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Contractor disclosure could survive under omnibus

Dec. 16, 2011 - 08:13PM   |  
By SARAH CHACKO   |   Comments
Contractors may have to disclose political contributions under an executive order being considered by President Obama.
Contractors may have to disclose political contributions under an executive order being considered by President Obama. (AIR FORCE)

The White House may have another shot at requiring contractors to reveal their political contributions under the omnibus appropriations bill that passed the House on Friday.

A provision in the omnibus, which will fund the Defense Department and most other agencies through the end of fiscal 2012, bars those agencies from requiring contractors to disclose political contributions before awarding a government contract.

However, it does not prohibit those agencies from seeking that information after an award.

That leaves room for President Obama to issue an executive order he's been considering since early this year that would require contractors to disclose their political contributions, Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., said in a statement. But the omnibus provision may conflict with language added to a separate defense authorization bill now awaiting Obama's signature after winning House and Senate approval earlier this week.

After a draft order leaked out in April, White House officials said they were considering the policy as a way to add more openness to the contracting process. Congressional Republicans, backed by contractor groups, argued the order would only inject more politics into the process. To stop it, lawmakers added a broader ban to the authorization bill.

Under that bill, defense agencies would be prohibited from collecting information about a contractor's political contributions both before awarding a contract and during the performance of a contract.

Although agencies tend to give higher priority to appropriations legislation, the Defense Department would have to reconcile the differences between the two bills, said Alan Chvotkin, counsel and executive vice president at the Professional Services Council, a trade group representing service contractors.

If the omnibus passes the Senate and is signed by the President, non-defense agencies covered by the legislation would only be barred from seeking disclosure of contractor contributions before awarding a contract, Chvotkin said. The Office of Management and Budget would then likely provide some guidance for interpreting the new law, he said.

Transparency and disclosure are even more important in the aftermath of last year's Supreme Court decision making it easier for corporations and unions to pour money into elections, Eshoo, said in a statement Friday. In a July letter, Eshoo and 62 other House members urged the president to finalize his draft executive order.

"We should all agree that with public dollars come public responsibilities," she said Friday.

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