GAO and Success: Acquisition Workforce the Common Factor

With the collapse of the Congressional “supercommittee’s” budget deal on deficit reduction, federal managers, and their industry counterparts, are being told to prepare for the worst , as possible mandatory cuts are on the horizon for 2013.

In the mean time, federal managers will need to continue to find ways to save money and do more with less. To help programs succeed, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently came out with a report that highlights best practices for IT acquisition and execution. Combined with the Office of Management and Budget’s 25 point IT reform plan, these two products create a powerful blueprint for what programs should be doing to improve outcomes, and be considered successful by meeting cost, schedule, and performance goals.

The one common denominator for program success is a steady, skilled acquisition workforce to execute these other principals. This should not come as a surprise. However, what was surprising is that the Defense Information Systems Agency’s Global Combat Support System-Joint program did not list this fact as a critical success factor (similar to 6 out of 7 dentists recommend flossing for healthy teeth? Who actually goes to that one dentist?)

Putting aside the other factors, having a skilled, trained and stable acquisition workforce is critical to success in any program, and more than now than ever. The acquisition workforce, especially in contracting, must be able to act as business advisors and really lead the way in helping shape sound business practices. This includes pre-acquisition through contract execution. The program manager, in addition to the use of Integrated Program Teams, also are critical to ensuring that everyone is building requirements properly, proper contracts and metrics are in place, and then of course executing using the sound business practices categorized in the GAO report.

Regretfully, these budgets cuts and contract reductions can only be a detriment to implementing these best practices. With hiring freezes, reducing training budgets, and mandates to cut services contracts (such as acquisition support contracts), fewer opportunities will exist to improve performance. Coupled with the “low price at all cost” contract selection methodology, a thousand cuts are on the way to an environment of even further reduced performance, in addition to more fraud, waste, and abuse.

GAO and Inspector Generals will be quite busy in the next 24 months, but reports of program success will more than likely be a distant memory in this future timeframe.

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