Watchdog: Accountability

Sunlight Foundation wins FOIA lawsuit for federal contracts

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Watchdog,Michal Conger,Sunlight Foundation,GSA,Waste and Fraud,Accountability,Nonprofits,FOIA

A nonprofit watchdog organization won its Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the General Services Administration on Thursday and has released 13 years of federal contract data on its website.

The Sunlight Foundation filed the suit on Monday seeking the release of federal contract documents that are supposed to be publicly available. For more than five months, the GSA largely ignored Sunlight's FOIA request without explanation.

"This will allow us to look for connections and patterns that could implicate government waste or corruption," Sunlight Federal Policy Manager Ginger McCall said in a statement.

"It will also allow us to analyze the accuracy of information that the government is reporting elsewhere, including on USASpending.gov," McCall said.

Notices of federal contracting opportunities and awards are initially public on FBO.gov, also called FedBizOpps or Federal Business Opportunities, which the GSA administers, but the notices are typically archived after only a few months.

The nonprofit said the government's website's search system only goes back one year, thus effectively hiding older ones from public view.

When Sunlight earlier this year sought the older dates, descriptions, awardees and award amounts, GSA said the information would be made available if the nonprofit filed a FOIA request. But for months, the agency refused to release the data.

The GSA gave Sunlight the documents on Thursday, withholding the contact information for contracting officers from the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security, the nonprofit said.

Contact information was public on each solicitation, but the GSA cited privacy exemptions for those two departments.

"Despite the partial denial, these notices will allow the public and Sunlight’s developers to do a close analysis of government contracting patterns," McCall said.

"They include information about who is granting contracts, to whom contracts are being granted, what is being contracted for, and how much those contracts are worth," McCall said.

You can download the data here.

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