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Campus Notebook: House GOP Triples Fees for Defense of DOMA

House Republicans have tripled the legal fees for the law firm hired to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court, drawing complaints from Democratic leadership.

When the Department of Justice announced earlier this year that it would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act — the law barring the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages — Republican leaders signed a $500,000 contract with the firm of Bancroft PLLC.

On Sept. 30, the House finalized a modified version of that contract to bring the legal costs to $1.5 million.

Democrats on the House Administration Committee, which oversees outside contracting for in-house services, released a statement Tuesday blasting Republicans for upping the costs.

“The original contract was a misguided promise to waste a half-million dollars of taxpayer money,” read the statement from House Administration ranking member Robert Brady (D-Pa.) and Democratic colleagues Reps. Zoe Lofgren (Calif.) and Charlie Gonzalez (Texas). “Further spending to defend DOMA is simply unconscionable.”

They added that the increased legal costs were approved without “any semblance of transparency.”

When DOMA was passed in 1996, 118 Democrats in the House and 32 in the Senate voted for it.

The office of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also weighed in Tuesday. “It is absolutely unconscionable that Speaker Boehner is tripling the cost for his legal boondoggle … to defend discrimination in our country,” spokesman Drew Hammill said.

But Salley Wood, the Republican spokeswoman for the House Administration Committee, argued that the additional legal fees were necessary to successfully defend the law. She also countered Democrats’ claims that the legal arrangement was unnecessary, citing a ruling on Sept. 28 to uphold DOMA by the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

“How much is the solicitor general spending to defend the health care law?” Wood said. “Why should health care and not DOMA, which passed both chambers with overwhelming majorities, deserve its day in court?”

Michael Steel, spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), suggested that the Justice Department could one day see its funding levels reflect the costs currently shouldered by the House because Congress sets the department’s yearly budget.

“The cost of this litigation should and will be borne by the Department of Justice, which is shirking its responsibility to defend the law,” Steel said.

GPO Customers Offer Praise

The Government Printing Office is preparing itself for cuts and offering buyouts to employees, but it was able to announce some good news Tuesday morning: Customer satisfaction is high.

The GPO surveyed 750 of its federal agency customers and found that 91 percent of them were “satisfied overall” with the services they were receiving. The last time the GPO did a survey was in 2007.

GPO spokesman Gary Somerset said the survey was administered this year to fulfill a core mission of Public Printer Bill Boarman, who took the job in January.

“His strategic goal has always been customer service and satisfaction, and this survey was part of that goal,” he said.

Though he said the timing of the survey’s release is coincidental, Somerset noted that positive reviews of GPO’s services come nearly two weeks after the filing deadline for applications of staffers to take a buyout.

The agency announced in June that it would offer 330 buyouts of its staff of 2,200 by the year’s end, responding to looming budget cuts as more offices shift away from paper.

Somerset said Tuesday that the agency had received 320 buyout applications to date, just 10 applications away from its target number.

He also noted that because of the buyout announcement in June, a number of employees have retired or left for job opportunities elsewhere.

“Between the applications received and those additional departures, GPO believes we will be close to our goal,” Somerset said.

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