ADVERTISEMENT

Examining Increased Costs Associated With Joint Government Programs

U.S. federal agencies exist to accomplish specific missions; for example, the Department of Defense (DoD) ensures national security, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) explores space. To execute these missions, agencies may develop large, costly systems like aircraft, satellites, or tanks.

To reduce the amount of money spent on these systems, government leaders sometimes establish joint programs so that agencies can collaboratively develop single, shared systems. In theory, joint programs should save the government money because buying one shared system should cost less than buying multiple systems for separate agencies. In practice though, researchers found that joint programs experience larger cost growth than non-joint programs and cautioned government leaders against establishing joint programs in the future. In response, our research explored why joint programs experience cost growth and proposed strategies to prevent those costs.Ā 

ADVERTISEMENT

Many government agencies have used joint programs to produce a diverse set of systems. A famous current joint program is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter: a Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps collaboration that could have saved over $50B[1] compared to the acquisition of three separate aircraft, but experienced over $150Bin cost growth instead.[2]Ā Although our research focused on a different type of joint programā€”weather prediction satellitesā€”our results are agnostic to agency and system type and can therefore be used to understand and prevent cost growth on any joint program. To generate these results, we studied the acquisition historyā€”from program inception to hardware deliveryā€”of several joint programs and integrated political, organizational, and technical perspectives into our analysis.

This analysis generated our proposed Agency Action Model, a framework grounded in theories of bureaucratic politics, organizations, and systems engineering that explains how costs grow on joint programs. In the model, each collaborating agency is a discrete actor motivated by specific institutional interests. Unlike the private sector, profit does not motivate government agencies; instead, agencies are incentivized to maintain autonomy from other government organizations. This means that agencies value their ability to make decisions independently: a capability that is enabled by large budgets, in-house technical expertise, and unique missions that do not overlap with other agencies.Ā 

Joint programs ā€” which attempt to shrink agency budgets by integrating agenciesā€™ expertise, missions, and decisions ā€” are therefore contrary to agenciesā€™ institutional interests. If directed to form joint programs, agencies will impede collaboration by taking actions to maintain autonomy. Over the lifecycle of a joint program, agency actions form a zero-sum game: as one agency gains autonomy, another loses autonomy and reacts accordingly. If left unchecked, agency actions and reactions will continue indefinitely and turn a joint program into a bureaucratic battlefield.

ADVERTISEMENT

Agency actions increase cost by affecting joint organizations and systems. Anytime agencies act or react, the organizationā€™s structure shifts. Our research illustrated how these structural changes propagate throughout a joint organization ā€” from engineers up through agency administrators ā€” and reduce the efficiency and effectiveness of their decisions. Inefficient decisions increase cost by delaying progress. Ineffective decisions increase cost by sub-optimally trading between cost, schedule, performance, and risk. Ineffective decisions also affect the requirements for and the design of technical systems; for example, cost increases when a joint system is designed to meet the super-set of collaborating agenciesā€™ requirements.Ā 

As summarized above, by linking agency actions to changes in a joint programā€™s organization and system, we were able to explain how collaboration induces cost on joint programs. Armed with this understanding, we suggested that cost growth may be prevented by structuring joint organizations and systems to disincentivize agencies from taking cost-inducing actions.

We proposed that the alignment of agency authority, mission, budget, and expertiseā€”again, from engineers up through agency administratorsā€”provides checks and balances that counter agency incentives and actions. Using these basic principles, we then provided specific guidance for government leaders that wish to establish joint programs in the future. More importantly perhaps, our work also illustrated the value of understanding the relationship between technology, organizations, and bureaucratic politics and how the interactions and relationships between those domains can significantly impact program outcomes.

These findings are described in the article entitled A Model for Understanding and Managing Cost Growth on Joint Programs, recently published in the journal Acta Astronautica. This work was completed by Morgan Dwyer of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Zoe Szjanfarber of the George Washington University, and Bruce Cameron and Edward Crawley of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The views reflected in this article are those of the authorsā€™ and do not reflect those of the Department of Defense or the United States Government.

References

  1. https://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/MG1225.html
  2. https://www.gao.gov/assets/700/692307.pdf

ADVERTISEMENT

Comments

READ THIS NEXT

Evaluating Two Beta-Blockers In Patients With Congestive Heart Failure With Reduced Ejection Fraction

Nearly 5 million Americans are currently living with congestive heart failure (CHF). Approximately 550,000 new cases are diagnosed in the […]

Gut Microbiota From Cradle To Grave: Does Age Or Lifestyle Matter More?

None of us need FaceApp to know the broad strokes of what will happen when we grow older: a few […]

Probiotics: Potentially Problematic Or Possibly Pointless

A recent study performed by scientists from theĀ Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel was conducted to determine the effects of […]

Phenotypic Plasticity Of Morphoanatomical Features Facilitate The Invasion Of Alligator Weed

Alligator weed (Alternanthera philoxeroides, Amaranthaceae) is one of the more famous invasion plants in the world, colonizing in aquatic and […]

Understanding How The Brain Controls Movement In Humans

How the human brain controls limb movements is still not fully understood. Many existing models relating brain activity to human […]

Most Distinct Image Of The Center Of The Milky Way Captured By South African Radio Telescope

Driven by the desire for the understanding that a mere glimpse into the vast and luminous universe can yield, billions […]

The Deserts Of The World

The deserts of the world range from cold to hot, but are all incredibly dry. They include the Sahara Desert […]

Science Trends is a popular source of science news and education around the world. We cover everything from solar power cell technology to climate change to cancer research. We help hundreds of thousands of people every month learn about the world we live in and the latest scientific breakthroughs. Want to know more?