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Tag Archive: Real time investigation

First FOIA Response on SF-LLLs

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A brief, puzzling update (below the fold) on my attempts to get my hands on actual forms SF-LLL, which government contractors or grantees must file when they make a payment or agree to pay "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," with the latter phrase referring to any contract, grant, cooperative agreement, loan, loan guarantee or loan insurance worth more than $100,000. A reminder: The hope here is that if we can get enough forms SF-LLL, we can start to distinguish between those contracts awarded through the normal procurement process, and those awarded after lobbyists went outside the normal procurement process to influence members of Congress or administration officials. If we can get a complete set of all forms SF-LLL filed with the government, we might be able to build a database from that information, linking it with or incorporating it into sites like FedSpending.org, which tracks government contracts and spending, or OpenSecrets.org, which tracks political influence.

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Tracking Contractors and Lobbyists, and a Congressional Intervention

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Add to the list of Freedom of Information Act requests sent out in pursuit of forms SF-LLL one requesting information related to the contract mentioned in this April 20, 2005, story from the Hill, concerning a federal effort to develop and distribute "intelligent transportation technology." As I understand it, this technology lets users access traffic information in real time, to see where tie-ups are and, hopefully, avoid them on their way home. (I think Al Gore might have had this system on his mind during the 2000 campaign, when he made livability one of his themes.) Right now, you can see what such a system would look like at Traffic.com, in part because Traffic.com (actually, its government services division known as Mobility Technologies) was the company that, in 1998, was awarded a federal contract to develop the technology in a few, test cities. Here's The Hill on what happened in 2001, when intelligent transportation technology was supposed to be offered to 50 additional cities:

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Vanity Fair Scrutinizes a Top Government Contractor

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As they so often are able to do, investigative journalists Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele, writing for Vanity Fair, offer both a sense of the scale and the substance of the issues raised by the federal government's increasing reliance on contractors.

It is a simple fact of life these days that, owing to a deliberate decision to downsize government, Washington can operate only by paying private companies to perform a wide range of functions. To get some idea of the scale: contractors absorb the taxes paid by everyone in America with incomes under $100,000. In other words, more than 90 percent of all taxpayers might as well remit everything they owe directly to SAIC or some other contractor rather than to the IRS. In Washington these companies go by the generic name "body shops"—they supply flesh-and-blood human beings to do the specialized work that government agencies no longer can. Often they do this work outside the public eye, and with little official oversight—even if it involves the most sensitive matters of national security. The Founding Fathers may have argued eloquently for a government of laws, not of men, but what we've got instead is a government of body shops.

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Trying to Answer Questions about Contracts and Lobbyists

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Last week, GoodbyeJim.com'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?

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Looking into Lobbying Federal Contracts and Grants

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This story, about the problems that the Coast Guard and its contractor, Integrated Coast Guard Systems (a joint venture of Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin), are having with their Deepwater program, got me thinking--and about something other than this report on the program by the Inspector General of the Dept. of Homeland Security. Under federal law (it's title 31 U.S.C. section 1352, for those of you keeping score at home), contractors and subcontractors, for-profits and non-profits, universities and state and local governments that lobby the federal government for contracts, grants, cooperative guarantees, loans, loan guarantees or loan insurance have to file a form, called SF-LLL, when they lobby the federal government for that contract, grant, cooperative guarantee, and so on. The instructions that come with the form say, "The filing of a form is required 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."

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