Inconsistencies hinder sharing of contractor performance data

Agencies lack a standard way of entering data on contractor performance, making it hard for them to share information, procurement and oversight officials told lawmakers during a hearing Wednesday.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Management, Organization and Procurement held the hearing to determine if companies continue to win government contracts despite documented incompetent or unethical work.

The primary problem identified by several witnesses is the inability of agencies to easily share performance evaluations. There are more than 50 databases where this type of information is entered, according to Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. But the data is inconsistent in both content and format, witnesses said.

"We do have systems where we can input to provide information on contractor performance," said Richard Skinner, inspector general at the Homeland Security Department. "There are gross inconsistencies in how people put information into these systems. It doesn't appear that there is any discipline or standards on what needs to be put in or what format it needs to be put in."

Skinner said that during one of his investigations, he searched interagency databases for information on contractors he knew had caused problems for other agencies, and found no documentation.

Skinner applauded Maloney for introducing legislation (H.R. 3033) last week that would mandate the creation of a governmentwide contractor performance database.

There are three primary systems that procurement officials use to evaluate past performance before awarding contracts, said Elaine Duke, chief procurement officer at DHS: the excluded parties list, a database of companies suspended, disbarred or otherwise disqualified from consideration for government contracts; the government's Past Performance Information Retrieval System; and Dun and Bradstreet, which provides credit reports and other financial information on potential contractors.

Agencies are required by law to consult the excluded parties list and Past Performance Information Retrieval System before awarding contracts; use of the financial monitoring system is discretionary, Duke said.

Both Maloney and Skinner said there should be a basic list of what data agencies are required to enter into databases. "I think it'd be pretty simple to come up with a list of format and standards and have someone follow them," Maloney said. "There should be some performance metrics in place." Maloney presented a basic list of data that should be required, including the company's financial standing, whether it has received prior contracts, whether those were completed on time or had cost over runs and whether the company is listed as being connected with organized crime. Skinner said the OIG agreed with this list.

"Those are exactly the types of things we had in mind as well," Skinner said, adding that "if we come up with an inventory of things that need to go into this system and if we can do it in a standard fashion, I think it would help the contracting officers when they query these systems."

Watchdog groups also recognize the need for a past performance database. The Washington, D.C.-based Project on Government Oversight announced an improved version of its Federal Contractor Misconduct Database Wednesday. The database covers misconduct from 1995 to the present and provides documentation of each instance.

"POGO hopes that contracting officials will use it as a resource when awarding contracts to assure that taxpayer dollars are only being directed to responsible contractors," the group said in a statement.

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