WASHINGTON ― In U.S. Army Futures Command’s race to field next-generation equipment, it needs to better engage small businesses vital to the defense-industrial base, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said in a report published Wednesday.

The new Austin, Texas-based command, activated last August and expected to reach an initial operational capability this summer, is a marquee initiative for the Army, meant to fix its struggles to keep major modernization programs on track. But the GAO probe could supply fuel for critics.

As the major modernization initiative ramped up over the last year, Future’s Command has taken some positive steps, but GAO said it should do more, like coordinate with existing organizations like the Army Office of Small Business Programs.

“While Army Futures Command is still finalizing how it will operate, it is already engaging with small business in various ways. However, the command could better manage these efforts,” the report states.

Sen. Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, saw the report as confirmation that funding shifts associated with the command are harming small businesses critical to the Defense Department’s research, development and innovation programs.

“Although the Army claims that Army Futures Command is engaging small businesses, this report makes it clear that small businesses have been an afterthought and worse, small businesses are being harmed by this restructuring effort,” said Cardin, D-Md., who requested the report.

Cardin has raised concerns that the Army had not sufficiently studied the impact on small businesses as it realigned $1 billion in science and technology funding toward its six modernization priorities. The Army plans to spend an added $7.5 billion on these priorities over the next five years.

“The Army spent 10 years, millions of dollars, and multiple studies to develop a new physical fitness test. How can the Army overhaul its entire acquisition system with inadequate study and evaluation? Our military deserves better,” Cardin said.

According to the GAO report, the command “has not fully leveraged other Army organizations that work with small businesses” and Army officers “prioritized setting up the command structure” over coordinating with those organizations. The report also found that the command “does not track how frequently or in what ways it engages with small businesses for research and development.”

To improve the command, GAO recommended the command coordinate with relevant Army organizations on small business engagement efforts for research and development; systematically track small business engagement and develop command-wide performance measures and plan to use them to assess the effectiveness of its small business engagement.

Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.

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