Congress and the executive branch have worked for years to improve the quality of and reduce costs for federal acquisition, but some problems continue to hamper many agencies, according to a Sept. 12 Government Accountability Office report.

“Acquisition reform has been on everyone’s agenda for many, many years, decades. There have been proposals in the Congress, there has been changes to the regulations. This has been a very, very active area for a long time,” said Bill Woods, director on the Contracting and National Security Acquisitions Team at GAO, in an agency podcast.

The report evaluated federal agency acquisition improvements against 89 recommendations made by the Acquisition Advisory Panel in 2007 and divided the areas of improvement into three “buckets” that represent the acquisition life cycle: requirements and definitions; competition and pricing; and contractor oversight.

"One is in the requirements, definition process of actually deciding. What is it does the agency want? What does it need, and what’s the best way of getting what we need?” said Woods.

“The second area that agencies tend to struggle in is competition. How do we get enough vendors interested in fulfilling our requirement that we can have a robust competition, that we can really drive the best solutions, that we can get the best price for those solutions possible? And then the third area that’s common to agencies is contract oversight. Once the contract is awarded, then the problem becomes, ‘How do we make sure that that contractor actually delivers and satisfies the customer, and we get what we want at the price we agreed to pay?’”

Three problems persisted across all three stages of procurement: the acquisition workforce, data on federal procurement and small business participation in the process.

According to the report, the increasing complexity of acquisitions in areas like IT has caused a skills gap in the acquisition workforce across numerous agencies.

“Officials from [the Department of Defense], [General Services Administration] and one industry group indicated that a lack of technical knowledge presents challenges for effectively planning and executing complex IT acquisitions. Additionally, we have reported that the government’s ability to respond to evolving cybersecurity threats depends in part on the skills and abilities of the IT acquisition workforce,” the report said.

In addition, the report found the DoD did not fully address certain staffing shortages in acquisitions and many agencies fell through on workforce planning initiatives.

Data on procurement also presented a widespread weakness, as the repository for that data had some unreliable figures, and government systems were not capable of handling the award information agencies were required to collect.

Finally, the report found that while small business participation in federal acquisitions had increased, “many agencies are not in full compliance with requirements governing Offices of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization.”

Rather than make new recommendations, GAO reiterated many of those it had made in past reports for improving acquisitions.

“The bottom line is that there’s more work to be done,” said Woods.

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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