Increasing government transparency was a big part of President Obama's platform on the campaign trail. He pledged to allow five days of public comment before signing bills, make White House communications public, and conduct regulatory agency business in public.
He also promised to create a "contracts and influence" database that would disclose how much federal contractors spend on lobbying, what contracts they receive and how well they complete them. In December 2009, we rated that promise In the Works. We wanted to see if there's been any movement on this promise since then.
We spoke with Craig Holman, the legislative representative for Public Citizen, a public interest group. Holman told us that the Obama administration has been working behind the scenes on contractor databases.
In April 2010, the administration concluded the consolidation and integration process for many of its previously-disconnected contractor databases, Holman said. This information is currently available for contractor procurement officers via the Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity Information System (FAPIIS). The system was created following the passage of the Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act of 2009, which called for the creation of a database to monitor the performance of federal contractors.
The database says whether the contractor finished the project on time and followed the budget and includes details of any civil violations in the last five years and suspensions, among other information, Holman said.
The system is not accessible to the public and does not currently contain information on contractor lobbying expenditures. Still, Holman told us that if the system data became publicly available, it would be easy for government watchdog groups to cross-link that data with existing databases that track lobbying expenditures.
We should mention that there is a bill pending in the Senate that would make several changes to the current system. It would require a review of how the system data is being used by the Inspectors General, improve contractor identification systems, and require further integration of existing databases. There is also proposed legislation that calls on the General Services Administration (GSA) to make selected FAPIIS system data available to the public, according to the Project on Government Oversight, a government watchdog group.
President Obama has not officially endorsed current legislative proposals that would make the data public, but Holman said that the proposal "is consistent with his transparency program," so he expects the administration to adopt "such a policy soon." Scott Amey, the general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight, is a bit more critical. He says that the "administration is moving slowly" on making the data public and gives more credit to Congress. Either way, there is a clear effort from at least some quarters to make the data publicly available.
Finally, on June 18, 2010, the White House released a memorandum calling on the Director of the Office of Management and Budget to provide the President "a plan for completing integration for the remaining [FAPISS] databases, to the extent permitted by law, so that agencies can access them through a single entry point."
President Obama promised to develop a comprehensive database with information on how much federal contractors spend on lobbying, what contracts they are getting and how well they complete them. The administration has been working steadily over the past several months to integrate at least nine contractor databases that were previously disconnected. The new system includes many of the specific details that President Obama discussed on the campaign trail. Obama has also asked for a plan on how to integrate the remaining databases, and has issued a memorandum directing agencies to be more vigilant about whom they give money to. There is still much room for improvement, though. The database is currently not public and does not include lobbying expenditures, both features which Obama promised the system would have. We'll be watching this one closely, but for now, it remains In the Works.