GAO: Plan needed to implement acquisition panel's recommendations

The Office of Federal Procurement Policy needs to develop a strategy to implement and oversee recommended improvements to federal acquisition practices, according to a Government Accountability Office report released this week.

The upgrades to how the federal government acquires the $400 billion in goods and services it buys every year came from a panel formed in 2005, as required by the 2003 Services Acquisition Reform Act, which created a workforce training fund, chief acquisition officer positions and additional acquisition rules. The law was aimed at improving the management of service contracts -- administrative, management and information technology support -- which now account for 60 percent of total procurement dollars and draw increased scrutiny from the Hill.

In July 2007, the Services Acquisition Advisory Panel issued 89 recommendations to improve acquisition, which included instigating commercial practices, performance-based acquisition, interagency contracting, changes to the federal acquisition workforce, establishing the appropriate role of contractors supporting government, improving federal procurement data and dealing better with small businesses. The panel emphasized clearly defining contract requirements, which encourages competition because the work is more easily understood. Other recommendations included establishing unambiguous performance requirements and measurable standards as well as recognizing the inherent risks in interagency contracts and reducing the government's reliance on them.

In its report (GAO-08-160), GAO found that the panel's proposals were "largely consistent with the agency's past work and recommendations." But it urged the OFPP to "develop an oversight strategy or plan with milestones and reporting requirements to help it ensure the implementation of the SARA panel recommendations and to gauge how they improve federal acquisition."

According to the report, "Without an overall strategy or plan, it's unclear how OFPP will gauge the successes and shortcomings in how the panel recommendations will improve federal acquisitions."

Of the 89 recommendations, OFPP has taken issue with only two: a clause that would allow protests for all task and delivery orders worth more than $5 million awarded under multiple award contracts and changing the title of the contracting officer technical representative to contracting officer performance representative. OFPP said the threshold for the bid protest should be higher and that changing the title would not add value.

OFPP officials told GAO that because they agree with almost all of the recommendations, they already had begun implementing some, while others are pending or under consideration. The proposals can be implemented by legislative action, changes to the Federal Acquisition Regulations, the issuance or revision of policies by OFPP or federal agency action. OFPP estimated that about a third could be addressed through legislative actions and pending FAR cases. OFPP must address the remaining ones.

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