GAO Faults Navy Agency's IT Acquisition Process

The General Accounting Office has found that a Navy agency is regularly buying large numbers of information technology systems in the early stages of contracts and before the systems have completed testing.

GAO leveled the criticism against the Navy's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command in its Aug. 7 report, "Defense Acquisitions: Actions to Improve Navy SPAWAR Low-Rate Initial Production Decisions." Purchasing quantities of systems before operational testing increases the likelihood of costly fixes and retrofits, the report said.

The report said SPAWAR argued that fleet demands for IT improvements drove the action: "Officials in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations said the fleet would rather have an information system with 75 to 80 percent capability than to wait until SPAWAR completes all necessary testing to ensure a system will meet all of its capability."

The SPAWAR commander also told GAO that these purchases are "generally considered low risk when they involve proven commercial technology and are low-cost items ? compared to ships and aircraft."

But the early procurement led to significant problems. The report found that of the eight systems it examined where purchases of significant quantities happened in the low-rate phase "all had performance problems, all had interoperability problems, and six had suitability problems."

The GAO found the naval office has taken steps to address the problem, including a standardized process as part of the review and approval of purchase requests for new technology. SPAWAR also established an Acquisition Reform Office to provide information on lessons learned and process improvements.

SPAWAR also agreed with GAO to provide better risk management guidance for information systems, and to improve documenting, justifying and reporting low-rate initial production decisions.

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