Hearing offers little clarity to campaign disclosure proposal

Friday - 5/13/2011, 7:35am EDT

WFED's Jason Miller

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By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

The White House put Dan Gordon in the unenviable position yesterday of trying not to answer questions about the draft Executive Order that has members on both sides of the aisle and vendors riled up.

Gordon, the administrator in the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, was the sacrificial lamb coming before concerned and sometimes frustrated lawmakers of the House Oversight and Government Reform and Small Business committees, who had many questions, but received few new details, about the draft Executive Order. The proposal, made public last month, would require contractors to publicly disclose political contributions to candidates or third parties they made over the past two years.

The proposal also would require vendors and their employees to report contributions that total more than $5,000 in any one given year. The draft order also would require all of this data to be published on Data.gov in a machine readable format.

The draft order would put a section of the Disclose Act into regulations. The House passed the bill last session, but the Senate rejected it.

"There is now bipartisan alarm on Capitol Hill that the proposed Executive Order runs afoul of the government's responsibility to keep federal procurement and contracting fair and unbiased," said Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). "If the President's proposed Executive Order is authorized, political donation information would be readily available to political appointees who are immediately involved in the contracting process. That risk is unacceptable."

Gordon made it clear from the beginning of the hearing he would not answer any questions about the draft order because it still was going through the normal review process. Throughout the hearing, Gordon said dozens of times he was not in the position to discuss the Executive Order or was not qualified to answer specific legal questions.

This led several Republican committee members to wonder why the White House even bothered to send him to testify before the committee.

Issa had requested Jacob Lew, the director of the Office of Management and Budget. Lew refused and Issa threatened a subpoena.

The committee and White House compromised on Gordon.

Gordon stuck close to his expertise, federal procurement.

While he didn't offer too many new details into the status of the draft Executive Order, he did provide some insight into the administration's thinking.

He said the administration has focused on integrity, accountability and transparency in the federal acquisition process, and this draft order was no different.

"Every procurement system, ours, the states', the local governments' and foreign ones are constantly facing a risk that the public will view their system as tainted," he said. "Because the fact is enormous numbers of dollars of taxpayers' funds are at risk in the procurement system and in order to instill confidence in the public, you want to have as much transparency as you can."

He added that a recent international peer review by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development found the federal government's acquisition system received high marks from other countries for its integrity and competition.

Committee members didn't disagree with the need for transparency, but the unintended consequences of adding politics to the procurement process was a bigger concern.

"Submitting this information ahead of the fact that you said yourself is information you don't need to make determinations on a contract, what purpose does it serve?" asked Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), Small Business Committee chairman. "How does knowing ahead of time who gave to what and how much they gave, how does that help in terms of transparency?"

Graves and others pointed out that campaign spending information already is available through the Federal Election Commission and other places.

Gordon said the government already requires vendors to disclose information to get contracts, including lobbying activities and the salaries of their top five highest paid executives and this requirement would be no different.

"We have a whole series of things which frankly can be quite burdensome for private companies and we are always looking for a balance," he said. "These are often driven by statute. There are others that are not driven by statute. For example, organization conflict of interest is the requirement for disclosure is driven by regulation."

Issa and Rep.Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) pressed Gordon on why it appears that unions are exempt from the draft order.

Gordon said the draft order would apply to any organization that receives a contract from the government so there are no specific exemptions.