House hearing heats up over contractor disclosure order

Members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee put an administration official in the hot seat over a proposed draft order on disclosing federal contractor political contribution.

White House officials circulated the draft order as a transparency measure last month. Watchdog organizations support it as a means of obtaining more disclosure on large new categories of corporate political expenditures that were permitted by a Supreme Court decision last year.

Arguments over disclosing federal contractors' political contributions heated up a House hearing on May 12 as supporters and opponents clashed over the purpose and possible effects of a recent draft executive order that would require greater transparency for those contributions.

If it becomes final, the order would require more detailed disclosures of political contributions by federal contractors as an adjunct to the procurement process.


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Republicans and industry groups quickly raised objections to the draft order, including Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that held the hearing. In recent days, several Democrats have expressed reservations as well.

Rep. Issa alleged that the executive order would “politicize” the procurement process and claimed it would have “a chilling effect on participation and free speech.”

“If the president's proposed executive order is authorized, political donation information would be readily available to political appointees who are immediately involved in the contracting process. That risk is unacceptable,” Issa said in a statement.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the senior Democrat on the committee, defended the proposed executive order and released a list of several dozen good government organizations that support it, including Democracy 21, the Project on Government Oversight and Public Citizen.

“Our committee is supposed to enhance transparency,” Cummings said. “I never thought I would see the day when our committee would view transparency as the enemy.”

Cummings said the draft order is consistent with other laws that require disclosing campaign and political contributions and does not affect the procurement process.

Daniel Gordon, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy at the Office of Management and Budget, said he would limit his comments to the federal procurement issues.

After acknowledging that limitation, Rep. Issa proceeded to question Gordon about whether he believed in free speech and whether the president has a constitutional right to require disclosures from contractors. Gordon answered some of the questions, but he declined to answer others, saying  he is not a constitutional lawyer and did not have that expertise.

Gordon said the political contribution information would not be part of the selection criteria for contracts.

“The contracting officer who is handling that contract will never take into account the political contributions. The question is, does the public have the right to know what contributions are made by contractors?” Gordon said.

Opponents said the order would be burdensome for contractors, especially small businesses. Testifying at the hearing against the proposed order were Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president of the Professional Services Council, and Mark Renaud, a partner at the Wiley Rein LLP law firm.



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