Sunshine for Iraqi Reconstruction Projects Included in Senate Defense Bill

WASHINGTON – Legislation approved by the Senate today requires the Department of Defense to publicly justify the awarding of any Iraqi reconstruction contract without an open and competitive bidding process. Senators Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., won acceptance of their bipartisan legislation, the Sunshine in Iraqi Reconstruction amendment, in the Senate defense authorization bill.

The Senators’ amendment requires justifying documents for any non-competitive bidding process conducted under the oversight and direction of the Secretary of Defense or the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance in the Office of the Secretary of Defense to be published in the Federal Register or Commerce Business Daily or otherwise made available to the public no later than 30 days after the contract is signed.

The Senate unanimously approved the amendment late last night. The cost of reconstruction in Iraq, including the rebuilding of schools, roads and other infrastructure, could reach $100 billion dollars in the coming months. This sunshine amendment requires public accountability for the use of secretive bidding procedures that may expose taxpayers to additional cost. In September 2000, the U.S. General Accounting Office found that closed-bid and no-bid contracts can cost taxpayers more, specifically citing cost overruns on logistical and engineering projects involving the U.S. military. DOD and other Federal agencies have already awarded billions of dollars’ worth of Iraqi reconstruction contracts with limited or no competition.

“The federal government will spend billions of dollars on contracts to help rebuild Iraq,” said Lieberman. “When this amount of money is on the line, taxpayers deserve to know exactly how their hard-earned dollars are spent, why particular companies receive favorable treatment, and why cost-saving measures have not being taken. This amendment will bring an illuminating ray of sunshine into the process.”

“By insisting on sunshine in this contracting process, the Senate has done the right thing by every American taxpayer,” said Wyden. “In these tough economic times, the government simply mustn’t continue to award billion-dollar contracts behind a veil of secrecy, with no accountability to the public.”

“A tremendous amount of money will be spent on contracts to rebuild Iraq,” said Collins, who chairs the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. “Full and open competition in awarding these contracts helps to ensure the best price and the highest quality for these investments. In cases where competition is curtailed, federal agencies should have to make their justification public. This legislation will shine a spotlight on the contracting process to ensure that it is fair and delivers the best value to the American taxpayer.”

“It is the responsibility of Congress to ensure that the funds we appropriate for reconstruction in Iraq are spent in a fair and open manner. This amendment provides an element of accountability so that Congress and the American people can have a full understanding of how these contracts are being awarded,” said Clinton.

“The reconstruction of Iraq will be an arduous and expensive endeavor, and much of the burden will likely fall on the shoulders of the American taxpayers. Since they are going to foot the bill, the American people should know how the money will be spent,” said Byrd, who is Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “This legislation will help to ensure greater openness in the process of reconstructing Iraq. If the Administration wants to award no-bid contracts, it must explain to the American people why.”

The published information required by the Senators’ amendment also includes the amount of the contract, a brief description of the contract’s scope, a list of companies selected for the closed bidding process and explanations of how and why the agency chose those contractors. The publication of this information, along with the justifying documents for the closed bidding process, will allow companies who might have been able to compete for Iraqi reconstruction work to challenge the non-competitive process if the standards for exempting contracts from competition are not met. The amendment does include national security protections for sensitive information. The head of a department or agency would be able to withhold publication of any classified document or redact any part of a document that contains classified information. Legislation similar to the Senators’ amendment has been included in the House version of the defense authorization bill.