Congress established an Acquisition Advisory Panel to review federal acquisition laws, regulations, and policies — and identify opportunities for improvement. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) just issued an assessment of the progress made since the Panel’s 2007 report.
Here’s what GAO found:
Congress and the executive branch have taken numerous actions to address key issues the Acquisition Advisory Panel identified in its 2007 report, but these actions have not eliminated some enduring challenges. The figure below presents the key issues the Panel addressed in relation to the life cycle of a typical contract as identified by GAO:
Three of the key issues, and the corresponding challenges, align with specific phases in the contracting life cycle:
- Requirements Definition: The Panel found that fully identifying requirements before a contract is awarded is key to achieving the benefits of competition. GAO has found that unrealistic requirements have contributed to poor program outcomes at the Department of Defense (DoD), and that the Army’s requirements development workforce decreased by 22 percent from 2008 to 2017.
- Competition and Pricing: The Panel said that competition can help reduce prices. GAO’s work shows that competition rates have remained steady government-wide, and declined at DOD. See figure below.
GAO also found that agencies are sometimes using bridge contracts — which GAO has generally defined as either extensions to existing contracts or new short-term, sole-source contracts — to avoid a lapse in service caused by delay of a follow-on contract award. In some instances, bridge contract awards delay opportunities for competition and can place the government at risk of paying higher prices for multiple years. The figure below depicts how an Army bridge contract for computer support services planned for 12 months was extended to 42 months.
Further, GAO’s work shows that agencies have not fully embraced initiatives and techniques intended to reduce the prices they pay, including consolidated purchasing approaches and robust market research.
- Contractor Oversight: The Panel raised questions about the capacity of federal agencies to oversee contractors. GAO found that agencies continue to award contracts warranting increased management attention at a steady rate, such as contracts for management support services. With contracts like those for management support services, there is an increased risk that contractors may perform tasks reserved for the government. Additionally, GAO found that heavy workloads at the Department of Veterans Affairs have made it difficult for officials who oversee contractors to ensure contractors adhere to contract terms.
Three of the key issues, and the corresponding challenges, cut across all the phases of the contracting life cycle:
- Acquisition Workforce: The Panel found that the federal acquisition workforce faces workload and training challenges. GAO’s work has shown that DoD has enhanced its workforce, but some workforce gaps endure at DoD and across agencies.
- Federal Procurement Data: The Panel found that the government’s primary repository for acquisition data contained some unreliable data. Also, GAO found that the system has demonstrated limitations. For example, guidance from the Office of Management Budget (OMB) required that agencies collect specific contract award data, but the system did not have the capability to do so.
- Small Business Participation: The Panel found a number of challenges hindering agencies’ efforts to meet small business goals. GAO found small business participation has increased, but many agencies are not in full compliance with requirements governing Offices of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBUs). For example, the directors of these offices should report directly to agency heads or their deputies, but not all agencies have established this type of direct reporting relationship.
What GAO Recommends
GAO did not make any new recommendations in its Sept. 12, 2018 assessment, but it has made numerous recommendations in the past. Federal agencies have agreed with many of GAO’s recommendations, and have implemented some of them, but not others. For example, GAO has previously made the following recommendations.
- The Army should assess the resources needed for the requirements development process. The Army agreed, but it has not yet done so.
- OMB should provide guidance for agencies to manage bridge contracts. OMB agreed and has drafted management guidance but has not yet finalized it.
- Certain federal agencies should take steps to document how they conduct market research. The agencies agreed and did so.
- The Department of Veterans Affairs should develop tools to help oversee contracts. The department agreed and did so.
- DOD should have issued an updated acquisition workforce plan in fiscal year 2016. DOD agreed and issued the plan.
- OMB should take steps to improve how agencies collect certain procurement data. OMB generally agreed, but has not yet addressed the recommendation.
- Certain federal agencies should take steps to comply with OSDBU-related requirements. Most agencies that provided comments agreed or partially agreed. Two agencies — the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the U.S. Agency for International Development — have addressed the recommendations.
It its latest report, GAO reiterates its belief that all agencies should implement all of these recommendations.
See the GAO’s full report here: https://www.gao.gov/assets/700/694457.pdf