The practice of applying MIL-STD-490 without the interpretation of generalities and options offers little guidance to subcontractors, and does not allow for the effective administration of state-of-the-art acquisition programs. When reviews are restricted to the formal DoD type, technical problems often go unnoticed and hidden costs are incurred. The situation becomes critical during source selection, when a subcontractor of unknown technical ability is selected upon basis of cost.
Subcontractors, when reviewing contract requirements, often are left to their own interpretation of specifications and "boilerplate" requirements. The interfaces that do not occur with the prime contractor and the government often are uncoordinated and do not provide the necessary leadership or adequately address the technical issues. Monitoring the subcontractor only using predetermined milestones permits many design/ test/ manufacturing operations to go unnoticed until a critical delivery schedule is slipped. Often, the prime contractor's schedule adversely affects the technical performance for the hardware delivered by subcontractors.
Good communication between the government, the prime contractor, and subcontractors is a key ingredient in effective subcontractor control. Specifications (including statement of work and CDRLs) should be prepared by a dedicated group to ensure consistency and completeness. A multidiscipline onsite evaluation team should ensure that the chosen subcontractor can perform adequately to the agreement. The evaluation team should include representatives from quality, material, technical, and configuration management, as a minimum.
After the subcontractors have been determined, the government and the prime contractor should conduct vendor conferences tailored to educating each subcontractor thoroughly on his contract as well as the key technical elements contained in the prime contract. The vendor conference should provide an awareness of each subcontractor's role in the total weapon system acquisition and identify specifically what will be required of each subcontractor. The prime contractor should provide to each subcontractor a "subcontractor assist" person who will work jointly with the subcontractor in solving any "surprise" problems.
In addition, the prime contractor should have an authoritative and centralized data administration organization for the processing and handling of subcontractor data to account for all actions require and completed. A point of contact must be established for each item subcontracted, and for major/ critical subcontracts. An onsite representative must be required for effective monitoring of the subcontractor's daily operation. Periodic internal reviews should cover technical/ manufacturing/ test progress (or lack thereof) using accumulated data, part of which is in response to flow down of reliability development testing requirements (TAAF) from prime contractor to subcontractor.
During the contract period, data transmittals require close monitoring. Uncoordinated decision making and failure in maintaining timely responses to and from the subcontractor are the result of inattention to data management. This area of subcontractor control is especially important in tracking corrective action requests, and in validating critical processes and plans necessary for all activities to maintain schedule. Also, accepting proprietary rights claims without fully investigating their validity reduces the effectiveness of data management, and should be avoided.
Informal technical and project level reviews are an essential ingredient of effective subcontractor control. The prime contractor should, on a regular basis, evaluate the "real" progress made by the subcontractor through such reviews. Other techniques that should be considered include configuration readiness reviews, review of design/ manufacturing/ test processes before qualification, and the requirement to use Test Requirements Documents (TRDs) to detail the procedures for product test. Finally, all project schedule changes should be coordinated between both the prime and subcontractors before firm changes to project commitments are made.