GAO study: Defense felt brunt of sequestration

EDITOR's NOTE: This article first appeared on

A new federal watchdog analysis of governmentwide contracting data shows a decline in defense agency contracts to buy products and services over the last five years, but commitments to buy IT and telecom services remained top priorities for defense and civilian agencies.

The Government Accountability Office study, released March 9, found that while defense agency obligations to buy products and services decreased by almost 31 percent from fiscal 2011 through 2015, from $399 billion to $274 billion, civilian contracts remained fairly steady over the same period.

That defense agency decline, the report said, primarily coincided with the 2013 sequestration.

The GAO study reviewed contract types, competition rates and other data from 2011 to 2015. It incorporated snapshots of procurement activity at the 10 civilian agencies with the highest levels of obligations in fiscal year 2015 as well as the three military departments. The agency said it analyzed data from the Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation, the government's procurement database, and reviewed prior GAO and inspector general reports.

Among its findings was data that showed service contracts, particularly IT and telecommunications contract obligations, ruled for both civilian and defense agencies during the period.

In the five years the study covered, the majority of federal contract obligations, GAO said, have been for services. Across defense agencies, the study found that just over 50 percent of obligations were for contracted services, while civilian agencies contracts were nearly 80 percent for services over the period.

The top five service obligations at defense and civilian agencies accounted for about 51 and 60 percent respectively of total service obligations in fiscal year 2015.

At 16 percent, IT services obligations were second on the study's list of percentages of total civilian agency services contract obligations, topped only by professional services at 18.5 percent.

At defense agencies, according to the study, IT and telecommunications services were 7.8 percent of total services contract obligations, fourth behind professional services, equipment repair and maintenance and defense systems research and development.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.

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