Gordon pushed to release past performance records

Experts want more information from the meetings assessing agencies' oversight to protect the government from abusive contractors.

The Obama administration’s top procurement policy officials will push agencies to finish assessments of contractor past performances, and the results may be made public.

But Dan Gordon, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP), was reluctant to commit to publicly releasing the results of the assessments, even though the information isn’t classified. He would consider it, however.

During a hearing on Feb. 28, Gordon told the Wartime Contracting Commission in Iraq and Afghanistan that it comes down to releasing past performance information on contractors, which can be a touchy situation. Still, the commission urged him to release meeting results for public consumption. (Watch the hearing.)

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OFPP officials, including Gordon, will track progress on writing past performance reports during acquisition status sessions, he told the commission. He was testifying at a hearing about contracting oversight in high-risk contingency operations. (Read the testimony.)

In their second round of meetings, officials will continue to discuss how agencies can improve their contractor work reviews as well as assess their successes in various areas, including the administration’s top priorities of cutting dependence on contractors and rebuilding their acquisition workforces, he said.

However, as it is, those meeting summaries are not public. Gordon said though that he would like more transparency from the meetings and would explore ways to do that.

But Dov Zakheim, a commission member and former Defense Department official, said it was possible to release the information.

“Since you’re in charge, presumably you could decide,” Zakheim told Gordon. Being at the Office of Management and Budget, Gordon has some authority to make the call.

“OMB says jump, agencies say how high,” Zakheim said.

Still, Gordon said there’s some back and forth in the contracting community about whether the information should be made public.

A poor review by a contracting officer could affect future procurements for a company, even if the company would have a chance to respond, some experts have said. Companies need a chance to respond to refute reviews and point out errors. Experts and watchdog groups have debated whether the past performance reviews should be a part of the public side of the Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity Information System database. It's a new online center for in-depth information on government contractors, although the database is in its infancy stage and lacks the depth.

Zakheim said at least the aggregate results regarding OFPP’s reviews of agencies’ work should be made available for more review beyond OFPP. He said there’s no reason why the aggregate numbers should not be released because that's not classified information.

At this point, Gordon will only consider the option, but opening things up would have benefits.

“I do think it will be helpful for everyone to see how agencies are doing against all of the goals we’re pushing,” Gordon told him.

The commission's session centered around problems with contractor oversight, such as completing past performance reviews and suspending and debaring companies. The commission has found agencies are failing to review contractors’ work. According to the commission, at least 90 percent of contracts related to contingency operations have no past performance data, based on sample data from the Federal Procurement Data System.

Gordon’s office has found that three-quarters of contracts with some past performance data lack adequate narratives on companies’ efforts to control costs.

The commission said these past performance reviews are important to keep shady companies away from the federal marketplace, particularly in high-risk war zones.

Christopher Shays, co-chairman of the commission, said more than 200 defense contractors that incurred judgments or made settlements for fraud charges were awarded $280 billion in DOD contracts from 2007 to 2009, based on information from the Project on Government Oversight.

"Tools are no good if they aren’t used. And behaviors won’t change if consequences never appear," Shays said.

The commission found though that problems stem from Internet connection issues and a complex process of comment and rebuttal between contracting officers and the contractors. Meanwhile there's high turnover in employees, such as contracting officer's representatives, who work closest with the companies, according to the commission’s report.

A number of the senior government officials who testified, including Gordon, said the best recommendation from the commission’s latest report was allowing contractors to respond to but not appeal agency performance assessments.

The commission suggests letting the contracting officer be the final judge on reviews and allowing federal officials to release the assessments to other contracting officers even before the contractor has a chance to provide comments or rebuttals to the review, according to the report.

The commission will issue a final report this summer to Congress.

About the Author

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

Reader Comments

Tue, Mar 1, 2011 finserra

As a Federal employee, I would happy to see the PP results made public on the following conditions. 1. Contractor comments on the results are published. 2. Contractors can't file claims or lawsuits over the agencies' evaluation of their performance. The fact is that Government contracts are the only place where the consumer can get sued or drawn into court over its candid assessment of its satisfaction or perception of services or goods provided.

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