Skip to Content

GAO hits the bull’s eye in identifying commercial best practices as the key to successful information technology investments.


Earlier this week the Government Accountability Office (GAO) testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee regarding “Leveraging Best Practices to Help Ensure Successful Major Acquisitions.”   The testimony can be found here.  The focus of the testimony was a presentation of nine common “critical success factors” that GAO identified in examining seven successful federal information technology procurements.   As GAO explains in its testimony, agency officials from the seven successful procurement investments identified nine common factors that were critical to the success of three or more of the seven investments.   The nine common factors and number of agencies reporting the factors are as follows:


These seven factors are standard commercial best practices.  As this blog has repeatedly noted, requirements development is the “blocking and tackling” of procurement.  As “blocking and tackling” are the keys to winning football, sound requirements development is the key to ensuring best value outcomes for information technology investments on behalf of the American people.  It is the foundation for success in ensuring best value outcomes Commercial firms focus significant management time, effort and technical resources on ensuring sound requirements development when seeking to acquire information technology solutions.

Sound requirements development is the foundation for all procurement and contract performance success both in the private sector and the federal sector.  The keys to sound requirements development are the seven critical success factors (i.e. commercial best practices) identified by GAO.  Most importantly, these factors have remained consistent over time!  Once again, as  the Services Acquisition Reform Act (SARA) 2007 Acquisition Advisory Panel Report observed regarding best commercial practices:

Commercial organizations invest the time and resources necessary to understand and define their requirements.  They use multi-disciplinary teams to plan their requirements, conduct competitions forward, and monitor contract performance.  They rely on well-define requirements and competitive awards to reduce prices and obtain innovative, high quality goods and services.  Procurements with clear requirements are far more likely to meet customer needs and be successful in execution.

See page 31, Chapter 1, of the Report.

As noted in my October 25th FAR and Beyond blog, in response to the above finding the SARA Panel recommended that:

Current policies mandating acquisition planning should be better enforced.  Agencies must place greater emphasis on defining requirements, structuring solicitations to facilitate competition and fixed price offers, and monitoring contract performance.  Agencies should support requirements development by developing centers of expertise in requirements analysis and development.  Agencies should then ensure that no acquisition of complex services (e.g. information technology or management) occurs without express advance approval of requirements by the program manager or user and the contracting officer, regardless of which type of acquisition vehicle is used.

This SARA Panel recommendation essentially mirrors the seven factors that GAO identified.  The recommendation essentially translates commercial best practices into a federal procurement context.  To improve procurement outcomes for information technology solutions  the federal government must demonstrate the determination, discipline, and drive to address the fundamentals of requirements development!

Great job GAO!  Next week—five steps toward improving requirements development and procurement outcomes for the American people.

Roger Waldron


Back to top