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Government Contract Award Announcements: The Soft Underbelly of "Government Transparency"
December 2, 2010 at 2:55 pm #117007
According to Defpro.news, a recent analysis by the United States Government Accountability Office has found that many reports of recent contract awards by Defense Department contract officers to the DoD’s Office of Public Affairs are incomplete. Quoting from the report,
During the course of a recent engagement reviewing noncompetitive contracting, we found that departments and agencies in the Department of Defense (DOD) are not submitting complete information, as required, to
the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs
(OASD[PA]), which then posts the information on its Web site as a public
announcement. President Obama has emphasized transparency and openness
in how the government spends taxpayer dollars.
In a sample of reports the GAO find data missing in one or more of the following categories for specific contract awards:
- contract type (contract data category),
- number of solicitations requested and bids received (competition information category),
- name and location of the contractor (contractor data category),
- fiscal year of the funds (funding data category)
- the contracting office (miscellaneous data category)
This is pretty basic information. If you’ve ever been involved in data collection exercises that relied heavily on manual processes and the sending and receiving of emails and attachments, this probably isn’t a surprise. But it is a reminder that ensuring transparency of government actions does require time, attention, and money. Yes, the collection and publication of data can be standardized as repeatable and manageable business processes, especially when core financial systems are updated correctly. But in the real world, lacking explicit habits and repeatable practices, “there’s many a slip between the cup and the lip,” as this GAO report shows.
What’s the solution? First, you need acknowledgement from all involved that there is value to transparency, especially when it comes to reporting on how taxpayer dollars are spent. Assuming it is possible to overcome concerns about revealing proprietary or competitive information, you then have to address the real costs of developing and managing systems and processes to accomplish such reporting. This doesn’t require rocket science for a solution, but it does require management attention, as this GAO report suggests.
Copyright (c) 2010 by Dennis D. McDonald. Originally published in Dennis McDonald's Web Site on December 2, 2010.
December 2, 2010 at 3:08 pm #117019
David J. AlexanderParticipant
I do quite a bit of market research using the Federal Procurement Data System. The inconsistency in the data elements mentioned in your note is sometimes quite severe. I hope that efforst ae made to reduce data gaps and (sometimes quite obvious) data errors.
December 2, 2010 at 3:58 pm #117017
Why doesn't Public Affairs just pull all this data (and plenty more, if they want it) from the Federal Procurement Data System-New Generation (FPDS-NG)? FPDS-NG is supposed to be the central repository for all consumers, government and private sector. My agency has a current 99.42% accuracy rate in its FPDS-NG data. Isn't this "transparent and open" enough? Multiple requests for the same, otherwise obtainable data is one of the things that drives up Government cost and staffing. SECDEF Gates addressed superfluous reporting in his recent initiatives.
December 2, 2010 at 4:50 pm #117015
December 2, 2010 at 6:54 pm #117013
FPDS-NG provides for every possible scenario of competitive and non-competitive acquisition transaction, including the special category of "Fair Opportunity" dealing exclusively with delivery orders issued under indefinite delivery contracts, etc., etc. If anyone wants a convincing, if mind-numbing, glance into just how extensive the array of descriptive data elements is in FPDS-NG, suggest they access https://www.fpds.gov/downloads/FPDSNG_DataDictionary_V1.4.pdf
December 2, 2010 at 9:34 pm #117011
Dick, one issue raised by the earlier comment by David Alexander is that the FPDS itself is inconsistent in the data it presents. This suggests inconsistent use. It should be possible to identify by source where the problems are. I wonder if the GAO did this when doing its research?
December 2, 2010 at 9:59 pm #117009
I have no idea as to whether GAO addressed FPDS-NG in the course of doing this particular review. Yes - as with any large system - and especially when you consider the vast number of reporting points (down to the individual contracting office level) - there will always be errors occurring. However, the FPDS program includes extensive verification and validation requirements in a constant and sustained effort to assure data quality. In any event, it is supposed to be, or should be, the main system for ALL procurement data Government wide - the gold standard. Inputs are required by the FAR to occur within three days of execution of a contract, order, mod, etc. Considering the expense of maintaining FPDS, I would hope maximum use would be maintained by related databases through appropriate interfaces. An example of this is the FSRS system, which gets a feed from FPDS for selected prime contract data in order to support other data collection on first-tier subcontractors.
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