Under questioning, contracting official demurs on contractor disclosure order

The Obama administration’s top contracting official on Wednesday once again declined to discuss proposals that would require businesses to disclose political activities when they apply for government contracts.

President Obama is considering an executive order that would force government contractors to disclose their donations to groups that participate in political activities.

Republicans, led by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), have asked Obama to drop those plans, saying they would restrict political speech.

During a Senate hearing Wednesday on duplicative government programs, Collins pressed Daniel Gordon, head of federal contracting policy for the Office of Management and Budget, for details of the proposed executive order.

Gordon demurred, saying it wouldn’t be appropriate for him to discuss specifics of a draft order.

“We are committed to protecting the integrity of our contracting system, so that we never have the reality or the appearance of anything other than the appropriate evaluation factors being taken into account with source selection,” Gordon told Collins. “We will protect our contracting system from any appearance of political influence.”

Collins insisted however that any such order would deter small businesses and other contractors from applying for federal business because of the added paperwork and potential for political favoritism.

“If in fact this administration is committed to expanding competition as you eloquently said, it should not be issuing executive orders that are going to do exactly the opposite,” Collins said.

Gordon also declined to elaborate on the disclosure proposals at a House hearing two weeks ago, saying the White House bars administration officials from publicly discussing drafts of presidential executive orders.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing also reviewed the findings of a recent Government Accountability Office report that details hundreds of duplicative programs and offices across the government.

Among the findings, GAO discovered federal agencies have more than 100 programs dealing with surface transportation issues, 82 offices or programs monitoring teacher quality, 80 for economic development, 47 for job training, 20 offices or programs devoted to homelessness and 17 different grant programs for disaster preparedness. Another 15 agencies or offices handle food safety, and five are working to ensure the federal government uses less gasoline.

“I don’t know if there could be a more timely report as we urgently grapple with runaway debt and deficits, and the worry among the American people that our great country is heading over a cliff grows more anxious and deep,” the committee’s chairman, Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) said. “The report provokes us, it challenges us, and most of all, it provokes the Executive branch to take maximum advantage of every single taxpayer dollar.”

But neither senators nor the OMB witnesses present detailed any specific plans to curtail duplications or merge overlapping offices and programs.

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Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.

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