Army Networks:

Size and Scope of Modernization Investment Merit Increased Oversight

GAO-13-179: Published: Jan 10, 2013. Publicly Released: Jan 10, 2013.

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Belva M. Martin
(202) 512-4285
MartinB@gao.gov

 

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What GAO Found

The Army has taken a number of steps to begin executing its network strategy and agile process, including establishing a baseline network architecture for Army communications. The Army's agile process involves seven phases and three decision points to allow officials to quickly evaluate emerging networking technologies to determine if they address capability gaps and can be deployed to the field. However, the network strategy is still evolving and the Army has not yet executed one full cycle of the agile process. The Army's strategy addresses some aspects of cost, technology maturity, security, and readiness, but as implementation is still under way, data for assessing progress are not available at this time. Nevertheless, the Army is beginning to spend billions of dollars netting together dozens of disparate systems to form a network that is intended to enhance warfighter effectiveness and survivability. Specifically, the Army has identified that over $3 billion will be needed each year on an indefinite basis for investments in networking capabilities, potentially making it one of the Army's most costly investments. To help determine that technologies meet prescribed levels of technical maturity, the Army has established a laboratory-based screening process for evaluating technologies, and those that show promise move to evaluations in a realistic environment with soldiers and testers. To help provide security and information assurance, the Army is working with contractors and the National Security Agency to obtain appropriate certifications prior to fielding new networking technologies. Furthermore, the Army is attempting to align the procurement and fielding of networking systems with the relatively fixed schedules for equipping and training units before they are deployed. The challenge will be to ensure that the equipment being sent to the field has been thoroughly demonstrated and that fielding decisions are not made solely to accommodate deployment cycles.

The overall scope and cost of the Army’s new network strategy, as well as other factors unique to the strategy, present significant risks and challenges and deserve high-level oversight attention by both the Army and the Department of Defense (DOD). For example, the Army wants to field smaller quantities with greater frequency to be able to take advantage of new and improved capabilities as they become available, thus avoiding long-term procurements of outdated technology and potentially helping to realize savings in development, testing, and maintenance costs. However, the Army is still weighing funding and contracting options that would allow it to accomplish this goal while adhering to established acquisition and budget processes that may require long lead time to acquire these technologies. DOD guidance calls for measuring actual contributions of information technology portfolios, which includes the Army network, against established outcome-based performance measures to determine improved capability and allow for adjustments in the mix of portfolio investments. Senior DOD officials provided extensive input on the soundness of individual network components and the schedule for fielding equipment and have offered that future evaluations in an operational environment present a good opportunity to evaluate the overall performance of the network. However, the Army and DOD have not yet fully defined quantifiable network performance measures or plans to periodically review and evaluate the actual effectiveness of new Army network capabilities. Inadequate oversight of the portfolio could put the investment at risk. Finally, budget justification and other planning materials for network equipment—over 50 research and development and procurement budget elements—are not organized to provide insight into the budget for and affordability of the entire network. Given the magnitude and financial commitment envisioned, a consolidated reporting and budgeting framework could yield more consistency and clarity in the justifications for Army network initiatives and facilitate congressional oversight.

Why GAO Did This Study

For nearly 20 years, the Army has had limited success in developing an information network--sensors, software, and radios--to give soldiers the exact information they need, when they need it, in any environment. Such a network is expected to improve situational awareness and decision making in combat. Under its network modernization strategy, the Army is implementing a new agile process intended to leverage industry technology solutions. The Army estimates that it will require about $3.8 billion in fiscal 2013. As requested, this report addresses the extent to which (1) the Army's network strategy and agile process addresses cost, technology maturity, security, and readiness; and (2) the Army's strategy faces other risks and challenges. To conduct this work, GAO analyzed key documents, observed testing activities, and interviewed acquisition officials.

What GAO Recommends

To help ensure adequate oversight, GAO recommends that the Secretary of Defense (1) define quantifiable outcome-based performance metrics for network equipment; (2) develop a plan for future network evaluations to determine if those measures have been met; and (3) evaluate fielded network performance and make recommendations for adjustments, as necessary. GAO also recommends that the Secretary of Defense consolidate Army tactical network budget elements and justifications into a single area of the Army budget submittal. DOD generally concurred with these recommendations and stated that it has initiated actions to address several of the challenges identified in the report.

For more information, contact Belva M. Martin at (202) 512-4841 or martinb@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with and has implemented the recommendation with the caveat that the complexity of the NIE will change in the future and so the outcome-based performance measures will change accordingly. On September 8, 2013, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics issued a memorandum for the Secretary of the Army on the recommendations of the subject report. Having reviewed the recommendations, the Under Secretary found that they make good business sense. Accordingly, he directed the Secretary to provide a plan of execution within 60 days that defines an appropriate set of quantifiable, outcome-based performance measures. Army briefing slides from a March 2014 Network Integration Evaluation Review indicate that the Army has already identified key technical indicators that have caused issues in recent operational testing of network systems and it has proposed instrumentation to facilitate data gathering within the test brigade. The Army is establishing quantitative high-level system-of-system technical metrics that will indicate general health of the network and that can be plotted over multiple test events to show how the network is improving. The Army plans to use Network Integration Evaluation 14.2, which ended in May 2014, as a pilot to provide initial network metrics. It will then use Network Integration Evaluation 15.1, scheduled for October and November of 2014, to establish a baseline of measurements for the current network design.

