WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Maine, Tuesday said that, because good planning reaps large rewards, federal agencies should make the most of their acquisition planning policies to conserve taxpayer dollars during a weak economy and in the face of major budget cuts ahead.

 A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report — requested by Lieberman and Collins — on planning service contracts found agencies are not doing all they could to oversee such planning, and therefore are not maximizing the results of their acquisitions.

 “GAO’s report comes at a critical point in our fiscal history and offers a valuable lesson in good government,” Lieberman said. “The report shows that planning for a contract is just as important to its outcome as negotiating and managing it. The federal government must determine what it really needs to buy, how it’s going to buy it, and what it should pay – BEFORE a contractor is hired. If agencies clearly define what they are buying and what they can afford, taxpayer dollars will be saved in the long run.”

 Collins said: “What could be more important to the success of a program than accurate, well-documented cost estimates, clear requirements, and written expectations? Yet, GAO documented shortcomings in these fundamentals.   Without adequate planning, agencies put at risk taxpayers’ dollars, successful contract outcomes, and the timely execution of agencies’ missions.  I expect HHS, DHS, and NASA to improve their processes by implementing the GAO recommendations. And, with respect to USAID, it is imperative that it fix the many shortfalls in its acquisition planning process identified by GAO.”

 The federal government spends $135 billion annually purchasing non-defense services — from background investigations to aircraft maintenance. This sum accounts for 80 percent of all the money civilian agencies spend on contracts.

GAO focused on the contract planning at the top four civilian agencies that buy services – Health and Human Services (HHS), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the National Air and Space Administration (NASA), and U.S. Aid for International Development (USAID).

GAO concluded that “agencies did not always take full advantage of acquisition planning to develop a strong foundation for contracts” and recommended that all four agencies specify in their acquisition planning the role of cost estimates and lessons learned from previous contracts and establish timetables for when to begin planning. USAID, GAO said, needs to require standards for written acquisition plans and guidance for improved cost estimation.