For the first time, the government will centralize information detailing whether a contractor was terminated, disbarred or suspended from a federal contract or grant, in addition to any civil or criminal convictions linked to contracting work. The FAPIIS database will track any administrative agreements that a vendor signed to avoid getting suspended or disbarred, and will show “determinations of non-responsibility,” when a contractor showed a lack of integrity or poor performance.
The database information is off-limits to the public. Contractors, federal officials and Congress members are the only ones who can access it.
“There’s certain information that should be retained within the files of the government. The information that we use to deliberate and make our determinations, I don’t think that information should be disclosed,” said Millisa Gary in the acquisitions policy office of the U. S. General Services Administration. The GSA is managing the FAPIIS database.
Gary said that FAPIIS access must be limited to protect proprietary information. “I’ve been a contracting officer and there’s sensitive information that comes across your desk and that information could give competitors advantages over a vendor,” said Gary.
The original intention was to make FAPIIS open to the public. When Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. introduced a 2007 bill to create the database, it stipulated the system would be open. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., introduced an amendment to the bill that limited access.
“Her preference has been to make it [FAPIIS] open to the public as well, but the reality in the U.S. Senate is that you need 60 votes to get something passed. Sometimes that means you have to make compromises and, unfortunately, that was the case in this situation,” said Maria Speiser, a spokeswoman for Sen. McCaskill.
According to Speiser, there were serious objections in the Senate to making FAPIIS a public database and the bill would have died without restricting access.
Meanwhile, contractors will be able to browse through their own information in the database, and to add comments disagreeing with the information posted on their profile.
That’s not fair to taxpayers, argues the Project on Government Oversight (POGO). Neil Gordon, an investigator with POGO, has been urging open access to FAPIIS since the law creating the new database was signed in October 2008. ”Most of the information in FAPIIS comes from public sources: court filings, press releases and financial statements. Therefore, we see no valid reason why FAPIIS should be withheld from the public,” Gordon said in an email.
Gary Therkildsen at OMB Watch, an advocacy group for transparency in government, said FAPIIS should be accessible to the public to monitor the performance of both contractors and federal agencies.
“You can see how well a certain federal agency is going about awarding bids -- are they even researching or finding out the best contractor out there for the government’s money?” Therkildsen said. Without access to the new database of information, “we just can’t see. We don’t know.”
Data Mine thanks Neil Gordon, investigator with
Project on Government Oversight, for calling our attention to the FAPIIS
controversy. POGO has its own database tracking contractor fraud, and ethics,
environmental and labor violations.
ABOUT THE DATA:
What: Federal Awardee Performance and
Integrity Information System
Availability: Contractors, federal agency officials, lawmakers.
Usability: Searchable database that can generate reports on defective pricing, non-responsible determinations, recipient not qualified determination, termination for cause, termination for default, termination for material failure to comply.
Email your tips on government data sets that you think should be made more accessible or user-friendly. We’re eager to hear what you turn up — full credit and links will be provided to individuals whose suggestions we use in our series.
<p><i>The Data Mine is a joint project of the <a href="http://www.publicintegrity.org/data_mine/" title="Center for Public Integrity">Center for Public Integrity</a> and the <a href="../../../../" target="new" title="Sunlight Foundation">Sunlight Foundation</a>.</i></p>