Agencies spent billions of stimulus money on noncompetitive contracts

Web listing of such contracts is not very user-friendly, says a transparency advocate

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 list.

“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.


About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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