The chairman of a House subcommittee looking at abuses in the government's use of outside consultants opened hearings yesterday by blasting two prominent consulting firms which had declined to testify before his panel.
Rep. Herbert E. Haris II (D-Va.), clearly miffed, read aloud letters from the firms, Booz, Allen & Hamilton and TRW, Inc., which said vacation schedules would prevent key personnel from testifying at the hearings this month.
Speaking on behalf of what Harris has called a "sunshine" disclosure bill for the procurement process, Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.) called the responses typical of "the arrogance, aloofness and unresponsiveness that contracting out generates."
Booz, Allen & Hamilton was mentioned last week at Senate hearings on the same legislation. The consulting work it has done for the Department of Energy and the firm's representationof Libya were cited as examples of outside consulting activities.
"I think you'll find Booz-Allen testimony all over this Hill," said Harris, referring to concerns that government agencies are relying increasingly on private consultants to prepare departmental reports to Congress.
George Baker, a spokesman for Booz,Allen & Hamilton, said yesterday the firm received Harris' invitation onAug. 11 "and that didn't leave us very much time to prepare." He saidhis firm still intended to testify at a future Senate committee hearing.
TRW wrote Harris that "because of the unavailability during the month of August of many TRW officials who would be involved in preparing a statement on our behalf," the firm wouldcontact the subcommittee later about when it could expect TRW's comments on the proposal legislation.
TRW did not return a reporter's telephone inquiry yesterday to comment on Harris' criticisms.
The proposed legislation, introduced jointly last June by Harris and Sen. David Pryor (D-Ark.), would require budget itemization of all outside contracts, stricter conflict-of-interestsafeguards and advance publication of consulting work sought by the government.
Buy Hy Kreiger, director of the Federal Personnel and Compensation Division, said his agency could not support the bill in its present form for fear of the "enormous paperwork" that might be required to comply with certain provisions of the measure.
"Agencies must continue to have the option of using consulting services where appropriate," Krieger said. "They have a legitimate need for access to the best expertise and advice available from the private sector to assist in carrying out a growing number of complex federal programs."
As for the subcommittee's conflict-of-interest concerns, Krieger said solving the problem would require "a careful balancing of the government's need for private sector expertise with the need for reasonable controls to prevent a conflict of interest that could affect a contractor's ability to give impartial advice."
William J. Dennis Jr., director for the National Federation of Independent Business, also objected tosome sections of the disclosure bill, saying they were too broad.
An outspoken proponent of the bill was David Gusky, director of legislation for the National Federation of Federal Employees. He complained that despite the "waste and corruption" documented over the years in the contracting-out field, the government has increased its reliance on private industry.
"Frenzied resistance from business groups," Gusky said, had stopped similar reform legislation. "I fear that, onceagain, members (of Congress) will be assaulted by powerful business interests seeking to protect their corrupt, though profitable empire."