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Contractor Misconduct Database Being Kept From the Public

May 22, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

Every so often, we hear about corrupt and criminal companies that, nevertheless, continue to be awarded contracts from the government. Some members of Congress, along with non-government groups like POGO, have been working to create a public database that would list all federal contractors that have broken the law or violated federal regulations. The idea is that having this information publicly available would put some pressure on the government to better, make responsible decisions about who they award new contracts to. The House passed a bill requiring the public database last month, but now some members of the Senate are working to restrict access to the database to government officials only.

According to an article yesterday from GovExec, an aide to Claire McCaskill (D-MO), the database’s main proponent in the Senate, says that the push to exclude the public is coming from “senators on the Armed Services and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committees — both in the majority and minority.” Apparently, McCaskill is willing to agree to their terms. She’s now seeking to have an internal government database provision added to the 2009 Defense Authorization bill.

Here are the arguments that are being made by the Armed Services and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs senators who opposed having the database be public, per the GovExec article:

>Concern with a public database was twofold, multiple sources told Government Executive.
>Most daunting were the administrative challenges associated with creating and maintaining the database.
>While much of the information that would be included – such as criminal and civil proceedings, federal suspensions, and debarments – is accessible in scattered locations on the Web, other information, such as settlement agreements and responsibility determinations, is not public. To create a public database, two separate applications would have to be created: one for the government and another, less inclusive one, for the public.
>"In order to say systematically that you are going to make it all available, you are going to have to go through the database on a constant basis and separate out which information is available and what isn’t," said a Senate aide familiar with internal negotiations about the bill. “It would be like making a permanent [Freedom of Information Act] request.”
>The less obvious problem is that with a public database, the citizenry would have access only to a limited amount of information that contracting officers use to make acquisition decisions. Members of the public would be making a determination – and second-guessing contracting officials – based solely on the information available in the database, the McCaskill aide said.
>"Our fear is that as that Monday morning quarterbacking happens, the contracting officer will say, ‘to hell with this. I am not going to get beat up over this. I am just not going to award the contract to these folks,’ " the aide said. “Which essentially gives the negative information undue weight in the system.”

I don’t know – these don’t really strike me as show-stoppng issues. Make two separate databases and, if you’re awarding contracts, make sure to have a good explanation for the public on why you’re hiring a company that has some questionable marks on their record. If you can’t provide an acceptable and honest explanation, it may have been wrong the wrong choice. What does anyone else think?

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  • Anonymous 05/23/2008 10:58am

    Contractor misconduct has not been handled by Congress. Lobbyist like NPCA and others had the USAID contractor vetting cancelled. Since the legislation was cancelled we have had problems with foreign contractors paid by the US government working for intelligence services and not always for the country contractor being paid.

    The contractor database is failing here:

    It is impossible to look up foreign contractors like Mercy Corps in Afghansitan. If we can’t check and vet foreign US contractors, whether they are American or foreign, what is the point in misconduct? The misconduct is usually finacial and we can’t check this. We also can’t check for espionage, which is becoming more common.

  • Fred 05/28/2008 8:05am

    A permanent [Freedom of Information Act] request seems to me to be a great idea. The argument against seems to be that the public is too uninformed to be able to handle any additional information. Do those who are in government positions believe that we should check up on their decisions? Possibly not.

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