The Office of Management and Budget, trying to quell the protests that had been raging around Washington, has announced that, in about 10 days, three government agencies will publish revisions to recently proposed curbs on political advocacy by organizations receiving federal grants and contracts.
Publication of the revised proposals will begin a new 45-day comment period on the regulations, which had prompted an outraged response from lobbying organizations as diverse as Common Cause and the Aerospace Industries Association.
In response, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee has postponed its March 7 hearing. It is one of three congressional committees that had scheduled hearings on OMB's A122 circular governing nonprofit organizations receiving federal funds and companion proposals by the Defense Department and the General Services Administration for other federal contractors.
However, a hearing by the House Government Operations Committee is still set for Tuesday morning and the House Judiciary Committee's constitutional and civil rights subcommitee plans hearings March 9 on the First Amendment implications of the proposal.
Michael J. Horowitz, OMB's general counsel and author of the controversial proposal, met Thursday with Sen. David F. Durenberger (R-Minn.) and discussed the possibility of publishing revisions, a course that Durenberger, a member of the Governmental Affairs Committee, advocated.
It was unclear whether OMB's action would serve to contain criticism of the proposal which, in its original form, prohibited executives of nonprofit organizations from engaging in legislative lobbying, organizing opposition to regulations or developing friend-of-the-court briefs in legal cases if any portion of their salary was paid by federal grants or contracts.
The proposal would also have prohibited any federal contractor from charging to a federal contract any overhead expenses for equipment, such as duplicating machines or computers, used more than 5 percent of the time for political advocacy. Both of these provisions broadened the existing legal prohibitions against using federal funds for lobbying activities.
"We intend to push ahead" in opposing the rules, said Nan Aron of the Alliance for Justice, a coalition of liberal groups. Earlier, Bob Smucker of Independent Sector, an association of nonprofit philanthropic organizations like the Red Cross, had said that nothing short of revocation of the proposal would be acceptable.
"In all cases," the OMB press release said, "the proposed amendments deal with the longstanding problem of the use of federal dollars, directly or indirectly, for political advocacy."