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Given the half-trillion dollars spent on federal contracting every year, it’s comforting to know that the U.S. government has a massive database that tracks contractors’ past performance.

Too bad it can’t be tapped by the public. Scott Amey, general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), says this is like “not allowing a parent to see their child’s report card.”

The Past Performance Information Retrieval System (PPIRS) is managed by the General Services Administration. According to the GSA, the database “aggregates a vast amount of information from disparate sources into ratings that can be used to quickly distinguish among offerors.”

In an e-mail to the Center, GSA spokesman Jeffrey Woodworth said the database would remain open only to government procurement officials and to contractor companies, which can view only their own records. “GSA is committed to opening up government data to the public,” Woodworth wrote. “Due to the procurement sensitivity surrounding [PPIRS], we are unable to release [data] at this time.” He cited Federal Acquisition Regulation 42.1503, which states that disclosure of information in PPIRS during the acquisition process “could cause harm both to the commercial interest of the government and to the competitive position of the contractor being evaluated as well as impede the efficiency of government operations.”

In a blog post last June, POGO’s Neil Gordon described the watchdog group’s failed attempt to get useful PPIRS data through FOIA and called attention to a Government Accountability Office report that found deficiencies in the database. The GAO report contained a bit of irony: Although the information in PPIRS is tightly controlled, auditors found that many of the agency officials they interviewed “noted that past performance rarely determined their contract award decisions.”

About the Data:

What: A searchable database showing past performance of federal contractors

Where: General Services Administration, Washington, D.C.

Availability: Not accessible by the public

Format: Word files, Excel spreadsheets, PDFs

Usability: N/A

The Data Mine is a joint project of the Center for Public Integrity and the Sunlight Foundation.

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A journalist since 1978, Jim Morris has won more than 80 awards for his work, including the George Polk...