Transforming Government Acquisition Systems: Overview and Selected Issues

New Report of the Congressional Research Service: “Increasingly, the federal government uses technology to facilitate and support the federal acquisition process. Primary beneficiaries of this shift to online systems (websites and databases) are the government’s acquisition workforce and prospective and incumbent government contractors. The suite of web-based systems supports contracting officers’ efforts to ensure the government contracts only with responsible parties, is essential to the dissemination of information regarding contracting opportunities, and facilitates interagency contracting. From the contractor perspective, the government’s online systems streamline the processes involved in fulfilling various administrative requirements, provide access to possible contracting opportunities, and are potential resources for market research.
Although this report does not focus on transparency, several issues discussed here are related to transparency. First, while the Federal Business Opportunities (FedBizOpps) website and FPDS-NG provide information about executive branch agencies’ procurements, a database of federal agencies’ contracts does not exist. In 2003, GSA established a working group to examine the feasibility, challenges, and anticipated benefits of posting federal contracts online. Ultimately, the working group concluded there were insufficient data to support recommending the establishment of a central system for posting contracts online. In 2010, the Department of Defense (DOD), GSA, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) regarding posting contracts online. Comments submitted in response to the notice identified several challenges, and the matter was concluded when the agencies withdrew the ANPR. Second, transparency does not necessarily equate to comprehension. Generally, variation exists among the users of government procurement systems regarding their knowledge of government procurement and procurement data. Third, during the 113th Congress, two similar bills (H.R. 2061 and S. 994) with the same name (Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, or DATA Act) were introduced, either of which would enhance transparency of spending data, including certain procurement data. If either bill is enacted, it might have implications for FPDS-NG.”