Congress Approves Online Database to Track Federal Contracts
BY Angus Loten
The system seeks to place greater scrutiny on small-business contracts erroneously awarded to larger firms.
Congress has given final approval for a Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) -like online search engine designed to track more than $1 trillion a year in federal contracts, loans, and earmarks.
Small-businesses owners and trade groups have long complained about a lack of transparency in the federal procurement process. Despite a mandated goal of awarding 23% of all federal contracts to small businesses, many say the process is marred by miscoding and mismanagement.
The Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, which seeks to boost public access to federal spending data by creating a single online database, passed the House in a procedural voice vote on Sept. 13, after receiving unanimous consent in the Senate a week earlier.
President Bush, who has shown strong support for the measure, is expected to sign it into law within the next few months.
By making the data more accessible, lawmakers hope to "reduce wasteful spending by empowering every American to be a citizen investigator capable of holding the government accountable for spending decisions," Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), the bill's co-sponsors, said in a joint statement last week.
"This reform would help improve the legislative process by making sure both lawmakers and the public are better informed before Congress votes to spend the taxpayers' money," President Bush said in a statement released after the House vote last week.
Business and trade groups had rallied behind the bill in August when two senators put an anonymous hold on a vote days before the congressional summer break.
"Citizens should no longer be forced to navigate the confusing labyrinth of bureaucracy just to find out how their tax dollars are spent," John Berthoud, the president of the National Taxpayers Union, said on Sept. 6, in a letter to Senate majority leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) on behalf of a broad coalition of over 80 national interest groups -- including the American Association of Small Property Owners, Friends of the Earth, and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, among others.
In July, a report by Democrats on the House Small Business Committee claimed that as many as 2,500 large companies received federal cash set aside for small businesses in 2005, accounting for nearly $12 billion in federal contracts.
Earlier this month, the Court of Federal Claims stripped an Arlington, Va.-based firm of a $17.4 million federal contract to upgrade FedBizOpps.gov, an online listing of government contract opportunities.
Symplicity, an 8(a) designated information-technology firm, was re-awarded the contract in July 2005, after competitors successfully challenged an earlier decision by the General Services Administration.
The latest ruling, which will be released in detail later this month, reopens bidding on the lucrative eight-year contract for the third time since March 2004. Over 100 small businesses have identified themselves as interested vendors.