That’s how David Addington, former chief counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney, described the Services Acquisition Reform Act, Congressman Tom Davis’ showcase piece of legislation to benefit his contractor buddies including Donald Upson, founder of ICG Government, a consulting firm that has steered high tech clients towards lucrative government contracts.
According to an article by Robert O’Harrow and Scott Higham, in today’s Washington Post, the exact quote from Addington in reference to this bill is, “I hear the whoosh of taxpayer dollars out the window. The bill is not fiscally responsible and cannot be supported in its current form.”
The current form includes provisions to allow contractors to bill for time and materials with no fixed cap on the total amount and also to allow contractors to determine how much money they were saving the government and then to share in those savings. These and other provisions of the so-called reform act would loosen oversight and make the government susceptible to fraud and abuse.
Indeed, the increase in the use of private contracts and the lack of trained federal contract specialists to oversee these contracts has been an issue for years in the federal procurement community
As yesterday’s Washington Post article, “Homeland Security Contracts Abused,” by Griff Witte and Spencer S. Hsu, points out, there has been a steep increase in no-bid and single source contracts in the Department of Homeland Security, an agency plagued with reports of contract abuse.
Part of the problem is a prevailing political philosophy that nothing the government does is as good as what the private sector can do. There has been a concerted, deliberate effort to shrink the federal workforce and to categorize more and more government jobs as inherently commercial and so open to competition with the private sector. The theory is that this will produce a more cost effective government. And sometimes it does. But in over 90% of the private-federal competitions, the federal workers win because they actually can do the job cheaper and better. Of course, this has led to demands by private contractors to change the rules. So much for free and fair competition. Private industry proves once again that if it can’t win under the rules, it can get its friends in elected office to change the rules of the game. That doesn’t produce efficient government or save costs though.
Indeed, even Bush Administration officials who embrace privatization have criticized Davis’ legislation for its weaknesses. As this Washington Post sidebar points out, Angela B. Styles, former Chief of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy at OMB was a critic of the Services Acquisition Act and some of Davis’ actions on behalf of his high roller corporate friends.
Tom Davis said dismissively of Styles, “Our clashes with Angela Styles were very clear from day one. We sat down with her two or three times and she just was not getting adult supervision at OMB. I don’t think they had any idea what was going on.”
Styles’ previous boss, Mitch Daniels, former chief of OMB and now Republican governor of Indiana countered, “She was getting plenty of supervision. If Tom had a problem with Angela, I suppose it’s because she understood the issues too well.”
Others may also have a problem with just how close Davis is with Upson, founder of ICG Government. So close, in fact, that Davis’ wife, Jeanne Marie Devolitis-Davis works for ICG as a part-time consultant. Indeed, she was Upson’s first hire. And although she was listed on the masthead of his website as a partner, her job consists of working 10 to 20 hours a week from home, mostly on her cell phone, for which she was paid $78,000 last year. Nice work if you can get it.
Of course it wasn’t the hours she put in that got her the handsome salary, it was the results she produced. She was able to contact an undersecretary at the Department of Homeland Security to provide access for one of ICG’s clients. Devolitis-Davis and Davis have also appeared at ICG sponsored events as keynote speakers and their pictures are prominently displayed under ICG banners on the company’s website.
Both Davis and Devolitis Davis insist they’ve done nothing wrong. Indeed, Davis sought the advice of the Congressional ethics committee. Devolitis-Davis said that she was told specifically not to mix her private professional activities with her husband’s congressional duties. Both insist that there is a solid wall between their professional – political activities.
So far the Washington Post has uncovered nothing illegal and there probably isn’t any blatantly criminal influence peddling going on. But generally federal employees, elected officials, and all government workers at federal, state and local levels are held to a higher standard than just what is legally allowable. That standard can best be summed up as “would a reasonable person looking at the facts conclude that there is a conflict of interest?”
Of course reasonable people can look at the same set of facts and sincerely disagree with the conclusions. But in this particular case, and given the current climate of corruption emanating from Washington – everything from waste and abuse of DHS contracts to lobbying scandals on the Hill – I think reasonable people concerned with good government and protecting taxpayers’ interests can conclude that this one, at least, is too close to call. And that should be troubling for Virginia voters.