Trying to Answer Questions about Contracts and Lobbyists


Last week,’s Jonathan Marks wrote a post about a company called ProLogic. After noting that that company has made campaign contributions to Rep. James Moran, and has hired a sophisticated lobbying firm, PMA Group, whose employees have been generous contributors to Moran’s campaigns over the years, Marks raises what I think is a fairly important question: How does ProLogic win business? How does it fair against competing firms that don’t have the benefit of any representation from a savvy insider firm like PMA Group (which describes what it does here)? And what does this say about the way procurement decisions are made in the government? Are we always buying the best mousetrap? Are we unable to buy the best mousetrap without the mediation of lobbyists? Conversely, are we making do with somewhat overpriced, somewhat mediocre mousetraps because the company that manufactures them hired the lobbyist with the right connections?

To get back to Marks’ question, I think the first thing you have to do is separate out the contracts on which ProLogic (or any company, for that matter) lobbied from those it got without going beyond the normal procurement procedure–sending a proposal to a government agency, perhaps making a presentation to the acquisitions officials, and then keeping your fingers crossed that yours is the most attractive mousetrap in terms of price and quality.

Sadly, you can’t answer such questions using traditional lobbyist disclosure forms. The one linked, filed by PMA Group on Feburary 9, 2006, and covering the final six months of 2005, lists the following as specific lobbying issues:

H.R. 2528, Military Quality of Life, Veterans Affairs Appropriations, 2006, NASA H.R. 2683, Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2006, R&D

Would anyone care to wager on whether the following contract, described here, falls under that description:

ProLogic Inc., Fairmont, W.Va., was awarded on 19 December 2005, a $7,090,838 cost plus fixed fee contract to research how the best to gather required medical data from medical encounters, analyze it, and make to available to users in support of medical planning and operations using a Net-Centric approach identified as MED-STARS. At this time $2,208,000 has been obligated. This work will be complete by October 2008. Solicitations began January 2005 and negotiations were completed in August 2005. The Headquarters Electronic Systems Center, Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., is the contracting activity. (FA8726-06-C-0005).

Or whether any of the other contracts the company won–from the Departments of Energy, Defense and Veterans Affairs as well as NASA and the General Services Administration, were the subject of specific lobbying actions by PMA Group?

I’ve started the process of requesting under the Freedom of Information Act any forms SF-LLL, which a contractor must file with a contracting agency if it’s paid a lobbyist to work on its behalf in connection with the contract award, to see if I can answer that question.

This part is pretty tedious–a lot of cutting and pasting word documents, plus entering what I’m asking for into a simple excel spreadsheet to keep track of what I’m asking for and from whom. Still, even though it’s not the most exciting way to spend a day, I find it’s best to get FOIAs out the door as quickly as possible, in no small measure because the government can be quite slow when it comes to releasing documents, even ones that say, “This information will be available for public inspection.”