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VA Acquisition Management: Action Needed to Ensure Success of New Oversight Framework

GAO-22-105195 Published: Aug 11, 2022. Publicly Released: Aug 11, 2022.
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Fast Facts

For over a decade, VA has tried with little success to implement a framework for managing and overseeing how it purchases goods and services. We added VA acquisition management to our High Risk List in 2019.

VA plans to implement a new framework but hasn't:

  • Identified major acquisition programs subject to the new framework
  • Addressed acquisition workforce needs

If VA takes steps to address these and other challenges prior to implementing the new framework, VA could acquire goods and services more efficiently to support veterans.

We recommended VA take steps to address challenges before implementing the new framework.

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Highlights

What GAO Found

For over a decade, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has worked to implement a framework for managing how it purchases goods and services, with little success. GAO found that VA has not used its Acquisition Program Management Framework, its current framework, which has been in place since 2017. This framework includes features—such as phases, key documents, and identified decision authorities—that could provide standardized management and oversight of VA's major acquisitions. These features generally align with GAO-identified acquisition leading practices. However, VA's major acquisition programs that GAO reviewed instead use program-specific approaches that vary widely in robustness.

VA plans to implement its proposed acquisition framework—the Acquisition Lifecycle Framework—in 2022. Plans for the new framework include features and processes similar to those of the current one. However, VA and its acquisition programs are not well-positioned to successfully implement the new framework because VA plans to implement it before addressing challenges that hindered adoption of its predecessor. For example:

  • Identifying programs subject to the framework. VA has yet to develop a list of major acquisitions that would be subject to increased oversight within the framework because it lacks a mechanism to collect and monitor acquisition program costs. Without such a mechanism, VA will struggle to identify acquisition programs subject to increased oversight within the framework.
  • Assessing acquisition workforce needs. VA identified gaps in its acquisition workforce that affected programs' ability to implement the existing framework. Since VA has yet to assess its current workforce to determine whether gaps still exist, it will not know if current staff levels and skillsets are adequate to effectively support the new framework.
  • Aligning the framework with other processes. VA planned to align its current framework with IT program and major construction project management processes, but it issued potentially confusing guidance as to which processes to follow. VA has yet to provide clear direction to integrate the new framework with its IT and other management processes, increasing the risk it will not be implemented effectively.
  • Ensuring framework compliance. VA identified that the lack of a mechanism to ensure that acquisition programs adopt its framework was a weakness when it implemented its current framework. But VA has yet to establish and communicate a mechanism to ensure program compliance with its new framework, risking a repeat of limited adoption.

VA's current plans to implement the new framework in 2022 do not provide the department time to address these challenges. If VA does not take steps to address these challenges prior to implementing the new Acquisition Lifecycle Framework, then VA will face increased risks of another unsuccessful implementation that does not achieve meaningful improvements in management of its major acquisitions.

Why GAO Did This Study

Over the past 10 years, VA's contract obligations nearly doubled in size to $38 billion in fiscal year 2021. The increase was driven in part by key program growth and efforts to modernize VA systems. GAO added VA's acquisition management to its High-Risk List in 2019 due to numerous challenges to efficiently purchasing goods and services, including medical supplies.

GAO was asked to examine how VA manages major acquisitions, which Office of Management and Budget guidance identify as requiring special management attention. This report assesses the extent to which VA acquisitions are following the current acquisition management framework and the extent to which VA is positioned to implement its proposed acquisition framework, among other objectives. To conduct this assessment, GAO reviewed relevant VA policies and guidance; analyzed VA program documents for a mix of IT modernization efforts and service acquisitions; and interviewed VA officials.

