Editorial: Data shepherd

We have been withholding comments on the debate about the government's procurement data partially because the story was not yet clear. Although that remains true to some extent, the issues involved — particularly the Freedom of Information Act questions — are too important to go without discussion.

The story is relatively simple: General Services Administration officials recently outsourced the Federal Procurement Data System in hopes of improving it. Under the new system, the raw contracting data goes directly to the vendor rather than GSA. This data is important for journalists, academics, researchers, lawmakers and leaders of oversight groups who use it to track the billions of dollars the government spends annually.

There have been questions in recent weeks about whether that procurement data will continue to be widely available. Furthermore, there are questions about whether the data, having been outsourced to a private vendor, falls under the purview of the Freedom of Information Act.

We believe that it does and should continue to be readily accessible. And if federal procurement data no longer falls under FOIA, it is a bad move and wrong.

The act exists because public information should, to the greatest extent possible, be public. Government agencies, like other organizations, operate better with some degree of oversight. Public information facilitates oversight.

David Drabkin, deputy associate administrator of GSA's Office of Acquisition Policy, has tried to reassure everybody that the data will continue to be available. In fact, he argues, the new system will make data better and faster, and information will be more accessible than it had been.

Based on his career, we have faith in Drabkin.

This question, however, cannot rest with one person. GSA officials need to ensure that public data never ceases to be public.

This case could be a watershed. After all, we expect the outsourcing trend to continue. But there must be explicit assurances that public information remains publicly accessible.

FCW in Print

In the latest issue: Looking back on three decades of big stories in federal IT.


  • Anne Rung -- Commerce Department Photo

    Exit interview with Anne Rung

    The government's departing top acquisition official said she leaves behind a solid foundation on which to build more effective and efficient federal IT.

  • Charles Phalen

    Administration appoints first head of NBIB

    The National Background Investigations Bureau announced the appointment of its first director as the agency prepares to take over processing government background checks.

  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.)

    Senator: Rigid hiring process pushes millennials from federal work

    Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said agencies are missing out on younger workers because of the government's rigidity, particularly its protracted hiring process.

  • FCW @ 30 GPS

    FCW @ 30

    Since 1987, FCW has covered it all -- the major contracts, the disruptive technologies, the picayune scandals and the many, many people who make federal IT function. Here's a look back at six of the most significant stories.

  • Shutterstock image.

    A 'minibus' appropriations package could be in the cards

    A short-term funding bill is expected by Sept. 30 to keep the federal government operating through early December, but after that the options get more complicated.

  • Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco

    DOD launches new tech hub in Austin

    The DOD is opening a new Defense Innovation Unit Experimental office in Austin, Texas, while Congress debates legislation that could defund DIUx.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group