To meet veterans’ needs, VA spends billions each year through the Federal Supply Schedules program—a simplified way to buy goods and services at volume pricing. The General Services Administration delegates management of part of this program to VA, the largest federal purchaser of medical supplies and services.
However, VA is not managing the program efficiently, with delays in awarding contracts, a lack of training for contracting staff, and limited visibility into users’ needs. Further, VA has not assessed how overlap with another procurement program affects the program’s goals.
We made 11 recommendations to address these issues and others.
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What GAO Found
Over the past 5 years, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical spending increased, but spending on its eight non-pharmaceutical Federal Supply Schedules (FSS) was flat. GAO found the vendor-submitted sales reports to be sufficiently reliable for describing these trends. However, GAO found that VA's National Acquisition Center (NAC)—the VA-wide contracting organization responsible for FSS—lacks controls to ensure the completeness of vendor sales data, which is used to calculate fees that finance the program.
The FSS program faces numerous challenges. For instance, NAC FSS guidance and training are not comprehensive, posing a risk of inefficiency and uneven application of requirements by contracting staff. Limited collaboration between FSS leadership at both NAC and the General Services Administration (GSA) also resulted in missed opportunities to share tools and practices. A 3-year FSS leadership gap further exacerbated challenges; these positions are now filled.
NAC also failed to meet its 180-day timeliness goal for 75 percent of the non-pharmaceutical FSS contracts it awarded from fiscal years 2014 through 2018 (see figure), though NAC met its goal for contract modifications 80 percent of the time.
Timeliness of Awarded Non-Pharmaceutical FSS Contracts for Fiscal Years 2014-2018
By assessing timeliness goals and identifying barriers to achieving them, NAC leadership can take steps to better enable its contracting workforce to provide an efficient and reliable means to obtain needed goods and services through FSS.
Moreover, VA's procurement leaders have not assessed, and communicated to program managers, whether the duplication between FSS and the Medical Surgical Prime Vendor-Next Generation (MSPV-NG) program is a necessary and effective use of resources. These two programs feature many of the same items, and different contracting staff manage different contracts for the provision of the same or similar medical supplies for VA medical centers. Without assessing duplication between these two programs, VA is at risk of inefficient use of its contracting workforce, and may be unable to fully leverage its buying power.
Why GAO Did This Study
Through the FSS program, VA manages nine healthcare-related schedules—groups of contracts used to order medical supplies and services—under authority delegated by GSA. VA's FSS program management, including the speed with which it adds new contracts, affects VA medical centers' ability to use it to easily obtain goods and services. Further, recent changes in VA's medical procurement have also raised questions about the future role of the program.
GAO was asked to examine VA's management and use of its FSS program. This report assesses (1) what is known about VA use of its FSS program for fiscal years 2014-2018; (2) program management challenges faced by NAC; (3) the extent to which NAC awarded FSS contracts to vendors in a timely manner from fiscal years 2014-2018; and (4) the extent to which the FSS and MSPV-NG programs provide overlapping or duplicative offerings.
GAO reviewed eight VA schedules, excluding pharmaceutical due to the use of a prime vendor, among other things. GAO also analyzed three of these schedules representing about two-thirds of VA's FSS contracts; analyzed policies, guidance, and processes; and interviewed senior VA procurement, contracting, and supply chain logistics staff at NAC and two medical centers.
GAO is making 11 recommendations: nine to VA and two to GSA; including that VA provide comprehensive guidance and FSS-specific training, improve NAC and GSA collaboration, evaluate timeliness goals and barriers, and assess FSS and MSPV-NG program duplication. VA and GSA agreed with GAO's recommendations.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Office of the Secretary||1. The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should ensure that the Associate Executive Director of VA's NAC puts controls in place to better ensure the completeness of vendor FSS sales reporting. (Recommendation 1)|
|Office of the Secretary||2. The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should ensure that the Associate Executive Director of VA's NAC assesses data on the participation of and items and services offered by veteran-owned small businesses in NAC's FSS program, in order to determine whether their program is meeting the needs of VHA contracting officers who use it given the Veterans First requirements they must meet. (Recommendation 2)|
|Office of the Secretary||3. The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should ensure that the Associate Executive Director of VA's NAC directs the FSS Director to develop a mechanism to consistently obtain and analyze VHA user feedback on the FSS program. (Recommendation 3)|
|Office of the Secretary||4. The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should ensure that the Associate Executive Director of VA's NAC provides FSS contracting staff with comprehensive FSS guidance. (Recommendation 4)|
|Office of the Secretary||5. The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should ensure that the Associate Executive Director of VA's NAC develops an FSS-specific training program to include essential skills and processes to meet ongoing training needs for new and existing contracting staff. (Recommendation 5)|
|Office of the Administrator||6. The Administrator of GSA should work with the Secretary of VA to develop a memorandum of understanding outlining the roles and responsibilities of GSA and NAC for collaborating under GSA's delegation of authority to VA for the healthcare-related Federal Supply Schedules, including the processes through which the two organizations will coordinate and share useful tools and practices. (Recommendation 6)|
|Office of the Secretary||7. The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should work with the Administrator of GSA to develop a memorandum of understanding outlining the roles and responsibilities of GSA and NAC in collaborating under GSA's delegation of authority to VA for the healthcare-related Federal Supply Schedules, including the processes through which the two organizations will coordinate and share useful tools and practices. (Recommendation 7)|
|Office of the Administrator||8. The Administrator of GSA should take steps to document its delegation of authority for the healthcare-related Federal Supply Schedules to VA. (Recommendation 8)|
|Office of the Secretary||9. The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should ensure that the Associate Executive Director of VA's NAC assesses the appropriateness of NAC's current timeliness goals for FSS contract awards and takes steps to comprehensively identify and address barriers to achieving them. (Recommendation 9)|
|Office of the Secretary||10. The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should ensure that the Associate Executive Director of VA's National Acquisition Center takes measures to ensure greater efficiency in the offer-intake process, such as providing additional guidance for vendors or by adopting a system that includes checks for completeness of required vendor documentation. (Recommendation 10)|
|Office of the Secretary||
Priority Rec.11. The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should take steps to assess duplication between VA's FSS and MSPV programs, to determine if this duplication is necessary or if efficiencies can be gained. (Recommendation 11)