Cover: Management Perspectives Pertaining to Root Cause Analyses of Nunn-McCurdy Breaches, Volume 4

Management Perspectives Pertaining to Root Cause Analyses of Nunn-McCurdy Breaches, Volume 4

Program Manager Tenure, Oversight of Acquisition Category II Programs, and Framing Assumptions

Published Oct 3, 2013

by Mark V. Arena, Irv Blickstein, Abby Doll, Jeffrey A. Drezner, James G. Kallimani, Jennifer Kavanagh, Daniel F. McCaffrey, Megan McKernan, Charles Nemfakos, Rena Rudavsky, et al.


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Research Questions

  1. Has program manager tenure lengthened since policy guidance to encourage longer tenures was issued in 2005 and 2007?
  2. Should additional guidance for acquisition category II (ACAT II) programs be mandated?
  3. Can identification of key assumptions, so-called "framing assumptions," be a useful risk management tool?

Concern with cost overruns in major defense acquisition programs led Congress to direct investigation of the root causes of overruns in programs that have breached Nunn-McCurdy thresholds. The authors calculate program manager tenure to determine whether tenures have lengthened since policy guidance was issued in 2005 and 2007. They also address the question of whether existing decentralized systems used to track the cost growth and performance of acquisition category II programs are sufficient or whether additional centralized guidance and control from the Office of the Secretary of Defense are warranted. A third question deals with the management of cost and schedule risk and whether the identification of key assumptions, which the authors call framing assumptions, could be a useful risk management tool.

Key Findings

It Is Unclear Whether Program Manager Tenure Lengthened After the Federal Guidelines Were Issued

  • There were too many incomplete tenure periods within the time period examined to help answer the question of whether program manager tenure has lengthened.
  • Analysis of closed periods shows that tenure averaged 33 months, longer than the 17.2 months the Government Accountability Office found in 2007.

ACAT II Programs Do Not Need Additional Reporting and Control Requirements

  • At present, ACAT II programs perform reasonably well once they have entered production and perform at least as well as major defense acquisition programs, which have rigorous centralized oversight.
  • Twelve ACAT II programs were investigated and only three warrant significant concern.
  • Most program cost growth appears to result from a downward revision in procurement quantities.
  • Adding new reporting requirements would place additional burdens on programs that already have much to do.

It Remains to Be Seen Whether the Use of Framing Assumptions Can Be Useful in Managing Risk

  • To be useful as a management tool, framing assumptions should be kept at a high level and not focus on minutiae.
  • Framing assumptions may change or new ones emerge as a program moves through the acquisition process.
  • For mature programs, identifying a core set of framing assumptions is more complicated because of the wealth of, and potentially conflicting, information.
  • It is possible to define framing assumptions and apply them to programs that are in their early stages.


  • The authors recommend that acquisition category II (ACAT II) programs not be subjected to additional guidance at this time.
  • ACAT II programs should be monitored continually to ensure that their performance remains acceptable.
  • Future work should be undertaken to examine framing assumptions in a broader range of programs.
  • Including data on the tenure agreements between program managers and acquisition executives, along with the Precepts for the Promotion Boards in the Navy and similar processes in the other services, would provide a richer analysis of this topic.

The research described in this report was prepared for the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). The research was conducted within the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by OSD, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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