By SCOTT AMEY
POGO recently learned about two agencies that are promoting an open government agenda that will help the public learn more about contractors and government officials.
First, the General Services Administration (GSA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) established a website that helps you track down records of state suspensions and debarments. This website is a great resource for the public as well as federal contracting officers who are charged with checking the responsibility records of federal contractors. The GSA OIG is actually assisting the GSA, which is required to include state cases in the Federal Awardee Performance & Integrity Information System(FAPIIS)—a list of contractors and grantees with criminal, civil, and administrative misconduct. That system closely mirrors POGO’s Federal Contractor Misconduct database—a centralized database of contract and non-contracted related misconduct.
However, when FAPIIS was created, the government opted to postpone the inclusion of state cases “until a subsequent phase of FAPIIS.” The GSA OIG is providing a great public service because state and local governments utilize GSA programs to buy goods and services. The website is easy to use—pick a state on the interactive map and click to see the list of excluded contractors. Not all states have such a list. In addition, some of the state data is several years old, so there might have to be some additional fact-finding, but it’s great to see a more unified front when it comes to avoiding risky contractors. Although perusing multiple federal and nongovernmental websites isn’t ideal, it is currently the only way for governments to ensure that they are buying goods and services from responsible contractors.
The second agency promoting transparency is the Office of Government Ethics (OGE). Its recent rollout of a new automated tool that streamlines the process for requesting and receiving copies of certified public financial disclosure reports (SF 278/OGE Form 278) and, as appropriate, Certificates of Divestiture for individuals who have been nominated by the President to executive branch positions requiring Senate confirmation. The public will no longer have to appear in person or submit a Freedom of information Act request to obtain records. Now, a request can be submitted online and the records may be viewed online or downloaded. The new automated 201 form can also be used to view or download certified copies of the public financial disclosure reports of individuals who have declared their candidacy for President. The STOCK Act, which Congress sent to President Obama's desk last week, would go one step further and implement something POGO has long advocated: it would ensure that the public disclosure forms are posted online by default, so that no request is necessary.
For years, POGO has requested improved openness to contractor rap sheets and the Department of Defense’s revolving door database and information about other federal officials. Full disclosure of such information is vital to preserving the integrity of the government.
Scott Amey is POGO’s general counsel.