Last week, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released an assessment of the Past Performance Information Retrieval System (PPIRS), a database of contractor past performance information that federal agencies are supposed to consult before awarding or renewing contracts. The report, "Federal Contractors: Better Performance Information Needed to Support Agency Contract Award Decisions", looked at the current state of PPIRS and found it wanting.
GAO estimated that an assessment of past performance occurred in less than a third of contracts awarded by the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Energy, General Services Administration and NASA in fiscal year 2007. These five agencies combined accounted for about 85 percent of all contracts awarded that year.
The report found that contracting officials have a deep skepticism about the relevancy and reliability of PPIRS data. It also found that only a small percentage of contracts had documented performance assessments, while other useful performance-related data, such as terminations for default and subcontract management, are not being systematically tracked across agencies. As a result, agencies are renewing or awarding contracts to contractors with questionable performance records. Most significantly, the report concluded that a lack of central oversight and management of PPIRS, combined with a lack of funding, ensures these shortcomings will continue to plague the system for the near future.
“Several efforts have been initiated to improve PPIRS and provide pertinent and timely performance information,” the report states, “but little progress has been made.”
Since its implementation in 2002, concerns have been raised about the sufficiency of the information contained in PPIRS. In February 2008, the DoD Inspector General examined the Pentagon's Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System (CPARS), which is fed into PPIRS, and found it to be so lacking in completeness that it concluded DoD contracting officials “do not have all past performance information needed to make informed decisions related to market research, contract awards, and other acquisition matters.”
POGO has repeatedly pointed out the limitations of the federal government's main tools for vetting contractors: PPIRS and another web-based data resource, the Excluded Parties List System (EPLS). It was these limitations, in fact, which prompted POGO to create its Federal Contractor Misconduct Database (FCMD).
Last year alone, the federal government did business with over 186,000 contractors and spent over $536 billion outsourcing functions ranging from landscaping services to intelligence gathering. A government that relies so heavily on contractors must be able to thoroughly evaluate their background, including how they have performed on prior contracts. As the GAO report observed, basing contract award decisions on past performance encourages contractors to achieve better acquisition outcomes over the long term.