The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) accounts for about half of the Department of Commerce's (Commerce) acquisition spending, over $851 million in fiscal year 2005 alone. In recent years however, NOAA has experienced instances of poor contract management. GAO was asked to determine if NOAA is positioned to effectively carry out its acquisition function. Specifically, GAO assessed the extent to which NOAA has structured an acquisition organization that provides appropriate oversight; established policies and processes that promote, among other things, a knowledge-based acquisition process for development and production of complex systems; and planned and managed its contracting workforce to address future retirement challenges.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Department of Commerce||To close the gaps between NOAA's current acquisition process and best practices for the development of complex systems, the Secretary of Commerce should incorporate a knowledge-based framework in the revision of Commerce's policy for acquiring complex developmental systems. This framework should identify requirements for major system projects to attain specific product knowledge at significant stages in the acquisition life cycle. Demonstration of this knowledge should be used as a basis for decision making by departmental leadership at the following key points: (1) before projects are approved to move from concept and technology development to start the acquisition program, the policy should require that customer requirements and product developers' resources match, as indicated by achieving a high level of technology maturity; (2) before projects are approved to move from integration to demonstration, the policy should require that the product design is stable and performs as expected; and (3) before projects are approved to move from demonstration into production, the policy should require that its design is reliable and can be manufactured within cost, schedule, and quality targets.|
|Department of Commerce||To provide appropriate oversight of NOAA's field acquisition operations, we recommend the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere should take steps to ensure that NOAA's Director of Acquisition and Grants has direct authority over all acquisition entities within the agency by realigning the National Data Buoy Center's Acquisition Office to report directly to NOAA's acquisition director.|
|Department of Commerce||To provide appropriate oversight of NOAA's field acquisition operations, we recommend the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere should provide for regular monitoring of collateral duty contracting officers in field offices to help ensure they are accountable to senior acquisition officials for their contracting work.|
|Department of Commerce||To address the future retirement challenges of NOAA's contracting workforce, the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere should conduct a data-driven assessment of NOAA's contracting workforce to (1) identify skill gaps, develop strategies to address these gaps, evaluate progress toward closing these gaps, and adjust strategies accordingly and (2) involve relevant stakeholders in the development of this assessment.|