Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

Government Contract Award Announcements: The Soft Underbelly of "Government Transparency"

By Dennis D. McDonald

According to, a recent analysis by the United States Government Accountability Office has found that many reports of recent contract awards by Defense Department contract officers to the DoD’s Office of Public Affairs are incomplete. Quoting from the report,

During the course of a recent engagement reviewing noncompetitive contracting, we found that departments and agencies in the Department of Defense (DOD) are not submitting complete information, as required, to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs (OASD[PA]), which then posts the information on its Web site as a public announcement. President Obama has emphasized transparency and openness in how the government spends taxpayer dollars.

 In a sample of reports the GAO find data missing in one or more of the following categories for specific contract awards:

  • contract type (contract data category),
  • number of solicitations requested and bids received (competition information category),
  • name and location of the contractor (contractor data category),
  • fiscal year of the funds (funding data category)
  • the contracting office (miscellaneous data category)

This is pretty basic information. If you’ve ever been involved in data collection exercises that relied heavily on manual processes and the sending and receiving of emails and attachments, this probably isn’t a surprise. But it is a reminder that ensuring transparency of government actions does require time, attention, and money. Yes, the collection and publication of data can be standardized as repeatable and manageable business processes, especially when core financial systems are updated correctly. But in the real world, lacking explicit habits and repeatable practices, “there’s many a slip between the cup and the lip,” as this GAO report shows.

What’s the solution? First, you need acknowledgement from all involved that there is value to transparency, especially when it comes to reporting on how taxpayer dollars are spent. Assuming it is possible to overcome concerns about revealing proprietary or competitive information, you then have to address the real costs of developing and managing systems and processes to accomplish such reporting. This doesn’t require rocket science for a solution, but it does require management attention, as this GAO report suggests.

Copyright (c) 2010 by Dennis D. McDonald

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