Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The Impact of Government Oversight on Engineering Work: Insights from a Large Aerospace Contractor
by Brainard, Samantha Marquart, Ph.D., The George Washington University, 2018, 161; 10784768
Abstract (Summary)

Government oversight exists to provide the government with the information it needs to evaluate the cost, schedule, and performance of contractors building systems on the government’s behalf. The activities required for oversight, while necessary, add additional costs to a program. Stakeholders involved in space system acquisitions debate the extent of the added costs from complying with oversight—referred to as the burden of government oversight—with estimates ranging from 2–5% of a program’s total costs to factors of 3-5 times the cost of commercially available alternative products. Higher-end estimates of burden have led some stakeholders to propose acquisition reforms to reduce the amount of oversight. However, recent history has shown that periods of reduced oversight on space system acquisitions can result in significant mission failures.

Before reasoned action can be taken to determine if parts of oversight should be reformed, there is a need for data about the extent of the burden of government oversight and how oversight manifests at the working-level. To that end, this research sought to answer the question: “How much does government oversight burden engineering work and how does that burden manifest?”

We contend that disagreement about the extent of the burden of government oversight stems from both how oversight has been measured in previous studies and ambiguity in the scope of what has been measured as oversight. To address these problems, this dissertation research focused on: 1) improving the measurement of the burden of government oversight on engineering work; 2) analyzing the sources of the burden of government oversight and measuring their impact; and 3) understanding the impact of government oversight on contractor work processes.

To measure the burden of oversight, we developed a measurement framework that builds on the work sampling method. We created a multi-question survey to instantaneously gather information about engineering work. Through the combination of answers to these questions, researchers can measure the time spent on oversight-related work.

We used the work sampling method to measure the burden of oversight at a major US aerospace company. The data collected using this method provided an empirically valid estimate of the time spent on government oversight-related work—which enabled us to test some of the widely-held beliefs about the nature of oversight-related work and to reconcile differences between previously reported estimates of the burden of oversight.

In addition, we performed qualitative work to understand how oversight impacts contractor engineering work processes more broadly. This research revealed that oversight requests can require cascades of additional activities and can extend the time spent on activities. In addition, frustrations about oversight can lead to objective inefficiencies in terms of added process time. Therefore, to adequately account for the burden of oversight, the scope of accounting needs to be extended.

Our results provide rich insights into the nature of the burden of oversight on engineering work at the contractor level. Combined, they provide a grounded estimate of the scope of current burden and a basis for more productive discussions about what aspects of oversight could lead to unnecessary burden.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Szajnfarber, Zoe
Commitee: Mazzuchi, Thomas, Pace, Scott, Shittu, Ekundayo, Watson, Michael
School: The George Washington University
Department: Systems Engineering
School Location: United States -- District of Columbia
Source: DAI-B 79/09(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Engineering, Public administration, Systems science
Keywords: Acquisition, Oversight, Systems engineering
Publication Number: 10784768
ISBN: 978-0-355-85849-5
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