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May 13, 2010

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Observer  III

This is progress, but the real fight will still revolve around redaction. Many congresspeople, good-government good guys and gals, and others think nothing should be confidential. This is because they do not understand the business or what contributes to competition. The protection of what is usually redacted actually does contribute to competition.

The companies, judging by FOIA redactions of proposals over decades, will want to protect all build-up elements of total costs and prices (and some, crazily, even the bottom-line bid); all resumes and names of proposed staff; technical approaches and methods which companies will often claim are unique and proprietary (although this is really rare for them to be so); and all past performance summaries.

Some redacted proposals and contracts one can get are more black than white, except for boilerplate.

The companies are dead right on the elements of cost (but not the total and not the fee in dollars or percentage) and on resumes. But the public has a right to know who is in what roles in contract performance. If you black that out, it is one step away from keeping the company name secret.

Past performance is a judgment call. I lean to disclosing it, including the dates, dollars, etc. These past contracts were public and done with public money. There is legitimate art and skill on how they are chosen and written up. But that isn't proprietary.

I do have serious reservations about disclosing contractor performance ratings, but that is another policy battles. (I think it will be fine to disclose these ratings when government agencies and programs are also similarly rated, with ratings disclosed, and we can terminate or seriously penalize the employees who are responsible for crappy program or agency performances. One can dream....)

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