Department of Veterans Affairs:

Available Data Not Sufficiently Reliable to Describe Use of Consulting Services

GAO-13-714R: Published: Jul 30, 2013. Publicly Released: Jul 30, 2013.

Additional Materials:


Michele Mackin
(202) 512-4841


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

What GAO Found

Because data were not readily available to identify how the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) uses consulting services and what is known about their costs, this report discusses the limitations on data concerning consulting services and provides information on some of the uses of consultant contracts. Two primary factors limited GAO's ability to identify a list of consulting contracts that was sufficiently accurate and complete for identifying the types and costs of consulting services used by VA. First, there is no consistently used definition for consultant or consulting services across VA that GAO could apply for our intended purposes. Second, there are data limitations associated with identifying consulting services at VA. Since there is no means for contracting officers to track obligations for consulting services in the Federal Procurement Data System-New Generation, GAO used North American Industrial Classification Codes (NAICS) to identify contracts that could be for consulting. However, GAO could not use the NAICS codes to consistently identify consulting contracts because a single NAICS code can be used to classify both consulting and nonconsulting services and VA contracting officers sometimes reported that they had applied the wrong NAICS code to contracts. Nevertheless, VA offices were able to provide information on how they used consulting services and identified contracts among those in our sample that they considered to be consulting services. For contracts that VA officials considered to be for consulting, VA procured a variety of services, including program evaluations, engineering and support services, and gathering data to support decision making.

Why GAO Did This Study

VA is one of the U.S. government's largest agencies and provides services to service members, veterans, their dependents, and survivors. The House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations requested that GAO assess how VA has used consulting services and what is known about the costs of these services. GAO identified contracts in the federal government's procurement information system and selected contracts to discuss with VA offices to understand how VA uses consulting services and to determine if officials considered these contracts to be for consulting.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is not making any recommendations. VA provided written, including technical comments, in response to a draft of this report. VA generally concurred with our findings but disagreed that data were unreliable. Based on our analyses, we maintain that data was not sufficiently reliable for our purposes.

For more information, contact Michele Mackin at 202-512-4841 or

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