OFPP outlines plan to clean up data

Denett will require chief acquisition officers to sign off on the quality of procurement data

Paul Denett is on a campaign to clean up federal procurement data. Denett, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP), said he will make chief acquisition officers responsible for improvements.

Denett outlined a series of steps that chief acquisition officers must take to ensure that procurement data is accurate, timely and useful to federal agencies and contractors for making business decisions.

“Being in this business for over 35 years, it’s always been a pet peeve of mine,” Denett said. “The data too often has been not accurate.”

Denett’s clean up campaign began last week in a meeting with the executive committee of the Chief Acquisition Officer’s Council. Denett also met with Molly Wilkinson, the General Services Administration’s new chief acquisition officer, to discuss the campaign. GSA administers the Federal Procurement Data System (FPDS) and has a large stake in obtaining reliable information.

Critics have said that FPDS has developed into a mush of bad procurement information, leaving the government without a reliable source of spending data. Denett said he wants FPDS to be an authoritative data source for agency managers, contractors and policy-makers. In a March 9 memo, Denett outlined the steps he expects agencies to take to overcome the bad reputation that FPDS has earned.

The Acquisition Advisory panel complained about the situation in a December 2006 draft report on recommendations for improving the federal acquisition process. “From the outset of the panel’s work, we have been frustrated by the lack of data available to conduct a thorough analysis of interagency contracts and the orders placed under them,” the panel wrote.

The Government Accountability Office wrote to then-Office of Management and Budget Director Joshua Bolten in 2005 that “interviews with several users indicate a lack of confidence in the system’s ability to provide timely and accurate data.”

Denett said he intends to make FPDS reliable. “This is our attempt to grab the leadership today and say, ‘You know, let’s fix this once and for all.”

Annual certification
He will require chief acquisition officers to validate and sign-off on the data that agencies submit to FPDS. Acquisition executives must establish a routine verification process and annually certify the data’s accuracy to GSA.

Denett also said chief acquisition officers must assign clear responsibilities for verifying the data, adjust policies as necessary and offer training whenever it is needed. “To put a little concrete around” his memo, Denett said, the Federal Acquisition Councils will publish an interim Federal Acquisition Regulation rule on FPDS in the next 30 days.

Lawmakers are concerned Agencies have until May 16 to assign employees responsibility for data verification procedures and policies needed to ensure the quality of FPDS data.

FPDS’ data-quality problems have attracted lawmakers’ attention. The Federal Transparency and Accountability Act, which Congress passed in 2006, requires a public Web site listing the government’s contracting and grant information to be operational by Jan. 1, 2008. OMB has published a preliminary Web page, Federalspending.gov.

The obligation to make federal spending data public will force OMB to improve the data, said an aide to Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), a co-sponsor and advocate for the legislation.

“There is an inevitable institutional pressure here to keep things close to the vest, particularly how we spend taxpayers’ money,”Obama said at a press conference on the transparency act.

Watchdog group urges Denett to do moreThe government watchdog group, OMB Watch, said the comments of Paul Denett, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, on the Federal Procurement Data System are “a welcome acknowledgement of the data-quality problems that exist.”

Denett said the procurement data system has had data-quality problems for decades, and he wants to fix that situation.

OMB Watch offered its suggestions on how to improve the data.

OFPP should:
  • Share lessons learned.
  • Have the agency inspector general conduct regular reviews.
  • Identify key problems, from invalid codes to blank fields on data forms.
  • Give users a way to report suspected data-quality problems.

— Matthew Weigelt


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