Defense Acquisition:

Best Commercial Practices Can Improve Program Outcomes

T-NSIAD-99-116: Published: Mar 17, 1999. Publicly Released: Mar 17, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the best practices that can improve the way the Department of Defense (DOD) buys major weapon systems.

GAO noted that: (1) on the basis of the work GAO has done over the past 3 years, GAO believes the best practices of leading commercial firms can be used to improve the development of technology and weapon systems in DOD; (2) knowledge standards that are rigorously applied, coupled with the practice of keeping technology development separate from product development, stand out as key factors in the most successful commercial examples; (3) these practices have put managers in the best position to succeed in developing better products in less time and producing them within estimated costs; (4) DOD programs, with some exceptions, proceed with lower levels of knowledge available about key factors of product development; (5) DOD allows technology development to take place during product development; (6) these practices put DOD program managers in a much more difficult position to deliver better weapons more quickly and within cost projections; (7) getting better outcomes on weapon systems programs will take more than attempting to graft commercial best practices onto the existing acquisition process; (8) there are underlying reasons and incentives for why such practices are not a natural part of how weapon systems are bought; (9) environmental factors encourage lower standards of knowledge and the acceptance of higher, but unrecognized, risks; (10) what GAO offers to help the adoption of best practices is not a cookbook recipe, but a series of actions aimed at fostering an environment in DOD that encourages or rewards such practices; and (11) these actions will put managers of DOD programs in a better position to succeed, for GAO believes they are as informed and capable as their commercial counterparts.

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