Cover: Issues with Access to Acquisition Information in the Department of Defense

Issues with Access to Acquisition Information in the Department of Defense

A Series on Considerations for Managing Program Data in the Emerging Acquisition Environment

Published Feb 6, 2020

by Jeffrey A. Drezner, Megan McKernan, Jerry M. Sollinger, Sydne J. Newberry


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Research Questions

  1. What are some of the issues and challenges related to managing and governing acquisition program information in the emerging acquisition environment?
  2. What decisions related to acquisition data must DoD make as it implements recent statutory changes to authorities, responsibilities, and organizational structure?

Acquisition program data help drive effective and efficient policy formulation, decisionmaking, and program execution across the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). Despite recent statutory changes to organizational structures, as well as to roles, responsibilities, and authorities (RRAs) of the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) and military departments, OSD still needs key program data to inform policymaking and enable analysis critical for understanding acquisition processes and performance. For example, program data are still needed to conduct portfolio analyses and understand the performance of individual acquisition pathways and the overall acquisition system in order to improve acquisition policy design and outcomes.

The authors outline issues and opportunities in data requirements, governance, and management to strive for more efficient, effective, and informed acquisition while reducing burden and ad hoc data requests. They address general data governance and management challenges, as well as specific challenges associated with the Middle Tier of Acquisition (MTA) for rapid prototyping and rapid fielding, the Selected Acquisition Report (SAR), and the Defense Acquisition Executive Summary (DAES) process and data. A rich set of information currently supports the acquisition community. While there is no agreement on all data needs and definitions, the underlying data used for program management, oversight/insight, decisionmaking, and analysis are similar across DoD.

Key Findings

Middle Tier acquisition has not addressed and resolved many of the challenges affecting traditional acquisition processes in the past.

  • USD(A&S) and service guidance memoranda do not resolve exactly what data are to be reported for a middle tier "program," at what frequency, and how.
  • Service guidance memoranda reflect a lack of standardization across organizations in terms of what should be reported, relying instead on tailoring data reporting to reflect the characteristics of each program.
  • The objective of the Middle Tier pathway is speed. There is a risk that the process could become overburdened by reporting requirements, slowing it down.

The SAR and the DAES represent a common data framework for ACAT I programs, and recent initiatives in the services suggest that the framework is being applied to the ACAT II–IV programs

  • Elimination of this information source by Congress will, in turn, eliminate many of the benefits that have accrued from its use over time.
  • Of particular concern is the potential loss of common data standards and definitions for measuring program performance.
  • Without this common data framework, institutionalized over decades, the military departments' performance measurements may drift over time, leading to significant confusion and inefficiencies, a reduced ability to integrate business practices across DoD, and reduced transparency.

Key stakeholders that provide data inputs (e.g., functional-area assessments in OSD) now report to different organizations

  • Those officials may prioritize or formulate data needs differently, potentially creating a misalignment between R&E and A&S data requirements and data management.


Drawing on prior and ongoing research, we make several recommendations for using data to improve acquisition system performance:

  • Let decisionmaking drive data requirements. Data must not be generated for their own sake but must support important decisionmaking about policy, process, programs, and integrated capability outcomes. To start, we recommend that the USD(A&S) identify data requirements by specifying acquisition use cases that must be supported across the Department. Those use cases could be formalized along with data governance roles in an enterprise-wide acquisition data strategy.
  • Minimize reporting requirements and costs more generally. For a given use case, we recommend that information and documentation requirements should be austere, with minimal data reporting. Historically, successful rapid prototyping and fielding activities have had austere information requirements. Guidance appears to recognize this by emphasizing tailoring.
  • Align and standardize where possible. We recommend that emerging strategic, policy, and process for acquisition be supported by a common acquisition data framework. USD(A&S) should leverage the existing acquisition visibility data framework (AVDF) that reflects the legacy SAR and DAES data operations, provides a strong foundation from which to evolve, and has enabled rapid implementation of the MTA pathway. Similarly, we recommend that DoD work with Congress to withdraw termination of the SAR until an appropriate substitute is developed.
  • Capitalize on existing structures. One way to minimize costs and burdens (including ad hoc data calls) is by leveraging existing data frameworks, systems, and organizations, especially when such data are shared automatically between the Office of USD(A&S) and Component systems.

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and conducted within the Acquisition and Technology Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute.

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