House oversight panel votes to overturn Biden contracting policies and cut funding for unauthorized programs
Democrats object to measures targeting labor- and climate-friendly executive orders.
Updated: 5:50 p.m., July 13.
The House’s main oversight panel on Wednesday advanced over objections from Democrats bills that would unravel Biden administration attempts to make federal contracting more labor-friendly and climate conscious, and legislation that would cut funding for federal programs whose authorization has lapsed.
The House Oversight and Accountability Committee also reported out several bipartisan management measures during the same markup session, including ones to make agency guidance documents more transparent and accessible (H.R. 890) and to eliminate degree requirements for certain cybersecurity jobs (H.R. 4502).
“The American people deserve a government that is transparent, efficient and effective,” said Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., chairman of the committee, in a statement. “These bills bring solutions to modernize our government, root out inefficiencies, target waste, fraud and abuse, and hold the Biden administration accountable for overreach.”
More than half of the bills did not receive the support of committee Democrats. Rep. Jaime Raskin, D-Md., ranking member of the committee, said that some of the bills considered in Wednesday's markup were developed in true collaboration with Democrats, but others represented "clear attempts to undermine the effectiveness of government, the will of Congress, and the will of the American people. "
Among the more contentious bills, the panel passed the Fair and Open Competition Act (H.R. 1209), which would prevent the government from requiring that federal construction contractors enter into pre-hire collective bargaining agreements called project labor agreements. President Biden issued an executive order in February 2022 mandating such agreements for most construction work worth $35 million or more, in the interest of workers’ rights and efficiency.
Project labor agreements “ensure that major projects are handled by well-trained, well-prepared highly skilled workers,” Biden said at the time. “And they ward off problems. They resolve disputes ahead of time, ensuring safer work sites, avoiding disruptions and work stoppages that can cause expensive delays down the line. And that makes a big difference for the American taxpayer.”
Democrats echoed many of these arguments during the committee markup Wednesday, but Republicans including Comer, who introduced the bill, argued that the agreements should not be mandatory. Nothing in the bill would prevent their use, he noted, but managers could make decisions on a project-by-project basis. He called this approach fair and “even-handed.”
Republicans also backed the Mission Not Emissions Act (H.R. 3358), which takes aim at another Biden administration executive order, this one giving federal contractors incentives to be environmentally conscious. The rule implementing the executive order “places radical environmental activist goals over U.S. national security interests,” Comer said. “It should be stopped, and this bill … will stop it.”
Ranking member Raskin argued, however, that the bill attempts to “sweep climate change under the rug” and does “the exact opposite of what we need,” which is to use the federal government as an instrument of the common good and confront the “reality” of the climate emergency by seeking to reduce emissions.
The bill the committee advanced on Wednesday would prohibit requirements that contractors disclose greenhouse gas emissions or climate-related economic risks. It also would not allow mandates that contractors develop goals for reducing emissions and submit them for validation to non-governmental organizations.
In another blow to committee Democrats, the panel advanced the Unauthorized Spending Accountability Act (H.R. 4435), which would reduce the budget for any unauthorized federal programs over three years, starting in fiscal 2024. Raskin said the bill represents a “thinly veiled attempt to kneecap vital federal programs,” including medical care for veterans, educational loans and housing assistance. It should be renamed the “dysfunction proliferation act,” he said, because it would create an “untenable workload” for lawmakers due to the extensive number of programs with expired authorizations.
Democrats introduced amendments that would carve out exceptions for particular essential programs, such as disaster relief, oversight of Ukraine aid and veterans medical care. Comer did not dispute the importance of the programs, but said the amendments ran counter to the purpose of the bill, which was to provide incentives for congressional authorizers to do their jobs.