FAPIIS is a Steaming Pile
by Gary Therkildsen*
Apr 25, 2011
On April 15, the government finally made the Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity Information System (FAPIIS) available to the public. Reviews of the previously secret database have been harsh – Tom Lee at the Sunlight Foundation said, "FAPIIS may be the worst government website [I've] ever seen" – and after perusing the site last week, this blogger sees no reason to question that assessment.
The transparency community was abuzz when Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) won adoption of an amendment to last year's supplemental appropriations bill requiring the federal government to make FAPIIS publically available. To have contractors' past performance records would grant the public an unprecedented ability to determine if Uncle Sam spent their tax dollars wisely.
Unfortunately, in winning agreement to the amendment, Sanders had to acquiesce to a compromise that significantly weakened the effort: the public version of the database would not provide contractors' past performance reviews.
While access to a contractor's "greatest hits" – including contract terminations, findings of defective or false pricing data, and contractor self-reporting of criminal, civil and administration actions – is important, access to past performance reviews – similar to a report card on a contractor's performance of a past contract – is vital. The review is a nuts and bolts assessment of a contractor's work.
Making matters worse, during implementation of the Sanders' amendment, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP), the government's procurement rule-maker, arbitrarily decided to make all information posted to FAPIIS prior to the April 15 go-live date off limits.
OFPP contends that the information is available through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which the Sunlight Foundation and the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) are pursuing, but it's ridiculous that good government groups have to go through such a burdensome process to get information congressionally mandated to be publically available.
Of course, the limited information provided by FAPIIS is only one act of this clown show. The actual website is a monumental failure. After picking a browser that FAPIIS will work on – sorry Chrome and Safari users – you have to navigate through warnings about the government monitoring your activity and broken Secure Socket Layer (SSL) certificates.
Once you get to the search engine, you have to fill out a captcha, as if those seeking information from the government pose a spam threat. Navigating through the data, once it's in there anyways, will be exceptionally complicated because of radio buttons. As Lee at the Sunlight Foundation muses, "whoever built this should be embarrassed!"
My conspiracy theory is that the General Services Administration (GSA) – the federal agency tasked with taking FAPIIS public – hired a contractor who, knowing they were creating a web interface for a contractor performance database, purposely put together the worst POS they could.
OMB Watch has called for FAPIIS to be public from the beginning, and any move towards greater transparency by the government is to be applauded. The current public FAPIIS database, however, will require a number of refinements before it's even close to the open government standards the Obama administration has set for itself.back to Blog