This is the sixth blog post in a series analyzing the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) as signed into law on Aug. 13, 2018. Stay tuned for more blog posts covering additional topics in the near future from Holland & Knight's Government Contracts Team.

With the 2019 NDAA, Congress has put teeth behind recommendations stemming from an independent study on sustainment planning in the Defense acquisition process. Reflecting congressional concern with the sustainment and total life-cycle costs of major defense acquisition programs, Section 844 of the 2017 NDAA had required the Secretary of Defense, through an agreement with an independent entity, to conduct a review of the extent to which sustainment matters are considered in decisions related to the requirements, research and development, acquisition, cost estimating, and programming and budgeting processes for major defense acquisition programs.

The 2019 NDAA directs the Secretary of Defense to "commence implementation of each recommendation submitted" as part of this independent assessment, or provide Congress with a "specific justification" for the delayed implementation or non-implementation of a recommendation. Where the Defense Secretary is opting not to implement one of these recommendations, he or she must provide "a summary of the alternative actions the Secretary plans to take to address the purposes underlying the recommendation."

The authorization act also creates a new requirement for the Comptroller General to provide an annual assessment of selected Defense Department acquisition programs and initiatives by March 30 of each year from 2020 through 2023. The assessment is to include: "(1) a macro analysis of how well acquisition programs and initiatives are performing and reasons for that performance; (2) a summary of organizational and legislative changes and emerging assessment methodologies since the last assessment, and a discussion of the implications for execution and oversight of programs and initiatives; and (3) specific analyses of individual acquisition programs and initiatives."

The Comptroller General is given the discretion to select the weapon systems, information technology systems and initiatives, and prototyping and rapid fielding activities and initiatives he or she deems appropriate for review.

These provisions, especially read together, show Congress' ongoing interest in assessing what is working and what isn't in major defense acquisition and perhaps most importantly, its commitment to implementing the findings of those assessments.