Best Practices: A More Constructive Test Approach Is Key to Better Weapon System Outcomes: NSIAD-00-199

July 2000
GAO Reports;7/31/2000, p1
Government Document
This report examines (1) how the conduct of testing and evaluation affects commercial and Defense Department (DOD) program outcomes, (2) how best commercial testing and evaluation practices compare with DOD's, and (3) what factors account for the differences in these practices. GAO found that commercial firms use testing to expose problems earlier than the DOD programs GAO visited. Commercial firms' testing and evaluation validates products' maturity based on three levels at specific points in time, which works to preclude "late-cycle churn" or the scramble to fix a significant problem discovered late in development. Late-cycle churn has been a fairly common occurrence on DOD weapon systems, where tests of a full system identify problems that often could have been found earlier. DOD's response to such test results typically is to expend more time and money to solve the problems--only rarely are programs terminated. The differences in testing practices reflect the different demands commercial firms and DOD impose on program managers. Leading commercial firms insist that a product satisfy the customer and make a profit. Success is threatened if unknowns about a product are not resolved early when costs are low and more options are available. Testing is constructive and eliminates unknowns. Success for a weapons system is centered on providing a superior capability within perceived time and funding limits. Testing plays a less constructive role, because test results often become directly liked to funding and other key decisions and can jeopardize program support. Such a role creates a more adversarial relationship between testers and program managers.


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