Agencies spent billions of stimulus money on noncompetitive contracts
Web listing of such contracts is not very user-friendly, says a transparency advocate
- By Alice Lipowicz
- Oct 15, 2009
A chart on the updated Recovery.gov Web site shows that federal
agencies have spent about $7.8 billion in economic stimulus law
funding on noncompetitive and non-fixed-price contracts. However, the
39-page list of those contracts falls short on user friendliness, a
transparency advocate said.
The Recovery.gov Web site has been posting new information
regularly since it was updated Oct. 1. New data was added today,
including information on 369 loans, 5,232 contracts and 41,575 grants,
according to a news release today from the Recovery Accountability and
Transparency Board, which runs the Web site.
The Recovery.gov chart of noncompetitive and non-fixed-price
contracts lists the contracts by agency, company name, date of award
and award amount, as of Sept. 8. The $7.8 billion total is published at
the bottom of the chart. A representative of the oversight board said it is dealing with transparency concerns. “Our goal is to make the information on Recovery.gov as user-friendly as possible, but given the massive amount of data involved, that process will take some time,” said Cheryl Arvidson, assistant director of communication for the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board.
The board also published a job total to date — 30,383 jobs
created or saved — although a note attached says that figure will be
updated in 24 hours due to “obviously incorrect
submissions” by two recipients.
The site also has a map for tracking spending by ZIP code, a
list of states listing the most jobs created, and a list of the largest
stimulus law contracts, among other features. Additional awards will be published Oct. 30.
Under the stimulus law, recipients of funding were urged to
award competitive, fixed-price contracts as much as possible. They also
were required to report noncompetitive, non-fixed-price contracts.
The list of such contracts posted on Recovery.gov includes
several large Energy Department contracts, including $1.3 billion to
Savannah River Nuclear Solutions LLC and $1 billion to CH2M Hill
Plateau Remediation. National Cancer Institute contractor
SAIC-Frederick received a $303 million award under the stimulus that
was either noncompetitive or non-fixed-price as well, according to the
“While the site follows the letter of the law and has a special section
for [noncompetitive and] non-fixed-price contracts, the implementation
leaves much to be desired,” said Craig Jennings, senior federal fiscal
policy analyst with OMB Watch. But for transparency’s sake, the list could have been designed better, Jennings said.
His chief concern is that the list of contracts is a PDF from
which it is not possible to directly import data into an analysis
application, such as Microsoft Excel.
Also, users cannot click on a specific contract and see details for that contract.
“By putting the data in a PDF, users can’t sort the list to look
for, say, the largest non-fixed-price contract or filter the list to
display only Energy Department contracts,” Jennings said.
There also is a lack of identifying information on the
contractor, project or award that would allow users to look the
contracts up in other federal systems such as USAspending.gov, he said.
Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.