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Contractor database goes public - with limits

Apr. 15, 2011 - 06:00AM   |  
By SARAH CHACKO   |   Comments
Stan Soloway is president of Professional Services Council.
Stan Soloway is president of Professional Services Council. (Professional Services Council)

A database housing performance reviews of federal contractors is available to the public, beginning Friday. But the public won't find much there, at least initially.

That's because only contractor performance information posted on or after April 15 will appear on the site.

http://www.ppirs.gov/fapiis.html">The Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity Information Systems (FAPIIS) site shows actions taken against contractors in the course of their work with the government. Contracting officers are supposed to use the year-old database to review companies' past behavior before awarding a contract.

Members of the public must submit a Freedom of Information Act request to access any information before April 15.

The General Services Administration, which created the database, hailed the public launch of the website, saying the public now can view information previously available only to federal procurement staffs and congressional leadership. The database includes contract terminations, determinations of defective or false pricing data, and contractor self-reporting of criminal, civil and administration actions.

"Creating the public-facing FAPIIS is akin to setting up the Better Business Bureau of federal contracting which is good for government and good for the public," said Kathleen Turco, associate administrator of GSA's Office of Governmentwide Policy. "As FAPIIS continues to be populated, it will significantly support and assist federal government efforts to make informed spending decisions and to reduce risk."

Contractor trade associations, however, have voiced concerns the database will be misused and misinterpreted and that proprietary information may inadvertently be posted there.

Contracting officers have been using the database for about a year. Industry associations say there is no guidance on how the information, which includes unresolved legal disputes, should be used to determine whether a company is responsible for contracting purposes.

Professional Services Council President Stan Soloway said it is difficult enough for contracting officers to decipher the data presented, so he expects the public could face the same challenges.

"It'll be very difficult to understand the details," Soloway said. "If the information that is public is misused or misinterpreted, it could result in pressures being placed on contracting officers or perceived pressures being placed on them. You start making determinations based on that fear."

On the other side of the debate, the Project on Government Oversight has asked GSA to release information prior to April 15 without requiring a FOIA request.

"In our three decades of existence, POGO has become quite familiar with the shortcomings of the FOIA process," POGO investigator Neil Gordon wrote to GSA.

Gordon said POGO submitted a FOIA request for FAPIIS data last year and was told by the Defense Department that the FAPIIS information was exempt from release because it is "source selection sensitive" material covered by a FOIA exemption.

POGO is appealing that decision, he said.

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