How do you feel about government contracts being granted only to those who politically support President George Bush? Would you find that acceptable? Is it agreeable to stipulate that you can not receive government funds unless your political views are in line with the ruling administration? I think not, and the premise is undeniably abhorrent. Yet that is precisely what appears to be happening.
The Dallas Business Journal reports Housing Secretary Jackson admitted to just this kind of political decision in the case of granting government contracts. To wit:
“He had made every effort to get a contract with HUD for 10 years,” Jackson said of the prospective contractor. “He made a heck of a proposal and was on the (General Services Administration) list, so we selected him. He came to see me and thank me for selecting him. Then he said something … he said, ‘I have a problem with your president.’
“I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘I don’t like President Bush.’ I thought to myself, ‘Brother, you have a disconnect — the president is elected, I was selected. You wouldn’t be getting the contract unless I was sitting here. If you have a problem with the president, don’t tell the secretary.’
“He didn’t get the contract,” Jackson continued. “Why should I reward someone who doesn’t like the president, so they can use funds to try to campaign against the president? Logic says they don’t get the contract. That’s the way I believe.”
In order to fully comprehend how repulsive this is, one need only look at the Federal Acquisition Regulations, specifically 48 CFR 3.101-1:
Government business shall be conducted in a manner above reproach and, except as authorized by statute or regulation, with complete impartiality and with preferential treatment for none. Transactions relating to the expenditure of public funds require the highest degree of public trust and an impeccable standard of conduct. The general rule is to avoid strictly any conflict of interest or even the appearance of a conflict of interest in Government-contractor relationships.
Equally important is the Competition in Contracting Act where 41 U.S.C. 253(b)(1) outlines the only circumstances under which a contractor may be excluded. It also outlines the only circumstances under which noncompetitive procedures may be used in granting a government contract. You’ll find neither of those sections mention political views as a consideration.
In response to the report of Jackson’s speech, his spokesperson has given two distinctly opposite replies. The first, a confirmation of the report, was given on May 3 and said “that the contract Jackson was referring to in Dallas was ‘an advertising contract with a minority publication,’ though [the spokesperson] could not provide the contract’s value.” The second, a denial, was given on May 9:
“He was merely trying to explain to the audience how people in D.C., will say critical things about the secretary, will unfairly characterize the president and then turn around and ask you for money,” Tucker said. “He did not actually meet with someone and turn down a contract. He’s not part of the contracting process.”
So, which is the correct response? Did he lie during his speech and make up an entire story, including dialog, to demonstrate he hates people who bid on government contracts while disagreeing with the president? Or did he actually deny a contract based on political views? I suspect it’s the latter.
Oh, and one point of clarification: it’s not “asking” the government for money like a handout. That money belongs to the people of the United States and isn’t there for Jackson to give away to his friends as though it were his own; it is intended for conducting the nation’s business and is to be awarded based on merit and ability to do the job needed.
Whether Jackson publicly lied (doubtful given the details of the story) or truly did base contract decisions on politics, he should be fired. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) agrees. “In addition, Reps. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Barney Frank (D-MA) have also called for a full investigation.” Let’s immediately start with the latter while demanding the former.