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Private company may get to computerize defense agency records

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Private company may get to computerize defense agency records

  • A private company may have deserved a shot at computerizing records that a Defense Department component has put online, a federal appeals panel in Washington, D.C., ruled, finding the company has standing to sue.

Aug. 13, 2003 — The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., ruled Aug. 12 that a private company can sue a component of the Department of Defense on a claim that it can operate the agency’s Web site, where procurement information is posted for the public, more efficiently than the agency can.

Noting that a contracting statute directs the Secretary of Defense to procure a service from a private source when it can provide the same service at lower cost, the court said that even when the private source has never provided the service and even when the defense agency is capable of operating the Web site itself, the source has a right to sue.

Citing an earlier procurement case, the court said a “constitutionally cognizable injury” occurs when someone loses the opportunity to pursue a benefit even when it is not certain he would receive the benefit.

Information Handling Services, Inc. sued the Defense Department, alleging that when its printing services component developed and maintained a Web site for disseminating government documents, it should have looked first to the private sector to see if it could be done at a lower cost.

In an April 2002 ruling, the federal district court in Washington, D.C., said that the company did not have standing to sue, but the appeals panel reversed that decision.

The government argued that the company could not provide more efficient services. It said that historically the department had provided the information in paper records and was now merely computerizing those records. It noted that in doing so it was complying with the Electronic Freedom of Information act of 1996, which it said requires that the records be computerized. It also noted that the Paperwork Reduction Act mandated that agencies provide timely and equitable access to information in electronic format.

The court said, however, that there is no conflict between the requirement that the records be computerized and the requirement that the function be contracted out if private sources can perform them more economically.

(Information Handling Services, Inc. v. Defense Automated Printing Service) RD

© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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