Best Practices and Leading Practices in Acquisition Management
With hundreds of billions of tax dollars spent each year on goods and services, it is essential that federal acquisition be managed in an efficient and effective manner. Our work has shown that four interrelated elements promote an efficient and accountable acquisition environment and process: 1) Organizational Alignment and Leadership, 2) Policies and Processes, 3) Human Capital's Acquisition Workforce and 4) Knowledge and Information Management.
Organizational Alignment and Leadership
Acquisition activities can be facilitated by ensuring the procurement function is appropriately placed within the agency and by clearly defining the roles and responsibilities of key stakeholders. Officials are able to make strategic decisions to achieve desired acquisition outcomes when they have the committed support of senior leadership.
- Establish and fill the position of chief acquisition officer, designating the officer with primary responsibility for managing the agency's acquisitions.
- Define roles and responsibilities for all participants in the acquisition process.
- Establish and communicate to all levels of the agency a strategic vision for the acquisition function, including goals and metrics related to acquisition efficiency, effectiveness, and achieving mission results.
- Evaluate and adjust the current structure of the acquisition function to assure changes in mission, budget, workforce, and technology are incorporated.
Policies and Processes
Clear, transparent, and consistent policies and processes are needed to implement strategic decisions through acquisitions. Such policies and processes govern the planning, award, administration, and oversight of acquisition efforts.
- Establish cross-functional teams in which key stakeholders coordinate and execute the acquisition tasks.
- Identify metrics, assess performance, and provide feedback on performance to agency suppliers.
- Establish mechanisms that promote the participation of small business suppliers.
- Strategically assess agency needs and how acquisition can meet those needs, including:
- identify and analyze agency-wide acquisitions planned in the next 12-24 months.
- ensuring needs in the agency budget request submission are consistent with planned acquisition strategies.
- Implement continuous improvement mechanisms, including revisions to acquisition-related policies and processes when appropriate, to incorporate staff and affected parties' needs and concerns.
Human Capital's Acquisition Workforce
To successfully acquire goods and services and execute and monitor contracts, agencies need to value and invest in the acquisition workforce. Agencies must think strategically about recruiting, developing, and retaining talent, and creating a results-oriented culture within the acquisition workforce.
- Include acquisition officials in the agency's human capital strategic planning process.
- Identify acquisition needs in the human capital plan, including strategies for recruiting, retaining, and developing acquisition staff.
- Conduct an acquisition workforce assessment to ensure employees have clearly defined roles and responsibilities, performance measures, and the appropriate workload, skills and training to perform their jobs effectively.
- Establish performance expectations and metrics for acquisition officials and managers at all levels.
Knowledge and Information Management
Effective knowledge and information management provides credible, reliable, and timely data to make strategic acquisition decisions in support of organizational missions.
Key practices are:
- Identify and maintain an inventory of key agency suppliers.
- Collect and maintain data on major categories of spending to inform agency decision-making.
- Use knowledge on spending patterns to leverage agency-wide acquisitions to obtain favorable pricing and other concessions from key suppliers.
- Conduct and maintain an inventory identifying activities performed by government personnel as commercial or inherently governmental, and provide justification of inherently governmental functions.
GAO-12-833: Published: Sep 18, 2012. Publicly Released: Sep 19, 2012.
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GAO-12-400SP: Published: Mar 29, 2012. Publicly Released: Mar 29, 2012.
The total estimated cost of the Department of Defenses (DOD) 2011 portfolio of 96 major defense acquisition programs stands at $1.58 trillion. In the past year, the total acquisition cost of these programs has grown by over $74.4 billion or 5 percent, of which about $31.1 billion can be attributed to factors such as inefficiencies in production, $29.6 billion to quantity changes, and $13.7 b...
GAO-12-207SP: Published: Mar 1, 2012. Publicly Released: Mar 1, 2012.
GAO assessed 21 NASA projects with a combined life-cycle cost that exceeds $43 billion. Of those 21 projects, 6 were in an early phase of development called formulation, and 15 had entered the implementation phase where cost and schedule baselines were established. Five of the 15 projects in implementation successfully launched in 2011, and two of them met their cost and schedule baselines. NASA...
GAO-05-218G: Published: Sep 1, 2005. Publicly Released: Sep 1, 2005.
