Group argues for shielding contractors’ revenue, employee counts

An association representing federal contractors has requested that key data related to company size be withheld from the public, a measure that watchdog groups say would restrict access to important information.

The Professional Services Council, an Arlington, Va., group representing government service contractors, made the request in response to a notice of the pending release of information on all companies included in the Central Contractor Registration database. Undisclosed parties sought the release of the information under the Freedom of Information Act, according to the notice.

In its comments, PSC asked that three fields -- annual revenue, a company's number of employees and a company-specific identification code -- be excluded from publication, along with other fields such as bank account and routing numbers that the Defense Department office managing the registry has said are exempt from disclosure.

PSC argued that a company's revenue and number of employees are not important to the public. "The annual revenue number provides no useful information to the public; nor does giving the public access to this information assist the public in determining whether a firm is a 'small business' under the disclosed [industry classification] code since the determination is made on a contract-by-contract basis," wrote Alan Chvotkin, senior vice president at PSC, in a comment letter.

He similarly argued that the "average number of employees" field provides no useful information.

Some watchdog groups disagree, however, arguing that disclosure of those two fields is critical to letting the public verify a company's official size status. Under governmentwide acquisition rules, a company's right to classify itself as small for a particular contract -- potentially making it eligible for preferential treatment in the bidding process -- depends on the industry and either the business' revenue or the number of employees.

Scott Amey, general counsel of the Washington-based watchdog group Project on Government Oversight, said the information is currently available through another major contracting database, the Federal Procurement Data System.

"Certainly, losing that information would be a step backward in overseeing contracts awarded to small businesses," Amey said. "Access to contractor data adds a layer of accountability and transparency that taxpayers will lose if more data is shielded from them."

Amey acknowledged that while publicly traded companies already disclose revenue data, some private companies might prefer not to disclose that information. "Some privately held contractors might have a case, but receiving taxpayer dollars comes with certain duties. Accountability and transparency should prevail over corporate demands," he said.

Lloyd Chapman, president of the American Small Business League and a frequent litigant in cases alleging that large companies fraudulently misrepresent themselves as small, said government officials have sought to withhold the employee and revenue information to cover up a pattern of inappropriately awarding contracts to large firms.

In a December 2006 press release, Chapman's group highlighted what it said was a change to the contractor registry.

"On Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2006, the government revoked access to information that allows the public to determine the small business status of federal contractors within the Dynamic Small Business Search of the Pentagon's Central Contractor Registry," the group said. "Around 3 p.m. Pacific time, information on company revenue and number of employees suddenly disappeared from company profiles. In its place, this message was posted, 'A firm's actual revenues and number of employees are not releasable under the Freedom of Information Act.'"

Chapman believes the change was related to an investigative piece he was working on with a broadcast news group, which he says was subsequently canceled.

In the Federal Register notice announcing the pending database publication, though, officials identified 44 of the database's 194 fields that would be withheld due to exemption from FOIA. The revenue and employee fields were not among them.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

    Download
  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

    Download
  • Federal IT Applications: Assessing Government's Core Drivers

    In order to better understand the current state of external and internal-facing agency workplace applications, Government Business Council (GBC) and Riverbed undertook an in-depth research study of federal employees. Overall, survey findings indicate that federal IT applications still face a gamut of challenges with regard to quality, reliability, and performance management.

    Download
  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

    Download
  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

    Download
  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

    Download
  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.