Contractors could be held to feds' conflict-of-interest standards

Regulators are considering inserting personal and organizational conflict-of-interest clauses in federal contracts.

The Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council and the Defense Acquisition Regulation Council are interested in determining if, when and how they should address conflicts of interest, according to a March 26 Federal Register notice.

Council members are seeking input from the public on whether the government could promote more ethical behavior by disclosing more information on how contractors work, setting specific prohibitions or relying on particular principles, the notice states.

The government and industry workforces are blending, but industry workers are not subject to the same ethical safeguards as federal employees, the councils said.

They are concerned about contractors' financial conflicts, the need for impartiality, and the potential misuse of information and authority. Those problems could cause the public to lose confidence in the government and harm the government in other ways, the councils said.

The Government Accountability Office raised the issue in a March 7 report on Defense Department contracting, in which it concluded that DOD needs more safeguards.

Auditors found that few government ethics laws and departmentwide policies have been established to prevent personal conflicts of interest among contractor employees at DOD.

For example, laws and regulations requiring federal employees to disclose financial interests, avoid the appearance of partiality when performing their work, and refuse travel or gifts don’t apply to contractors, GAO found.

Auditors recommended that DOD develop personal conflict-of-interest safeguards for contractors that are similar to those required of DOD employees.

In response, DOD officials said they had established a subcommittee to review the recommendations.

The councils are seeking input and recommendations as they explore governmentwide conflict-of-interest policies. The comment period ends May 27.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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