GOP senators demand answers from White House on High Road

Gautham Nagesh Contributor
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Frustrated by the administration’s refusal to brief them on the topic, a group of Republican senators are demanding more details on a White House proposal that would overhaul the way the government awards contracts.

The senators, led by Susan Collins of Maine, want to know more about the High Road contracting policy said to be forthcoming from the White House. The proposal, backed by liberal advocacy groups and organized labor, would implement widespread changes in federal procurement to favor contractors that pay higher wages and provide benefits. Critics contend the administration is leveraging federal contracting for political purposes and believe the new standards would heavily favor unionized companies competing for federal contracts.

“High Road is actually a low road when it comes to protecting core American values such as competition, taxpayer transparency and public accountability,” said Collins. “It also diminishes the critical role that small businesses play in our economy by making it much more difficult for them to compete. From its name, ‘High Road’ sounds like a good program, but that’s just a marketing ploy. In actuality, its enactment would increase costs to taxpayers, make federal contracting more expensive and burdensome and decrease competition by pushing out some cost-effective small businesses.”

All nine minority members of the committee on Homeland Security and Government Oversight joined Collins in sending a letter today to Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag today reiterating their request for a briefing and demanding detailed information on the proposal and how it would impact the already complex federal procurement process. Collins sent a letter in early February requesting a briefing on the proposal, but to date the White House has refused to comply. Today the senators expressed their displeasure at the White House’s lack of transparency in the letter obtained exclusively by the Daily Caller:

The limited discussion our staffs have had with the Office of Management and Budget on this initiative have provided virtually no detail. Indeed, they have included an utter lack of information regarding the factors that would form the basis for contracting decisions under the “High Road” initiative, any cost/benefit analysis that would support the initiative and any measure that would mitigate the negative effects of the proposal. Moreover, our staffs have been notified that detailed briefing will occur only after the administration has reached a decision on this proposal.

This approach is unacceptable. Significant changes to federal procurement policy, such as those under consideration by the Administration, should be taken, if at all, only after consultation with Congress and affected stakeholders.

The letter also specifies the senators’ concerns over the High Road policy:

We remain troubled that the administration’s proposals would increase the cost of federal procurement to the American taxpayer in a time of tight federal budgets, hurt our nation’s small businesses, reduce competition in the federal marketplace, and jeopardize the integrity of the federal competitive source selection process. We are also convinced that any such initiative may be implemented only via legislation that fundamentally alters the preference for full and open competition in the Competition in Contracting Act.

Experts differ on whether the proposals could be implemented via executive order or would require statutory change, but it appears that at least some aspects of the High Road policy could be enacted without congressional approval. The White House has refused to comment on the specifics of the proposal but has acknowledged that High Road in on the table along with other more conventional proposals for procurement reform.

OMB did not respond to a request for comment for this article.

Update: An OMB spokesman sent the following statement:

“These Senators, through their letters and phone calls, have made their views well known. As is always the case, when the Administration unveils a new policy, we are happy to brief the Congress on its details.”