GAO Suggests DoD Boost User Inclusion in Space Program Software Development

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After reviewing four major and software-intensive space defense programs within the Defense Department (DoD), the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found in a report today that DoD software development approaches aren’t optimized to meet the programs’ needs.

GAO reviewed the Navy’s Mobile User Objective System (MUOS), as well as the Air Force’s Joint Space Operations Center Mission System Increment 2 (JMS), Next Generation Operational Control System (OCS), and Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS). These programs, GAO added, have been in development for periods ranging from five to 20 years and are estimated to cost billions of dollars.

In previous GAO reports, the office identified that getting frequent feedback reduces risk, improves customer commitment, and improves technical staff motivation. However, GAO’s latest report finds that the programs have been so far unsuccessful at engaging their users in both early software development and in receiving or incorporating their feedback, which is detrimental to the programs.

“Without obtaining user feedback and acceptance, programs risk delivering systems that do not meet users’ needs,” the report stated. “In selected instances, the lack of user involvement has contributed to systems that were later found to be operationally unsuitable.”

GAO uncovered other software development challenges within the four programs. JMS, MUOS, and OCX faced challenges in integrating and maintaining modified commercial software during development, which have greatly led to system instability and increased costs. SBIRS, MUOS, and OCX additionally rely on outdated software tools. Finally, GAO found OCX and MUOS lacked newer software development knowledge.

Given GAO’s findings, the office made two recommendations to DoD.

First, GAO suggested that DoD provide specific, required directions on when and how often to involve its program’s software users so that their involvement is early and consistent throughout software and program development.

And, GAO recommended that DoD specifically direct software development so that it documents and communicates user feedback to respective stakeholders as software system development progresses.

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