By Robert Brodsky
January 21, 2011
A new government database that tracks contractor misconduct and performance, previously available only to federal officials, is expected to be made public by April 15, Government Executive has learned.
In one of the most dramatic steps to date in shining a light on the conduct of firms that do business with the government, the General Services Administration will open its Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity Information System -- otherwise known as FAPIIS -- to public scrutiny within the next three months, GSA's Senior Procurement Executive Joseph Neurauter said in an interview on Thursday.
A provision in the wartime supplemental appropriations bill, sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and signed into law by President Obama in July 2010, mandated that GSA disclose on a public website all information in FAPIIS, with the exception of past performance evaluations.
The bill did not provide a deadline for publicizing the information, which now is accessible only to a handful of government officials, lawmakers and contractors that are listed in the database.
"This is a good thing because it gives more transparency," said Neurauter, who also serves as GSA's suspension and debarment official. "That's really what we are about. The more information that you can legally and within reason make available to the public, the better."
FAPIIS, used by federal contracting officials since April, culls information dating back five years from a number of disparate federal databases and government records.
The database includes criminal, civil and administrative proceedings against suppliers in connection with federal awards; past performance evaluations; records of suspensions and debarments; administrative agreements issued in lieu of suspension or debarment; nonresponsibility determinations; contracts that were terminated for fault and defective price determinations.
And in a new development, the database also will include instances when a company's behavior might have put its employees in harm's way.
A provision in the fiscal 2011 Defense Authorization Act requires department contracting officials to publicly disclose cases when a procurement official denied or reduced a contractor's award fee because of a company's reckless or negligent behavior. The database also will include a determination of fault by Defense Department leadership.
For contracts above the simplified acquisition threshold of $150,000, federal contracting and grant officers are required to check FAPIIS before making a responsibility determination. The new public site, Neurauter said, will be searchable and user-friendly.
While much of the information available in FAPIIS is already publicly available on myriad federal websites, the data has never before been comprehensively assembled for public viewing.
On Monday, Jan. 24, an interim rule is expected to be published in the Federal Register informing the contractor community that FAPIIS data soon will be made public, Neurauter said. The public will have 60 days to comment on the notice.
But contractor officials already are raising concerns that opening the database to the public could jeopardize the integrity of the acquisition process and potentially risk the disclosure of private information.
"Making this data public opens the door to all kinds of misperceptions, misunderstandings and even mischief," said Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council, an industry trade association.
GSA officials are aware of industry's concerns and are taking steps to redact data prohibited by the 1974 Privacy Act or that concerns a contractor's proprietary information. Other information also could be withheld based on pending litigation, according to Neurauter.
"We can't mindlessly put things in there," he said. "We have to give it thought and consideration and understand there is a balance of competing regulatory and statutory interests that we have to be mindful of."
Soloway, however, is concerned that the administration has yet to develop governmentwide business rules spelling out how contracting officials should use the information in FAPIIS. For example, the government has not provided guidance to procurement officials regarding how much weight a years-old tax discrepancy or equal employment violation should have in a company's post-award responsibility determination.
"We are looking for clarity on how this information is going to be used," Soloway said.
The Federal Acquisition Institute has developed a tutorial detailing the purpose of FAPIIS and the types of data it will include. The site is available at http://www.fai.gov/FAPIIS/trailer/module.htm.
By Robert Brodsky
January 21, 2011