when developing and maintaining schedules. Consequently, this manual, along with the previously established policy, has transitioned MDA's scheduling practices from disjointed to integrated, providing insight and oversight of all BMDS programs.

    Recommendation: To improve the transparency and needed accountability over the BMDS over the near and long term, the Director of MDA should, for the long term, develop a plan, including direction to program offices to develop and maintain integrated master schedules that reflect both government and contractor activities, to ensure that best practices are applied to those schedules as outlined in GAO's Schedule Assessment Guide.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Office of the Secretary of Defense: Missile Defense Agency

 

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