A new bipartisan Senate proposal would double the length of time contractors' past performance records remain in a government database and broaden the types of information stored.
The 2010 Federal Contracting and Oversight Act, introduced by Sens. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., is aimed at preventing unqualified companies from winning government work by arming lawmakers and agency contracting officers with more data through the recently enacted Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity Information System.
"We must ensure that these records of poor performance and misconduct are identified before federal contracts are awarded to contractors, not years later after the damage has already been done," Feingold said.
FAPIIS culls contractor data from a number of disparate databases and government records. Contracting officers are required to check the site when evaluating a prospective bidder's past performance, business ethics, criminal convictions and civil liabilities.
But, the database is open only to federal contracting officials and members of the relevant congressional committees. The new legislation, which has been referred to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, would open the site to all lawmakers, who could then conduct oversight of companies in their district.
"Small business owners in Oklahoma and across America know that it doesn't make sense to keep doing business with contractors who don't perform," Coburn said. "Yet, the federal government continues to do business with contractors who rip off taxpayers with poor performance, overcharges for goods and services, or blatant fraud."
The bill would increase the amount of time that contractor performance data remains in FAPIIS from five to 10 years and would add all records of administrative proceedings against the firm. Currently, the database maintains records only of federal proceedings that result in "a finding of fault and liability." Companies would be required to self-report details about their past performance before they could receive a contract.
Federal watchdog groups, including OMB Watch -- which have advocated the expansion of FAPIIS -- expressed support for the measure but were disappointed it does not give the public access to the database.
With increased access for government officials, would come greater oversight responsibility. The Government Accountability Office would be required to produce an annual report linking companies that have been suspended or debarred with those that are receiving federal contracts.
Federal inspectors general would be required to conduct annual audits to ensure contracting officials are appropriately consulting FAPIIS before making contract award decisions. And the General Services Administration IG would be asked to examine the feasibility of developing and adopting a new unique federal contractor identification system.
The government currently relies on a contract with the private sector firm Dunn & Bradstreet to provide an identifier, known as a DUNS number, to all firms. But, critics said the system is flawed because of an inability to adequately track subsidiaries, spinoffs and shell companies.
"This weak tracking system permits some suspended and debarred companies to access federal dollars to which they are not legally entitled," Feingold said.
The bill also would direct the Office of Management and Budget to integrate and consolidate nine governmentwide contractor information databases into a single searchable and linked network.
The sites include USASpending.gov, which tracks all contract spending; Federal Business Opportunities, which lists contracts up for bid; and the Excluded Parties List System, a site of all suspended and debarred firms. GSA is in the process of consolidating acquisition databases and there would be some crossover between the efforts.