New contractor database draws fire
Critics say it may not be transparent or secure enough
- By Alice Lipowicz
- Nov 09, 2009
A watchdog group says plans to create a database of contractors’
past performance and alleged misconduct are not transparent enough, but
a group representing contractors says the database may not be secure enough. And
both groups say the contractor performance data may not be reliable
Federal acquisition councils outlined plans for the General
Services Administration to form the Federal Awardee Performance and
Integrity Information System in a Federal Register notice Sept. 3. The councils are carrying out an order from Congress in the defense authorization law for fiscal 2009.
Under the proposed rule, federal officials must consult the
database to check on a contractor’s integrity and past performance
before awarding a contract. The database will contain past performance
information along with information about the involvement of a
contractor in criminal, civil and administrative proceedings that
involve violations of federal, state and local laws or contracts.
Contractors with awards valued at $10 million must submit data
to the system. Only certain federal officials, and some members of
Congress by request, will be allowed to view and search the database.
However, the watchdog group Project on Government Oversight (POGO) says more transparency is needed.
“Any databases developed by the government for the purpose of
reducing fraud and waste in federal contracting should be accessible to
the public,” Neil Gordon, a POGO investigator, wrote in comments filed
Nov. 5. “The public has a right to know the past performance and
responsibility backgrounds of the contractors that receive hundreds of
billions of taxpayer dollars each year.”
Meanwhile, the Coalition for Government Procurement, which
represents 350 federal contractors, is worried about the security of
the information in the database.
“While the rule states the database will be private and only
federal officials will have access, federal agencies have struggled
with information security in recent years,” Barbara Merola, policy
director for the coalition, commented Nov. 1. “Contractors providing
sensitive information must be protected from security breaches.
Competition could be adversely effected should sensitive information
about a contractor's products and pricing be made public.”
organizations said they were concerned about the accuracy of the past
performance information to be accessed by the database, including
information that may be in other federal databases. In recent months,
the Government Accountability Office has found deficiencies in the Past
Performance Information Retrieval System (PPIRS) and in the Excluded
Parties List System (EPLS).
said that in the past "data has been inaccurate or nonexistent.” She
contended that setting up a new database for past performance would be
expensive and redundant because other federal databases already exist
for past performance data.
The oversight group said there needs to be corrections to both
the past performance database and the excluded parties list before
relying on that data.
“Unless drastic steps are immediately taken to fix the problems
that plague these existing databases – particularly the EPLS and the
PPIRS – the Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity Information
System will inevitably fall victim to the same problems,” Gordon wrote.
The oversight group also expressed concerns about how
contractors will interpret the dollar threshold for required filing in
the system; penalties for violations of the requirements; and tracking
of contractor aliases, subsidiaries and affiliates.
Since 2002, POGO has published its own federal contractor
misconduct database, including data on violations of civil, criminal
and administrative laws or regulations, along with allegations of such
violations. It notes the amount of settlement payments or penalties. In
some cases, no fault was determined, and contractors have argued that
it is unfair to be judged on the basis of unproven allegations.
Since 1995, the top 100 federal contractors have paid $26 billion in penalties related to violations and alleged violations, according to the watchdog group’s database.
Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.