Recommendations

GAO is making seven recommendations. These include establishing a mechanism to collect and monitor program costs, assessing workforce gaps, aligning the proposed framework with other agency processes, identifying a mechanism to ensure compliance, and ensuring these steps are taken before implementation of the new framework. VA agreed with GAO's recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Veterans Affairs The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should ensure that the Chief Acquisition Officer addresses challenges that pose risks to the Acquisition Lifecycle Framework's success prior to its implementation. These risks include collecting cost data to enable identification of programs subject to increased oversight within the framework, addressing acquisition workforce needs, aligning the framework with other processes, and ensuring program compliance with the framework. (Recommendation 1)
Open
VA concurred with this recommendation. In February 2023, VA identified high-level goals that summarized its approach for establishing an enterprise program management structure. As of July 2023, VA officials reported that the department had yet to complete any of the identified tasks. VA officials stated that the delay was due to the time needed to properly plan identified actions and to introduce a program management structure that does not currently exist within VA. Specifically, VA identified the need for a supporting Enterprise Program Management Structure to enable the success of the Acquisition Lifecycle Framework, informed in part by feedback from programs that had been early adopters of the proposed framework. VA plans to identify organizational factors that are the root cause of programmatic challenges and develop a plan of action to address them by the end of September 2023.
Department of Veterans Affairs The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should ensure that the Chief Acquisition Officer establishes a mechanism to collect, maintain, and monitor program costs and cost estimates necessary to identify programs subject to increased oversight within the Acquisition Lifecycle Framework. (Recommendation 2)
Open
VA concurred with this recommendation. In February 2023, VA identified tasks to be completed by responsible parties within the department in order to address this recommendation. As of July 2023, VA officials reported that the department had yet to complete any identified tasks. VA officials stated that the delay was due to the time needed to properly plan identified actions and to introduce a program management structure that does not currently exist within VA.
Department of Veterans Affairs The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should ensure that the Chief Acquisition Officer and the Assistant Secretary for the Office of Human Resources and Administration conduct an enterprise-wide workforce assessment to identify any gaps that could limit effective adoption of the Acquisition Lifecycle Framework, such as in roles related to program management. (Recommendation 3)
Open
VA concurred with this recommendation. In February 2023, VA identified tasks to be completed by responsible parties within the department in order to address this recommendation. As of July 2023, VA officials reported that the department had yet to complete any identified tasks. VA officials stated that the delay was due to the time needed to properly plan identified actions and to introduce a program management structure that does not currently exist within VA.
Department of Veterans Affairs The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should ensure that the Chief Acquisition Officer determines, documents, and communicates to programs how the Acquisition Lifecycle Framework should be used in conjunction with existing project management frameworks and processes, such as the Veteran-Focused Integration Process, VA Construction, and VA's Project Management Framework. (Recommendation 4)
Open
VA concurred with this recommendation. In February 2023, VA identified tasks to be completed by responsible parties within the department in order to address this recommendation. As of July 2023, VA officials reported that the department had yet to complete any identified tasks. VA officials stated that the delay was due to the time needed to properly plan identified actions and to introduce a program management structure that does not currently exist within VA.
Department of Veterans Affairs The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should ensure that the Chief Acquisition Officer identifies and documents a mechanism to monitor and ensure that applicable acquisition programs adopt and comply with the Acquisition Lifecycle Framework processes and decisions. (Recommendation 5)
Open
VA concurred with this recommendation. In February 2023, VA identified tasks to be completed by responsible parties within the department in order to address this recommendation. As of July 2023, VA officials reported that the department had yet to complete any identified tasks. VA officials stated that the delay was due to the time needed to properly plan identified actions and to introduce a program management structure that does not currently exist within VA.
Department of Veterans Affairs The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should ensure that the Chief Acquisition Officer establishes key measures for the performance of the Acquisition Lifecycle Framework, collects and analyzes data related to these measures, and reports results. (Recommendation 6)
Open
VA concurred with this recommendation. In February 2023, VA identified tasks to be completed by responsible parties within the department in order to address this recommendation. As of July 2023, VA officials reported that the department had yet to complete any identified tasks. VA officials stated that the delay was due to the time needed to properly plan identified actions and to introduce a program management structure that does not currently exist within VA.
Department of Veterans Affairs The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should ensure that the Chief Acquisition Officer establishes a documented lessons learned process to consistently collect, analyze, validate, archive, and share lessons learned related to implementation of the Acquisition Lifecycle Framework. (Recommendation 7)
Open
VA concurred with this recommendation. In February 2023, VA identified tasks to be completed by responsible parties within the department in order to address this recommendation. As of July 2023, VA officials reported that the department had yet to complete any identified tasks. VA officials stated that the delay was due to the time needed to properly plan identified actions and to introduce a program management structure that does not currently exist within VA.

Full Report

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Topics

Acquisition managementAcquisition programsAcquisition workforceBusiness systems modernizationCompliance oversightCost estimatesGovernment procurementLessons learnedVeterans affairsBest practices