The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress. Often called the “congressional watchdog,” GAO investigates how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars. The head of GAO, the Comptroller General of the United States, is appointed to a 15-year term by the President from a slate of candidates Congress proposes.
“The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommended the Department of Defense take notes from eight innovation-award-winning companies, in its latest report released Wednesday.
The DoD formally rejected all of GAO’s recommendations, either outright dismissing the advice or instead opting to look within its existing programs to improve their S&T strategy.
GAO studied portfolio management from Amazon, Dow Chemical, Honeywell, General Motors, IBM, Qualcomm, Siemens AG, and Valvoline after recognizing that innovation leaders have shifted towards the commercial.
“Recently, DoD’s leadership role in fostering innovation has been supplanted by the commercial sector,” Michael J. Sullivan, director of acquisition and sourcing management, wrote in the report. “This has changed DoD’s approach to technology development by relying more on commercial innovation.”
DoD did recognize several ways it could reevaluate investments and achieve better efficiency — especially in light of the two years it takes for a project to move from proposal to funding. Meanwhile, GAO reported the eight top innovation companies take their projects from planning to execution in the same year. DoD officials stipulated the long government process supplies Congress with the information and time to maintain oversight and make decisions with the taxpayer in mind.
GAO studied leading companies’ methods of innovation and research—their general strategies as well stand-out individual practices—and assessed these for their ability to be implemented into the DoD’s own science and technology (S&T) innovation system. Sullivan categorized general company investments into two groupings: incremental and disruptive. Incremental technology development features a short-term outlook and often updates existing technology while disruptive technology development seeks to innovate in the long term and is often riskier.
According to GAO, S&T officials said “DOD labs face pressures to prioritize near-term requirements at the expense of potentially disruptive technologies.”
This is, in part, because the DoD does not differentiate between the two types of development and the riskier investments often get the short end of the stick. After assessing eight innovation leaders, GAO recommended the new USD(R&E) better define and strategize the incremental and disruptive developments and emulate the investment priorities that commercial companies employ.
GAO recognized one exception: the Navy, which organizes their S&T budget to allow for long-term innovation. In June 2017, the GAO said it recommended the DoD to adopt a strategy similar to the Navy.
GAO also advised the DoD the fully take advantage of its flexibility under the Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009, which allowed for military departments to side-step the two-year delay in programming for specific projects and up to three percent of the S&T budget for their department. According to DoD officials, the full amount had not been taken advantage of because of competing budget interests.
GAO finally recommended the DoD create a framework that promotes advanced prototyping of disruptive technologies within the labs to generate demand from acquisition programs by proving the technology’s effectiveness.
The department [Pentagon] argued that any advice given before the position of under secretary of defense for research and engineering is stood up in February 2018 is premature.”