Ethics provisions in Defense bill prompt industry concern

By Amelia Gruber

A coalition of 10 groups representing contractors recently criticized several legislative provisions designed to stem procurement ethics breaches, saying that they would duplicate other efforts and prove overly burdensome.

The groups are interested in procurement integrity, but want to ensure that the process remains efficient, said Chris Braddock, associate director of procurement and privatization for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber, along with the nine other professional associations, recently sent lawmakers a list of comments and recommendations on procurement-related provisions in preliminary versions of the fiscal 2006 Defense authorization bill.

One of the provisions that prompted criticism would require companies holding Pentagon contracts worth more than $10 million to submit reports to the secretary of Defense each year the agreement is in effect, naming any former Defense employees who took a job with them less than two years after leaving the department. The report would include the employees' current titles and lists of each "major defense system" they had worked on, both in their last two years of employment at the Pentagon and on behalf of the contractor.

Scott Amey, general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight, a Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group, said the requirement would add a welcome layer of transparency to the Defense procurement system. "Currently, there's no system to find or locate people who have gone from the government to the private sector," he said.

But, the industry groups wrote, the reporting requirement is "unnecessary" and "would subject former Defense Department employees to post-government employment restrictions that are different from those imposed on former employees of other federal agencies, which might hinder Defense's efforts to recruit talented individuals"

The provision also is "exceedingly broad and vague" and "invites misunderstanding and disagreement," the contractor associations argued. The language, for instance, would require companies to include information about consultants. "That would put a contractor in the position of having to obtain access to such information from the consultant or the consultant's employer and to vouch for its accuracy," the coalition said.

The reporting requirement "raises privacy and legal concerns," as well, the groups argued. "Any inaccuracy, however inadvertent, in reporting an individual's background or status that results in that person's being stigmatized and perhaps deemed unemployable in the field in which he or she has expertise could engender protracted employment discrimination or other litigation."

The requirement is "impractical" and "burdensome" to contractors, the industry groups continued. "Given the volume of data that would be submitted, it is highly unlikely that the government could make any use of it," they said.

Meanwhile, POGO's Amey said privacy shouldn't be a concern, as "these companies have no problem advertising that they've lured employees [from the government]."

Contractors should be eager to compile the information for their own benefit, Amey argued. Such data could help companies avoid getting involved in a Darleen Druyun-type scandal, he said. "I would think contractors would want to know as much as possible about potential conflicts of interest," he said.

The reporting requirement is in the Senate version (S. 1042) of the Defense bill, but not the House version (H.R. 1815. The Senate will finish debating its version and vote bill when it returns from summer recess on Sept. 6. The two chambers will then reconcile differences.