USAspending.gov gets lukewarm reception

The Office of Management and Budget's publicly accessible database of government contracts, grants, loans and other transactions is receiving mixed reviews from the contracting community.

The Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 mandated the USAspending.gov site, which OMB unveiled Dec. 13.

Lawmakers have praised the initiative and the effort behind it, but contracting experts have expressed skepticism about its value and potential.

Users can search for data by a contractor's name, place of performance, agency, product or service category, or they can view a list of the top 100 recipients governmentwide. But agency searches are limited to the top 10 contracts and top five congressional districts.

"This is an example of what can happen when Congress and the executive branch have a shared goal and Congress holds the executive branch accountable," said Robert Shea, who led development of the site as OMB's associate director of administration and government performance. "This is a work in progress. We will improve data timeliness and data accuracy."

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), one of the main House sponsors of the legislation, called the launch of USAspending.gov a watershed moment for government accountability. "Today is an important day for all of us who believe sunshine is the best disinfectant," Davis said.

"It's an interesting Web site," said Courtney Fairchild, president of Global Services, a government contracting consulting company. OMB has essentially put an interface on the Federal Procurement Data System, which is not always easily searchable or user-friendly, she added.

She predicted that USAspending.gov will have the same problem FPDS has, "which is that the reporting isn't always as timely as you would like it to be."

However, Paul Miller, a partner at Miller/Wenhold Capitol Strategies LLC, which advises small businesses on how to secure government contracts, said he didn't think the site would be of much value to the general public or small contractors.

"If you polled most small businesses doing business with the government, they would say, 'I didn't hear about it. Where is it and what can I do with it?'" he said. "Looking at the data, they're going to have to figure out how they can use that information."

Miller said he reviewed the site and determined that "it's not inaccurate, it just doesn't capture enough. Unless I really need to get some quick data, I probably won't use much of it."

"There is not much depth to the data provided," said Mark Amtower, a partner at government consulting firm Amtower and Co. "So other than the ability of a member of Congress being able to point to all the pork ? er, contracts ? in their district, so what? I prefer Federal Sources or Eagle Eye."

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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