September 15, 2008
By Elise Castelli and Rebecca Neal
The White House is threatening to veto the 2009 Defense Authorization bill if it includes provisions that would limit the Defense Department’s use of contractors.
The Senate version of the bill contains provisions that would:
*Make security work done by private contractors inherently governmental.
*Bar contractors from interrogating detainees.
*Prohibit Defense Department agencies from conducting public-private competitions for federal work.
Senate Democrats complain that the administration has contracted out too much government work. In a Sept. 9 Statement of Administration Policy, the Office of Management and Budget said the measures in the bill would unfairly restrict the department and hamper its ability to fulfill its mission.
For example, prohibiting the use of private security contractors could further stretch the military and reduce options for providing security to nonmilitary personnel, the statement said. And denying the department the option of hiring contractors to perform interrogations could deny the government access to the most skilled personnel to do the work, the statement said. Finally, a moratorium on competitive sourcing would keep Defense from managing its resources in the most effective way possible, the White House said.
In addition, the White House opposed a section of the bill requiring a contractor misconduct database to track various contractor improprieties. The White House called the database unwieldy because it would require the collection of information about administrative agreements, civil proceedings, state and local actions and other actions.
The administration believes such reports will “increase the likelihood that contractors will be improperly excluded from federal business opportunities without due process of law.”
Such a database could also prevent the government from settling disputes with contractors, the White House said. Hundreds of amendments await votes
It’s doubtful the bill will be passed in the next two weeks, likely forcing a lame-duck Congress to return near the end of the year to wrap up business.
Senators will have to consider more than 300 amendments to the 2009 Defense policy bill, S 3001, which gives the Pentagon permission to spend up to $612.5 billion on its programs.
The sheer volume of amendments and behind-the-scenes politics slows considerably the process of passing the bill in the Senate.
The House of Representatives passed its version, HR 5658, on May 22 and is waiting on the Senate to pass a version so compromise talks can begin on a final bill.
Some of the amendments proposed are nonmilitary and will be among things discussed in the coming weeks or months. These include:
*Requirements for integrity and business ethics among federal contractors, submitted by Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.
*Reports on information technology strategy and security clearance review processes, submitted by Sens. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, and George Voinovich, R-Ohio.
*Information for federal government contractor employees on their whistleblower rights, submitted by Sens. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., Susan Collins, R-Maine., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.
*Improvement of whistleblower protections for contractor employees of the Defense Department, submitted by McCaskill. Rick Maze contributed to this story.