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VA Acquisition Management: Actions Needed to Better Manage the Acquisition Workforce

GAO-22-105031 Published: Sep 29, 2022. Publicly Released: Sep 29, 2022.
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Fast Facts

VA spends billions of dollars each year to acquire goods and services that support its mission. VA's acquisition management is on GAO's High Risk list in part due to issues in managing its acquisition workforce.

In our survey of VA's acquisition workforce, employees raised concerns about performance expectations and other issues. We found that VA leadership doesn't have complete data on its acquisition workforce—like its size, location, and certifications. And VA hasn't documented roles and responsibilities for managing this workforce that's spread across multiple organizations within the agency.

Our recommendations address these issues.

a pencil and a printed survey

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What GAO Found

The Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) acquisition workforce plans, manages, and oversees a high volume of contracting to support its mission. However, VA does not have comprehensive data on this workforce. It does not have accurate counts of contracting officers, contracting officer representatives, and program/ project managers; where they are located; and certifications. VA's insight into its workforce is hindered by inaccurate, outdated data that are manually updated. Taking steps to ensure the accuracy of its workforce data would better enable VA to make data-driven human capital decisions and address workforce issues.

VA's acquisition workforce provided perspectives on several aspects of their work experience as part of GAO's survey, including performance management, retention, telework, and workload. For example, a majority of respondents said they were generally satisfied with their ability to telework. However, a majority also reported that their roles and responsibilities are not clearly established.

Examples of Survey Results from GAO Survey of VA Acquisition Workforce

Examples of Survey Results from GAO Survey of VA Acquisition Workforce

VA acquisition leadership acknowledged issues raised by the acquisition workforce, and has taken some steps to address them. For example, some Heads of Contracting Activity (HCA), who oversee individual contracting organizations, have asked managers to meet with their staff more frequently to discuss performance. VA acquisition leadership has delegated certain acquisition responsibilities to HCAs, but has not clearly defined their responsibilities in managing the workforce. The lack of documented roles and responsibilities for HCAs in managing the acquisition workforce poses an obstacle to effectively managing this workforce. Documenting these roles would better position VA to address the issues facing its acquisition workforce.

Why GAO Did This Study

VA's acquisition workforce acquires goods and services to support VA's mission. VA has faced challenges in acquisition management, such as in the areas of acquisition training and contracting officer workload. In 2019, GAO added VA acquisition management to its High-Risk List.

GAO was asked to examine VA's acquisition workforce. This report assesses (1) the extent to which VA has comprehensive data on its acquisition workforce, (2) VA's acquisition workforce's perspectives on performing its responsibilities, and (3) the extent to which VA leadership manages issues facing its acquisition workforce.

To conduct this work, GAO collected, reconciled, and analyzed data on the workforce for fiscal year 2021. GAO surveyed a statistical sample of contracting officers, their representatives, and program/project managers to identify issues reported by this workforce. The results of this survey are generalizable. GAO conducted follow-up discussions and interviews with VA's acquisition workforce staff and senior leadership.


GAO is making two recommendations: that VA (1) take steps to ensure accurate and up-to-date workforce data, and (2) document the HCAs' roles and responsibilities for managing the acquisition workforce. VA agreed with GAO's recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Veterans Affairs
Priority Rec.
The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should ensure VA's Acquisition Career Manager takes steps, such as establishing procedures for staff to regularly update Cornerstone records and for reconciling Cornerstone records with HR data, to ensure that VA keeps up-to-date and accurate acquisition workforce records. (Recommendation 1)
Closed – Implemented
VA agreed with this recommendation. VA conducted two large-scale data updates in August and December 2022. VA leadership also sent emails to the acquisition workforce reminding them to update their data in the Cornerstone on Demand System, and are in the process of implementing a dashboard so managers can see how often employees are accessing and updating their human resources data. A large-scale update was completed in August 2022, which resulted in updates to over 45,000 user records (65% of all VA users) based on data from HRSMART. This update focused on four major data elements (organization, job series, grade and supervisor) within the Cornerstone On Demand system. Additionally, VA identified 1,400+ records for employees that are no longer employed by VA. To guarantee the most up-to-date employee records are maintained, these records were flagged for removal. In August 2023, VA stated that the dashboard is still under development, and currently there is no projected implementation date. As an alternative, VA has deployed an interim automated tool which utilizes data extracted from the Cornerstone on Demand System to identify and notify users of any inaccurate or incomplete elements in their profile. Periodic notifications are sent via email to VA personnel reminding them of the importance of ensuring their data is updated in a timely manner and adds details which address the impact of inaccurate data related to training, approval, and accurate reporting. The automated tool sends email notifications on a weekly basis to VA users identified as having a current certification and who require updates to their profile. In August 2023, VA reported that results comparing 3 months of data include a 30 percent (733 total) decrease in the number of emails being forwarded based on inaccurate or incomplete elements in the CSOD profiles. Based on the implementation of this interim solution, we are closing this recommendation as implemented.
Department of Veterans Affairs The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should ensure VA's Chief Acquisition Officer documents the HCAs' roles and responsibilities for managing the acquisition workforce. (Recommendation 2)
VA agreed with this recommendation. As of February 2023, VA reported that senior acquisition leadership was working to document roles and responsibilities for its Heads of Contracting Activity. To fully implement this recommendation, VA needs to complete this process.

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Acquisition managementAcquisition workforceContracting officersEmployee retentionHuman capital managementLabor forceVeterans affairsFederal procurementGovernment procurementConstruction