House hearing heats up over contractor disclosure order
Reps. Issa, Cummings on opposite sides on draft executive order
- By Alice Lipowicz
- May 12, 2011
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
If it becomes final, the order would require more detailed
disclosures of political contributions by federal contractors as an
adjunct to the procurement process.
Hoyer won't back administration's proposal on political contributions
Contractors required to disclose political contributions
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.
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.
Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.