In a report released late last week, the General Accountability Office (GAO) said that manufacturing problems are a significant factor in weapon systems’ cost increases, schedule difficulties, and performance problems.  Much of the cost growth, according to GAO, occurs when programs transition from development to production, but unit-cost increases are also common during production.  DoD, according to the report, does not identify and fix management risks early enough in development and as a result these risks are carried into production.  GAO did acknowledge that DoD has made some improvements through policy changes and encouraging the use of best practices in development.  But, the report emphasized that to ensure better cost control and production timeliness DoD must find better ways to “identify manufacturing risks early and manage them effectively throughout a product’s development life cycle.”  At the request of the Senate Armed Services (SASC) Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, GAO reviewed DoD’s efforts to utilize manufacturing readiness levels (MRLs) to improve managing manufacturing risk throughout the acquisition process.  MRLs measure the maturity of manufacturing processes or the readiness of a particular technology by focusing on producibility and utilizing strict measures to determine if a program is ready to move forward.  GAO analyses of DoD’s technical reviews showed that use of MLRs has proven helpful in addressing gaps in manufacturing areas and has led to cost benefits in Army and Air Force pilot programs.  However, GAO criticized the slow pace of DoD’s move to adopt a policy requiring the use of MRLs throughout DoD.  GAO recommended that DoD:  1) require all programs to asses manufacturing readiness using MRLs; 2) look at strengthening MRL criteria involving process capability and control; 3) evaluate tools used to support assessments; and 4) assess workforce knowledge and skill gaps and develop a plan to address these gaps.