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Research Questions

  1. What kinds of acquisition data does the Department of Defense (DoD) have?
  2. What information systems does DoD use to manage acquisition data?
  3. Given that DoD is not alone in having to manage large amounts of data, what can it learn from the practices in the commercial sector?

Acquisition data and information are the foundation for decisionmaking, management, and oversight of weapon-system acquisition programs. They are critical to initiatives to improve defense acquisition, such as Better Buying Power. The Department of Defense as a whole gathers a wide variety of acquisition information and stores it in multiple, sometimes incompatible systems, most of which are built for reporting, not analysis. Large businesses have similar problems, and the concept of master data management may have lessons for both. The authors review 21 key acquisition-related data information systems and their origins and uses, and identify how acquisition data might be improved. They also summarize background on acquisition data; review commercial practices in data management; and offer findings and recommendations to further improve acquisition data quality, access, and use.

Key Findings

The DoD Collects a Wide Variety of Acquisition Data and Information in Different Information Systems and Formats

  • Some of the data collected include weapon-system costs (both procurement and operations), technical performance, contracts and contractor performance, and program decision memoranda.
  • Reasons for collection vary from statutory requirements, to regulation, to policy.

Acquisition Information Resides in Multiple Systems at the Federal Level and at Different Levels of DoD

  • It is located in both informal, decentralized locations and formal, centralized locations (e.g., information systems).
  • For each information system, there can be barriers to use, both internally and in working with other systems.
  • Most information systems are built for reporting, not analysis.

The Private Sector Struggles with Similar Problems

  • Many companies have inaccurate or incomplete critical data or lack confidence in their own data.
  • Master data management offers lessons for enterprises — and may offer insights to DoD as well.


  • Formalize a DoD data governance function to improve monitoring and use of acquisition tools; determine the process and structure for controlling, planning, monitoring, and managing acquisition data.
  • DoD should seek to further improve the quality and analytic value of its data. One way to improve analytic value is to require all new systems to have user and data entry guides and data dictionaries that describe data elements and their sources.
  • DoD collects both unstructured and structured data. Both are valuable, but the latter allow such things as metatags, algorithms, and menus that can help improve analytical capability.
  • Continue to develop internal capabilities to use and improve acquisition data among the acquisition workforce. This will help DoD better understand what data are collected, should be collected, and how data can best inform decisionmaking.

This research was sponsored by the Acquisition Resources and Analysis (ARA) Directorate within the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics and was conducted within the Acquisition and Technology Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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