Government uses outdated acquisition processes, panel finds

Participants of a Government Accountability Office forum on federal acquisition said buying in the 21st century is framed by three broad challenges: defining the appropriate role of government contractors, ensuring federal employees can manage contractors and holding contractors accountable for results.

According to a GAO report released Oct. 6 about the forum, participants said the government can shed its decades-old, out-of-date acquisition processes and become more strategic and aligned with today’s issues. Agencies should look for innovations and create a culture of information sharing. Examples of best practices in government agencies came from initiative and good management, the report states.

Increasing dependence on contractors demands that agency officials look at updating how the government does business, the report states.

In responding to national emergencies, “there is no doubt that the impact on the federal acquisition community has been significant and the government’s response has been to rely on more contractors for support and solutions,” the report states.

Participants in the July 18 forum discussed what government functions should or should not be outsourced. They were divided on the value and limitations of the formal competitive sourcing process under Office of Management and Budget Circular A-76, according to the report.

They said agency officials need to address the challenge of having an acquisition workforce capable of meeting increasing spending trends. Since 2001, acquisition spending increased 65 percent to $388 billion in fiscal 2005. Meanwhile, the acquisition workforce has not grown, the report states. Officials need to recognize the importance of the acquisition and work to recruit and retain a new generation of employees.

To get desired results, agencies that outsource work must set realistic requirements for contractors. That consideration can reduce the risk of adverse results. According to the report, forum participants cite the frequent mismatch of wants and needs as well as often-changing requirements as the problems.

“Many participants commented that achieving successful outcomes is a shared responsibility,” the report states. In some cases, contractors promise more than they can deliver. Agencies also fail to set clear directions for contractors' performance.

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