Access to Certain Consulting Service Contract Information

PLRD-82-21: Published: Dec 2, 1981. Publicly Released: Dec 2, 1981.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO studied Federal agencies' implementation of a reporting requirement on consulting services. GAO answered four questions pertaining to consulting service contracts and the public's access to information about these contracts.

The four areas presented for GAO review were: (1) how a citizen can obtain information on Government spending for consultants; (2) what Federal agencies are doing to make the award of the consulting service contracts public; (3) what authority can be used to award a procurement contract for consulting services; and (4) how a citizen can obtain access to a consulting contract. GAO considered each point individually. The Federal Procurement Data System (FPDS) requires that procurement data be reported in a uniform manner by all executive agencies. It is possible for civilians to obtain a copy of almost all standard reports prepared by FPDS. Once a contract award has been made, subject to certain dollar thresholds, agencies are supposed to make the award public. Agencies meet this requirement by publishing a notice in the Commerce Business Daily and by reporting the procurement action to FPDS. There are various sources of statutory authority, such as annual appropriation acts and authorizing legislation, which enable an agency to award consulting service contracts. Often, the power to contract is expressly granted to a governmental agency by congressional enactment. It may be subject to limitations regarding the amount, duration of availability, and permissible application of appropriated funds. A contract is a Government record. With a few exceptions, citizens have access to records of the executive branch through the Freedom of Information Act. However, supporting data, such as trade secrets and patents, is of a proprietary nature and may not be available.

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