GAO details acquisition best practices

The Government Accountability Office has found that acquisition success depends on instituting best practices in four broad areas, including data management and security.

Auditors said agencies should align their organizations so acquisition professionals have clear and defined roles and leadership gives officials the ability to make strategic decisions; have transparent policies that are implemented consistently; invest and train their workforces; and manage their data so it is timely, reliable, accurate and secure.

GAO has defined and outlined these best practices in a new document, titled "A Framework for Assessing the Acquisition Function at Federal Agencies."

"The framework is designed to translate the knowledge we have gained through years of auditing into a structured and constructive approach for agencies to establish an efficient and effective acquisition function," said Kathleen Schinasi, GAO's managing director for acquisition and sourcing management. "It is hard to imagine that an agency could carry out its mission without one."

Part of the reason GAO issued this initial framework is that it added interagency contracting to its high-risk list this year and ongoing procurement challenges agencies face, Schinasi added.

"GAO developed the framework to enable high-level qualitative assessments of the strengths and weaknesses of the acquisition function at federal agencies," the framework said.

The guide will help agencies identify weaknesses and improve the ability of inspectors general and other oversight organizations to identify areas requiring follow-up work, GAO said.

In the document, GAO focused on the best practices for managing data. Auditors said IT systems should integrate financial, acquisition, operating and management information, and let officials have access to relevant information to perform ad-hoc analyses.

The contract management system should track all the contractual events, including key milestones, closeout, cost and trouble spots and how those problems are dealt with. Agencies also should have financial data that includes funds spent and funds available, and establish metrics to assess the effectiveness of the acquisition function.

GAO also listed eight pitfalls that agency officials should look out for, such as not collecting a full set of information to make decisions or lack of system integration.

Additionally, auditors listed best practices for translating data into meaningful formats, analyzing spending and data security and stewardship.

"As government contracting continues to grow in size and scope, having sound processes and procedures in place and the controls to make sure those are translated into practice are critical to getting the outcomes we pay for," Schinasi said.

Jason Miller is an assistant managing editor of Washington Technology's sister publication, Government Computer News.

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