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House Rules Moves Contracting Act to the Floor

The House will debate legislation on Thursday designed to heighten oversight and place tighter restrictions on government contractors as well as possibly limit the awarding of federal work to overseas companies — something the Bush administration says that it opposes.

By voice vote, the House Rules Committee agreed Wednesday to send the Accountability in Contracting Act (H.R. 1362) to the House floor tomorrow.

The panel also cleared the way for two amendments, including one that would require Congressional notification of any possible awards of sole-source contracts to companies based in foreign nations that are known sponsors of terrorism.

Lawmakers approved the bill after similar measures were marked up by the House Oversight and Government Reform and Armed Services committees earlier this month. A House Armed Services aide said lawmakers met Tuesday night to iron out a handful of differences between the bills.

In a statement on the legislation issued Wednesday, the administration said it “strongly opposes” the bill because it would impose a new statutory ban on how the government uses acquisition personnel and would restrict the executive branch’s ability to determine the appropriate funding for acquisition workforce functions.

“Other provisions would impose burdensome statutory requirements that overlap with more efficient administrative efforts to strengthen the use of competition and reduce fraud, waste and abuse,” the statement reads.

Overall, the final bill would make major changes to federal acquisition regulations, including limiting the length and use of sole-source contracts, requiring additional auditing of contractors and clarifying post-government employment rules for federal procurement personnel.

Democratic lawmakers have pushed for such legislation in the wake of federal procurement scandals and the frequent use of sole-source contracts for reconstruction work in Iraq.

Ultimately, the Rules Committee adopted the House Armed Service Committee’s version, but made three changes.

Rules included an Oversight and Government Reform proposal to expand “revolving door” restrictions, which place limits on government workers being hired by or accepting gifts from consultants lawyers and lobbyists they award contracts to. The new provision would expand the prohibition to senior government personnel who oversee the contract awards.

Another measure addressed concerns over the “reverse revolving door” — the practice of federal contractors leaving the private sector to work for the government. The Armed Services bill prohibited new hires from awarding federal work to their former employer for one year. The final version adopted language that would expand the one-year ban to senior government personnel who administer contract awards to former employers.

The final bill also contains a provision that was not included in either committee’s proposal. It would require the government to give preference to disadvantaged and minority companies as well disabled veterans when awarding contracts.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, called the final bill a step in the “right direction.”

Besides approving the amended bill, the House Rules Committee members adopted two amendments by voice vote.

Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) sponsored an amendment that would require Congress to be notified when any sole-source contract is expected to be awarded to a foreign-owned company that is based in, or has majority operations in, a country known to sponsor terrorist activity. Congress would then be allowed to review and comment on the proposed deal.

And an amendment sponsored by Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.), would require the Office of Government Ethics to develop financial conflict-of-interest restrictions for government contractors and federally funded research and development centers.

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