November 20, 2009 By Andy Opsahl
State procurement officials might want to observe how the demands on their federal counterparts change as a result of the Obama administration's aggressive emphasis on transparency and vendor accountability, according to Robert Burton, former deputy administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy. Assuming this federal transparency zeal catches fire among state politicians, state procurement officials could find themselves with new data management responsibilities, he said.
Government procurement officials would be on the hook for ensuring the availability of whatever data politicians want, and the public officials would usually be stuck relying on the vendors who won the procurements to provide the data in question, Burton added. State and local agencies spending money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) are already experiencing how difficult this can be. The federal government requires frequent and meticulous data reporting on ARRA-funded projects to be published on Recovery.gov, the federal site for tracking stimulus money. Vendors are not accustomed to providing all of the data requested for Recovery.gov on a quarterly basis, said Burton.
"Contractors must provide the amount of Recovery Act funds invoiced by the contractor for each reporting period, a list of all significant services performed, suppliers, supplies delivered, and construction for which the contractor invoiced in each calendar quarter," Burton said. "Doing this on a quarterly basis is not easy."
States are struggling to get this data from vendors, as evidenced by the recent flurry of media stories about inaccuracies and missing data on Recovery.gov. The first quarterly reporting deadline was Oct. 10.
"A lot of the information is just not coming in from these state contractors. You can sort of see why. It's a very burdensome process and they have to do it by the 10th day after each calendar quarter," Burton said. "The most challenging thing is they have to describe the employment impact of the work funded by the Recovery Act. There has to be some type of narrative on the impact of the contractor's work force. It has to include a brief description of the types of jobs it created or the jobs that were retained as a result of this recovery money coming in."
Burton said that in fairness to the vendors, it's difficult for them to assess whether or not they hired people as a result of specific projects. They can't always say for sure if they would have fired people if they hadn't gotten particular government grants.
"My concern is that the data will be fabricated just to try to comply with the requirements that they provide the data," Burton said.
Time will show if governors and state legislators begin requesting similar information from procurement officials spending state money.
Burton served under President George W. Bush as the deputy administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy from 2001 to 2008 and is currently an attorney with Venable.
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