Clinton, Obama draw ire of contractors group

Contract Services Association says Democratic front-runners are taking potshots at government contractors

Government contractors want to avoid being caught in the crossfire during the 2008 presidential race, but candidates are already taking shots at them.

The Contract Services Association charges in a statement issued today that Democratic Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois have been inaccurate and misleading in their campaign rhetoric about government contractors.

For instance, CSA said Clinton said the contractor at Walter Reed Army Medical Center "cut corners" and "fell down on the job," implying that thed company was to blame for the problems recently exposed at the hospital. Yet the contractor had only been allowed to begin performance the prior week, CSA said.

Clinton has also said contractor employees are more expensive, less competent and less accountable than federal employees. But CSA said the Office of Management and Budget found that the government saves an average of $32,000 per position reviewed when a private contractor and federal employees compete for commercial work.

"These statements are great in terms of scoring cheap political points but do a disservice to the over 100,000 contractor personnel alone who are supporting our troops in Iraq," CSA President Barry Cullen said.

"Clearly, when the private sector participates the government saves taxpayers' money," according to the statement.

CSA also highlighted some of Obama's statements. Obama said in a recent speech that "billions of no-bid, no-strings-attached contracts have been handed out?in Iraq?on the sole basis of who you know and the favors you've done."

CSA said that statement is untrue. The Government Accountability Office has determined that 91 percent of the contracts in Iraq that it reviewed were competitive. Moreover, agencies must justify and get approvals to award noncompetitive contracts.

Larry Allen, executive vice president at the Coalition for Government Procurement, said Democrats are painting growth in government contracting as a Bush administration problem, but it began during previous administrations.

"We've seen some of that rhetoric before," he said. But government customers understand they must have contractors to continue operating.

The government acquisition workforce is hampered by personnel cuts and was unprepared for the magnitude of the contracting effort required to support the troops in Iraq and to support the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, CSA said.

"There are simply too few personnel and too few with the level of expertise needed to acquire complex services," CSA said. So, agencies had to resort to noncompetitive contracts.

Cullen wants the presidential contenders to correct their statements.

"At a very minimum they need to check the facts," he said.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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