For certain architecture and engineering services, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers often uses multiple-award contracts. These are awarded to a group of contractors, who are deemed "prequalified" for projects within the scope of the initial award.
In 2020, the Corps issued a policy outlining the process for choosing the most qualified contractor from the prequalified group for a project. But industry raised concerns about parts of this process. The Corps revised the policy twice and we found that the latest policy is responsive to those concerns.
We recommended the Corps track data that will help it monitor implementation of its new policy.
What GAO Found
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) contracts with private firms to provide architecture and engineering services, such as creating designs and conducting inspections for government-funded construction projects. The federal government is required by law to select architecture and engineering firms based on their competency and qualifications rather than price. For recurring needs, the Corps may use multiple award task order contracts (referred to in this report as multiple award contracts) that allow it to place orders for specific projects from among a number of pre-qualified firms. In December 2022, Congress passed a law prohibiting the Department of Defense, including the Corps, from routinely requesting additional information related to firms' qualifications when awarding task orders for architecture and engineering services under these types of contracts.
In April 2023, the Corps issued a revised policy in response to the new law. The revised policy still allows Corps officials to request additional information from firms, but only when they do not have enough existing information available to determine the most qualified firm for the work. Otherwise, the policy instructs officials to use a simplified notice that informs firms that the Corps has enough information to select a firm.
The revised policy also reflects changes to address other industry concerns with the Corps’ prior policies issued in March 2020 and April 2021. For example, under the April 2021 policy, firms felt the need to provide additional information in response to a simplified notice, although it was not required, to remain competitive for selection. Under the revised policy, the Corps no longer accepts additional information from firms in response to a simplified notice and may immediately proceed with the next steps in its task order selection process once the notice is issued.
The Corps’ use of task orders under multiple award contracts for architecture and engineering services has increased, but it does not track data on its selection process when making these awards. From fiscal years 2019 through 2022, the proportion of task orders the Corps awarded under these contracts increased to total more than half of all awards and obligations for architecture and engineering services as shown in the figure below.
Percent of Contract Awards and Obligations for Architecture and Engineering Services Made by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Fiscal Years 2019-2022
The Corps has a system to track key milestones for awarding contracts and orders, but this system does not track information related to the selection process for architecture and engineering task orders under multiple award contracts. For example, it does not record which type of notice—a request for additional information or simplified notice—officials issue or the date the notice is sent. Corps officials acknowledged they do not have a systematic way to collect and monitor these data, but are working to identify a solution. However, they do not have a time frame for when this effort will be complete. Until the Corps collects data on its task order selection process, it cannot monitor implementation of the revised policy or evaluate whether the rate of requests for additional information sent to firms is less than “routine” as called for by the new law.
Why GAO Did This Study
In fiscal year 2022, the Corps obligated $1.8 billion for architecture and engineering services. Agencies collect information on those firms’ qualifications through a standard form and other sources, including requests for additional information.
In March 2020, the Corps issued a policy establishing procedures for selecting the most qualified architecture and engineering firm for a task order under multiple award contracts. Some federal contractors raised concerns about the new procedures, such as requests for additional information on firms’ qualifications being duplicative to information the Corps already had.
A Senate report included a provision for GAO to review the Corps’ use of multiple award contracts for architecture and engineering services. This report describes (1) the Corps’ current process for awarding task orders on such contracts, and (2) its use of task orders on such contracts from fiscal years 2019 through 2022.
GAO reviewed the Corps’ policies and spoke with agency officials and representatives from two industry organizations. GAO obtained and analyzed data including the number of awards and total obligations for architecture and engineering services from fiscal years 2019 through 2022 from the Federal Procurement Data System.
GAO is making one recommendation for the Army Corps of Engineers to develop a mechanism to track data on its task order selection process, including the type of notice issued and the date the notice is sent.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Department of the Army||We recommend the Secretary of the Army ensure that the Chief of Engineers and Commanding General of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers develop a mechanism to track data on USACE's selection process for task orders under multiple award contracts for A-E services, including the type of notice issued to contract holders and the date the notice is sent. (Recommendation 1)||