PSC urges tighter controls on contractor registration data

The Professional Services Council has recommended that the Defense Department add three new categories of information that should not be made available to the general public through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The PSC was responding to a DOD notice in the Federal Register seeking public comment regarding FOIA access to its Federal Document Management System's Central Contractor Registration database, which provides detailed information about government contractors.

The CCR database includes 194 categories of data on contractors, 44 of which DOD has determined contain proprietary information that should be exempt from FOIA disclosure.

PSC said it agrees with the 44, but added that at least three other pieces of information should also not be available to the public under FOIA: Contractors and government entity codes; average number of employees; and annual revenue.

"CAGE Code information may not, by itself, disclose proprietary information within the CCR database. However, CAGE Code information derived from the database could be used as a sorting technique to gain access to other contractor information," Alan Chvotkin, senior vice president and counsel at PSC, wrote for the council.

He said the number of company employees provides no useful information because of the highly variable nature of the employees working on any one contract. "Nor does giving the public access to this information assist the public in determining whether a firm is a 'small business' under the disclosed [North American Industry Classification System] code since that determination is made on a contract-by-contract basis," he added.

The PSC response noted that many companies registered in the CCR are private and do not release annual revenue information in the normal course of their business, while other companies derive revenue from classified work from the government.

"Even though classified contracts are not included in the government-wide federal procurement data system, comparing revenue in the CCR with data derived from the CCR and other sources could begin to disclose contract amounts derived from classified work," Chvotkin said in the response. Annual revenue figures provide no useful information to the public or assist in determining whether a firm is a small business, he added.

About the Author

David Hubler is the former print managing editor for GCN and senior editor for Washington Technology. He is freelance writer living in Annandale, Va.

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