Document Type

Conference Paper

Publication Date


Publication Title

Proceedings of the Fifteenth Annual Acquisition Research Symposium



Conference Name

Fifteenth Annual Acquisition Research Symposium, May 9-10, 2018, Monterrey, California


The defense acquisition system has been the source of intense scrutiny and calls for reform for over four decades. This research is to examine the contributions of Systems Theory to enhance prospects related to acquisition reform. Systems Theory offers a set of principles, laws, and concepts that explain the behavior of complex systems. Although the acquisition system and constituent programs have been critiqued and examined from multiple perspectives, they have never been the subject of exploration from Systems Theory. Recent advances in Systems Theory have identified 83 different potential system pathologies that can result in degraded system performance or outright failure. System pathologies have been previously defined (Keating & Katina, 2012) as a circumstance, condition, factor, or pattern that acts to limit system performance, or lessen system viability, such that the likelihood of a system achieving performance expectations is reduced. Following a brief introduction to Systems Theory, this paper reports on efforts to (1) briefly examine the current state of the defense acquisition system and programs, focused on successes, failures, major reform themes, and critical challenges for moving forward; (2) mapping of systems pathologies to provide a different Systems Theory based perspective of acquisition system reform as well as acquisition system development; and (3) suggest implications for acquisition system development based on contributions from Systems Theory. The paper concludes with future research directions for Systems Theory contributions to the acquisition field and reform efforts.


"Approved for public release, distribution is unlimited."


Bibliographic information: From series Acquisition Management

Number SYM-AM-18-100.


0000-0001-9452-9105 (Keating), 0000-0002-2213-4929 (Katina)

Original Publication Citation

Keating, C. B., Bradley, J. M., Katina, P. F., & Arndt, C. (2018, May 9-10). A systems theory based examination of failure in acquisition system reform [Conference paper]. Fifteenth Annual Acquisition Research Symposium, Monterrey, California.