GAO: Documentation, communication key to management success

Agencies need management plans for successful programs, although the best plans risk failure if officials don’t document and communicate their work, the Government Accountability Office has found.

Federal regulations and guidance point to the importance of a strong management process. Without it, an agency can lose control of a would-be well-run operation, GAO said. And agencies won't know if contractors are meeting expectations on their performance and products if officials don’t document all reviews and if they don’t tell the contractors.

For example, the Homeland Security Department defined important ways to manage and oversee that a contractor’s products and services adequate, but officials didn’t fully put the process into practice, GAO wrote in a report released Oct. 18 on about DHS' Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Secure Border Initiative (SBInet).


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Officials have been conducting technical reviews of the contractor’s work, and reviews check whether the company has met the agreed-to criteria before commencing and later concluding a critical design review, GAO said. DHS also trained officers who work closely with the contractor, including project managers and contracting officer’s technical representatives, on the acquisition process and rules.

However, because DHS didn’t put its management process fully into place, officials were limited in their ability to know whether the contractor met expectations on its performance and products, GAO wrote. As a result, DHS increased the chances that SBInet won’t function as intended and will take more time and resources than necessary to accomplish.

GAO wrote that CBP officials should have been documenting their good and bad reviews, both for products and services and technical designs. They also should have been talking with the contractor about the reviews so they could get on the same page about performance.

“Without documenting all its reviews and effectively communicating the review results to the contractor, the [officials have] increased the chances of accepting deliverables that do not meet requirements and having the contractor repeat work to correct deliverable problems,” GAO wrote.

GAO recommended that officials set appropriate criteria for starting and ending each technical review and have the criteria met before concluding a review. Officials should conduct thorough reviews and should not be constrained by late contractor deliverables and imposed milestones. Officials should document reviews and write to the contractor about why they accepted or rejected the product or service and should give explicit explanations for rejections, GAO said.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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