Lawmakers try to separate politics, contracting
- By Matthew Weigelt
- May 26, 2011
House members and senators have proposed legislation to block President Barack Obama from forcing companies to include information about political contributions when they submit a bid for a government contract.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the top Republican on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell and 19 other senators, introduced the “Keeping Politics Out of Federal Contracting Act” on May 26.
In the House, Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Sam Graves (R-Mo.), chairman of the Small Business Committee, and Tom Cole (R-Okla.) introduced an identical measure.
The bills would prohibit a federal agency from collecting the political information from contractors and their employees when they submit a bid. It would not allow officials to use any such information as a source for evaluating a proposal or modifying a contract. Further, databases of contractor information, which contracting officers consult when checking on companies’ backgrounds and performance histories, could not include such contribution information.
Sen. Collins warns of fallout from controversial executive order
“What possible good can come from linking political information to a process which must be grounded solely and unequivocally on providing the very best value to American taxpayers?” Collins said.
Issa said the bills would preempt any such executive order that may come from the White House.
The House and Senate bills counter such a draft executive order that the Obama administration circulated. The order would require contractors to add information about political contributions to candidates or causes given two years prior to when they submit a bid for a contract. Administration officials however have said the political information would not be a factor in awarding contracts.
“It is unfathomable that this administration would consider a move that would inject politics into the process, or create a perception that politics is something to be considered in selecting the winners and losers among businesses vying for federal contracts,” Collins said.
Graves said such an executive order “would circumvent and disrespect the regular policy making process.”
In another attempt to block such an executive order, the House passed an amendment to the fiscal 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 1540) on May 25 to stop the order. The authorization act was passed by the House May 26 and goes to the Senate now for consideration.
Testifying before the Senate governmental affairs committee on May 25, Dan Gordon, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, wouldn’t comment on the president's order specifically because it's only in a draft form. However, he did say the evaluations of companies’ bids should be objective, and would not be influenced by who or what a bidder supports.
Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.