GAO officials offer acquisition reform basics

The Government Accountability Office has some advice for federal agencies about selecting contract types to protect the government's interests.

Officials from the Government Accountability Office struck some familiar notes in testimony recently as they described how to reduce the risk in federal contracting.

The first opportunity to reduce risk in an acquisition program is in the early planning phase when critical decisions with significant implications for the program’s overall success are made, three GAO officials told the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee Jan. 20.

In fiscal 2009, the Defense Department spent nearly $384 billion on contracts, representing more than 70 percent of total government contract spending, according to GAO.

Such a large portion of spending highlights the need to better manage risk in acquisitions, according to GAO officers Paul Francis, managing director of acquisition and sourcing management, Michael Golden, managing associate general counsel, and William Woods, director of acquisition and sourcing management, who testified before the subcommittee.

DOD and other federal agencies can protect the government’s interest by selecting a contracting type that properly allocates the risk between the government and contractor, according to the testimony. They also said choosing the right contracting type can ensure competition for the government’s work.

“Promoting competition can save money, improve contractor performance, and promote accountability,” they said.

If officials take steps early on to carefully plan their acquisition strategy, they can avoid cost increases, the GAO officials said. And a key to careful planning is a knowledgeable workforce.

A capable workforce must undergird all of the above, the officials said.

DOD, along with many other agencies, has said it doesn’t have an adequate workforce to handle its acquisitions. However, GAO also said DOD can’t exactly determine the size and skill sets of its acquisition employees. At a fundamental level, workforce gaps are determined by comparing the number and skill sets of the personnel that an organization has with what it needs. However, DOD lacks information on both what it has and what it needs.

Without an adequate workforce, agencies rely more on private contractors, much to the government’s detriment, GAO said.

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