The GSA’s Tangled Website

By:  By Emma Dumain, CQ Staff

In theory, anyone with an Internet connection can play watchdog over government contractors now, reviewing their work histories and performance reviews on a new website by the General Services Administration. In practice, say professional watchdog groups, the website stinks.

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WATCHING OUT: Bernard Sanders 

"It's like they purposefully did the worst job they could," saidGary Therkildsen, an analyst with OMB Watch, a private group that monitors the Office of Management and Budget and other government agencies.

The GSA database is called the Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity Information System, or FAPIIS, and it was built in 2008 to allow contracting officers with different federal agencies to review the track records of prospective contractors.

Last year, though, Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, an independent, thought the system should be available to anyone and got an amendment added to the fiscal 2010 supplemental appropriations bill requiring just that.

The public website went live last month to less than rave reviews. For starters, it doesn't include any records written before the site was launched. And to access the site, users must first agree to terms, including one that their activity could be monitored by a third party.

On the search page, it's impossible to see all the data in a single screen; users must instead search for each contractor individually by typing in the first four letters of its name. Those with names of less than four letters don't show up in searches, while others come back with multiple results and no instructions on how to differentiate them.

Therkildsen and others say that although groups such as his, the Sunlight Foundation and the Project on Government Oversight, or POGO, should push the GSA to improve the website, Congress is in a better position to have influence. Sanders agreed, saying the GSA "must do much more to make it more comprehensive and user friendly."

The GSA did not respond to requests for comment.