Fast Facts

The Department of Energy primarily relies on contractors to carry out its diverse missions, which range from energy development and scientific research to nuclear security. DOE's contract and project management is a topic on our High Risk List.

Senior DOE officials have raised concerns that DOE does not have enough staff or staff with the right skills to properly manage contracts. However, DOE has not conducted complete evaluations to determine what size staff and skills are needed.

We made 4 recommendations, including that DOE identify gaps in skills and competencies for staff involved in the acquisition process.

Pen atop a contract

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Highlights

What GAO Found

The Department of Energy (DOE) is one of the largest civilian contracting agencies in the federal government, with about 80 percent of its annual obligations for contracts. Staff in most federal positions in DOE are involved in the acquisition process, according to officials from offices included in GAO's review—the Office of Science, the Office of Environmental Management (EM), and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). Some of these staff, such as contracting officers, hold federal or DOE acquisition certifications. DOE generally requires acquisition-related training only for certified staff—which represent about 15 percent of DOE's workforce (see figure)—and maintains training requirements for only these staff through the agency's Acquisition Career Management Program.

Numbers of DOE Staff with Acquisition Certifications, as of March 2021

Numbers of DOE Staff with Acquisition Certifications, as of March 2021

DOE generally does not require acquisition-related training for noncertified staff, many of whom may play a critical role in DOE's acquisition process. Office of Federal Procurement Policy guidance states that agencies should consider the functions performed by staff members, such as requirements development by a technical expert, and include any significant acquisition-related positions in their acquisition training programs. By reviewing the criteria for inclusion in its Acquisition Career Management Program and developing training requirements for noncertified staff that meet these criteria, DOE can better ensure it has the capacity to oversee its contracts.

The three DOE offices included in GAO's review have each implemented two of the five leading practices for effective strategic planning for their acquisition workforces, and have partially implemented the remaining three practices. For example, these offices have taken some steps to identify workforce need, but have not fully identified skill and competency gaps—including types and numbers of positions required to close gaps—for their acquisition workforces, as recommended by leading practices.

Further, senior DOE and NNSA officials have raised concerns that they do not have enough staff or staff with the right skills in the acquisition workforce to properly oversee contracts. However, NNSA has conducted limited evaluations of gaps in skills and competencies for some positions in its acquisition workforce, and the other offices in GAO's review have not conducted such analyses. With a more complete and thorough understanding of skill and competency gaps for its acquisition workforce, DOE can improve the information it has available to develop its budget and other strategies to build a workforce with the right skills and of the right size to address the agency's long-standing issues with contract management.

Why GAO Did This Study

DOE's federal acquisition workforce is responsible for managing risks throughout the contracting, or acquisition, process. GAO designated DOE contract and project management as a high-risk area because of DOE's record of inadequate contract management.

Senate Report No. 116-48 accompanying the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 includes a provision for GAO to review issues affecting DOE's acquisition workforce. This report examines (1) the positions included in DOE's acquisition workforce and the extent to which this workforce receives acquisition-related training and (2) the extent to which DOE has implemented leading practices for effective strategic planning for its acquisition workforce.

GAO's review included the Office of Science, EM, and NNSA, which represented over 75 percent of DOE obligations for contracts in fiscal year 2019. GAO reviewed regulations, policies, and workforce planning documents; interviewed officials; and compared information to leading practices on workforce planning.

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Recommendations

GAO is making four recommendations, including that DOE review criteria for inclusion in the Acquisition Career Management Program and identify gaps in skills and competencies for staff with acquisition responsibilities.

DOE concurred with the four recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Energy The Chief Acquisition Officer should assess the agency's criteria for determining the workforce managed under the agency's Acquisition Career Management Program to ensure that, in addition to positions requiring acquisition certifications, any significant acquisition-related positions at DOE and NNSA are included in the program, in accordance with OFPP Policy Letter 05-01. The Chief Acquisition Officer should also ensure that training requirements are developed for acquisition-related positions added to the program. (Recommendation 1)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of Energy The Chief Acquisition Officer should establish a process for top management's participation in future strategic acquisition workforce planning efforts with program offices and NNSA. This process should include specific roles for the Chief Acquisition Officer and the Senior Procurement Executives for DOE and NNSA. (Recommendation 2)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of Energy The Chief Acquisition Officer should determine critical skills and competencies for DOE and NNSA staff with acquisition-related responsibilities in positions that do not require a federal or DOE acquisition certification and ensure these skills and competencies inform training requirements. (Recommendation 3)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of Energy The Chief Acquisition Officer should work with program and other offices, including NNSA, to lead ongoing and thorough analyses to identify gaps in skills and competencies for the agency's acquisition workforce and develop strategies to address identified gaps. This should include an analysis of the appropriate size of the acquisition workforce. (Recommendation 4)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

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