Blog

US committing to open contracting, towards even smarter, better public procurement

21 Sep 2016

By Gavin Hayman and Georg Neumann

How does a small business find out what a government agency is buying? How does a government agency make sure it gets the best provider to fulfil its needs?

The ability to see “who, what, where, when, and how” the government spends its money is fundamental to creating a level-playing field amongst businesses and ensuring that taxpayers’ money is well spent.

Open, accessible public data helps identify and flag contracting opportunities most appropriate for small businesses. It also allows to users to check that solicitations do not unfairly benefit existing contractors or exclude small businesses. Detailing how the government plans and spends in an easily accessible and standardized format lowers the barriers for small businesses to analyze this information, reduces the cost of bid preparation, and helps potential bidders identify opportunities to win new business.

For government procurement officials, open data about contractors can help with market research, cost estimates, and management of risk in the government’s supply chain.

This is why we are excited that the U.S. has made new open contracting commitments, which were announced by the White House yesterday,

We are encouraged by the promise of increased collaboration between acquisition and open data professionals within the U.S. government. The U.S. Interagency Open Data Working Group will now form a new Open Contracting Data subgroup to explore, among other things, better ways to link pre-award information with post-award spending data. Our analysis has shown that in 20% of the awards in the 2016 financial year, there is no link between solicitation and contract number. We hope this work leads to better links between spending information on new USAspending.gov and the Federal Procurement Data System, contractor information on the System for Award Management, contract solicitations and terms on FedBizOpps.gov, and task order solicitations on various other systems.

We welcome particularly the commitment to connect the Small Business Administration with the Department of Treasury. We hope this leads to improved data and visualizations on the new USAspending.gov and new open data resources to help small businesses understand and access the U.S. federal marketplace. This should become a great example for how to use open data and open contracting data specifically to create fairer competition and support small business – and it ties in nicely with its small business contracting goals for federal agencies.

To make sure this can be done effectively, the focus on linking contracting data and documents will be crucial. We have previously outlined our 3 steps to achieving this and these commitments are a very promising move in the right direction.

We look forward to supporting the U.S. government and other stakeholders in this process. Through open contracting, business, especially small business and start-ups can bring the smart, innovative solutions and new thinking that we need to better solve public problems and deliver the best outcomes for taxpayer dollars.