OMB defends new pro-labor purchasing rule

High-tech companies fretting over a Clinton Administration proposed rule that would bar companies from government contracts that have a pattern of violating labor, employment, tax, environmental or antitrust laws, should be reassured that federal procurement officers would be fair and reasonable about applying the law when choosing among contract bidders, a White House official said.

"We believe that this rule is good public policy. We believe that the notion that doing business with those that obey the law is hard to quarrel with. In terms of the execution of the rule, we believe it will be done fairly and reasonably with appropriate responsibility," said White House Office of Management and Budget spokeswoman Linda Ricci, when asked about whether high-tech concerns about the proposed rule were justified.

Earlier this week, the American Electronics Association said it was taking the lead along with the Informational Technology Association of America and the Computer Technology Industries Association in joining with business groups who oppose the rule proposed July 9, under the direction of Vice President Al Gore. A public comment period on the rule remains open until Nov. 8.

The AFL-CIO has been pushing the Clinton Administration to tighten its federal procurement standards since a General Accounting Office study found that in 1994, 261 federal contractors were sited for 5,121 violations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In addition, the GAO found in 1993, $23 billion in government contracts were awarded to firms that violated the National Labor Relations Act, according to the union.

In 1997, Gore, who seeks the Democrats nod for presidential candidate, told the AFL-CIO that the administration would "seek to bar companies with poor labor records from receiving government contracts" and that companies who wanted contracts should have safe workplaces that "respect civil, human and union rights." Officials were not available in Gore's office to comment on the high-tech community's concerns.

"The American government should not do business with companies that break the law…it is as simple as that," Ricci said.

But Linda Saucier, AEA's manager of public policy, said current laws already punish companies that violate labor regulations and the proposed rules would effectively punish a company twice for the same violation.

"There are other ways to punish and improve business practices. This is a back-door approach to punishing companies a second time," she said.

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