oversight

NASA Procurement Assessments

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1997-02-04.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

GA O   OUnited States
        General Accounting Office
        Washington, D.C. 20548                                             1111o9III I

        National Security and
        International Affairs Division



        B-276072

        February 4, 1997

        The Honorable Daniel S. Goldin
        Administrator, National Aeronautics
         and Space Administration

        Dear Mr. Goldin:

        Over the past several years, we have reviewed a variety of issues related to contract
        management at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Early
        last year, we reported that the quality, consistency, and usefulness of self-
        assessments of procurement functions by NASA's field centers could be improved if
        the centers had additional guidance and information.' Procurement officials at
        NASA headquarters noted they would consider our observations as they refined
        their self-assessment process.

         The purpose\of this letter is to (1) summarize our findings on NASA's efforts to
         address our concerns about the self-assessment process for procurement functions
         and (2) elicit information on further actions you plan to improve the process. We
         are asking that you or your designee respond to the questions at the end of this
         letter by March 7, 1997.

         SUMMARY

         In March 1996, NASA's Office of Procurement asked centers for their views on the
         need for additional self-assessment guidance. Several centers said that additional
         agencywide guidance was needed or stated they had independently developed
         center-specific guidance on conducting assessments. To date, NASA headquarters
         has not issued additional guidance or collaborated with center procurement officials
         to do so. Our recent work on the self-assessment process at centers has reinforced
         our initial concern about the need for additional guidance. Developing ways to
         ensure the consistency and quality of centers' assessments is particularly important
         in view of recent and planned changes in the procurement process and
         headquarters' reduced oversight role.



         'NASA Contract Management (GAO/NSIAD-96-95R, Feb. 16, 1996).

                                         GAO/NSIAD-97-80R NASA Procurement Assessments

                                    oe      od // I 5      Io tt
    B-276072


Self-Assessment Guidance and Information

In February 1996, we suggested to NASA that the quality, consistency, and
usefulness of self-assessments of procurement activities might be improved if
centers had additional agencywide guidance and information on the following:

-     conducting self-assessments, including staff selection, sampling techniques, and
      the scope of the review;
-     retaining self-assessment documentation;
-     following up on the correction of problems; and
-     sharing self-assessment results.

 NASA procurement officials at headquarters informed us that they intended to
pursue our suggestions in the interest of more efficient contract management.
 Subsequently, NASA's Office of Procurement asked centers for their views on the
need for additional self-assessment guidance. Several centers said that additional
agencywide guidance was needed or stated they had independently developed
center-specific guidance on conducting assessments. One major procurement
center strongly endorsed the need for additional agencywide guidance. A second
center noted that existing guidance discussed virtually every aspect of the
acquisition cycle and created the potential for self-assessments to become "broad-
brushed," with little or no penetration into any real problem areas. A third
suggested that an agency-sponsored workshop on generic self-assessment
techniques would prove useful and help ensure more consistent assessments
without restricting each center's ability to tailor its assessment to specific needs.

Goddard Space Flight Center, where we did the preliminary work supporting our
February 1996 report, responded to our suggestions for improvement by
(1) establishing a policy for retaining documentation on self-assessments, (2) taking
steps to formalize the system for following up on identified problems, and
(3) distributing its detailed self-assessment report to all procurement personnel at
the center. However, to date, NASA headquarters has not issued additional
guidance or collaborated with center procurement officials to do so.

Our recent work indicates that the lack of consistency in conducting procurement
self-assessments still exists. While some centers conducted in-depth assessments
and reported results in detail, others did not conduct the required assessments,
performed limited assessments, or produced superficial reports of results. Even at
the same center, the approaches used to conduct assessments have varied
considerably from year to year.




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B-276072


Headquarters Oversight
of Self-Assessment Process

Ensuring the consistency and quality of centers' self-assessments is critical because
NASA headquarters exercises limited oversight through its separate functional
reviews. Procurement management survey teams from headquarters do not
routinely review centers' documentation supporting self-assessments. In addition,
the teams do not have written guidance for evaluating centers' assessment activities
to determine whether they (1) addressed the principal procurement functions,
(2) provided reasonable estimates of potential risks, and (3) adequately identified
areas needing improvement.

We recognize NASA's efforts to empower centers' procurement personnel through
the self-assessment process. However, NASA guidance clearly establishes
headquarters' responsibility for providing proactive functional area advice and for
developing agencywide policy, requirements, standards, and guidelines in
collaboration with top procurement officials at centers.

Headquarters' role in ensuring adequate and comprehensive coverage of the
procurement cycle is particularly important in light of recent and planned changes.
As you know, NASA continues to face the challenge of operating and overseeing
procurement activities while achieving significant personnel reductions at both
headquarters and field centers. For example, recent planned reductions could
result in a 35-percent cut in headquarters staff working to improve agencywide
contract management and reviewing centers' procurement activities. Also, NASA
procurement personnel continue to grapple with organizational changes and
ongoing revisions of policies and procedures in several areas. For example, centers
have empowered their personnel by increasing warrant levels and span of review
approval authority. While these changes have positive elements, they have also
reduced the traditional "safety net" of several review and approval cycles.

QUESTIONS

1. Now that the first 3-year cycle for the new self-assessment process in
procurement has recently concluded, how does NASA plan to evaluate the overall
effectiveness of self-assessments as a mechanism for procurement system oversight
and follow up on problems?

2. Does NASA have any specific plans to provide more guidance or training to
ensure the quality, consistency, and usefulness of centers' procurement self-
assessments? If so, when? If not, why not?



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B-276072


3. What future role will procurement management survey teams play in reviewing
the completeness and adequacy of centers' self-assessments and helping centers
identify ways to improve the self-assessment process? How will headquarters staff
accomplish these activities, given planned reductions?



We are sending copies of this letter to the Chairmen and Ranking Minority Members
of congressional committees with NASA appropriation, authorization, and oversight
responsibilities. Copies will also be made available to others upon request. Your
response to our inquiry will be provided the same distribution. If you have any
questions, please contact me or Mr. Frank Degnan, Assistant Director, at
(202) 5124841.

Sincerely yours,




Thomas J. Schulz
Associate Director
Defense Acquisitions Issues




(707234)

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