The federal government's contract awards website last week received a facelift, but analysts believe the portal still needs improvements to increase its usability and accuracy.
The Office of Management and Budget on Friday relaunched USAspending.gov, the public website for federal contract and grant spending, the same day it debuted an overhaul of Data.gov, its clearinghouse of federal statistics.
"[USAspending.gov] has been upgraded with bells and whistles, pictures and maps, but I'm still worried about trying to access useful contracting information," said Scott Amey, general counsel at the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight.
The new version of the website has users doing more data mining to find information that was once readily available, according to Amey. He said he would like to see a one-stop shop that links requests for proposals, nonprotected bidder information and actual copies of contracts.
"There are a lot of questions both on the [information technology] side as well as how much information should be presented to the public, both from a size perspective as well as concerns about revealing information that requires protection," he said. "The government has been very slow to create a system that provides us with integration of RFPs and contract data that would be genuinely helpful."
Observers also have expressed concern about the accuracy of the information presented on USAspending.gov. A Government Accountability Office audit published in March found data to be incomplete and inconsistent, likely due to a lack of specific guidance to agencies on reporting procedures.
"We're going to have to see some work on the accuracy of the data," Amey said. "There will have to be some upgrades to provide accurate information. Bad data in is bad data out."
One possibility would be to automate the system so if certain information was omitted or incorrect, the database wouldn't allow agencies and contractors to complete their submissions. Amey said better integration across multiple systems, such as the Excluded Parties List, and earmark and campaign spending databases, also could provide internal cross-checks to ensure more accurate data.
Sean Moulton, director of federal information policy at the nonprofit OMB Watch, said he finds the revamped site less user-friendly, because the information is presented in an unfamiliar format. But he added the new version gives users the tools to do research that weren't available prior to the relaunch. For example, the update provides more flexibility in selecting the types of payments to search, and the maps and trends views are great additions, Moulton said.
"They have enhanced the ability to sort and download data and added some features that will make it a little more user-friendly and efficient once we all learn it," said Amey.
According to Jean Weinberg, deputy press secretary for OMB, improvements to the website will continue, and the current version will be updated again at the end of December.