    Recommendation: In order to enhance oversight of Army network initiatives by the Army, DOD, and Congress, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to define an appropriate set of quantifiable outcome-based performance measures to evaluate the actual contributions of capability set 13 and future components under the network portfolio.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with and implemented the recommendation with the caveat that NIEs are not static events and will address different capability gaps in the network portfolio over time. DOD agreed to develop and implement a plan for future NIEs to provide the necessary information and insights to determine if the performance measures will be addressed over time. In the September 8, 2013 memorandum, the Under Secretary stated that the performance measures will be used to evaluate the actual contributions of Capability Sets to the overall tactical network architecture. He added that the plan will include steps to provide necessary information and insights from future NIEs and other venues to determine if those performance measures are being met. Army briefing slides from a March 2014 Network Integration Evaluation Review outlines the Army's plan for improving evaluations in order to assess the network against established performance measures. As a part of that plan, the Army has identified high-level technical indicators on system-of-systems network performance, identified the top 25 metrics correlated most with network operational capability, and proposed instrumentation to facilitate data gathering within the test brigade. The Army plans to use Network Integration Evaluation 14.2, completed in May 2014, as a pilot to provide initial network metrics. It will then use Network Integration Evaluation 15.1, planned for October and November 2014, to establish a baseline set of measurements for the current network design.

    Recommendation: In order to enhance oversight of Army network initiatives by the Army, DOD, and Congress, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to develop and implement a plan for future Network Integration Evaluations to provide the necessary information and insights to determine if those performance measures have been met.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with and implemented the recommendation, stating that there is currently not an oversight body for system of system oversight. However, DOD agreed that an OSD-level oversight body needs to be identified and chartered to review the progress of the Army system of system NIEs which will provide oversight of the NIEs and inform the acquisition and budget processes. In the September 8, 2013 memorandum, the Under Secretary of Defense directed the Secretary of the Army to provide, within 90 days, the necessary network architecture and performance objectives and identify program deliverables on the tactical network and a description of how these individual network programs are managed as a portfolio. He also directed the Secretary to present an annual review and report on this effort starting in the second quarter of fiscal year 2014. He added that these reviews will not duplicate existing oversight of Programs of Record at the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) or Service level but will provide oversight of the tactical network portfolio and focus on how the Army is meeting tactical network objectives and identifying areas for future investments and of significant risk. He also directed the Army to develop quantifiable, outcome-based performance measures that will be used to evaluate the actual contributions of capability sets to the overall tactical networking architecture. In addition, March 2014 Network Integration Evaluation Review briefing slides indicate that NIEs will be used to determine what proposed capabilities were unable to do...in other words, a determination as to whether the gap was fully addressed. Further, he designated the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Communications, Command, Control, Cyber, and Business, in coordination with the OSD Chief Information Officer, to lead this oversight effort on his behalf. In this lead role, DASD(C3CB) will maintain an active partnership with the Army leading up to the next annual update to the Defense Acquisition Executive.

    Recommendation: As additional information is provided, the Secretary of Defense should identify an oversight body to determine how capability set 13--as fielded in operational units--has actually impacted overall network performance, capability gaps, and essential network capabilities and make recommendations for adjustments, as may be necessary.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with the recommendation, again stating that there is currently not an oversight body for system of system oversight. DOD agreed that an OSD level oversight body needs to be identified and chartered to review the progress of the Army system of system NIEs which will provide oversight of the NIEs and inform the acquisition and budget processes. DOD also agreed to work with the Army on efforts in support of the Army to maintain industry support and participation in its network initiatives. Although he did not provide additional details, the Under Secretary's memorandum stated that the annual reviews will provide oversight of the tactical network portfolio and focus on how the Army is meeting tactical network objectives and identifying areas for future investments and of significant risk.

    Recommendation: As additional information is provided, the Secretary of Defense should identify an oversight body to determine how well the Army is rapidly fielding mature and militarily useful network capabilities to its operating forces and maintaining robust industry participation in the process.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  5. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with the recommendation and initial efforts are underway to clarify and better organize the Army tactical network budget elements and justifications. For example, the Army has consolidated network related programs within the same Budget Activity for its procurement and RDT&E budget requests for fiscal year 2015. The Army may take additional actions in response to this recommendation in the future. In the September 8, 2013 memorandum, the Under Secretary directed the Secretary to provide, within 60 days, a progress update of the Army's plan to consolidate tactical network budget elements and justifications into a single area of the Army budget to improve OSD and congressional oversight of the Army's tactical network initiatives.

    Recommendation: To facilitate congressional oversight of the overall affordability of this important Army initiative, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to consolidate tactical network budget elements and justifications into a single area of the Army budget submittal.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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