The Department of Defense (DoD) must overcome unintended incentives in the acquisition process that cause deviations from sound practice, according to the General Accountability Office (GAO).

Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) this week, Paul Francis, GAO’s Managing Director, Acquisition and Sourcing Management, said DOD must “look differently at the familiar outcomes of weapon systems acquisition.” The hearing was held to address “Defense Acquisitions: Where should reform aim next?”

Francis praised the Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform Act and DoD’s Better Buying Power 2.0 for their promotion of sound business practices in the acquisition process, especially in the areas of realistic cost estimating, prototyping, and systems engineering. But, he cautioned that recent reforms “still face implementation challenges and have not yet been institutionalized within the services.”

He stressed that reforms to “methodological procedures” provide only partial remedies. Rather, he said DoD should address undesirable outcomes (such as continued cost growth, schedule delays, and reduced buying power) that are often “encouraged by the incentive structure.”

Francis said GAO recommends that DoD focus the next steps of acquisition reform in four areas that it describes not as “all-encompassing,” but as “practical places to start.”

Reinforce desired principles at the start of new program—“The highest point of leverage is at the start of a new program.”

Identify and resource significant risks up front—“If the risks are acknowledged and accepted by DoD and Congress, the program should be supported.”

Align budget and program decisions—“Ways to have budget decisions follow program decisions should be explored, without sacrificing the discipline of establishing long-term affordability.”

Attract and train acquisition staff and management –“We must also think about supporting people below the program manager who are also instrumental to program outcomes, including engineers, contracting officers, cost analysts, testers, and logisticians.”