- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 15, 2007

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The House voted to limit no-bid federal contracts yesterday, charging abuses and citing huge losses in contracts for Katrina recovery and Iraq reconstruction.

The Accountability in Contracting Act was the last of five open-government bills the House passed this week under new Democratic leaders critical of what they say has been the closed and secretive nature of the Bush administration.

The bill, which now goes to the Senate, passed by a vote of 347-73.

The White House opposed the contracting bill, as it did most of the other bills, saying it would complicate the administration’s own efforts to make contracting more competitive.

Democrats cited figures showing that federal contracts have nearly doubled in the Bush years, to about $400 billion a year, and that sole-source contracts, with no competitive bidding, grew from $67 billion in 2000 to $145 billion in 2005.

“This surge in contract spending has enriched private contractors like Halliburton but it has come at a steep cost to taxpayers through rising waste, fraud and abuse and mismanagement,” said Rep. Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat and chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Much of the criticism of no-bid contracts has been directed at Halliburton, a giant oil services company once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney that was given noncompetitive work to restore Iraq’s oil production.

In addition, Rep. Kathy Castor, Florida Democrat, said post-Katrina contracts worth $8.75 billion have been proved wasteful and sometimes have included fraud.

The legislation would limit the awarding of no-bid contracts for emergencies to one year, and would require agencies that spend more than $1 billion a year on federal contracts to implement plans to minimize use of sole-source contracts.

It also would require agencies to reduce the number of “cost-plus” contracts that leave the government vulnerable to wasteful spending, and would require that contract overcharges in excess of $10 million be disclosed to Congress.

The bill sets limits on procurement officers dealing with their former or future employers in the private sector.

The administration said that would restrain the government’s “ability to tap the technical expertise of federal employees who are former contractor employees.” Rep. Thomas M. Davis III of Virginia, the top Republican on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, also said it was unfair to “pass onerous restrictions based on the misdeeds of a handful of employees.”

Mr. Davis succeeded in attaching to the bill a provision that would prohibit all government agencies from awarding contracts to institutions of higher learning that deny military recruitment on their campuses. Under current law, the ban applies only to contracts from the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security and a few other agencies.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican and former chairman of the Armed Services Committee, denied that Republicans, when they were in power, failed to exercise oversight over Bush administration practices. He also defended some no-bid contracts, saying, “When you are fighting a war you need to move quickly. … You don’t give a six-month appeal to the folks who lose competitions.”

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