'Limited' progress made on the Pentagon's plan to deliver real-time acquisition data, report says

Yuichiro Chino / Getty Images

The Government Accountability Office found that the Defense Department's efforts to move to a new more automated, web-based reporting system have been limited despite plans to adopt a new system by fiscal 2022.

Congress wants a real-time reporting system to keep tabs on the billions of dollars the Pentagon spends on everything from weapons to business systems. But little progress has been made on bringing that system to life and there are several questions around how the Defense Department will deliver it, according to a recent watchdog report

The Government Accountability Office found that the Defense Department's efforts to move to a new more automated, web-based reporting system so Congress could get real-time data on what it buys have been limited even though it originally planned to adopt a new system by fiscal 2022, which started last October. 

For nearly 50 years, Congress has used the selected acquisitions report to keep tabs on defense spending, but ordered it to sunset after fiscal 2021. The Pentagon submitted a proposal in October 2020 on an alternative reporting structure that would be less cumbersome and more automated, using data extraction tools, particularly through the DOD's data analytics platform called ADVANA.

"The ability of Congress to oversee DOD's more than $1.8 trillion acquisition portfolio is fundamental to ensuring the acquisition system is responsive to warfighter needs and taxpayer investments," the GAO wrote in a letter to congressional defense committee leaders.

That oversight imperative appeared to be supported by the  2020 revamp of DOD procurement policies with the Adaptive Acquisition Framework, which provides pathways to guide certain purchases, such as with software. 

DOD's original proposal, which builds on other DOD-wide initiatives like improving data transparency, stipulated that ADVANA would deliver automated acquisition data for all of the Adaptive Acquisition Framework pathways starting in fiscal 2022 when the technology was mature enough to handle real-time data reporting. But the plan didn't say when that would be. 

"We found that DOD's initial planning for its proposed approach did not fully address the leading practices that our past work has shown support successful agency reforms, including practices associated with implementation planning," the report states.

The GAO wrote that there were still "open questions" about implementation, including which programs will be reported on, what criteria will be used, and how Congress will access the data – especially as the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act requires detailed plans on how to replace the selected acquisitions reporting system.

The GAO recommended the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment "fully implements leading reform practices in the area of leadership focus and attention while developing the reporting system that will replace the selected acquisition report requirements." 

That includes creating a dedicated implementation team with the staffing and resources to manage the reform process. The watchdog organization also recommended DOD develop an implementation plan with key milestones and deliverables.