Business

Rosa DeLauro says ‘High Road’ government contracting policy is coming

Gautham Nagesh Contributor

Democratic lawmakers seemingly confirmed this week that the White House is planning to roll out its “High Road” contracting policy in the near future. The proposal would seek to leverage federal contracting to change labor and wage standards for private sector companies bidding on federal contracts.

The High Road policy would give preference to bidders that pay workers a “living wage” and provide other benefits such as health insurance, pensions and paid sick days.

Supporters including labor unions and left-leaning think-tanks say many workers on federal contracts are paid poverty-level wages and cost the taxpayer more through food stamps and other public assistance. Business groups argue the program would hurt small businesses, increase the cost of federal contracting and heavily favor unionized companies bidding on contracts.

The Daily Caller first reported the White House was considering the High Road policy in February and earlier this month reported the proposal could be forthcoming within weeks. This week a spokesperson for Democrat Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut confirmed to Government Executive that the White House is planning to take action.

“The administration has indicated that they are going to act on this,” said Kaelan Richards, spokeswoman for Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Connecticut Democrat. “But if not, the congresswoman would certainly consider introducing legislation to improve federal contracting and to ensure that we reward employers who create good jobs and protect taxpayers from waste and abuse.”

DeLauro is the first lawmaker to float the idea of a legislative implementation of the High Road policy but on February 26 two Democratic lawmakers wrote to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in response to mainstream media reports of the proposal asking them to examine the issue in detail.

“Evidence suggests that many contracted jobs are of low quality, offer low pay, and are with firms that continue to receive federal contracts despite a history of violations,” wrote Democratic Reps. Robert Andrews of New Jersey and Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania. “We’d like to quantify the taxpayer burden associated with a certain company if they pay so little that workers and their families qualify for federal safety-net benefits.”

The letter acknowledges that the type of information they are looking for on the cost of underpaid federal contractors may not exist. They also ask the GAO to find the correlation between contractors that exceed their budgeted costs and companies with labor law violations.

While the wording of the letter indicates interest from Democrats in building a case for legislation, odds are any such bill would have a difficult time passing the Senate where it would be likely to meet resistance from Republicans on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Collins in particular has been very vocal in demanding more details on the policy given the White House’s reluctance to discuss the specifics. OMB director Peter Orszag recently personally assured her that she would be briefed before any major change.

Contracting experts have said it’s likely the administration could implement parts or all of the High Road policy via executive order, negating the need for legislation. But sources have told The Daily Caller that Vice President Biden’s Middle Class Task Force pushed for implementation last summer only to encounter resistance from general counsel at OMB, which argued that statutory changes are necessary. OMB did not respond to a request for comment at the time this story was posted.

E-mail Gautham Nagesh and follow him on Twitter