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FCW Insider: The problem with publishing contractor performance data

Why go through the trouble of publishing data if the data itself is no good?

That is how Michael Lent, editor of Government Services Insider, responds to the idea of making contractor performance data publically available.

This thread began several days ago when a reader suggested the idea in a comment on a story about Obama receiving high marks on transparency from OMB Watch, a watchdog group. Lent chimed in after reading yesterday’s blog post:

Here is what Lent has to say:

With so many contractors and their federal customers claiming to be “partners,” should we expect fair, accurate and consistent contractor performance evaluations? Conceptually, sure it makes sense to reveal the reports to citizen-taxpayers. But unfortunately, the contractor performance eval systems one hears about don’t cover all contracts, or are inconsistent across contracts and agencies, or are conflicted by government involvement.

How many reportedly troubled contract performances — such as Boeing in SBInet Project 28 at DHS — are inextricably bound with reportedly troubled government program management? Contractors and their clients tend to lock arms to jointly fend off congressional [oversight], auditors and even the extremely rare media item based on original reporting. Secretary Chertoff defended Project 28, although his department said it could not use the project's results. Even GAO and agency auditors, paid to be inquiring and skeptical, tend to omit in published reports the names of contractors involved with programs in trouble, as long as the contractors have not been formally penalized for any subpar performances.

In other words, audits don’t discriminate, say, between fair, good or excellent contractor performances. What makes us think that contract evaluations — by government employees involved with oversight and claiming to be 'partners' with contractors — would be meaningful and suitable for public disclosure? The long recognized, documented-relaxed and inconsistent granting of award fees suggests the extent of the challenge. And if the use of public dollars fuels the drive to reveal contractor performance evals, it won’t be long before citizen-taxpayers demand that government employees’ individual performance evals be published. Or, will it?

Posted by John Stein Monroe on May 06, 2009 at 12:14 PM


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