Defense IT

DOD's major IT projects fail to set baselines, GAO says

A majority of large Defense Department IT projects reviewed by the Government Accountability Office failed to establish baselines within two years of starting the project, which undercuts the ability to measure projects’ progress against cost, schedule, and performance targets.

GAO audited 20 major automated information systems, or MAIS, programs, and found that only eight had established their baselines requirements within two years, as recommended by the Defense Science Board, according to GAO’s report. Those eight, on average, established their baselines within one year and two months, while spending $33.9 million. The 12 projects that didn’t meet the two-year target took, on average, five years and two months while spending about $452 million before establishing baselines.

“Until programs establish their cost and schedule baselines within 2 years, they may continue to spend hundreds of millions of dollars with limited oversight and accountability,” the report said.

A lack of established baselines leads to less oversight of a project and an inability to measure progress GAO said. “Also, the propensity to carry out MAIS programs for multiple years prior to committing to baselines is inconsistent with incremental and rapid development as called for in federal law, Office of Management and Budget guidance, and a Defense Science Board recommendation,” the report said.

The two-year target goes back to March 2009, after the Defense Science Board determined that DOD’s acquisition process was too slow. In order to keep up with the fast pace of changes in the IT industry, the board recommended a new acquisition model that breaks projects down to smaller increments, each with a smaller subset of targeted capabilities, and a cycle that gives program managers two years to set their cost and schedule baselines. The smaller increments reduce risk and improve the chances of meeting performance goals. “Thus a program that requires more than 2 years to commit to a cost and schedule baseline is likely too large and complex and could benefit from being divided into smaller increments,” GAO’s report said.

Programs that set their baselines early, on the other hand, were better able to control costs. The Navy’s Distributed Common Ground System – Increment 1, for instance, took 13 months and spent about $51 million before setting its baselines. The Air Force’s Base Information Transport Infrastructure Wired program, known as BTI Wired, spent only five months and $4 million to establish its baselines.  

Despite 12 of the programs falling short in setting baselines, GAO did note that the incremental acquisition process was showing some positive results. More than half of the 20 projects reviewed are either on pace or planned to meet targets for full deployment, at least in part because of that incremental approach.

For example, Army’s Integrated Personnel and Pay System - Increment 2, a massive human resources systems that will serve more than 1 million service members, is on track to meet its targets for risk management, requirements development and project planning, GAO found. The Navy’s Distributed Common Ground System - Increment 2 has fully implemented risk management and is on track for the other two categories.

Other projects displaying best practices in those categories include the Air Force’s Joint Space Operations Center Mission System - Increment 2 and the Army’s Logistics Modernization Program - Increment 2.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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