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Federal Contracting Hearing Leaves Unanswered Questions

Yesterday, the Senate Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight held a hearing on the federal government’s contractor performance and integrity databases: the Past Performance Information Retrieval System (PPIRS) and the Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity Information System (FAPIIS). The PPIRS has been the subject of several government audits and reviews over the years, but as we noted on this blog on Wednesday, there has never been a formal assessment of FAPIIS in its nearly four years of existence.

POGO staff worked with the Subcommittee in finding missing, inaccurate, and inconsistent contractor performance and integrity data. This hearing, we hoped, would finally pierce the veil of secrecy that has grown around the database.

That didn’t happen, unfortunately. In the end, the public was left with many questions—and very few answers—about FAPIIS.

Subcommittee Chairman Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) was in firm control of the hearing, recounting the many structural and data quality flaws plaguing FAPIIS and PPIRS. For starters, broken security certificates impede users when logging on to both systems. Then there is the problem of tracking down data for particular contractors. As an example, McCaskill displayed the PPIRS search results screen for Lockheed Martin, a confusing array of more than 80 entities with alternate spellings and name variations.

McCaskill used examples of failed website designer CGI Federal and Gulf of Mexico polluter BP to illustrate the real-life consequences of the databases’ shortcomings. Neither FAPIIS nor PPIRS alerts contracting officials to the checkered histories of both companies. Instead, CGI and BP are rated as “exceptional” according to the most recent past performance evaluations showing up in PPIRS. Neither company currently shows up in FAPIIS.

Many other contractors listed in the databases similarly suffer from a lack of civil, criminal, and administrative misconduct instance data and badly inflated past performance ratings. Misconduct data is entered by contractors, but the government doesn’t check to make sure it is accurate and complete. McCaskill quipped that contracting officials would be better off using Google than relying on FAPIIS and PPIRS.

Witnesses Captain Brian Drapp from the Naval Sea Logistics Center and Kevin Youel Page from the General Services Administration (GSA) contributed very little substance to the hearing. They tried to put a positive spin on the government’s contractor data systems and practices but couldn’t answer most of McCaskill’s questions about the problems in FAPIIS and PPIRS and the government’s planned fixes. (A third witness invited to testify—Beth Cobert from the Office of Management and Budget—didn’t even show up and did not submit written testimony.) Youel Page testified that the GSA expects to complete the full integration of the government’s contractor databases by fiscal year 2018. McCaskill pointed out that the GSA had promised in 2009 to have this done by FY 2013.

McCaskill wants answers. She pledged to hold another hearing on contractor performance and integrity databases sometime in the next year or two (with a better-prepared and more talkative panel of witnesses, we hope). Meanwhile, Drapp and Youel Page promised to provide the subcommittee with follow-up information.

POGO will continue working with the Subcommittee to improve oversight of the systems, and will keep you posted if and when additional information becomes available.