While the Pentagon has managed to save money this year by withholding funds from delinquent contractors, this is hardly a solution to the larger -- and too common -- problem of federal contractor malfeasance ["Thousands of Non-Defense Contractors Owe Taxes," front page, June 16].

According to the Project on Government Oversight, between 1990 and 2002, the nation's top 43 contractors were responsible for about $3.4 billion in penalties, restitutions, settlements and Superfund cleanup costs.

For these scofflaws, some of the nation's richest corporate special interests, the fines and settlements are a small part of the cost of doing business as usual. Violations will continue until we start weighing a company's legal and regulatory compliance when awarding federal contracts.

A contractor responsibility rule issued at the end of President Bill Clinton's second term attempted to solve this larger problem, but it was revoked by the Bush administration. The rule required bidding companies to disclose whether they had been found liable for violating any law or regulation in the preceding three years.

Congress should ensure that our laws and protections are respected by companies that benefit from federal contracts. Taxpayers have every right to demand accountability for their money.

GARY D. BASS

Founder and Executive Director

OMB Watch

Washington