The Recovery and Transparency Board will post online a redacted copy of its $9.5 million contract with Smartronix Inc. for the redesign of Recovery.gov this week.
Board chairman Earl Devaney told Government Executive last week that the board would be posting the contract online soon in part to pre-empt formal public records requests from watchdog groups. (The Sunlight Foundation had already submitted such a request for the final contract and winning bid on July 10, after prior efforts to obtain submitted proposals were unsuccessful.)
Officials had declined to make the winning bid, and the resulting contract, available until after a “protest period” allowing losing bidders to voice complaints.The protest window closed this week with no complaints filed.
The rule that calls for withholding the contract until the protest period is over raises the obvious question: How was anyone supposed to voice objections without seeing what they were objecting to?
“Unsuccessful offerors can protest based on several issues that do not require access to the contract document itself,” a spokeswoman for the General Services Administration said in an e-mail to Sunlight. As for what those issues might include, I read this and I’m still not quite sure.
What is clear is that the complaints process is, on its face, designed to protect one contractor from a corrupt or incompetent competitor, government agency or both, and that it’s also one of the layers of red tape that often mar contracting’s reputation, inflating costs and extending deadlines.
In the end, theoretically, justice will be served, albeit at a snail’s pace. The disclosure of the contract comes on a similar time frame, an official seemed to acknowledge.
“We will get the contract up. It just might not be instantaneous as some would want,” Devaney said in the Government Executive interview.
The Recovery.gov contracting process, on the other hand, has been marked by seemingly nearly insurmountable deadlines. On June 15, the request for proposals was made available only to the select group of approved contractors eligible to bid, and those companies were given 11 days to prepare a complete proposal in response to the 47-page document. Some critics suggested that time frame could be met only by contractors with advance knowledge of the criteria.
The Sunlight Foundation obtained a copy of the document and posted it online shortly after it was made available to potential bidders. The board made it public only after the winning bidder had been announced, and only then linking to Sunlight’s scan of the document.