Procurement Technical Assistance Program: Opportunities Exist for DOD to Enhance Training and Collaboration

GAO-21-287 Published: Mar 31, 2021. Publicly Released: Mar 31, 2021.
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Fast Facts

The Defense Logistics Agency's Procurement Technical Assistance Centers provide training to businesses interested in government contracting.

DLA has a system for measuring how these centers perform, but it can't easily tell whether the centers are meeting goals. DLA also delegated performance reviews to other agencies before FY 2021. Now, DLA is doing these reviews and updating its system to better measure performance.

DLA also has new training requirements. It required development of a training effectiveness test for centers—but doesn't have access to test results. We recommended better ways to track and measure the effectiveness of training.

Procurement Technical Assistance Centers by State, FY 2020

U.S. map showing number of procurement technical assistance centers in each state

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What GAO Found

The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) of the Department of Defense administers and oversees the Procurement Technical Assistance Program (PTAP), which funds Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTAC) that provide counseling and training to businesses interested in government contracting. DLA plans to improve its oversight of the program.

DLA has an online system for PTACs to report their quarterly performance, but the system has not allowed DLA to accurately aggregate data. As a result, DLA has been unable to easily assess the extent to which PTACs have met their performance goals. As of March 2021, DLA was updating its system so that it correctly aggregates these data. The system fixes should allow DLA to readily assess program-wide performance and goal attainment.

Before fiscal year 2021, DLA delegated responsibility for award administration and performance reviews of PTACs to the Defense Contract Management Agency and Office of Naval Research. But those two agencies conducted performance reviews for 2017–2019 infrequently and the scope of those reviews varied. DLA assumed most administrative functions delegated to the agencies in fiscal year 2021 and plans to conduct quarterly performance reviews that should allow grants officers to more consistently identify and address performance issues.

DLA implemented new PTAC training requirements in 2020 and added a template (a standardized format) to track completion of training requirements on its website in May 2020, but made its use optional. By requiring use of the template, DLA could more consistently receive the information it needs to assess compliance with the requirements. DLA required the Association of PTACs to develop a training curriculum for PTAC staff and an associated proficiency test. However, DLA does not have access to the test results, even in the aggregate, which would help it measure the effectiveness of the training curriculum in improving PTAC counseling.

PTACs and Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) both provide government contracting assistance to small businesses, and this overlap can have positive and negative effects. PTACs serve businesses of all sizes but are limited to clients pursuing government contracts. SBDCs assist only small businesses, but cover a range of topics, including government procurement. The overlap could create more ways for businesses to access help on government procurement, but also could lead to clients getting advice that is not as good as from PTAC counselors (because SBDC counselors are not required to take procurement training). DLA also identified instances of PTAC counselors providing counseling on SBDC-related topics, potential double-counting of services, and comingling of funds at PTACs that are co-located with SBDCs. A collaborative agreement between DLA and the Small Business Administration (SBA), which administers the SBDC program, could help address the overlap between PTACs and SBDCs, such as by better clarifying their respective responsibilities when providing assistance on government contracting.

Why GAO Did This Study

PTAP helps businesses pursue and perform under contracts with the Department of Defense (DOD), other federal agencies, state and local governments, and prime contractors. In 2020, the program operated 90 centers in 49 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico.

The House Report on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 includes a provision for GAO to review PTAP. This report examines, among other things, oversight of PTAP, how DLA plans to track and evaluate new training requirements for PTACs, and whether PTAC and SBDC services overlap.

GAO reviewed DOD policies and procedures for overseeing PTAP and new training requirements and analyzed performance data for 2018–2020. GAO also interviewed agencies responsible for overseeing PTAP, as well as SBA, the Association of PTACs, and a selection of six PTACs and three SBDCs (selected based on geography, funding amount, and co-location of the centers).

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GAO is making three recommendations to DOD: to require PTACs to use DOD's template to track training, reach an agreement with the Association of PTACs to provide DLA with aggregate test results to measure training effectiveness, and develop a collaborative agreement with SBA. DOD concurred with all three recommendations. The Association of PTACs said its test could help in assessing training, but should not be the only metric. SBA had no comments.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment The Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment should require PTACs to use the template created to help track fulfillment of training requirements. (Recommendation 1)
Closed – Implemented
In July 2021, DLA updated its program terms and conditions for all awards starting in 2022 to require PTACs to provide training information via DLA's template or provide equivalent information. Specifically, the terms and conditions now state that the template contains the minimum data elements PTACs are required to submit related to their training. Requiring PTACs to submit either the template or equivalent information should help ensure that PTACs maintain the information DLA needs to track the fulfillment of its training requirements.
Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment The Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment should reach an agreement with the Association of PTACs to provide DLA with the aggregate results of proficiency tests administered to measure the effectiveness of PTAC counselor training. (Recommendation 2)
After our report, DLA reached out to the Association of PTACs (APTAC) and determined that APTAC could not provide aggregate test results to DLA because the testing system was developed to intentionally limit test results to the tested employee and their supervisor. According to DLA officials, the agency does not plan to make any changes to APTAC's system because DLA would have to fund the changes, which would be cost prohibitive. Although DLA cannot easily obtain aggregate test results from APTAC, using other means to measure the effectiveness of PTAC counselor training would meet the intent of this recommendation. We will continue to discuss with DLA other ways to measure training effectiveness.
Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment The Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment should work with SBA to formalize a collaborative agreement for PTACs and SBDCs in relation to providing client services on government contracting. (Recommendation 3)
Closed – Implemented
In September 2022, DOD and SBA signed a memorandum of understanding to collaborate and consult to (1) expand small business access to SBA and DOD resources and (2) connect small businesses with support services and assistance to improve small business contract readiness and ability to participate in government contracting. The agreement also states that the agencies will collaborate to provide training at PTACs and SBDCs and that the administrators of PTACs and SBDCs will hold at least one annual consultation to plan strategically and provide lessons learned. This memorandum should help ensure that clients receive advice from counselors with training on government contracting and clarify the responsibilities of employees that work at co-located centers.

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