GAO’s Technology Assessment Design Handbook Provides Insight for Contractors

Published: February 24, 2021

Federal Market AnalysisGAOInformation TechnologyInnovationPolicy and Legislation

Understanding how federal agencies approach their assessments of new technologies may aid how firms design and offer their products and services.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued an updated handbook that helps federal personnel and others who design and conduct technology assessments (TA) to effectively analyze a technology's effects and make complex issues understandable and useful to policymakers.

GAO’s Technology Assessment Design Handbook provides interested users tools, considerations and approaches to help them design rigorous technology assessments (TA). The latest version updates GAO’s December 2019 handbook to incorporate the experiences of GAO teams and a review of relevant literature and comments submitted by external experts and the public since its original release.

The handbook stresses the importance of TA design and outlines the process of designing TAs – from determining the scope to developing an initial design and implementing it. GAO also tackles approaches for mitigating TA design and implementation challenges, which they placed into four broad categories: 1) ensuring that the design and implementation of TAs result in useful products for Congress and other policymakers; 2) determining the policy objective and measuring potential effects; 3) researching and communicating complicated issues; and 4) engaging relevant stakeholders.

GAO does not prescribe a set TA approach, but rather presents a variety of design methods, including examples of TA design methodologies and samples of objectives commonly found in GAO TAs.

Contractor Implications

Understanding how federal agencies are approaching their assessment of new technologies is important for suppliers and services providers that support these agencies. Such understanding should benefit tech suppliers and integrators by informing how they design, develop, market, integrate and support the technologies agencies are exploring (and that they or GAO may assess).

There is ample evidence that demand for emerging technologies spans the gamut of federal departments, from the Department of Defense (DoD) to civilian departments, such as Health and Human Services, State, Transportation, and others. The Biden Administration will seek to advance its priorities for technology and innovation as it moves forward, similar to how the Trump Administration advanced its National Strategy for Critical and Emerging Technologies. As the demand for emerging technologies continues to grow, the frequency and influence of TAs may also grow.

Another aspect to consider is the broad definition of technology that GAO uses in this context as “the practical application of knowledge in a particular area, and the resulting capability given by that application.” Further, technology may also refer to “a manner of accomplishing a task using technical processes, methods, or knowledge as well as the specialized aspects of a particular field of endeavor.”

With such a broad definition, technological innovation could encompass new or reengineered processes that go well beyond traditional acquisition programs to include almost any governmental activity, including acquisition processes. This could conceivably drive a range of opportunities for firms that offer TA development and implementation support services as well as innovative support services for agencies that seek third-party acquisitions support.