Democrats, labor groups condemn move to reverse contractor ethics rule

A group of prominent Democratic lawmakers condemned the Bush administration on Wednesday for suspending a rule that sets ethics standards for government contractors. On Tuesday, the administration published an interim rule in the Federal Register imposing a 270-day stay on the controversial regulation, which went into effect one day before President Clinton left office. The administration also published a proposed rule seeking comment on whether the rule should be revoked. Speaking at a Capitol Hill news conference held by the AFL-CIO, Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., said the Bush administration's action would harm law-abiding contractors and blasted the administration for suspending the rule without public comment. Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., and Reps. George Miller, D-Calif., John Conyers, D-Mich. and Henry Waxman, D-Calif, echoed his comments. "Taxpayer dollars should not be supporting contractors that have consistently broken the law," said Lieberman, the ranking member on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. Lieberman said he is investigating the process by which the rule has been suspended. While the administration's action formally suspended the regulation, many agencies previously gained an exemption from the rule by invoking a clause of the Federal Acquisition Regulation that allows agencies to exempt themselves from new regulations. Lieberman criticized this process as "likely unlawful" in a Feb. 20 letter to Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels. OMB referred the matter to the General Services Administration, which has not yet responded to Lieberman, according to a spokesperson for the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. Championed by labor and environmental groups, the rule has drawn vigorous opposition from the business community since Vice President Al Gore first proposed it in a 1997 speech to the AFL-CIO. The proposed rules aim to keep companies from winning federal contracts if they are found to have poor labor relations or ethically problematic practices. Representatives of numerous labor and environmental organizations accompanied the democratic lawmakers Wednesday. Participants ranged from the Sierra Club to the National Partnership for Women and Families. The Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors National Association, a contractor group, also spoke out against the suspension of the rule. Interested parties have until June 4 to submit comments on the proposed revocation of the rule. Written comments should be sent to: General Services Administration,
FAR Secretariat (MVP), 1800 F Street, N.W., Room 4035,
ATTN: Laurie Duarte, Washington, D.C. 20405 Parties may also email comments to: Experts expect the administration to issue a final rule on the matter by the end of this summer.
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