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United States

Open Contracting (US0099)

Overview

IRM Review

IRM Report: United States End-of-Term IRM Report 2015-2017, United States Mid-Term Report 2015-2017

Starred: No

Early Results: Marginal

Design i

Verifiable: Yes

Relevant to OGP Values: Access to Information , Civic Participation , Technology

Potential Impact:

Implementation i

Completion:

Description

The United States Government is the world’s largest buyer of goods and services. Ensuring public access to information about government procurement not only promotes transparency and accountability but also allows for more efficient and effective contracting practices across Federal agencies. In 2016, Vice President Biden committed the United States to promoting the Open Contracting Data Standard that enables disclosure of data and documents at all stages of the contracting process by defining a common data model. In support of open contracting, the United States will: Harness the Expertise of Contracting Professionals to Improve Contracting Data: The Administration will convene contracting officers from across government agencies to hear about their experiences with contracting data including data quality, accessing existing data, and engaging with users of that data to inform updates to USAspending.gov. Additionally, the Interagency Open Data Working Group will form an Open Contracting Data subgroup to explore, among other things, better ways to link preaward information with post-award spending data. Make Government Contracting More Approachable for Small Businesses: To ensure that small businesses can access and use the contracting data they need, the Small Business Administration and Department of Treasury will reach out to small business owners to better understand what types of contracting data are most useful to them. The Small Business Administration will also update its existing Government Contracting Classroom website with additional training to help small businesses navigate the various steps of the contracting world including training and certification

IRM Midterm Status Summary

This commitment was not assessed in the midterm IRM report.

IRM End of Term Status Summary

Commitment 47. Open Contracting

Commitment Text:

Support Open Contracting

The United States Government is the world’s largest buyer of goods and services. Ensuring public access to information about government procurement not only promotes transparency and accountability but also allows for more efficient and effective contracting practices across Federal agencies. In 2016, Vice President Biden committed the United States to promoting the Open Contracting Data Standard that enables disclosure of data and documents at all stages of the contracting process by defining a common data model. In support of open contracting, the United States will:

  • Harness the Expertise of Contracting Professionals to Improve Contracting Data: The Administration will convene contracting officers from across government agencies to hear about their experiences with contracting data including data quality, accessing existing data, and engaging with users of that data to inform updates to USAspending.gov. Additionally, the Interagency Open Data Working Group will form an Open Contracting Data subgroup to explore, among other things, better ways to link pre-award information with post-award spending data.
  • Make Government Contracting More Approachable for Small Businesses: To ensure that small businesses can access and use the contracting data they need, the Small Business Administration and Department of Treasury will reach out to small business owners to better understand what types of contracting data are most useful to them. The Small Business Administration will also update its existing Government Contracting Classroom website with additional training to help small businesses navigate the various steps of the contracting world including training and certification.

Responsible Institution: Not Specified

Supporting Institution: Not Specified

Start Date: Not Specified ....... End Date: Not Specified

Editorial Note: Completion at the midterm is not assessed for this commitment because it was submitted to OGP in September 2016 following the close of the midterm reporting period; progress for this commitment is therefore assessed from September 2016 onwards in the sections below.

Commitment Aim

This commitment aimed for the US government to broaden public access to information on federal procurement, with the goal of promoting more efficient and effective contracting processes across federal agencies. The commitment envisioned two main sets of activities:

  • The US government expected to convene an interagency group of contracting officials to solicit information about their experiences with the quality and accessibility of contracting data, and to use that information to inform USAspending.gov platform updates. The US government also committed to establish an Open Contracting Data Subgroup and to be housed under the Interagency Open Data Working Group, with the goal of exploring how to better link pre-award information with post-award spending data.
  • The Department of Treasury’s Small Business Administration proposed engaging with small business owners to better understand the usefulness of contracting data from the perspective of small business, with the goal of facilitating greater access to and use of relevant contracting data. Relatedly, the US Small Business Administration committed to update its Government Contracting Classroom Website to include additional training that helps small businesses navigate contracting processes, including training and certification.

The commitment’s two milestones have clear relevance for the OGP values of access to information—due to the emphasis on improving information on contract awards and spending and updating the Government Contracting Classroom website—as well as civic participation, in light of the government’s intended outreach to contracting data users and small business owners under each milestone. The two milestones are also relevant for the OGP value of technology and innovation due to the intended updating of USAspending.gov and the Government Contracting Classroom. Both milestones have medium specificity: while each outlines a relatively clear and measurable set of activities, they leave undefined the scope of engagements with data users and the specific types of contracting data to be examined, as well as the scope of updates that are envisioned for the Government Contracting Classroom.

The magnitude of federal contracting opportunities is substantial: in fiscal year 2015, the most recent year for which data was available at the time of writing, the US Government Accountability Office found that federal agencies obligated over $430 billion through contracting opportunities for both products and services. [640] In this context, greater transparency of contracting data is an important objective, especially as civil society has called for greater disclosure of contracting documents, such as proposals and actual contracts, as well as greater links between solicitation information and post-award data. [641]

Still, if fully implemented, the milestones as written, as well as the overall commitment, are expected to have a minor impact, because they focus mostly on preliminary consultations, rather than on improving the quality or accessibility of contracting data. While the commitment does incorporate activities explicitly recommended by civil society—such as engaging the public on open contracting [642] and focusing on the needs of small businesses [643]—the commitment does not feature other more transformative proposals made by civil society. For example, the commitment does not include specific mechanisms by which the US government will implement the Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS), a key open data standard for linking contracting data that was heavily recommended by civil society. [644] In the absence of specific activities to pilot the OCDS at an agency or other clear steps to improve the transparency of contracting information, the commitment as written cannot be expected to make federal contracting significantly more efficient and effective.

