Obama, McCain want spending transparency

Agencies might have to open more of their contracting activities for public scrutiny now that the presumptive presidential nominees of both major parties have declared their support for a bill to make the federal government more transparent. But a procurement expert said the bill might slow down the procurement process if agencies become more cautious about awarding contracts.

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), the presumptive Democratic nominee, introduced the bill, called the Strengthening Transparency and Accountability in Federal Spending Act (S. 3077). Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the presumptive Republican nominee, was an original co-sponsor of the legislation.

The bill would expand the USASpending.gov Web site to include, among many other things, copies of federal contract documents and the highest, lowest and median offers for contract bids.

The proposals’ prices may make agencies wary, fearing a misstep that could spark an investigation, said Ray Bjorklund, senior vice president and chief knowledge officer at FedSources. Because contracting officers consider more than just price when awarding contracts, posting the proposed prices online could call their decisions into question. And if contracting officers feel pressured to award contracts to the lowest bidders, they could end up hiring firms that can’t do the work, Bjorklund said.

Under the new legislation, USASpending.gov visitors would be able to view bids’ proposal prices and information about competitive bidding, earmarks, government lease agreements, work quality, federal audit disputes and records of any violations or criminal activities, tax compliance, and government reports. It also would ensure data accuracy and require a quality audit of the Web site every six months.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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