SF-LLL Update: Not for public inspection?


My conversation with Department of Trasnsportation contracting officer Bob Robel (see the Moblity Technologies, Inc. post immediately below) also yielded some interesting information on standard form LLL, which contractors are supposed to file “for each payment or agreement to make payment to any lobbying entity for influencing or attempting to influence an officer or employee of any agency, a Member of Congress, an officer or employee of Congress, or an employee of a Member of Congress in connection with a covered federal action.” (Covered federal action here refers to a federal contract or grant.)

Anu and I have been trying to see if we could get our hands on a big batch of SF-LLLs, with the idea that you could begin to separate companies that win contracts by going through the normal procurement process from those that hire lobbyists to attempt to influence members of Congress and administration officials outside that process to intervene on their behalf.

Sadly, we’ve had no success. I’ve been told by FOIA officers that agencies don’t collect them, or aren’t obligated to collect them, or that companies aren’t asked to provide them. Anu has had much the same experience — generally speaking, when we’ve inquired about the forms, we’ve known far more about them than the government officials who are supposed to be able to answer our questions.

My initial FOIA request to the Department of Transportation requesting information on Mobility Technologies asked for any SF-LLLs the company had filed in connection with the contracts it had won. The company and its various parents have lobbied quite a bit, as Kevin Bogardus made clear in the Hill:

The firm also has a substantial lobbying presence in Washington. Since 2000, the company, under its different names, has spent more than $900,000 on lobbying fees with at least 10 firms, according to Senate disclosure forms.

Though I requested them under the Freedom of Information Act, I’ve yet to receive any SF-LLLs filed by Mobility Technologies, and I suspect I might not, even though Transportation does appear to collect them. Take a look at the full solicitation, available in a Microsoft Word format at this link, which prompted my call to Robel — requesting companies to submit proposals for the “Deployment of Part II of the Transportation Technology Innovation and Demonstration Program Into the Dallas/Ft. Worth Metropolitan Area” contract, worth about $2 million. On page 49, we read,

Disclosure of Lobbying Activities must be completed and submitted as a part of your cost/price proposal. The Form (see Section J, Attachment No. 3) as revised in 1997 is available at http://www.gsa.gov/Portal/gsa/ep/formslibrary.do?formType=SF under the forms section.

I asked Robel what happens to the forms when they’re submitted as part of a proposal to get a contract. Here’s what he told me:

The form along with any other documents submitted are kept confidential during pre-award process. The only people who have access are those with a need to know… We use those forms to evaluate if there’s some sort of conflict of interest or potential problem that our legal people need to know about.

Once we’ve made an award, all that material from unsuccessful bidders is kept in a secure room here in our headquarters for a period of time, then we destroy it at the end of that time. The successful proposal is kept here about seven years, unsuccessful proposals are kept for about six months.

Robel told me that SF-LLLs are not available for public inspection — that they’re “kept in a secure place so that no one has access to them.” Yet if one looks on the form itself, on box 11, it clearly reads, “This information will be available for public inspection.”

This raises a number of interesting questions; one thing I want to do is to look through solicitation notices from other federal agencies listed on FedBizOpps that mention SF-LLLs, contact the contract officers, and see if they handle the forms the same way Robel says Transportation handles them — keeping them in a secure place so that no one has access to them.