US Department of Defence arms contracts

Major differences found between US Department of Defence and the Federal Procurement Database System contract listings

This report is part of AOAV’s investigation into the DoD’s small arms expenditure during the War on Terror.  For information on what a small arm is, please see here. To understand more about US DoD contracts visit here. The investigation also included an examination of US expenditure for small arms for Iraq, which can be read here, and Afghanistan, see here.

There are two public databases for contracts issued by the US Department of Defence (DoD).

The first is the DoD’s own contract announcements. These happen on a work-day basis and, ultimately, are put into an archive. They cover all contracts with the DoD that are above the announcement threshold (this was initially $5 million from 1991-2006, then $5.5 million until 2010 when it was raised to $6.5 million until 2015 when it was raised to $7 million).

These contract listings cover the broad description of what is purchased – in AOAV’s small arms research this included details of weapon types, ammunition calibres or type of attachment. The contract details list the company awarded the contract, the size of the contract, and the amount paid out in the initial tranche. Sometimes the numbers of weapons sold are given or the number of people who bid for the contract. The major limitation of the DoD archive system is that it appears not to be (currently) searchable and any contract below the announcement threshold is not listed.

The second is the Federal Procurement Database System (FPDS). The FPDS is more comprehensive in the number of contracts it lists (even recording amounts obliged from as little as $0.01 and contracts as little as $3500). It also lists monies paid back on contracts unfulfilled. However, unlike some of the DoD contracts, it rarely gives detail on what has been purchased. So whereas the DoD might name the type of weapon bought – M16, AK47, M2 etc. – the FPDS may just list the weapon as ‘Guns through to 30mm’. Weapons supplied to foreign governments (such as Iraq and Afghanistan) are scarcely detailed as destined for such places.

What this means is that the FPDS system covers – comprehensively – the amounts obliged of the awarded contracts. The DoD offers an insight – for example – into what type of weapons have been bought, where weapons are destined for, and what munition factories have been granted Federal funds to meet the upsurge in bullets needed during the War on Terror.

There are clear differences between the two.

The first, for instance is this. If you search the FPDS dataset just for ‘guns through 30mm’ (between Sep 11, 2001 and Sep 10 2015) the total contracts amount to $5.4 billion ($5,431,136,530.37). In comparison, the DoD contract archive database only shows $4.3 billion ($4,287,730,438).

This might suggest that we should only look at the FPDS dataset. There is a problem, however, is that the FPDS is a blunt instrument. It only offers, at times, broad category headings such as ‘miscellaneous ammunition’ or miscellaneous weaponry’ – which does not differentiate between small arms or heavy weapons. As such the FPDS dataset just offers totals – and little context.

Comparing the datasets
A cross-comparison of the two datasets, though, gives rise to concern: mistakes and confusion abound. The types of mistake brought to light throughout AOAV’s research included those as simple as misspelled contracts, repeated awards or a number missing from an award total. Though these mistakes appear small, they make examining the contracts, which any citizen should be able to check, difficult. And even minor mistakes should be unacceptable on contracts worth millions of dollars.

Missing contracts numbers and unrecorded awards
More concerning, AOAV’s research uncovered missing contract numbers and unrecorded awards; this results in millions of dollars remaining unaccounted for. The sheer volume of mistakes and inconsistencies between contracts was quite shocking – they accounted for over 33% of those researched (137 of 412 contracts).

Of these 137, 83% had inconsistencies in the amounts awarded and 12% had a problem with the contract number (either it was incorrect or it could not be found).

Other mistakes include:
– contracts that were poorly categorised on the FPDS (i.e. small arms listed as something else)
– contracts where different companies being granted the contract were listed on the Dod compared to the FPDS
– contracts where the DoD announcements announced the award more than once
– contracts worth over $6.5 million that were paid on the FPDS but were not listed on the DoD.

Some inconsistencies can be explained: some contracts may have not been fulfilled, or may have not yet reached their completion date. So, for instance, where the DoD may show an award to be completed by 2022, the FPDS will only show the amount paid for the work done so far.

Other mistakes might appear to be due to overspend. For example, the DoD awarded a contract for $20,935,368 on September 25, 2005. The total shown on the FPDS under that contract number, however, was $59,190,007. The reason for this multi-million dollar discrepancy is not given.

Other inconsistencies, such as inaccuracies in details and figures, are also widespread. On August 14, 2009 – for instance – a contract was award of $5,999,950. It, however, was recorded on the DoD dataset as being for just $599,950.

On August 25, 2010, an award worth $8,853,835 was allocated a contract number that did not correspond with the FPDS dataset.

There are also awards that – like one for $26,141,540 announced on September 26, 2008 – that have no contract number announced on the DoD and are simply unfindable on the FPDS. There are no reasons given for this total absence of public record.

What these inconsistencies and mistakes ultimately means – considering there are so many of them – is that the current DoD published records fail to offer transparency – and such transparency might be deemed necessary considering the financial amounts, and the repercussions, of such contracts.