Senator grills agencies on WorldCom waivers

After media reports last week that WorldCom Inc. has received more than $100 million in federal orders since it was suspended almost three months ago, a senator is demanding that agencies explain why they granted waivers to the company.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee and one of Congress' most vocal critics of the General Services Administration's over its handling of the investigation of WorldCom's activities, has asked five agencies to provide written justification for awarding business to the company or allowing it to bid on new opportunities.

She also requested copies of all records, "including internal communications and drafts of records," that discuss initiating or extending contracts with WorldCom or lay out the reasoning behind granting the waivers, since the company's July 31 suspension.

The five agencies ? GSA, Armed Forces Retirement Home, Social Security Administration and the Justice and Defense departments ? all have until Nov. 7 to respond.

WorldCom was suspended and its status referred to the GSA suspension and debarment official after growing criticism from Capitol Hill and its competitors that the company was allowed to pursue "business as usual" despite filing one of the largest bankruptcies in U.S. history and being under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission. A decision on debarment has not yet been released.

"[D]espite the pendency of MCI's proposed debarment, the company appears to be continuing to receive substantial work from the federal government. It is important that Congress and the American public understand why this is taking place," Collins wrote.

WorldCom, headquartered in Ashburn, Va., is doing business under the name of MCI, its long distance subsidiary. The company was ranked No. 8 on the 2003 Washington Technology Top 100 list of federal prime contractors, with government contracts totaling more than $772 million in 2002.

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