Bush team moves to overturn contractor 'blacklisting' rules

Two rules will be issued Tuesday that portend the demise of controversial contractor ethics regulations issued at the end of the Clinton administration.

The Bush administration this week will move to overturn controversial contractor ethics regulations issued at the end of the Clinton administration. On Tuesday, the administration will publish an interim rule imposing a 270-day suspension on the regulation, which requires government contractors to meet strict ethical standards. The administration will also publish a proposed rule to seek comment on whether or not changes should be made to the regulations. The interim and proposed rules are the first steps in attempting to withdraw the contractor ethics regulations. The business community has argued the Clinton regulation would lead to a "blacklist" of companies banned from government contracts, even if the companies had resolved concerns over labor, environmental and other issues. The regulation went into effect one day before President Clinton left office. Since then, the Bush administration has been taking steps to reverse it. "I am delighted that the end is now in sight," said Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., chairman of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Technology and Procurement Policy. Davis proposed a six-month stay on the rule in December and has repeatedly called for its repeal. "The Bush administration's actions today will allow the many voices opposed to blacklisting to again make their voices heard. In the end, I am certain we will again find that there was never any rational basis or need for additional standards, since existing regulations already ensure the government does not do business with unethical companies," Davis said. Last month, the Civilian Agency Acquisition Council issued a memo allowing agencies to delay the regulation's implementation for six months, until July 19. That move was a short-term fix that could only be applied agency-by-agency, a spokesman for Davis said. Tuesday's rules will begin a formal rulemaking process that will apply to all agencies. Federal contracting officers are already required by law to do business only with companies with proven records of integrity and business ethics. The contractor responsibility regulation further orders that federal contracting officers review a company's compliance with labor, employment, tax, environmental and antitrust laws to determine if it is fit to do business with the federal government, and applies guidelines for contracting officers in making those determinations. But several agencies, including the General Services Administration, have said that the regulation will serve only to make contracting officers' jobs more difficult because it requires an understanding of the nature of the violations involved in complex environmental and labor issues.

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