VA acquisition workforce are mostly satisfied, despite reported program issues

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A large majority of acquisition staff at the Department of Veterans Affairs said in a recent Government Accountability Office survey that they are satisfied in their current positions, despite continued issues with the VA’s acquisition programs.

The Department of Veterans Affairs' acquisition staff reported strong overall job satisfaction and support for the agency's telework and training programs – despite recommendations from the Government Accountability Office to improve its workforce management efforts.

A majority (67.5%) of acquisition staff surveyed for the GAO report indicated that they were "very satisfied" or "satisfied" in their job, compared to 15.3% who reported dissatisfaction. Those surveyed expressed even stronger support for the VA's telework program, with 76% of respondents indicating their satisfaction with the policy, which encourages managers to allow eligible employees "to telework to the maximum extent practicable without diminished employee or organizational performance."

More than two-thirds of respondents said they were satisfied with the data systems and tools provided to the acquisition workforce by the VA and half were satisfied with the agency's acquisition policies and procedures. Drilling in on specific acquisition functions, the survey found that 16.7% of respondents said they were not satisfied with with the agency's  Electronic Contract Management System, 10% were not satisfied with the Financial Management Business Transformation or Integrated Financial and Acquisition Management System and 7.5% were not satisfied with the Acquisition Knowledge Portal. An accounting application called the Integrated Funds Distribution Control Point Activity Accounting & Procurement generated more disapproval – but still just over 20%.

GAO conducted the web-based survey from November to December of 2021 and directed respondents to reflect on their experiences at VA over the period of March 2020 to October 2021. The results and methodology are included as an appendix in the report released Sept. 29.

While just over 34% of the workforce said they planned to leave their job post in the next three years, nearly 15% of those respondents indicated that they planned to move to another organization with the VA. 

Less than half (47.2%) of those surveyed expressed plans to leave the agency entirely, including 40% of respondents that said they were planning to retire. But workload did appear to be a concern for some, with a majority (55%) indicating it was their top reason for planning to leave their job in the next three years. 

A majority of the surveyed workers also expressed support for the level of access to training they received to perform in their roles, including formal and informal development opportunities, on-the-job training and courses offered through the VA. 

Despite what appear to be high marks from staffers, the GAO recommended that the agency maintain up-to-date data on its staff and clarify oversight roles and responsibilities for the heads of contracting activity who manage individual contracting organizations.

"VA has faced challenges in acquisition management, such as in the areas of acquisition training and contracting officer workload," the report said, adding: "VA acquisition leadership acknowledged issues raised by the acquisition workforce, and has taken some steps to address them."

The VA agreed with the recommendations featured in the report and committed to addressing both within 180 days.