New report shows open competition isn't so open

Only about a third of the federal contracting dollars spent in fiscal 2007 were awarded as a result of full and open competition, compared with about 44 percent in fiscal 2003, according to a report by a coalition of open-government organizations called

Overall, the rate of contracting money awarded through full and open competition is down by almost 25 percent since fiscal 2000, coalition officials said.

Federal contracting transparency is one issue the coalition flagged in its "2008 Secrecy Report Card" released today. The report also states that classification activity is significantly higher than it was at the beginning of the Bush administration. In addition, although Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests are on the rise, backlog problems persist, they said.

The Bush administration has "exercised unprecedented levels not only of restriction of access to information about federal government's policies and decisions, but also of suppression of discussion of those policies and their underpinnings and sources," the report states. "It continues to refuse to be held accountable to the public through the oversight responsibilities of Congress."

The coalition's report discusses concerns stemming from the over-classification of government materials and government efforts to address the issue.

The report states that in fiscal 2007, the number of original classification decisions rose to 233,639 after dropping in the two preceding years. The number of people in the government with the ability to make the initial decision that a document should be classified rose by 2 percent in fiscal 2007, the report states.

Other findings include:
  • The executive branch invoked the state secrecy privilege 45 times from fiscal 2001 to December 2007, compared with 59 times in the 23-year period from fiscal 1977 to fiscal 2000.
  • Classified acquisition programs represent about $31.9 billion, or 18 percent, of acquisition funding in the Defense Department's fiscal 2008 budget.
  • Since fiscal 1995, funding for DOD's classified acquisition programs has increased by 112 percent, while overall acquisition funding has grown by 77 percent.
  • 35.6 percent of FOIA requesters had their full requests granted in fiscal 2007, the lowest percentage since such recordkeeping began in fiscal 1998.
  • For every dollar spent on declassifying documents in fiscal 2006, the government spent $195 to maintain existing secrets.
  • 64 percent of Federal Advisory Committee Act meetings held in fiscal 2007 to give the government open scientific and technical advice were completely closed to the public. In fiscal 2000, 56 percent were completely closed to the public.

Ben Bain writes for Federal Computer Week, an 1105 Government Information Group publication.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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