Lessons in the GAO System for Award Management Report

This post, written by Jonathan Messinger, originally appeared on Public Spend Forum

I believe there is still a small mimeographed newspaper out there in America that—in the wake of the debacle—has not yet weighed in with how to fix IT procurement in the federal government. I’m not sure what’s taking them so long, but while the pundits are being fitted for their CPO suits, let’s take a moment and remember that just last year, there was a 2012 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that, in at least some small ways, gave some insight into the struggles, and how to fix them.

In 2001, the GSA set out to tackle the disparate electronic information systems tracking the acquisitions process in various federal agencies. The GSA created the so-called Integrated Acquisition Environment (IAE), which employed an “adopt, adapt, acquire,” strategy, that either adopted or adapted existing agency systems for governmentwide use, and when no such system existed for a specific purpose, the GSA acquired one. The GAO’s report shows that from 2001 to 2008, the GSA adapted or acquired five systems, and acquired four more. That’s nine data systems the GSA then had to wrangle and aggregate to form the System for Award Management (SAM).

If you’re familiar at all with the struggles, this may all ring a bell. Part of the difficulty with the healthcare exchanges has been the wrangling of the various departments’ legacy data systems. Every time a person registers on the exchange, the site needs to ping a variety of databases, all created separately. The GAO also partially blamed cost overruns in the IAE project on unexpected heavy user load, again similar to what would happen five years later with

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