Best Practices and Leading Practices in Acquisition Management
With hundreds of billions of tax dollars spent each year on goods and services, it is essential that federal acquisition be managed in an efficient and effective manner. Our work has shown that four interrelated elements promote an efficient and accountable acquisition environment and process: 1) Organizational Alignment and Leadership, 2) Policies and Processes, 3) Human Capital's Acquisition Workforce and 4) Knowledge and Information Management.
Organizational Alignment and Leadership
Acquisition activities can be facilitated by ensuring the procurement function is appropriately placed within the agency and by clearly defining the roles and responsibilities of key stakeholders. Officials are able to make strategic decisions to achieve desired acquisition outcomes when they have the committed support of senior leadership.
- Establish and fill the position of chief acquisition officer, designating the officer with primary responsibility for managing the agency's acquisitions.
- Define roles and responsibilities for all participants in the acquisition process.
- Establish and communicate to all levels of the agency a strategic vision for the acquisition function, including goals and metrics related to acquisition efficiency, effectiveness, and achieving mission results.
- Evaluate and adjust the current structure of the acquisition function to assure changes in mission, budget, workforce, and technology are incorporated.
Policies and Processes
Clear, transparent, and consistent policies and processes are needed to implement strategic decisions through acquisitions. Such policies and processes govern the planning, award, administration, and oversight of acquisition efforts.
- Establish cross-functional teams in which key stakeholders coordinate and execute the acquisition tasks.
- Identify metrics, assess performance, and provide feedback on performance to agency suppliers.
- Establish mechanisms that promote the participation of small business suppliers.
- Strategically assess agency needs and how acquisition can meet those needs, including:
- identify and analyze agency-wide acquisitions planned in the next 12-24 months.
- ensuring needs in the agency budget request submission are consistent with planned acquisition strategies.
- Implement continuous improvement mechanisms, including revisions to acquisition-related policies and processes when appropriate, to incorporate staff and affected parties' needs and concerns.
Human Capital's Acquisition Workforce
To successfully acquire goods and services and execute and monitor contracts, agencies need to value and invest in the acquisition workforce. Agencies must think strategically about recruiting, developing, and retaining talent, and creating a results-oriented culture within the acquisition workforce.
- Include acquisition officials in the agency's human capital strategic planning process.
- Identify acquisition needs in the human capital plan, including strategies for recruiting, retaining, and developing acquisition staff.
- Conduct an acquisition workforce assessment to ensure employees have clearly defined roles and responsibilities, performance measures, and the appropriate workload, skills and training to perform their jobs effectively.
- Establish performance expectations and metrics for acquisition officials and managers at all levels.
Knowledge and Information Management
Effective knowledge and information management provides credible, reliable, and timely data to make strategic acquisition decisions in support of organizational missions.
Key practices are:
- Identify and maintain an inventory of key agency suppliers.
- Collect and maintain data on major categories of spending to inform agency decision-making.
- Use knowledge on spending patterns to leverage agency-wise acquisitions to obtain favorable pricing and other concessions from key suppliers.
- Conduct and maintain an inventory identifying activities performed by government personnel as commercial or inherently governmental, and provide justification of inherently governmental functions.
GAO-12-833: Published: Sep 18, 2012. Publicly Released: Sep 19, 2012.
Nearly all of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) program managers GAO surveyed reported their programs had experienced significant challenges. Sixty-eight of the 71 respondents reported they experienced funding instability, faced workforce shortfalls, or their planned capabilities changed after initiation, and most survey respondents reported a combination of these challenges. DHS lacks the...
GAO-12-400SP: Published: Mar 29, 2012. Publicly Released: Mar 29, 2012.
The total estimated cost of the Department of Defenses (DOD) 2011 portfolio of 96 major defense acquisition programs stands at $1.58 trillion. In the past year, the total acquisition cost of these programs has grown by over $74.4 billion or 5 percent, of which about $31.1 billion can be attributed to factors such as inefficiencies in production, $29.6 billion to quantity changes, and $13.7 b...
GAO-12-207SP: Published: Mar 1, 2012. Publicly Released: Mar 1, 2012.
GAO assessed 21 NASA projects with a combined life-cycle cost that exceeds $43 billion. Of those 21 projects, 6 were in an early phase of development called formulation, and 15 had entered the implementation phase where cost and schedule baselines were established. Five of the 15 projects in implementation successfully launched in 2011, and two of them met their cost and schedule baselines. NASA...
