DorobekInsider: The Recovery Board speaks out on the contract award

We’ve been reporting on the Recovery Board’s $9.5 million award last week to Smartronics for the redesign of, the Obama administration&...

We’ve been reporting on the Recovery Board’s $9.5 million award last week to Smartronics for the redesign of, the Obama administration’s Web site that seeks to provide transparency — and therefore accountability — for the $787 billion stimulus package. [DorobekInsider rounding up the criticisms… and DorobekInsider on the responding to those questions…]

Recovery Board Chairman Earl E. Devaney

Recovery Board Chairman Earl E. Devaney

Today on Federal News Radio 1500 AM’s Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, we spoke to Earl E. Devaney, the chairman of the Recovery, Accountability and Transparency Board about the contract. Read the full story here… or hear our conversation below:

In short, he tells us the $9.5 million is for more than just building a contract. It is for building the infrastructure associated with the Web site.

From the Federal News Radio story:

“There’s an entire infrastructure to be built. There’s connectivity with other Web sites. There’s the security piece, the backup piece and there’s a whole host of things that are being done here and I would submit to you that these kinds of endeavors usually do cost this much. We’re not simply putting out a visually more pleasing Web site.”

He also tells Federal News Radio that the board asked GSA to conduct the competition and that he didn’t — and doesn’t — know about the finalists other then the fact that Smartronics won.

“We went to GSA — I personally went to the head of GSA and asked for their best person — and their chief procurement executive is the one that oversees this whole process. So, he selected . . . a team to come in from Texas to do this. So they put their best people on it and ran it in the best competitive way they know how to run one. I’m sure cost was one of the criteria, but certainly not the sole criteria, that led to the selection.”

He did confirm, however, that data will be made available — in machine readable form — in a pubic way just as it is posted. OMBWatch’s Craig Jennings had expressed concern about that issue. (Read more here, including a conversation with Jerry Brito, who created the Stimulus Watch Web site.)

I should note that I have asked GSA to make somebody available for comment. According to NextGov’s Aliya Sternstein quotes GSA officials saying… essentially no comment — in a fancy way.

GSA spokesman Robert Lesino on Friday said the agency is restricted from providing details, including the names of the other bidders and copies of proposals, due to “procurement sensitivity and acquisition regulation.”

Lesino pointed out that the June pre-solicitation notice was posted on the Federal Business Opportunities Web site. “In order to expedite the award of the contract, the previously competed Alliant governmentwide acquisition contract was used,” he said.

GSA today seems to be relenting to some degree. GSA officials told Sternstein today that they would release a redacted version of the contract next week. That is a good step, but, frankly, it isn’t enough. GSA is also going to have to provide insight about the thinking behind the contracting method — using the Alliant GWAC — and provide the decision criteria. When you are dealing with a contract for the Recovery and Transparency Board, this simply isn’t business as usual — and after the fact, it doesn’t injure anybody to say how many bids were received, whether GSA selected the low bidder, and how that decision was made.

To be honest, I’m a bit surprised that the Recovery Board was not actively involved in the contracting process — and I’m not sure why GSA contractors would not require that the Recovery Board — their client — be fully and actively involved in the contracting decisions. Given that the Web site is at the heart of thetransparency — and accountability — I’m not sure one would want to outsource the entire contracting process.

All of that being said, I was really happy that the Recovery Board decided to speak out. It was an important step. I was the first time I had spoken to Devaney, but people I know and trust have nothing but good things to say about him. He skills seem perfectly suited for what is a very difficult job.

As I said earlier, I don’t think that the open government advocates are out to get the Recovery Board. To the contrary, they want to help — and my sense is that they can be helpful.

To that end, we specifically asked Devaney to talk about what it is like to be on the front lines of transparency — to the point that the organization is almost bludgeoned by the term “transparency.” And he asked for people to be patient with the board. Just like the rest of us, they are learning — and this has never been done before.

There are many lessons to be learned hear about transparency — and how it operates in the real world — that will be fodder for discussion. In my Signal column in May, I wrote that transparency is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. And, frankly, what I said then continues to be true: “The word is something akin to a Rorschach test—everybody sees transparency very differently. Each person has very different ways of defining what transparency means and how it can be implemented.

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