DHS, GAO disagree on details of acquisition planning

Homeland Security Department officials have told auditors that collecting data to decide when to begin planning for a major procurement is a waste of time, according to a report released Aug. 9.

“DHS does not believe it is necessary, nor is it an efficient use of time,” Jim Crumpacker, director of DHS' Government Accountability Office/Office of the Inspector General Liaison Office, wrote in response to a GAO report.

GAO recommended agencies establish suitable periods in which to deal with issues before releasing a solicitation for services contracts. Officials should collect information on past procurements to set reasonable expectations on the stages of acquisitions, the document states.


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“Better insights into when acquisition planning should begin would help allow sufficient time to carry out the important acquisition planning,” GAO wrote.

GAO was analyzing civilian agencies’ services contracts. The agencies obligated more than $135 billion in fiscal 2010 on services. That is 80 percent of total civilian spending on contracts. DHS was one of the top four spenders on professional, administrative and management support services that year.

Services acquisitions have suffered from inadequate planning, which can put budget, schedule and quality at risk.

Most agencies have deadlines for the last phase of acquisition planning when program and contracting offices finish a request for contract solicitation. However, none have measured how much time program offices need to develop and get approvals of key acquisition planning documents during the presolicitation phase.

That part of the procurement process “serves as the foundation for the acquisition process,” GAO wrote.

However, Crumpacker said DHS’ acquisition regulations as well as the Federal Acquisition Regulation give enough guidance. The FAR tells agencies to begin planning “as soon as the agency need is identified.” He also quoted from the DHS’ own acquisition manual that goes even further into the planning policy than the FAR.

Nevertheless, GAO said program officials need the additional information to get a better understanding of how much time to allow for completing well done, fundamental acquisition planning, such as market research, developing requirements, and estimating costs.

Officials at different agencies have learned about their own contracting characteristics by collecting information.

“We believe they can accomplish similar analysis for the variation in the early phases,” GAO wrote.

About the Author

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

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