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Federal Government Contracting: A Resource Guide

Historical Government Contracts

This particular section of the guide is intended to make it easier for those looking for information about specific government contracts. While some of the sources go back over 50 years, it does include information on more recent contracts that have been awarded as well. We are constantly on the look out for sources for awarded contracts, but currently there are time periods where sources are limited.

There are a few things to note:

  • Those sources that have information about contracts awarded, do not contain actual copies of contracts. Often it is just dates, contractor, award amount, what is the good/service, agency. Much of the information beyond that, may touch on proprietary information or in some cases, information may be classified. There may be more detailed information in agency records but you will have to contact the National Archives.
  • The National Archives collection includes many documents but how they are arranged may mean you need the contractor name and the contract number and you will need to look at the records for the specific agencies. For example: Federal Supply Service, General Services Administration, Quartermaster General, etc.
  • Some contracts may not be available. Records retention schedules allow the agencies to destroy most official contract files six years and three months after final contract payment.
  • Searching news resources may be a way to find additional information if the sources below are insufficient or when there are no regular sources available. This is particularly true for anyone doing research on contracts prior to World War II particularly when the only accessible source to find any information on contracts were news sources.

If you are looking for statistics, the Federal Procurement Data System (FPDS) includes reports, and sources like the Statistical Abstract published by the U.S. Census Bureau until 2012 have very high level data. The sources included here can also be used to get basic numbers and totals. The Government Accountability Office (previously the Government Accounting Office) will often do infographics on their blog (example from 2019) as well as reports like CONTRACTING DATA ANALYSIS Assessment of Government-wide Trends.

The following titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to digital versions are provided when available.

World War I through World War II

There are some sources for information related to both World War I and World War II. However, the information is very limited, and in the case of World War I less straightforward to use and find. To date, these are the best sources we have found, but there are other documents that may have looked at particular products and situations.

In 1941 and article listed sources for contract awards information that included – though many of these may no longer be available. It also mentioned that the Federal Reserve Banks and branch banks Defense Contract Service has lists of contracts already let and that they could be found in the daily papers like the Wall Street Journal and New York Times.

  • Walsh-Healey Public Contracts Act Bulletin (US Department of Labor, Division of Public Contracts)
  • Contracts and Expenditures (Office of Government Reports)
  • Major Defense Contracts Awarded by War and Navy Departments (Office of Production Management, Bureau of Research and Statistics)
  • Daily Proposal Record and Federal Purchasing Record (Atlas Publishing Company)
  • National Defense Reports (Congressional Intelligence, Inc.)
  • U.S. Government Advertiser Government Contracts Guide (Advisory Business Services, Inc.)
  • National Defense Bulletin (Chamber of Commerce of the United States)
  • Business Advisor (Stand & Poor’s)

1950 - Today

Much of the information for more current contracts is digital.  Currently the Federal Procurement Data System or FPDS (previously the Federal Procurement Data Center) part of the General Services Administration is the biggest aggregator of information on awarded contracts. However, some limited data is available for military contracts has been digitized by the National Archives. If you want to understand the history of government contracts data the GAO published two reports The Federal Procurement Data System -- Making It Work Better, 1980 (PDF) and Reliability of Federal Procurement Data, 2003 (PDF). CRS published two reports at the end of 2020 Tracking Federal Awards: and Other Data Sources (PDF) and Tracking Federal Awards in States and Congressional Districts Using

The GAO as well as more overview reports often at the request of Congress. For example, there is an annual assessment of weapon systems (example from 2019), the annual overview of NASA projects (example from 2019), etc.. The Congressional Research Service has also produced reports like Defense Acquisitions: How and Where DOD Spends Its Contracting Dollars and Federal Research and Development (R&D) Funding: FY2019.