US Department of Defence arms contracts

US Department of Defence contract numbers explained

This report is part of AOAV’s investigation into the DoD’s small arms expenditure during the War on Terror. Our research found discrepancies and differences between the contracts published on the DoD’s website and those found on the Federal Procurement Database System – research that can be read here. The investigation also included an examination of US expenditure for small arms for Iraq, which can be read here, and Afghanistan, which can be read hereFor information on what a small arm is, please see here.

Unlike many nations, the United States is relatively transparent when it comes to listing what it spends on its defence.  As such, any member of the public with access to the Internet, can gain an insight into what weapons the US taxpayer’s money is being spent on.  All they have to do is to go onto the US Department of Defense website and there they can see the DoD’s daily announcements or they can access the DoD’s contract archive.

These contract announcements, according to the DoD, should include:

  • The contract number, modification number, and/or task/delivery order number
  • The face value of the action
  • The total cumulative value of the contract
  • A description of what is being procured
  • The contract type
  • Whether the procurement included foreign military sales (FMS)
  • If FMS included, the FMS customer
  • Number of solicitations mailed
  • Number of offers received
  • The contractor name and address
  • The place of Performance
  • The type of appropriation
  • The fiscal year of the funds
  • The identification of multi-year contracts
  • The government contracting office and POC
  • Any known congressional interest
  • The information release date

What was most applicable in AOAV’s research into small arms, ammunition and peripherals bought by the US government DoD during 14 years of its so-called ‘War On Terror’ was that the DoD often gave details in its contracts on what was being bought, including weapon types, ammunition calibre or type of attachment.

Frustratingly, though, there is a widespread inconsistency when it comes to the DoD ensuring that all of the above facts are included in contract announcements.

However, though the DoD have told us these data elements list above should always be included, our research found this was not always the case.

For example, when researching the contracts for Afghanistan listed in the DoD Inspector General report, 4 of the 5 contracts that were listed on the DoD did not mention the FMS customer (Afghanistan). In fact, they did not indicate the procurement included FMS at all.

There were some shifting sands, too, when it came to the financial level above which contracts were listed. The DoD announcement threshold is currently $7 million; but it was $5 million until 2006, $5.5 million between 2006 and 2010 and $6.5 million between 2010 and 2015.

AOAV did find the DoD archives also had quite severe limitations. The contract database has not, for at least the last 4 months, been searchable, which means you can only access the contracts by going through them month by month, year by year. It is also problematic that only contracts worth $7 million and over can be found. Throughout the course of our research we also found errors with contract numbers, repeated awards, missing awards and errors with the amounts awarded. Overspend and unfulfilled contracts cannot be seen from the DoD database either.

The Federal Procurement Data System – Next Generation

The FPDS is a searchable database where contracts from as little as $3,500 are listed, as well as all contract modifications that change previously reported data, and all task/delivery orders. The FPDS provides a comprehensive look into the contracts that have been awarded. It lists more specifically the amount that has been spent as part of a contract, any extra funds spent and even refunded amounts. From the FPDS the amount spent on small arms – ‘guns through to 30mm’ – can easy and quickly be seen.

According to the DoD the FPDS contract records will include:

  • Contract number, modification number, and/or task/delivery order number
  • Obligation amount on the action
  • Base and all options value of the award (on modifications this is the net change to the base and all options value is reported)
  • A short description of what is being procured, along with the product service code (PSC) and North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS) code under which the action was solicited
  • Contract type
  • Whether the procurement included foreign military sales (FMS)
  • Number of offers received
  • Contractor name and address (also the contractor’s DUNS number)
  • Place of Performance
  • Treasury Account Symbol (TAS) Agency and Main Account (only since mid FY08)
  • Identification of multiyear contracts (see FAR 17.1)
  • Government contracting office
  • Date signed, effective date, completion date, estimated ultimate completion date (includes unexercised options), last date to order (if ordering vehicle)
  • Other data regarding competition, contractor’s socio-economic characteristics, legislative mandate data, and additional data about how the procurement was conducted (complete FPDS data dictionary v 1.4 is available at

(Note:  reporting in FPDS-NG is based on the predominant amount; meaning, for example, if there is more than one category of good or service being purchased, the coding will reflect whatever category is the largest and the entire amount of funding will be reported as being spent on that category.)

However, the FPDS it seems rarely gives detail on the type of small arm being purchased, such as whether it is an AK47, an M2, or an M16. Moreover, if the weapons are being procured for a foreign military this is often not specified.

On cross-comparison with the Department of Defense (DoD) database, it became clear that at times small arms were actually listed under very broad headings on the FPDS, such as ‘miscellaneous ammunition’ or ‘miscellaneous weaponry’. Without reference to the DoD data it was often not clear whether these contracts included small arms.

Below is a list of questions and answers relating to contract numbers as listed on the US Department of Defence contract database. This relates to our work on US Department of Defence contract analysis.

Their contracts explained - sort of.

                               Their contracts explained – sort of.

How and when a contract is created?
Response: A contract is created after a requiring activity identifies a validated need for supplies or services to support its agency mission and funds are available for obligation. The valid need is advertised on FEDBIZOPS, offers are sent to the Government, and the government evaluates offers and selects an awardee. The actual contract is created when the requirements, terms, conditions, cost/price are captured on a paper contract and both parties sign. Once the party that received the contract begins performance, the government pays for those supplies or services.

What a contract number means/signifies?
Response: Each contract has a unique Procurement Instrument Identifier (PIID). Within DOD, it indicates the DoD Activity Address Code (DoDAAC) of the contracting office that issued the award (first 6 characters). The seventh and eighth characters are the last two digits of the fiscal year in which the award was issued (characters 7-8), and the type of contract action (e.g., purchase order, basic ordering agreement, or indefinite delivery indefinite quantity contract) (9th character). The 10th – 13th characters are serially assigned. Agencies may choose a minimum of four characters up to a max of eight characters to be used. Contract numbering rules are addressed in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) at subpart 4.16. Contracting offices normally assign the next available contract number during the fiscal year – for example, if F33615-16-P-0001 has already been awarded, the next purchase order the contracting officer at office F33615 would assign would be F33615-16-P-0002.

How they are assigned (i.e. is it for a specific country or specific work such as weaponry)?
Response: The contract numbers neither denote anything about the type of goods or services being procured, nor anything about the place of performance.

Can a contract be added to and would this have to be announced on the DOD?
Response: A contract can be amended or modified by the requiring activity using supplementary PIID numbers. Paragraph 4.602(e) of the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) requires that each FPDS-reporting agency “assign a unique identifier to every contract, purchase order, BOA, Basic Agreement, and BPA,” and provides the following guidance as to the structure of this unique procurement instrument identifier (PIID): All proposed contract actions expected to exceed $25,000 (with exceptions noted at FAR 5.202) must be synopsized in the Government point of entry (GPE) (e.g., ).

What can be learnt from tracking the contract number?
Response: A contract number denotes the procuring agencies contract action (e.g., US Army, US Navy, US Air Force), type of contract, and amendments or modifications during the life of the contract.

We have a contract number listed in an Inspector General report for small arms being purchased for Afghanistan. Would, then, all small arms procured under that contract number listed on the Federal Procurement Database be also destined for Afghanistan?
Response: Not necessarily, products can be purchased on one contract for delivery to multiple locations.

If not, how about those under the same modification number?
Response: A modification to a contract could be for delivery to multiple locations.


For the data on 14 years of DoD contracts for small arms, ammunition and attachments, please go here.