Washington Technology reports that GSA wants people to test FPDS-NG, one of the systems being mooted for replacement as a consequence of S.2590, the bill which proposes creation of a single federal funding (contracts and grants) data. (Go try it out, here.) I just did (again), and here’s what I found by posing as a new user:
- Registration is easy but with potholes along the way. The user registration form is confusing because it “looks up” state codes and whatnot by invoking a new screen. Why not use a drop-down menu? And when the user account is created, the system pops you back to the registration screen and invites you to “Close” the window. Under normal browser use, closing a window would end my session on the site but here it doesn’t, instead reverting users to the site home page.
- While the last screen said my user account was created, I couldn’t log into the site for a few minutes. No idea why, but my login didn’t work for about 4 minutes.
- Once logged in, a small frame in the middle of the screen contains instructions about how to use the site. This is an unnecessary interface quirk: why confine your instruction text to a little frame?
- The instructions list options that aren’t apparently available to me as a public user upon first inspection. Once you go through a few screens, it becomes clear where these things are.
- Searching is pretty easy, once you get into it, and the data is very useful.
- When I ran the one published report which was available (which begs the question, if it’s the only one I can access, why bury it under a “Published Reports” search function?), I got a “Server busy. Please try again later” message. Oops.
- Creating an ad hoc report was arduous, although this function gives users almost endless report creation abilities. You can query on pretty much any field in the FPDS database (which captures the whole government). If ever a web interface needed AJAX, this is it.
- Some of the report filters and such do nothing…or seem to. For example, clicking on “Time keys and calendar settings” while setting up an ad hoc query, yields absolutely no response — no error, no message, nothing. Dead ends like this are what aggravates users, including me.
Because of that time filtering problem, I couldn’t find out how recent the data in the system might be. Does anyone know?
Note that I only played with the system for about 10 minutes, so all this should be taken with a pinch of salt. However, at an NGP meeting a while ago, a representative from Senator Coburn’s office said that FPDS-NG did not satisfy the thrust of S.2590 because it’s not user friendly. On this brief assessment, I’d have to say that I agree.