Feingold Introduces Moderate Contracting Reform Bill

Yesterday afternoon, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) introduced bi-partisan contracting reform legislation, titled the "Federal Contracting Oversight and Reform Act of 2010," that seeks to bring more transparency to the government contracting process. Although several of the bill's provisions could have been stronger, one hopes the legislation, if enacted, will lay the foundation for future reforms.

The bill, which was co-sponsored by transparency hawk Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), aims to improve the ease of access to and quality of performance information used during both the bid decision process and the oversight phase of government contracting.

Some of the strongest pieces of the bill seek to improve both contracting officers' (CO) and Congress' understanding of the previous performance of government contractors.

The most robust provision of the legislation expands the scope of information that a CO would see when attempting to make an award decision by increasing the length of time from five years to 10 that a contractor's past performance record on a government contract stays in the Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity Information System (FAPIIS).

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI)

The same provision also increases the types of records that a contracting official would see when examining the past performance of a contractor by pulling into the FAPIIS database records of any administrative proceeding entered into by a contractor at any level of government. Currently, an official only sees a federal proceeding that results in "a finding of fault and liability," drastically curtailing the CO's ability to make a reasoned award decision.

As OMB Watch noted during the comment phase of the database's creation, FAPIIS needs these improvements to become the effective, one-stop shop for COs that lawmakers had originally envisioned.

The legislation also tasks the head of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to construct a plan to integrate all the government's contracting information databases "into a single searchable and linked network."

When introducing the bill, Feingold recognized the General Services Administration's (GSA) current effort to link all eight of their databases, and suggests that his government-wide effort would incorporate GSA's. When testifying before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee last fall, OMB Watch urged the very same solution.

Several other provisions of the bill do not go as far as OMB Watch would like, but we hope the legislation would set the stage for future gains.

The bill expands the availability of the FAPIIS database from all federal contracting officials and the members of the relevant congressional committees to all federal contracting officials and all members of Congress. Since debate of the legislation to create FAPIIS, OMB Watch, along with other good government groups, such as the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), has staunchly advocated for full public accessibility to the database.

Similarly, the legislation calls on the Inspector General of GSA to conduct a study on the adequacy of the current unique identifier system the government uses to track federal contractors. A study, however, is not what Congress needs; we already know the system is broken.

The government currently contracts out with Dun & Bradstreet to provide an identifier to every government contractor. The D&B system (DUNS) is exceptionally flawed because historical information of some contractors can be lost in the event that a parent company divests itself of one of its subdivisions.

Moreover, D&B regard their DUNS system as proprietary information, which prevents the government from publishing certain data, like parent company identifiers, without which make it difficult to draw connections between the thousands of firms that receive federal contracts.

Despite these limitations, adoption of the new Feingold contracting reform legislation by Congress would go far in correcting some of the most egregious performance information problems in the government contracting process.

Image by Flickr user Public Citizen used under a Creative Commons license.

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