Steps Taken to Improve Contracting Practices, but Opportunities Exist to Do More

March 27, 2013

What GAO Found

For the contracts GAO reviewed, the National Science Foundation (NSF) generally used key contracting practices in each of the three phases of the acquisition process, but the agency needs additional guidance on early acquisition planning as well as arrangements for contract audits.

The contracts GAO reviewed all involved some degree of acquisition planning, but NSF's guidance does not address appropriate time frames for early planning activities. Without such guidance, NSF contract and program officials said they could not convince their colleagues of the need to initiate early planning activities. Delays in these activities can lead to further delays later. For example, NSF had to extend one order on a non-competitive basis for more than a year to complete planning tasks for the follow-on order. In another case, the delayed award of an order compressed the data collection period for a report with firm deadlines, which could lead to higher overall costs. Further, having sufficient time for early planning may facilitate an increased use of lower risk contracting approaches.

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