Earlier this week I wrote about a discrepancy between the data in FedBizOpps and the data in USASpending.gov. It was my understanding that all contracts awarded by the government (worth over $25,000) and their solicitations would be reported to FedBizOpps and that the number of the contracts awarded would be in the same neighborhood as the number of contracts that the government reports to USASpending.gov.
Instead, I discovered that in 2012 there were only 8,138 award notices and 18,546 solicitation notices in FedBizOpps, while there were 178,375 contracts reported on in USASpending.gov. At the time of writing that post I was still waiting on a definitive response from the Office of Management and Budget or the General Services Administration.
After finally having a discussion with a GSA representative, I learned two important facts that may likely account for the discrepancy:
- There are a few sweeping exemptions when it comes to publicly announcing contract awards, including exempting awards under $3.5 million.
- When the solicitation period closes for a contract, that solicitation is archived and doesn’t show up in the downloadable data.
Note that anyone who bids on a contract will get notified of the award, regardless of dollar amount, just not the public. Eventually, the award should show up in USASpending, but there could be a significant time lapse before that happens (the DoD always waits until 60 days after the end of the quarter to report to USASpending/FPDS, for example). Ideally, the public oversight that could prevent bad behavior in government contracting should begin before the contract shows up in USASpending and the execution is already well underway. Many other countries around the world always report their contract awards publicly, explicitly as an oversight mechanism (Slovakia, Russia, the UK, Ukraine, Turkey and others, for instance). And if using $3.5 million as a reporting threshold eliminates 90% of awards from being reported, perhaps it’s not a very good threshold.