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-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.
DOD invests roughly $70 billion annually in weapon system research and development, including prototyping—the development and testing of a model or weapon system design. When used effectively, prototyping reduces risk and improves the likelihood that weapon systems will be completed on time and within budget. It also keeps DOD’s technology pipeline stocked with innovative technologies that ma...
GAO-17-686T: Published: Jun 13, 2017. Publicly Released: Jun 13, 2017.
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and federal agencies have taken steps to improve information technology (IT) through a series of initiatives, and as of May 2017, had fully implemented about 47 percent of the approximately 800 related GAO recommendations. However, additional actions are needed.Consolidating data centers . OMB launched an initiative in 2010 to reduce data centers, which w...
GAO-17-490: Published: Jun 9, 2017. Publicly Released: Jun 9, 2017.
What if a $2 billion government satellite just stopped working? DOD, NASA, and NOAA each spend billions of dollars on satellites. But, unlike ships and aircraft that the government purchases, the quality of a satellite can only be determined after it's been launched into space. At that stage, repairing defects can be next to impossible, and a mission can fail due to a single malfunction. We looke...
GAO-17-654T: Published: Jun 7, 2017. Publicly Released: Jun 7, 2017.
The Coast Guard is a decade into its effort to modernize its fleet, and many new ships and aircraft are now in service. For example, the Fast Response Cutter and National Security Cutter offer greater endurance and effectiveness than the ships they replaced—though maintenance and equipment issues have limited their operations. More broadly, the affordability of the Coast Guard’s portfolio is...
GAO-17-619T: Published: May 17, 2017. Publicly Released: May 17, 2017.
DOD space systems (e.g., satellites) support the military and others with a wide range of critical capabilities, including meteorology, missile warning, and secure communications. But when it comes to acquiring these systems, DOD has historically struggled with ballooning costs, schedule overruns, and fragmented leadership. This testimony provides a snapshot of the status of DOD space acquisitio...
GAO-17-402: Published: Apr 18, 2017. Publicly Released: Apr 18, 2017.
To help transport Marines from ship to shore in hostile conditions, the Marine Corps is investing billions in the Amphibious Combat Vehicle program to replace the retiring Amphibious Assault Vehicle fleet. However, we found that the Marine Corps may be overstating potential savings when comparing these two vehicles because the new ACVs will carry fewer troops than the retiring AAVs. Congress may...
GAO-17-323: Published: Apr 18, 2017. Publicly Released: Apr 18, 2017.
The Navy is moving away from its troubled Littoral Combat Ship program to a new ship—called the frigate—which is based on an LCS design with minor modifications. The Navy's current approach requires that Congress make a significant commitment in 2017 to purchase 12 of these ships. However, we found that key frigate cost and design details will not be available to support Congress's decision. ...
GAO-17-396: Published: Apr 13, 2017. Publicly Released: Apr 13, 2017.
The Department of Homeland Security purchases many systems—such as for nuclear detection and search and rescue—that help it execute critical missions. And, while it has improved its management of major acquisitions, its non-major acquisitions (generally those that cost less than $300 million) haven't received as much attention—though DHS did make improvements during the course of our audit. ...