Past Performance Compliance Improving but Far from Perfect

The federal government is getting better at reporting contractor past performance information but still falls substantially short of White House benchmarks, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Having timely and accurate information about contractor performance on past contracts ensures the government does business only with responsible vendors with a track record of providing quality goods and services on time and within budget. The GAO found that, although agencies are improving their compliance with past performance reporting requirements, the rate of compliance varies widely and falls short of goals set by the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP). In March 2013, the OFPP outlined annual past performance reporting compliance targets, with the expectation that all agencies would achieve 100 percent compliance by the end of fiscal year 2015. However, the GAO found that compliance rates at the 10 largest contracting agencies as of April 2014 ranged from 13 percent to 83 percent, with an overall rate of 49 percent.

While these results make next year’s goal of 100 percent compliance seem like a pipe dream, the GAO found they are a dramatic improvement over April 2013, when compliance rates ranged between 3 and 76 percent and the overall rate was just 32 percent. All of the agencies improved over the past year. Proportionally, the largest gains in compliance were made by the Department of Veterans Affairs, which improved from 4 percent to 25 percent; the State Department, which improved from 3 percent to 15 percent; the General Services Administration, which improved from 3 percent to 13 percent; and the Department of the Interior, which improved from 15 percent to 51 percent. Even the largest contracting agency, the Department of Defense, raised its compliance rate from 76 percent to 83 percent. But the obvious fact remains: if the GAO findings are academic grades, 8 of the 10 federal agencies—and the government as a whole—are failing badly.

Much has been done over the years to improve the collection and sharing of federal contractor past performance information, but systemic obstacles remain. For example, in reporting earlier this year on the botched contract to create the website—awarded to CGI Group despite a troubling past performance history—The Washington Post caught the government admitting that “past performance has long been an overlooked component of federal contracting.” On the contract, the Post revealed that contracting officials ranked past performance fifth in importance out of seven factors. In addition, the GAO found compliance is also being hindered by workforce shortages at the agencies.

The Project On Government Oversight was disappointed that the GAO did not address the government’s refusal to publicly release contractor past performance evaluations. POGO has repeatedly argued that releasing this information will improve efforts to hold contractors accountable. Doing so seems like a no-brainer, given that much contractor performance data is already made public in judicial opinions and bid protest decisions.