Cover: Tailoring the Acquisition Process in the U.S. Department of Defense

Tailoring the Acquisition Process in the U.S. Department of Defense

Published Jun 16, 2015

by Megan McKernan, Jeffrey A. Drezner, Jerry M. Sollinger


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Research Questions

  1. Is tailoring practical and possible?
  2. What are the constraints that make tailoring a challenge?
  3. Are there examples of tailoring that demonstrate its usefulness and feasibility?
  4. What set of skills or resources needs to be available to program managers for tailoring to be successful?
  5. What other conditions need to exist for tailoring to be effective?

Regulations and guidance have permitted tailoring of the acquisition process as one of many ways in which the acquisition workforce can more efficiently achieve program objectives. Tailoring is frequently mentioned in regulations and guidance. Policy allows, and even encourages, program managers to customize regulation-based reviews, processes, and information requirements to accommodate the unique characteristics of a program while still meeting the regulations' intent for appropriate decision criteria and oversight processes. The extent to which programs take advantage of opportunities to tailor processes and documentation is not clear, but anecdotal evidence suggests that tailoring is more difficult in practice than guidance suggests. Widespread use of tailoring appears to be constrained by a variety of factors inherent in defense acquisition. The exploratory research reported here reviewed the literature and conducted interviews within the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the RAND Corporation to determine whether this policy area would benefit from additional in-depth research.

Key Findings

Tailoring Is Practical and Possible

  • Tailoring is both practical and possible, but institutional obstacles make it more difficult than it needs to be.

Tailoring Is Constrained by Certain Organizational Behaviors and Characteristics

  • Interviewees from the Office of the Secretary of Defense indicated that various bureaucratic characteristics, such as high turnover among senior leaders, weak support for tailoring, and weak incentives and structures, constrain tailoring. Also education and training are important so the workforce knows how to tailor acquisition procedures. Tailoring requires a workforce that thinks critically about acquisition issues and understands the acquisition process in great detail.

Tailoring Has Been Applied Positively to Acquisition Programs

  • For the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle program, schedule was a major driver. In this case, streamlining or tailoring appeared to be a useful tool.
  • Command Post of the Future also used tailoring as part of its strategy to transition the system from Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to the Army and then scale the system to be fielded quickly across the Army.
  • The Presidential Helicopter Replacement Program considered a tailored strategy because technology already existed from a canceled acquisition program.

Program Managers Need Certain Skills and Circumstances to Make Tailoring Succeed

  • Program managers require strong, sustained support from senior leadership, among the services, and from the Office of the Secretary of Defense; strong planning skills; a workforce of people who can and do think critically; the right timing in a program's life cycle; codification and reinforcement of tailoring; and better tailoring of acquisition documentation.


  • Future work on tailoring could include detailed case studies on acquisition programs that have successfully used tailoring, an explicit framework that links specific programmatic characteristics with a range of possible tailoring options, best practices on how to tailor and how to get the right level of tailoring, and a methodology for measuring the results of tailoring.
  • Any of these efforts would require a balanced review of tailoring at both the oversight level and the execution level in the services, which should be collected in part by interviews at the service level.

This research 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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