Acquisition panel: Update procurement data system

Over the years, vendors, lawmakers, industry experts and agencies have criticized the Federal Procurement Data System for its imperfect data collection functions.

Even when the General Services Administration updated the system with FPDS-Next Generation, the Government Accountability Office faulted the system because users said they lacked 'confidence in the system's ability to provide timely and accurate data.'

But late last week a panel of acquisition experts approved 15 recommendations to submit to the Office of Federal Procurement Policy on ways to improve the quality of data in the system.

'Is the data we have reliable?' asked panel member Carl DeMaio, president and founder of the Performance Institute of Washington, a non-partisan think tank. 'That is the starting point.'

The panel, which Congress mandated under the Services Acquisition Reform Act, has looked at a host of issues and will submit its final report to OFPP in the fall.

In late July, panel members, including industry and federal experts, made 10 recommendations on how to improve service contracting.

This second meeting in a month addressed the suspect data in FPDS-NG and what can be done to improve it.

For instance, the Data Working Group found that 32 percent of all contracts for supplies and services were not competed in 2004, and 27 percent in 2005. In services alone, agencies competed just 69 percent of the contracts, and 24 percent were considered non-competitive procurements.

The number of bids that received only one offer also saw a dramatic increase from 2000 to 2005, doubling to 20 percent in five years, the working group found.

'We have trouble at the order level because some contracts show up as full and open, and they shouldn't be,' said Laura Auletta, the panel's designated federal officer. 'Defense Department orders under multiple award schedules were entered into FPDS-NG as full and open, and that is incorrect.'

David Drabkin, the General Services Administration's deputy chief acquisition officer and senior procurement executive, said the problem is that data on contracts are limited because of what agencies are required to collect.

'When we talked about setting up FPDS-NG, we talked about what data elements we wanted and what data elements agencies could actually provide,' he said. 'More data exists on these contracts, but you manually have to go find it.'

To deal with this situation, the panel recommended that:
  • OFPP should ensure FPDS-NG corrects competition rules immediately. This would make sure agencies are entering the right data into the system, whether the contract had multiple bids or came from a multiple award contract.
  • OFPP should ensure validations apply to all agencies equally. Some panel members found DOD and civilian agencies collect FPDS-NG data differently.
  • OFPP should hire a vendor to perform an independent validation and verification on all the validation rules to make sure they are working properly.
  • Congress should revise the OFPP Act to assign to the head of the executive agency responsibility for timely and accurate data reporting to FPDS-NG or successor system.
  • Agencies should ensure their workforces are trained to accurately report contract data.
  • The training should address the purpose and objectives of data reporting to include improving trust through transparency and providing a tool for sound policy making and strategic decision making.
  • The Office of Management and Budget should establish within 90 days of this report a standard operating procedure that ensures sufficient and appropriate agency personnel are made available for testing changes in FPDS-NG .
  • Agency internal reviews should include a sampling of files to compare FPDS-NG data to official contract/order files.
  • OFPP's interagency contracting group should address data entry responsibility as part of the creation and continuation process for interagency and enterprisewide contracts.
  • GAO should audit the quality of FPDS-NG data as well as agency compliance in providing accurate and timely data. 'We've had several GAO audits, but we don't want to stop with the system. We also want data from agencies,' Auletta told the panel.
  • Competition at the order level should be able to answer the questions: Who is buying? How much? What type of multiple award contract are you using? If not buying competitively, what exception applies? And other considerations such as pricing arrangements, socio-economic status, number of offers received and the fee to use the contract also apply. All of these should be considered when designing the report.
  • The FPDS-NG report provided to the panel that shows the dollar transactions by agency and the type of interagency vehicle should be made public.
  • OFPP should devise a method and study the cost benefits to implement additional data reporting requirements to sufficiently perform strategic sourcing and market research within and across agencies. 'Agencies need to do a better job of managing their own data,' said Roger Waldron, GSA's director of the Acquisition Management Center. 'They need to identify what they buy at an enterprise level.'
  • OFPP should seek agency and industry perspective to determine if the United Nations Standard Product Service Codes classification or some other is feasible as a new data element if the scope of the data collection is expanded. The FPDS-NG working group is looking at a standard naming convention but has not made a decision yet, said Earl Warrington, GSA's director of the Integrate Acquisition Environment division.
  • OMB must ensure agencies provide sufficient funds to ensure FPDS-NG are financed as a shared service based on levels agreed to by the CAO Council, and move from voluntary to specific appropriations to support the objectives of the system. 'To provide stable funding sources, we need to tell Congress they need to fund the system,' Drabkin said. 'OMB can ensure all day, but if Congress doesn't fund it, it doesn't matter.'
  • Within a year, OMB should conduct feasibility and funding studies to integrate data on awards of grants, cooperative agreements, interagency support service agreements and other transactions into a single Web database, which would be searchable by the public.

This follows closely the legislation the House passed last month. Some panel members wondered how the government would pay for it. 'There is more money in grants than contracts, but we have to have a better way to fund this than pass-the-hat,' said Deirdre Lee, the Federal Emergency Management Agency's deputy director for operations and chief acquisition officer.

The panel will meet one more time on Aug. 29 to finalize recommendations on the proper role of contractors in federal acquisition.

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