Lieberman: Federal Contractors No Longer Obligated To Obey Environmental, Civil Rights, Other Laws

WASHINGTON – Senator Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., Friday expressed concern over the Bush administration?s decision to suspend a requirement that the government hire contractors who abide by federal environmental, health and safety, civil rights, labor, and consumer protection laws.

“I am dismayed that the Bush administration would thwart such common sense policy,” Lieberman said. “Tax-payer funded contracts should go to those who obey the laws that protect the environment, the safety of workers, and other fundamental protections. These contracts should not be going to chronic lawbreakers.”

Federal contractors are already required to show a satisfactory record of “integrity and business ethics.” The new requirement, known as the “Contractor Responsibility” rule, would clarify that such integrity includes compliance with specific laws. The regulation became final in December 2000, after lengthy consideration and revision, responding to extensive public comment. No public comment was sought before this suspension.

“This requirement is well-balanced and targets only companies that show ?repeated, pervasive, or significant? violations of law,” Lieberman said. “The public, whose health and environment are at stake, really deserves a say in these decisions – and didn?t get one.”

The Bush administration made its first assault on the rule in late January, when it invited agencies to suspend the new contractor responsibility requirements for 180 days. On Friday, it went further and decided to suspend the new protections, government-wide, and proposed that they be permanently revoked. Senator Lieberman and others protested the earlier suspension as unwise and possibly unlawful. But now, the administration is moving more decisively against the rule before soliciting the views of the public.

“The administration?s decision on the Contractor Responsibility rule is just the latest in an almost daily and distressful drumbeat of regulatory rollbacks,” Lieberman said. “And, as has been the case in the past, the public is being frozen out.”

As ranking member of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, Lieberman has launched an investigation into the assault on health, safety and environmental protections, as well as the closed-door nature of the decision-making process that has led to rescinding rules formulated over many months and with substantial public participation.

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