State struggles to track contractor data: GAO

GAO says data system is incapable of holding the required data on contracts and contractor personnel

Two departments and an agency aren't keeping up-to-date records in a contractor personnel tracking system, according to a new report.

The Defense and State departments and the Agency for International Development (USAID) aren't keeping quality data on contracts and contractor personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan in the Synchronized Predeployment and Operational Tracker (SPOT) system. Also, SPOT’s information is so poor that the Government Accountability Office said in the report that it couldn't draw conclusions or recognize trends about contractor personnel numbers.

For example, in one quarterly contractor survey DOD did not include 26,000 personnel in Afghanistan, and USAID did not provide personnel data for a $91 million contract, according to the report issued Oct. 1.

GAO said it found the system isn’t fully operational and thus can’t track all the required data, such as contract dollar values and the number of personnel killed or wounded.

In addition, although SPOT is a synchronized tracking system, the three agencies use different criteria to decide which personnel to enter into the system. And some officials even questioned the need for tracking such detailed information on all contractor personnel, particularly local nationals, GAO states.

DOD officials disagreed with GAO's recommendation on improving SPOT, saying they have already built into the system new functionalities and data standards. It also has set minimum reporting standards to get more information from contractors.

Congress required the three organizations to establish the tracking system. The system is supposed to have brief descriptions of and the values of contracts. For those contracts, agencies have to track the total number of contractor personnel, how many are performing security duties, and how many are killed or wounded.

In the State Department's response to GAO, officials reiterated that there are security concerns about entering too much information about local nationals and entering the data on an unclassified network. Both State Department and USAID officials said they don't have the resources to input data on all procurements. USAID said entering SPOT data adds to the records already kept by its acquisition and management employees.

As for its compliance, USAID also said its own contract numbering system meets the uniform standards for SPOT and the Federal Procurement Data System (FPDS).

DOD, State, and USAID reported to GAO that there were 226,475 contractor personnel, including 27,603 performing security functions, in Iraq and Afghanistan as of the second quarter in fiscal 2009, the report states. However, the agencies could not verify whether the reported data was accurate or complete.

In the report, GAO said if officials would input better data, it could be a starting point for providing decision-makers with a clearer understanding of the extent to which they rely on contractors. It could also help with oversight, which can improve planning and better account for costs.

Collecting quality contracting data is ssaid to be a widespread problem for the government. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee's Contracting Oversight Subcommittee held a hearing Sept. 29 to discuss the poor quality of data in FPDS and other contractor databases. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), chairwoman of that panel, said it's an empty exercise to set up databases if agencies don't submit quality data.

About the Author

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

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