Agencies often fail to report contractors’ performance

Most of the top federal government agencies have not complied with regulations requiring them to report contractors’ performance to a central database used by government purchasers, according to a recent report by Congress’s watchdog.

While the agencies showed improvement, only two of the 10 departments surveyed by the Government Accountability Office met their goal, investigators found, which stymies the government’s ability to know if it is dealing with reputable firms.

“Government agencies rely on contractors to perform a broad array of activities to meet their missions,” the GAO wrote. “Therefore, complete and timely information on contractors’ past performance is critical to ensure the government does business only with companies that deliver quality goods and services on time and within budget.”

The shared database acts like Yelp or Angie’s List — Web sites where consumers rate all sorts of businesses — for government purchasers, who spend billions of dollars annually.

“Every day, consumers across America read reviews written by other consumers before they buy a product or service so they can assess the quality and value of a purchase before it’s made,” said Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “On the other hand, the U.S. government — the largest consumer of goods and services in the world — has not developed an accessible and efficient system for rating and reviewing government contractors.”

As a result, he said, “agencies repeatedly hire — and taxpayers repeatedly pay — companies that do not stay within budget or deliver what they promise.”

The Defense and Treasury departments both surpassed their goal to report the performance of at least 65 percent of contractors that meet certain thresholds. But other agencies lagged far behind: The compliance rate of seven of the 10 agencies was below 50 percent.

The General Services Administration reported the performance of just 13 percent of its required contractors as of April. That was up from 3 percent last year.

The report comes as some members of Congress have questioned why the Department of Homeland Security recently awarded a contract worth up to nearly $200 million to a firm accused of defrauding the government.

The firm, Falls Church-based USIS, is accused in a whistleblower lawsuit that was joined by the Justice Department of failing to complete hundreds of thousands of background checks used in security clearances. (The company says it has since enhanced oversight procedures and that the allegations are contrary to the firm’s values.)

“In light of the ongoing lawsuit, we are particularly interested in learning how [the department] evaluated the past performance of USIS on other contracts and assessed the company’s level of responsibility — both key requirements under federal procurement law,” Carper and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) wrote in a letter to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson last month.

Christian Davenport covers federal contracting for The Post's Financial desk. He joined The Post in 2000 and has served as an editor on the Metro desk and as a reporter covering military affairs. He is the author of "As You Were: To War and Back with the Black Hawk Battalion of the Virginia National Guard."
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