DOD Needs An Innovation Strategy

GAO commends Pentagon for weapon prototypes, but more innovation is needed.

The Defense Department invests around $70 billion a year in weapon system research. While prototyping proves to be beneficial, innovation strategies can be improved, according to a report issued June 27 by the Government Accountability Office. 

DOD prototypes its major defense acquisition programs to reduce technical risk, assess integration challenges, validate designs, mature technologies and refine performance requirements. Of the 22 programs GAO reviewed, 17 used prototyping before system development, which did provide information on technology maturity, design concepts, costs and achievability. 

GAO also found DOD is developing new initiatives outside major defense acquisition programs to increase prototyping and innovation, but the initiatives are challenged with limited and competitive funding, a risk-averse culture and competing priorities. Prototyping is benefiting DOD acquisition programs, but GAO found “more can be done to support innovation initiatives.”

GAO pulled from private sector key innovation practices to offer four recommendations that can improve its innovation:

  1. Implement an innovation strategy: Develop a high-level departmentwide strategy to communicate strategic goals and priorities, and define roles and responsibilities for prototyping and innovation initiatives.

  2. Align investments with innovation goals: Adopt a “strategic bucket” approach, which allocates resources to different types of projects based on the DOD-wide strategy to coordinate innovation investments.

In terms of DOD research, development, test and evaluation budget activities:

      3. Protect funding for riskier projects: Expand the community of interest working groups to include budget activity for technology transition-related funds used for prototyping and innovation initiatives.

      4. Adopt a more strategic approach for funding prototyping efforts: Review budget activity to maintain a level of investment for innovation efforts consistent with the DOD-wide strategy.

According to the report, DOD has agreed with the recommendations and is currently working on developing such a strategy consistent with the report findings.