Contractors nervous about public access to database of past problems

By Marjorie Censer
Monday, February 21, 2011

A new database on contractors' past behavior has industry scrambling to prepare, according to contracting lawyers and advocates.

The Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity Information System, or FAPIIS, is meant to ensure the government, before making major awards to contractors, knows of past problems such as criminal convictions, fines, suspensions and contracts terminated due to default. The database, with the exception of past performance reviews, is set to go public in mid-April.

Now, attorneys and industry advocates say contractors are concerned about how the information will be used and whether their proprietary data will be protected. In the past, such records have not been easily accessible by the public.

"When the database was for use inside the government only, companies were concerned about misinformation," said Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president and counsel at the Professional Services Council, an industry association. But contractors had the opportunity to speak with government representatives to clarify the facts.

The public, he said, is far more likely to misuse or misinterpret information from the database.

The new system will take a while to become a comprehensive source, as it depends on people entering information. Some records are to be submitted by the contractors themselves; others come directly from the government.

"It's just going to be kind of a database that's a shell, with very few instances in it at first," said Scott Amey, general counsel at the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit group that has advocated for making the database public.

Attorneys said they are advising contractors to take a hands-on approach to the database, such as making sure they tell contracting officers about data they consider proprietary and trying to quickly correct any potentially inaccurate information.

"The issue really now is sort of mitigating the damage," said Devon E. Hewitt, a partner at PilieroMazza who specializes in government contracting. "Contractors need to be proactive; they can't expect the government to look out for their interests."

But Amey, from the oversight group, dismissed contractor worries.

"When you work with the federal government and you receive millions or even billions of taxpayer dollars, transparency should be the rule, rather than the exception," Amey said. "I think the government's doing a good thing . . . I'd just like to see it a little quicker."

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