GAO-05-218G: Published: Sep 1, 2005. Publicly Released: Sep 1, 2005.
Federal agencies are relying increasingly on contractors to perform their missions. With hundreds of billions of tax dollars spent each year on goods and services, it is essential that federal acquisition be handled in an efficient, effective, and accountable manner. The Government Accountability Office (GAO), however--as well as other accountability organizations, inspectors general, and the agen...
GAO-18-234T: Published: Nov 15, 2017. Publicly Released: Nov 15, 2017.
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and federal agencies have taken steps to improve the management of information technology (IT) acquisitions and operations through a series of initiatives, and as of November 2017, had fully implemented about 56 percent of the approximately 800 related GAO recommendations made between fiscal years 2010 through 2015. However, important additional actions ar...
GAO-17-647: Published: Sep 6, 2017. Publicly Released: Sep 6, 2017.
The Navy is planning to begin its MQ-25 program, which is a drone with two key requirements: it should be able to operate from an aircraft carrier, and refuel other aircraft while in flight. We found that the Navy's planned approach to acquire the MQ-25 generally looks sound. With the program still quite early in its life cycle, program success will largely depend on the Navy’s ability to (1) m...
GAO-17-641R: Published: Aug 15, 2017. Publicly Released: Aug 15, 2017.
The Nuclear Command, Control, and Communications (NC3) system is meant to keep the President connected to military forces in the instance of a nuclear event. NC3 is made up of a multitude of ground, air, and space components, such as receivers and terminals. We found that the Air Force made progress on its oversight structure for the entire NC3 Weapon System, but it has not yet focused on long-te...
GAO-17-682: Published: Aug 14, 2017. Publicly Released: Aug 14, 2017.
Foreign governments acquire billions of dollars of military goods and services every year through the foreign military sales program administered by the Department of Defense. We found that several factors contributed to delays or higher prices in this program—such as federal budget uncertainty and equipment defects identified during testing. In addition, some initial procurement requests lack...
GAO-17-646R: Published: Aug 9, 2017. Publicly Released: Aug 9, 2017.
How well do DOD and NASA work together to coordinate buying launch services? The Department of Defense studied how it and NASA use interagency collaboration tools—such as participation in meetings and on boards—to coordinate buying launch services for items like satellites and cargo capsules. We found that the agencies have a number of formal and informal ways to coordinate on launch acquisi...
GAO-17-690R: Published: Aug 8, 2017. Publicly Released: Aug 8, 2017.
We previously reported that it will cost nearly $400 billion to acquire the F-35 and more than $1 trillion to operate and sustain it. However, DOD's most expensive weapon program could cost more. DOD expects to spend an additional $3.9 billion over the next five years to develop new capabilities to modernize its F-35s. DOD is planning an incremental approach to F-35 modernization that requires t...
GAO-17-747T: Published: Jul 25, 2017. Publicly Released: Jul 25, 2017.
The Coast Guard has begun acquiring new assets to replace its aging fleet, but it continues to lack a long-term plan to guide these efforts. For example, the Coast Guard is down to one polar icebreaker. And although the Coast Guard has expedited plans to acquire new icebreakers, the first ship may not be delivered on schedule. It's unclear how the Coast Guard plans to afford both the new icebreak...
GAO-17-644: Published: Jul 20, 2017. Publicly Released: Jul 20, 2017.
The Department of Defense has a history of investing in innovative technologies, allowing the United States to maintain superiority on the battlefield and beyond. Now that commercial science and tech firms—"non-traditional companies"—are on the leading edge of innovation, DOD relies on them for new products and ideas. The trouble is many non-traditional companies find the cost of doing busine...
GAO-17-645: Published: Jul 17, 2017. Publicly Released: Jul 17, 2017.
By buying directly from the commercial marketplace, DOD can take advantage of the latest innovations and reduce its purchasing costs. We found that, as a portion of DOD's total contract spending, contracts awarded using federal procedures to purchase commercial items (for both products and services) have declined slightly between fiscal years 2007 and 2016, roughly in line with the decline in DOD...
GAO-17-309: Published: Jun 27, 2017. Publicly Released: Jun 27, 2017.
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