Watchdog group faults Obama decision to withdraw transparency proposal

Obama administration withdraws a proposal to require online posting of contracts, task and delivery orders.

 President Barack Obama's decision not to post contracts on the Web has upset The Project on Government Oversight, saying the move goes against his own transparency agenda.

“I thought that the public was in good hands since Obama supported spending transparency while in the Senate and on the campaign trail,” Scott Amey, the watchdog group’s general counsel, wrote in a Feb. 10 blog post. “I guess it’s harder to promote change from inside the White House.”

That same day, the Obama administration withdrew a proposed amendment to the Federal Acquisition Regulation to require that contracts, as well as task and delivery orders, be posted online.

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The three major acquisition regulatory agencies, the Defense Department, the General Services Administration and NASA, said they didn’t plan to change the FAR because existing acquisition systems, which are available publicly, already provide information about contracts, according to a Federal Register notice on Feb. 10.

“Incredibly, today’s decision would seem to place the Obama administration in opposition with subsequent transparency legislation,” Amey wrote.

He was referencing the legislation Obama supported while in Congress to get agencies' contracting data online.

Obama successfully pushed the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). The bill became law in 2006 and birthed

Obama, Coburn and others also introduced the Strengthening Transparency and Accountability in Federal Spending Act, which would have toughened the 2006 law by requiring more information go online for the public to see. But it never became law.

In May, regulatory officials asked for comments on how the government could post contracts online, as they sought also to protect companies’ proprietary information as well as sensitive government information. Comments ranged from posting actual copies of contracts online to performing a complete Freedom of Information Act analysis before posting anything.

Respondents also told officials that posting contracts online would add too much work to an already overburdened acquisition workforce and detract contracting officers from their primary duty.

“DOD, GSA, and NASA recognize the need for transparency in government contracting information and believe these recommendations require additional thought by our system experts to determine the cost benefit analysis, capabilities analysis of existing systems, etc., to determine if the recommended solution can be implemented in the government’s current integrated acquisition environment,” officials wrote in the notice, adding that they will deal with these issues at a later date.

With the decision, Obama may be going against his own convictions from the past, Amey wrote.

“Despite many advances in technology," he said, "it appears that the president is now happy with the status quo and the ancient ways of gathering spending information."

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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