Nick Wakeman

Political contributions don't belong in procurements

White House proposal for disclosure would add no value to the process

About 10 years ago, a co-worker was complaining about the political party that controlled the White House.

I can’t remember the specific issue, but I do remember that his complaint dealt with what he saw as an abuse of power. One of his arguments against the alleged abuse was that the party in power — no matter which party — should ask itself, "Would I want the other party to have this power?"

If the answer is yes, well, then it is probably OK. But if the answer is no, then that's a clear indication you shouldn’t do it.

I was reminded of this when I first heard the White House wanting to require contractors to file information on their campaign contributions when they file a response to a request for proposals.

The White House says it wants to remove politics from the procurement process.

Let me get this straight: Remove politics by requiring information about campaign contributions.

The Professional Services Council argues that this requirement would do the opposite. It would inject politics into the process.

I tend to agree. My basic question is how exactly is a contracting officer supposed to use this information? Will there be evaluation criteria assigned to political activity? The answer to that isn’t clear as far as I can tell. What if you are a company that just isn’t politically active? Do you score points or lose points?

Will a contracting officer punish a bidder who supported someone he disagrees with politically? If we want to avoid that, should we also require contracting officers to disclose their political contributions?

That wouldn’t make sense, would it?

I’m all for transparency in the area of campaign contributions. I also believe that the political activities of all corporations require scrutiny and should be fully disclosed. But I’m hard pressed to understand how this requirement helps those goals.

Let’s say that the reasons behind this proposal are completely altruistic. It’s not hard to imagine that another less scrupulous administration could use the requirement to punish its political enemies.

The unfortunate thing is that this proposal is at a stage in which it likely will get implemented. Pity the procurement folks because making good contract award decisions is getting tougher.

This requirement will only add more layers of complexity but no extra value to the procurement process.

About the Author

Nick Wakeman is the editor-in-chief of Washington Technology. Follow him on Twitter: @nick_wakeman.

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