By Neil Gordon
Friday, April 15, 2011 marked the public debut of the government’s contractor and grantee responsibility database, the Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity Information System, or FAPIIS. POGO gave it a test drive and has a few things to say about it.
But first, a little backstory:
For years, POGO has been urging the government to publicly post the responsibility and misconduct track records of its contractors in a centralized, user-friendly online repository. The lack of such a resource motivated POGO to produce version 1.0 of the Federal Contractor Misconduct Database (FCMD) in 2002 and a revamped and expanded version in 2007. Eventually, our cajoling began to pay off. In 2008, Congress passed the law that created FAPIIS, which agencies must check before awarding a contract or grant to ensure the prospective awardee is “responsible”. FAPIIS is the government’s answer to our FCMD, but instead of featuring only the 100-plus top contractors, FAPIIS will compile responsibility and misconduct data on thousands of federal contractors and grantees. Last year, Congress voted to make FAPIIS public. On Friday, the public site finally went live.
Here’s our review:
First of all, as a condition for making FAPIIS public, a few concessions had to be granted to the entities listed in it. This included making so-called “past performance reviews” off-limits to the public and only posting data entered into FAPIIS on or After April 15, 2011. It’s a safe bet that, for the next few months, FAPIIS will remain frustratingly empty of integrity and performance data.
FAPIIS has the same clunky search engine that hampers other government data websites. See this for a reminder of the dangers of an ineffective search engine on a government spending website. Warning to all you Mac users: the search feature in FAPIIS may not work on the Safari browser.
After you enter in an alphanumeric security code and hit the search button, this message pops up:
Contracting officials should be aware that use of the information in the FAPIIS systems should not result in de facto debarment. Current procedures emphasize that certain past performance in the system may no longer be relevant to a determination of present responsibility.
This annoyance was another concession to contractors and grantees.
Name searches require at least 4 characters, so don’t bother looking for “IBM” or “KBR”. A search for “Lockheed Martin” produced a list of more than 300 companies, approximately 200 of which were named “LOCKHEED MARTIN CORPORATION” but with different DUNS numbers. The rest were various Lockheed subsidiaries, some of which were also listed multiple times with the same name (give or take a comma, period, “INC.”, or “CORP.”) but different DUNS numbers. There was even a listing for a “LOCKHEED MARTAIN CORP.” As for DUNS number searches, when we tried to find information about IBM’s 2008 suspension, we weren’t able to track down the company using the DUNS number provided in its suspension listing.
We might have been doing something wrong, but we’ll never know for sure because the public FAPIIS site has no guide or FAQ page to help users. The “help” link (both in HTML and PDF) is just a glossary of a few contract-related terms, which is totally useless for navigating the site.
Once data starts trickling in to the public FAPIIS site, here is what you will find:
- civil, criminal, and administrative proceedings in connection with the award or performance of federal or state contracts or grants resulting in a conviction or a finding of fault or liability that results in the payment of a fine, penalty, reimbursement, restitution, or damages above a certain dollar amount
- federal or state contracts or grants terminated for default, cause, or for material failure to comply
- federal or state suspensions and debarments
- federal or state administrative agreements resolving a suspension or debarment proceeding
- findings that a contractor (grantee) is not responsible (not qualified)
- defective pricing determinations
- determinations by the Secretary of Defense that a contractor not subject to U.S. court jurisdiction caused the serious bodily injury or death of U.S. government civilian or military personnel
In summary, the public FAPIIS site is a good first step, but it has a long way to go before it can become a truly indispensable resource. Unfortunately, with the deficit hawks in Washington gearing up to slash spending on government accountability databases, FAPIIS, which, to put it mildly, has no love among contractors, may never get needed improvements. That’s too bad, because resources like FAPIIS are proven money-savers, helping to prevent fraud, waste, and abuse in federal contracts and grants. As the General Services Administration proudly told Federal Times last week, FAPIIS “will significantly support and assist federal government efforts to make informed spending decisions and to reduce risk.”
We invite you folks to tinker around with the public FAPIIS database and let us know what you think. If the response warrants it, we’ll post an update, or a series of updates, on this new government accountability resource.
Neil Godon is a POGO Investigator.