This morning Federal News Radio reported on a new memo issued by the Office of Management and Budget regarding the data quality of federal contracting data in a publicly available database, the Federal Procurement Data System (FPDS). The memo is another in a long succession of memos since 2008, requiring each agency procurement official to certify the percentage of their agency’s contracts that are available in the public contract spending database. That’s a great idea! Let’s hold procurement officials accountable if they have anything less than 100% of their contracts reported to the public! There’s just one problem: these reports, intended to hold officials publicly accountable, are not public.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Acquisition Advisory Panel, as well as OMB itself, have acknowledged the data quality problems with the contracting data in FPDS. Yet every year, their response is to issue a memo, requiring each agency to come up with a data quality plan and submit it privately to OMB and the General Services Administration (GSA). This year, agencies must also complete a statistical sampling portion of the report, to assess the accuracy of their data, but many of the other requirements are the same. Maybe the way to fix these reports is to make them public, instead of slightly updating them and reiterating your commitment to improved data quality in the press. We believe that OMB’s knowledge of gaps or problems with the public contracting data should be … well, public! We filed a FOIA in September of 2010, asking for the data quality reports detailed in the aforementioned OMB memos. Here we are, nine months later, and we still don’t have a response to our FOIA.
Keeping these reports private is a lie of omission to citizens and watchdog groups who want to use this contracting data to make sure our government contracting process is free of fraud and abuse. Agencies already keep track of the original contracts privately, using a separate database (FPDS) to disclose only certain elements of them to the public. It’s incredibly disappointing that parts of this secondary, already less than complete, contracting database are censored.