Specialists are hidden treasures of expertise, GAO says

In the middle of the acquisition process, federal officials would do well to hunt down specialists inside their agencies to tap their expertise in important areas of the drawn-out process, according to a new report.

The Government Accountability Office found some agencies used experts in the areas of business and cost and price analysis to guide in developing strong contract proposals. Agencies used the experts to support program officials with acquisition planning duties. Some agencies even hired specialists to get the knowledge.

Several agencies inside the Homeland Security Department used business specialists to assist program offices with acquisition planning tasks, which alleviates the burden on contracting officials, GAO wrote in the report released Aug. 9.


Related story:

DHS, GAO see acquisition planning differently


The Federal Emergency Management Agency told its officials about the acquisition business specialists in “road shows.” They visited contracting offices and even had individual meetings with key decision-makers on the program side.

To get at the knowledge, program offices have offered seats in their offices to specialists so they can work side-by-side with them.

GAO also offered more advice for agencies’ program and contracting offices to handle the detailed process of planning and awarding contracts.

Officials shared war stories after going through procurements, and several departments sent out information across their organizations on issues and shared best practices that offices learned in the acquisition process, GAO said.

Agencies can share informal templates among their offices to help in documenting cost estimates. GAO said when program offices estimate costs, the information can help contracting officers understand the basis for the estimate and how to use the estimate in later steps of the acquisition process. The templates can help guide how other officials do estimates.

Agencies also try to plan early for upcoming acquisitions, including setting up annual consultations about anticipated contracts and they can also have reminder systems about expiring contracts, GAO said.

About the Author

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

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