GAO: Army network strategy poses significant risks, challenges that need oversight

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As the Army begins to spend billions of dollars integrating dozens of disparate systems into a single tactical network, the service's strategy presents significant risks and challenges requiring high-level oversight attention by both the Army and the Defense Department, according to a Jan. 10 report (.pdf) from the Government Accountability Office.

The Army network strategy is a "huge transformational effort that will affect all aspects of Army operations" and inadequate oversight could put the service's significant investment at risk, says the GAO.  The integration is one of the service's most costly investments, with more than $3 billion needed annually on an indefinite basis to fund the fielding of networking capabilities to four brigade combat teams per year and basic network capabilities to other operational forces to ensure interoperability.

Ultimately, at that spending rate, the Army's network strategy could cost in excess of $60 billion over a 20-year period, states the report. In fiscal 2013, the Army estimates that it will require about $3.8 billion for the effort—$1 billion in research and development and $2.8 billion in procurement. As the GAO points out, that level of funding is greater than that provided to all but one of the nine Army equipment portfolios.

"Budget justification and other planning materials for network equipment—over 50 research and development and procurement budget elements—are not organized to provide insight into the budget for and affordability of the entire network," the report says. Another problem is that the Army and DoD have not yet fully defined quantifiable network performance measures or plans to periodically review and evaluate the actual effectiveness of new Army network capabilities, according to the GAO.

Under its network modernization strategy, the Army is implementing a new agile process that involves seven phases and three decision points to allow officials to quickly evaluate emerging networking technologies to determine if they address capability gaps and can be deployed to the field.

"While the Army has taken a number of steps to begin executing its network strategy and agile process, including establishing a baseline network architecture for its communications, the network strategy is still evolving and the service has not yet executed one full cycle of the agile process," the report states. 

GAO recommends DoD define quantifiable outcome-based performance metrics for network equipment, develop a plan for future network evaluations to determine if those measures have been met, and evaluate fielded network performance and make recommendations for adjustments, as necessary. GAO also says DoD should consolidate Army tactical network budget elements and justifications into a single area of the Army budget submittal.

DoD generally concurred with the recommendations and stated that it has initiated actions to address several of the challenges identified in the report.

For more:
-download the report, GAO-13-179 (.pdf)

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