GAO: Despite efforts, gaps remain in data on contractors

Lawmakers and federal agencies have tried repeatedly to improve the collection and use of information on contractors' past performance, but many of those efforts have stalled or remain unimplemented, according to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office.

The study found that while agencies often consider past performance when evaluating contractors, they were reluctant to rely on that information to make contract award decisions, instead focusing on factors such as technical approach or cost. A majority of officials GAO interviewed said their reluctance to rely on past performance was due partly to skepticism about the reliability of the information, as well as the difficulty assessing the relevance of such data to a specific contract.

The government has made several attempts in recent years to improve the past performance data available to contracting officers and other acquisition officials. In July 2002, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy created the Past Performance Information Retrieval System to serve as a repository of data on contractors' work. In 2005, an OFPP working group developed broad goals for improving performance data, including creating uniform ratings to assess contractors' work and developing a centralized questionnaire system for use governmentwide.

But according to GAO, more than three years later these goals have not been met and no funding has been allocated to implement them. OFPP and officials at the General Services Administration said the first step to securing funding is to mandate the use of the performance data retrieval system through the Federal Acquisition Regulation. FAR changes proposed in April 2008 to clarify documentation requirements and compel the use of the system have stalled. The comment period for these changes closed in June 2008, but the modifications are not final yet. An OFPP policy official told GAO the final rule is expected to be published by June 2009.

Lawmakers also have tried to improve how agencies track and incorporate contractors' past performance into their procurement decisions. The 2007 Contractors and Federal Spending Accountability Act (H.R. 3033), introduced by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., would have required the creation of a governmentwide database on contractor performance and misconduct. Maloney has said existing databases are insufficient and the legislation is necessary to standardize performance metrics and methods for submitting data.

Maloney's bill stalled in the Senate, as did companion legislation introduced by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. Elements of the two bills were included in the fiscal 2009 Defense authorization bill (S. 3001), including a provision to develop a governmentwide database to track information such as criminal convictions, civil findings of liability and terminations for fault. But this database will not include general performance data and or be publicly accessible.

"In the perfect scenario, we'd have one database rather than 10 databases; then we'd have a better, more accurate record of a contractor's actual responsibility and performance levels," said Scott Amey, general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight.

"This GAO report confirms what we have learned from our hearings over the past few years," said Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, on Wednesday. "Agencies need to do a better job of tracking contractor performance -- not only to cut off poor performers, but to make sure new work is awarded to contractors with a strong record of reliability and integrity."

In its review of Past Performance Information Retrieval System data for fiscal 2006 and 2007, GAO found that only a small percentage of contracts had a documented assessment, and there was little contractor performance information particularly for orders against GSA's Multiple Award Schedule. Acting GSA Administrator Paul Prouty said GSA will incorporate into training materials new FAR requirements for reporting past performance data on schedule and governmentwide acquisition contract task and delivery orders once those changes take effect. GSA also will provide guidance to its Federal Acquisition Service on improving reporting and use of performance data, Prouty said.

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