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Commercial Quality Assurance Practices Offer Improvements for DOD

NSIAD-96-162: Published: Aug 26, 1996. Publicly Released: Aug 26, 1996.

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GAO reviewed the Department of Defense's (DOD) quality assurance practices, focusing on: (1) the problems that DOD has had in improving such practices; (2) private-sector practices that could be beneficial to DOD; and (3) DOD efforts to improve its quality assurance activities.

GAO found that: (1) DOD spends more than $1.5 billion annually to support its quality assurance activities; (2) manufacturing and quality problems have contributed to cost and schedule overruns on DOD weapons systems programs; (3) DOD acquisition programs have experienced quality problems during the production phase due to incomplete weapon designs; (4) DOD is relying on unstable designs and inspections to rework the defects in its B-2 bomber and C-17 Airlifter programs; (5) a number of successful commercial manufacturers are improving the quality of their products, while reducing their oversight and inspection costs; (6) commercial manufacturers have broadened their definition of quality assurance, by changing it from a postmanufacturing step done at the end of each process to being part of the process itself; (7) DOD began in the early 1990s to implement a method of moving away from inspection-oriented quality assurance practices and toward process control; (8) DOD is developing a plan to reduce the costs of redundant quality assurance processes; (9) the plan will allow DOD contractors to use a single quality management system based on process controls for all DOD contracts; and (10) DOD could enhance its quality management system by encouraging defense contractors to use more advanced commercial techniques and quality assurance practices.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should: (1) establish measurable steps to implement and monitor the progress of the Defense/Industry Quality Liaison Panel plan closely; (2) periodically assess its success in implementing basic standards such as ISO-9000; (3) develop ways to encourage the adoption of advanced quality concepts of design for manufacturing, process controls, and supplier quality programs throughout the defense industry, using commercial practices as a guide; and (4) as suggested in the plan, establish incentives for defense contractors to participate, such as providing credit during source selection for successful implementation of these advanced quality practices. Such selection criteria could also provide world-class companies greater opportunities to participate in the DOD weapons acquisition programs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department has instituted various changes in line with the report's recommendations to: (1) establish measurable steps to implement and monitor progress of the Quality Panel's plan; (2) periodically assess success in implementing basic standards such as ISO-9000; (3) develop ways to encourage the adoption of advanced quality concepts of design for manufacturing, process controls, and supplier quality programs; and (4) as suggested in the plan, establish incentives for defense contractors to participate.

    Recommendation: To assist DOD in changing its own quality assurance culture, the Secretary of Defense should expeditiously determine who in the DOD acquisition community can best oversee the advanced quality functions used by defense contractors in developing and producing weapon systems, using commercial practices as a guide in assigning these functions, and provide all necessary training for any new responsibilities that DOD personnel need to perform.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to DUSD (A&T) officials, quality assurance oversight will likely remain the responsibility of the Defense Contract Management Command (DCMC). However, they stated that DCMC should be reorganized to carry out these responsibilities more effectively and in line with the commercial practices GAO found.

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