Another day, another database
- By Mark Rockwell
- Aug 04, 2014
President Barack Obama's executive order targeting contractors that violate labor laws could complicate the General Services Administration's effort to link a number of contracting databases under a unified system.
The July 31 order tasked GSA with creating a centralized website to gather information that will be used to identify the so-called worst actors in federal contracting. The order requires those seeking to bid on federal contracts to disclose violations of labor law.
The centralized GSA website would allow companies to report their compliance information regardless of how many contracts the companies hold or which agencies granted them to address Obama's concern that "many of the people who award contracts don't always have the information that they need to make sure contracts go to responsible companies."
GSA offered no details about how it would go about establishing the database.
"GSA is working closely with the Department of Labor to ensure that contractors comply with the president's Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order," an agency spokeswoman told FCW the day the order was released. "Enhancing contractor transparency is a key priority for GSA, and the agency is committed to pursuing measures that further these efforts."
GSA operates nine contracting databases that it is working to link together under the System for Award Management
(SAM), part of the broader Integrated Award Environment. Fulfilling the executive order could add a tenth database. Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president and counsel at the Professional Services Council, said that addition could take some time to work through technically and legally.
GSA has linked three of the databases, and two more are will be linked soon, Chvotkin said. According to GSA, Central Contractor Registration/Federal Agency Registration, the Online Representations and Certifications Application, and the Excluded Parties List System have been migrated to SAM.
The new database also faces another more bureaucratic challenge, he said, beyond adding what seems to be a simple checkbox on an electronic application asking contractors to indicate whether they've violated labor laws.
"What happens when a vendor checks 'yes'?" Chvotkin asked.
The government has to define what constitutes a violation under the order and codify it in the Federal Acquisition Regulation. GSA can't do anything until those changes are made to the FAR, he said, adding that the FAR Council has expedited some rulemaking in the past, but it has also taken it's time with others. "They can move with speed on it, or it can take six months or three years."
Lawmakers have been concerned about the databases that contain information on federal contractors' performance for some time. In a March hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee's Financial and Contracting Oversight Subcommittee, Chairwoman Claire McCaskill said the database system "feels shockingly old and clunky," with relevant information "scanty and scattered across multiple databases."
The Missouri Democrat said she wanted more reliable data standards to identify contractors and a more unified system, with a simpler interface, that includes data from state governments when available.
GSA officials have acknowledged that the plan to unify all contracting information in a single resource has had difficulties.
Delays, cost overruns and development problems have pushed back the scheduled completion date to 2018, said Kevin Youel Page, assistant commissioner of GSA's Integrated Award Environment, during the March hearing.
Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.
Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.
Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.
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