Industry groups fight draft executive order on disclosure
By Marjorie Censer,
Some industry groups and lawmakers are pushing back against a draft executive order that could require government contractors to disclose their donations to groups that participate in political activities.
Opponents say the mandate, if issued, would politicize the procurement process because political appointees involved in contracting would have access to donation information, resulting in a “pay to play” scenario. Additionally, they argue the disclosure is unnecessary and would burden companies, particularly small businesses, with additional paperwork.
Under a draft of the executive order that was circulated last month, organizations bidding for federal contracts would be required to disclose contributions of more than $5,000 made to federal candidates, parties, party committees and relevant third-party entities. The information would be made publicly available on data.gov.
However, Daniel I. Gordon, administrator for federal procurement policy at the Office of Management and Budget, cautioned that no order has been issued. He said the draft, which could change substantially, remains under review.
Gordon appeared at a joint hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the House Small Business Committee last week to assure lawmakers that the government remains committed to a fair and impartial procurement system.
Political donation information would not be used by contracting officers when weighing proposals, he said.
“The question is, does the public have the right to know what contributions were made by contractors?” Gordon said, contending that increased transparency could improve trust in the acquisition system and in turn draw more participants.
But he drew fire from lawmakers, including Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, who hotly contested the need for the disclosure information.
He contended existing laws ensure impartiality in contracting and that the draft order would put that impartiality at risk.
Industry advocates too lined up to share their concerns. Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president and counsel at the Professional Services Council, an industry association, noted this type of information has historically been kept out of procurement competitions to ensure fairness, while Marion C. Blakey, president and chief executive of the Aerospace Industries Association, said in her written comments that the requirement would strain companies and might even encourage some potential or current competitors to leave the federal marketplace.
Some lawmakers, particularly Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), ranking member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, backed the draft order as a way to bring additional transparency to the contracting process.
“I never thought I would see the day that our committee would view transparency as the enemy,” Cummings said.