Federal agencies are relying increasingly on contractors to perform their missions. With hundreds of billions of tax dollars spent each year on goods and services, it is essential that federal acquisition be handled in an efficient, effective, and accountable manner. The Government Accountability Office (GAO), however--as well as other accountability organizations, inspectors general, and the agen...
GAO-19-147T: Published: Oct 11, 2018. Publicly Released: Oct 11, 2018.
The Coast Guard and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) collectively spend billions of dollars to replace aging ships that conduct search and rescue, icebreaking, and research missions. We testified on how lessons learned from our extensive work on ship acquisitions could be used to inform how the Coast Guard and NOAA buy ships. These include: developing a long-term strategic...
GAO-18-703T: Published: Sep 27, 2018. Publicly Released: Sep 27, 2018.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) has improved its management of information technology (IT) acquisitions and operations by addressing 14 of the 15 recommendations that GAO has made to the agency. For example,Incremental development. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has emphasized the need for agencies to deliver IT investments in smaller increments to reduce risk and deliver capab...
GAO-18-627: Published: Sep 12, 2018. Publicly Released: Sep 12, 2018.
In 2007, a congressional advisory panel identified a number of ways the government could buy goods and services more effectively and save money in the process. While Congress and the executive branch did a lot to address the panel’s recommendations, we found that some challenges endure over a decade later. For example: The use of competitive contracts to buy things, a practice that should lowe...
GAO-18-600: Published: Sep 4, 2018. Publicly Released: Sep 4, 2018.
The Coast Guard and Navy are planning to invest up to $9.8 billion to build and maintain three heavy polar icebreakers to conduct missions in the Antarctic and Arctic. The first ship is scheduled for delivery in 2023. We found the icebreaker program faces risks in 3 key areas: the program has not fully assessed how well key technologies will work in this particular effort, its cost estimate may...
GAO-18-550: Published: Aug 8, 2018. Publicly Released: Aug 8, 2018.
The Department of Homeland Security invests billions of dollars each year in major acquisition programs to assist in executing its many critical missions. We’ve previously found that DHS agencies had acquisition programs that did not meet requirements. Sometimes operational requirements were poorly defined, increasing the risk of not meeting the needs of end users in the field, such as emergency...
GAO-18-454: Published: Jul 24, 2018. Publicly Released: Jul 24, 2018.
The Coast Guard is spending billions of dollars to replace aging ships, aircraft, and other assets. Because the Coast Guard has managed its acquisitions with a short-term, asset-by-asset focus, it has at times lost sight of the balance and cost of its overall asset portfolio. For example, some high-priority acquisitions have been delayed. Also, the Coast Guard continues to operate its fleets for...
GAO-18-629T: Published: Jul 24, 2018. Publicly Released: Jul 24, 2018.
The Coast Guard is modernizing its fleets of aircraft, cutters, and other assets, but it continues to lack a long-term plan to guide these efforts. Instead, it relies on a short-term focus of yearly budgets and its 5-year plan. This has led to unpredictable funding and capability gaps. For example, the Coast Guard has identified a need for three heavy and three medium icebreakers, but has only on...
GAO-18-566T: Published: May 23, 2018. Publicly Released: May 23, 2018.
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and federal agencies have taken steps to improve the management of information technology (IT) acquisitions and operations and ensure the security of federal IT through a series of initiatives. As of May 2018, agencies had fully implemented about 61 percent of the approximately 800 IT management-related recommendations that GAO made from fiscal years 2010...
GAO-18-339SP: Published: May 17, 2018. Publicly Released: May 17, 2018.
Each year, the Department of Homeland Security invests billions of dollars in major acquisitions such as aircraft and surveillance technology. We reviewed DHS's portfolio of major acquisitions and found that, in 2017, more than half of its programs needed more time and money than initially planned—an increase from 2016. DHS has strengthened its policies for managing acquisitions as a portfolio...
GAO-18-385R: Published: Apr 13, 2018. Publicly Released: Apr 13, 2018.
The Coast Guard and Navy are preparing to build three heavy polar icebreakers to conduct missions in the Antarctic and Arctic. The single active heavy polar icebreaker is reaching the end of its useful service life. This interim report provides an update on the shipbuilding effort. In February 2018, goals for the ships' construction schedules and performance capabilities were approved, and a max...