Obama accused of politicising government procurement

13 May 2011

13 May 2011 | Angeline Albert

US President Barack Obama is facing mounting criticism over his proposal to force government contractors to disclose political campaign donations when bidding for public deals.

Both Democrat and Republican politicians and industry associations have strongly objected to the draft executive order, where suppliers will have to provide details of political spending above $5,000 (£3,075) for the past two years to access government contracts. Opponents claim the order will politicise the procurement and leave the process open to bias.

Chairman of the House of Representatives’ Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Republican congressman Darrell Issa, said: “There is now bipartisan alarm on Capitol Hill that the proposed executive order runs afoul of the government's responsibility to keep federal procurement and contracting fair and unbiased. Congress must protect US taxpayers from the kinds of corrupt spoils system that could develop if federal contract awards were seemingly tied to partisan political affiliations.”

Senators have also been critical. “The requirement that businesses disclose political expenditures as part of the offer process creates the appearance that this type of information could become a factor in the award of federal contracts,” said a letter signed by Democrat Claire McCaskill, independent Joe Lieberman and Republicans Susan Collins and Rob Portman.

Industry is also worried by the suggestion. The AerospaceIndustries Association said it was unclear how this information would be used in the supplier selection process. Chief executives’ association Business Roundtable described the move as “regulatory over-reach and redundancy”.

At a joint-committee hearing yesterday, Politicizing procurement: will president Obama’s proposal curb free speech and hurt small business?, the White House’s administrator for federal procurement policy Dan Gordon offered reassurance.

“I can state unequivocally that this administration has always been, and remains, fully committed to a merit-based contracting process rooted in the highest levels of integrity and transparency. There is no place for politics in federal acquisition,” he said. “Accordingly, the process must ensure, and the public must have confidence, that no political considerations are allowed to bear on federal contracting decisions at any point during the acquisition process.”

But congressman Sam Graves, chairman of the House’s Small Business Committee, was unconvinced. “Our federal government shouldn't be asking who's a Democrat and who's a Republican in the procurement process. They ought to be asking who can get the job done well and for the least amount of taxpayer money."

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