Data-sharing is good ... when agencies do it right

Agencies understand the importance of sharing information, but it still can be difficult to do well. Two new reports document some of the reasons.

Homeland Security Department officials are improving their coordination on department-wide purchasing efforts, but they aren’t sharing the changes through policy guidance, according to a Government Accountability Office report.

The improvements are numerous. Among them: The chief procurement officer’s office has increased department-level insight into the procurement operations of the agency's components, and recommended ways DHS’ disparate parts can perform better. The various components are also joining together for strategic sourcing efforts, by which DHS can leverage its buying power to get lower prices from vendors. Officials also have pushed consistent on-site and status reviews. Their efforts aim to give the components common procurement goals, the Government Accountability Office reported Sept. 12.

However, GAO found DHS acquisition officials were unclear about expectations.

“DHS had not updated its procurement oversight policy and guidance to reflect the increased focus on procurement and changes to the original oversight program,” GAO wrote.

In August, officials made revisions to its policies and guidebooks, which GAO considers a step in the right direction. Nevertheless, GAO’s review of the revised policy and guidance found contradictions between the two and with current oversight efforts. GAO wrote that inconsistencies in documents can “diminish the value of the program and opportunities for increased accountability for procurements.”

As DHS has improved its acquisition structure, Nick Nayak, DHS’s chief procurement officer, said the department has moved forward with the support and coordination of its nine heads of contracting. They have developed the first three-year CPO strategic plan.

“We created the plan because we wanted to get it out to all of the 1,453 employees and very clearly state what are our priorities, what are our initiatives, and what are the metrics for success,” Nayak said Aug. 22 on Off The Shelf, a radio show hosted by Roger Waldron, president of the Coalition for Government Procurement.

Meanwhile, GAO also found that three other agencies are not joining forces to capture contracting data, according to a separate report released Sept. 12. The State and Defense departments and the U.S. Agency for International Development have been required to report annually on specific information regarding contracts and other forms of assistance they dole out in Iraq and Afghanistan. Congress directed the data collection to provide decision-makers within agencies and on Capitol Hill with a clearer understanding of what’s happening in those countries.

The three agencies chose the DOD-managed Synchronized Pre-deployment and Operational Tracker (SPOT) as their common database. But they generally relied on other data sources considered more reliable to prepare a 2011 joint report on Iraq and Afghanistan. On top of that, they used different data sources or changed their methodologies from what was used for the 2010 joint report, GAO reported.

Only the State Department relied directly on SPOT for contractor and assistance personnel information. None of the three agencies used SPOT to identify the number of contractor and assistance personnel killed or wounded in the two countries. USAID told GAO SPOT didn’t meet its management needs and other sources are more reliable.

“These differences prevent decision-makers from using information in the report to compare across agencies and obtain an overall accurate picture,” GAO wrote.

GAO recommended that the secretaries of Defense and State and the USAID administrator work together to standardize the methodologies used to obtain and present information contained in the annual joint report.

Each of the agencies agreed with the recommendation.

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