Technical, data issues continue to plague vendor performance databases

Tuesday - 3/11/2014, 4:33am EDT

The four different systems that hold vendor past performance data look and feel shockingly old and clunky.

So says Sen. Claire McCaskill.

The Missouri Democrat wonders why agencies still, after more than a decade of work, do not have the information required to make good procurement decisions.

McCaskill said she's frustrated by two main issues: the first being the technology that supports the different past performance databases. The databases aren't integrated after more than a decade of effort led by the General Services Administration.

McCaskill, the chairwoman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee on financial and contracting oversight, said at a hearing Thursday that both the Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity Information System (FAPIIS) and the Past Performance Information Retrieval System (PPIRS) are lacking in 2014 technology capabilities.

"My staff has also found several technical issues with FAPIIS, including issues as simple as the ‘back' button not working. In FAPIIS, both the public website and modular within PPIRS, the ‘back' link to go back to search results only works in Internet Explorer, but not with any other browser," McCaskill said. "If we do a search for past performance in PPIRS and then want to see adverse actions in FAPIIS for the same company DUNS number, you have to switch applications. It's now not possible to be signed into both PPIRS and the FAPIIS module at the same time. Now, while it's not difficult to switch from PPIRS to FAPIIS and vice versa, what happens when you switch is you lose whatever search you were doing in the database you switched from. So in addition to whatever technical glitches, it's these little things that make the contracting officer's job more difficult and can lead to overlooking information. I don't think it's unreasonable to expect these databases not to have these technical blocks that makes it much more difficult to do this basic research."

80 different listings

Along with the technical difficulties, McCaskill said the lack of information, or at least the inconsistent information, in these databases also is bothersome.

She used Lockheed Martin as one example of the challenges contracting officers face to understand vendor past performance under a DUNS number, which is a not-so-unique identifier of vendors and their subsidiaries.

McCaskill said having so many not-so-unique identifiers makes it hard for contracting officers to get a sense of vendor contract performance.

"If a contracting officer were to do a name search in an effort not to miss the big picture, it can render the system nearly impossible to navigate," she said. "I want to illustrate how problematic this is with a common example: Lockheed Martin. If we searched Lockheed Martin by name in an effort to get a big picture sense of the company's past performance, instead of a particular subsidiary, we get a list of over 80 entries. It's riddled with confusing names, some with bad typos. For instance, we have Lockheed Martin Corporation, which is apparently different than Lockheed Martin Corp without a period, Lockheed Martin Corp. with a period, Lockheed Martin Corporation Lockheed, Lockheed Martin Corporation Lockheed Mar, I think you get the idea."

She said Lockheed Martin Integrated Systems has different DUNS numbers — one with 346 evaluations and one with one evaluation.

"The point is if you have a DUNS number for one small part of Lockheed, you are missing all the other subsidiaries and parent corporations which could shed light on the corporation's behavior," McCaskill said. "If you don't have a DUNS number and try to search by name, this is what you have to deal with. I'm not sure how the contracting officer is supposed to handle this."

Vendors and associations that represent them say there is something to the fact that the performance of one part of a company, such as Lockheed Martin, may not at all relate to another part. But as McCaskill explained, having 80 different listings in the databases doesn't make sense either.

The fix has not been in

Part of McCaskill's frustration is the fact that the Office of Federal Procurement Policy and GSA have been trying to address this issue for more than a decade.

OFPP came up with the Integrated Acquisition Environment (IAE) as part of the e-government initiatives in the early 2000s. The goal of IAE was and continues to be to consolidate eight disparate databases that contain contracting information, both past performance and other types such as subcontracting or the central contractor registration.

GSA initially launched the System for Award Management (SAM) in 2012, and initially faced a host of technology and cyber challenges over the last few years.