Status

End of term: Limited

With respect to Milestone 47.1, there is no visible evidence that the Interagency Open Data Working Group formed an Open Contracting Data subgroup to convene contracting officers across government to discuss contracting data, as stipulated by the milestone. At the close of the end of term, the Interagency Open Data Working Group website did not list any information about subgroups. [645] There was also no information about this subgroup in either the general US Open Government Google Group [646] or the Open Government and Technology Google Group that is used to distribute updates about the Working Group and send invitations for its quarterly open meetings. [647] Moreover, at the quarterly open meeting of the Open Government Interagency Working Group held on 30 May 2017, the government representatives present were not aware of a contracting subgroup. [648]

The government did consult data users as part of the revamp of USAspending.gov. However, this took place mostly under the framework of Commitment 32. Increase Transparency in Spending. For more details on this engagement, please consult this report’s analysis of that commitment. Given the absence of evidence to confirm the bulk of the activities—the creation of the Open Contracting Data subgroup and convening of contracting officers across government—Milestone 47.1 is considered to have limited progress.

As for making government contracting more approachable for small businesses (Milestone 47.2), there was limited progress by the end of term. First, there is no visible evidence of greater engagement with small businesses to understand their contracting data needs. The Open Government page [649] of the US Small Business Administration (SBA) does not make any reference to progress on this engagement, nor does the SBA 2016 Open Government Report. [650]

Second, there was little progress on the update to the SBA’s Government Contracting Classroom website by the end of term. Between the start of this commitment in September 2016 and the close of the action plan in July 2017, there was only one new 30-minute course added to the virtual classroom on the SBA’s All Small Mentor-Protégé Program, increasing the total number of virtual courses from 23 to 24. [651] A more significant revamp of the website took place in March 2018, which led to the addition of nearly 40 courses and a more user-friendly interface. [652] However, this took place well after the end of the action plan, and so it does not count for completion as part of this commitment.

Did It Open Government?

Access to Information: Marginal

Civic Participation: Marginal

Given the absence of substantial progress on this commitment, the US government did not achieve a major change in its level of openness. In terms of access to information, the only improvement during the reporting period was an additional course for small businesses on the SBA website. As for civic participation, the government consulted data users through the beta version of USASpending.gov, which included opportunities to chat with government officials, propose features, and discuss recent changes. However, as explained above, this took place mostly under the framework of Commitment 32. Increase Transparency in Spending. For more information about this engagement, please see the corresponding section in this report.

Carried Forward?

At the time of writing, the US government had not published its fourth national action plan, so it is unclear if this commitment will be carried forward. The government should nevertheless continue its efforts to make the US contracting system more transparent for businesses of all sizes to promote the more effective and efficient allocation of government resources. Specifically, in line with civil society recommendations, the US government could propose specific steps to implement the Open Contracting Data Standard, such as piloting the approach at a federal agency and expanding open contracting to the state and local levels.

[640]  US Government Accountability Office.  “Contracting Data Analysis: Assessment of Government-Wide Trends.” March 2017. http://www.gao.gov/assets/690/683273.pdf. Consulted 8 October 2017.

[641] Hayman, Gavin. “How the US government’s spending transparency tools can better serve users.” Open Contracting Partnership. 6 June 2016. https://www.open-contracting.org/2016/06/06/u-s-governments-spending-transparency-tools-can-better-serve-users/

[642] Macdonald, Ruairi. “US OGP National Action Plan 3.1: Next steps to open US government contracting.” Open Contracting Partnership. 29 October 2015. https://www.open-contracting.org/2015/10/29/next_steps_to_open_us_government_contracting/

[643] Hayman, Gavin. “How the US government’s spending transparency tools can better serve users.” Open Contracting Partnership. 6 June 2016. https://www.open-contracting.org/2016/06/06/u-s-governments-spending-transparency-tools-can-better-serve-users/

[644] Open Government Partnership “Civil Society Model Commitments for the Third US National Action Plan. ”.September 2015. https://bit.ly/2pLSPPz

[645] Project Open Data, “Join the Interagency Open Data Working Group,” https://project-open-data.cio.gov/working-group/

[646] US Open Government Google Group, https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/us-open-government

[647] Open Government and Technology Google Group, https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/opengovtech

[648] US Open Government Google Group. “Notes from the 5/30 OpenGov Interagency Working Group Meeting.” https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/us-open-government/7HpRMKk5AOY

[649] U.S. Small Business Administration. “About the SBA:. Open Government. ”  https://www.sba.gov/about-sba/sba-performance/open-government

[650] U.S. Small Business Administration. “Open Government Report 2016.” https://www.sba.gov/sites/default/files/aboutsbaarticle/SBA_Open_Government_Report_2016.pdf

[651] This information was verified by comparing an archived version of the Government Contracting Classroom website from 23 September 2016 (available here: https://bit.ly/2GAUaT1) and one from 5 July 2017 (available here: https://bit.ly/2GE0NUE). 

[652] U.S. Small Business Administration, “Learning Center. ” https://www.sba.gov/learning-center


Commitments

Open Government Partnership