A few critical leads to help you navigate and understand and probe the contract process, policy, spending and players.
- One of the first things to do is sign up for the Defense Department’s daily contract award alert. Go to the contract award web site and click on “subscribe” on the right-hand menu. The alerts will tell you not only what the contract is worth and the company who won it, but the type of contract (fixed-price, indefinite quantity/indefinite delivery, etc) and where the work will be done. Keep an eye out for contracts either being performed or awarded to a company based in your area.
- The DOD’s Acquisition Resources and Analysis web page contains links to several useful tools including a list of major weapons programs (also known as major defense acquisition programs, or MDAPs) and Selected Acquisition Reports (SARs). The SARs are required by law to notify the public of severe cost and schedules overruns on MDAPs, so they often make news.
- The Defense Procurement Acquisition Policy web site also contains a wealth of links, including Congressional reports and DOD acquisition policies. You can also sign up for alerts from the DOD Inspector General and Government Accountability Office, the two primary watchdogs for DOD and the government. The GAO only reports on both specific programs and contracting policy generally.
- Several databases track government contracts, but none of them is perfect. The Federal Procurement Data System is the official government database that tracks spending across all agencies, but it is notoriously difficult to use and often tardy in adding new data. As a senator, Barack Obama teamed up with Sen. Tom Coburn to create the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, which required the federal government to construct a comprehensive, easy-to-use contracting database. The result is USAspending.gov, which is actually based on a still-active prototype created by the nonprofit watchdog organization OMB watch called Fedspending.org. You can search prime awards, by agency, and sub-awards.
- If you want to find out whether a contractor has a history of bad performance, the Excluded Parties List System will tell you who is banned from receiving new contracts.
- Also check out the Project on Government Oversight’s Contractor Misconduct Database. POGO’s web site also contains a wealth of links on general acquisition policy.