The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has spent ten years working on a new acquisition framework but still has yet to tackle central facets of how to implement the new framework – including identifying major programs that the framework will cover, integrating the new framework with the agency’s IT program, and addressing related acquisition workforce needs.

Those are the key takeaways from a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that lays out major steps that the watchdog agency said VA needs to take to in order to put the acquisition framework into place. GAO put VA acquisition issues on its high-risk list for the agency in 2019.

“If VA takes steps to address these and other challenges prior to implementing the new framework, VA could acquire goods and services more efficiently to support veterans,” GAO said in its latest report.

VA has agreed with a new set of recommendations from GAO to help make implementation of the framework more effective.

For over a decade, VA has worked to implement an improved framework for managing how it purchases goods and services, but it’s had “little success” in that effort, GAO said.

The Acquisition Program Management Framework – VA’s current framework in place since 2017 – includes features that generally align with GAO-identified acquisition leading practices. However, VA’s major acquisition programs that GAO reviewed instead use program-specific approaches that vary widely in robustness.

According to GAO, VA plans a 2022 implementation of its new Acquisition Lifecycle Framework, but is not well positioned to succeed in that effort because the agency plans to put the new framework in place before it deals with challenges that hindered adoption of the previous framework.

“VA’s current plans to implement the new framework in 2022 do not provide the department time to address these challenges,” GAO said.

“If VA does not take steps to address these challenges prior to implementing the new Acquisition Lifecycle Framework, then VA will face increased risks of another unsuccessful implementation that does not achieve meaningful improvements in management of its major acquisitions,” the watchdog agency said.

According to GAO, one of the issues VA must address is aligning the framework with other processes, including current IT programs. The VA planned to align its current framework with current IT programs, but it issued potentially confusing guidance on which processes to follow.

“VA has yet to provide clear direction to integrate the new framework with its IT [program], increasing the risk it will not be implemented effectively,” GAO said.

In addition to the IT-related concern, GAO said VA’s implementation challenges include:

  • Identifying programs subject to the framework;
  • Assessing acquisition workforce needs; and
  • Ensuring framework compliance.

According to GAO, VA agreed with a new set of recommendations from the watchdog agency that includes:

  • Establishing a mechanism to collect and monitor program costs;
  • Assessing workforce gaps;
  • Aligning the proposed framework with other agency processes;
  • Identifying a mechanism to ensure compliance; and
  • Ensuring these steps are taken before implementation of the new framework.
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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.