OMB not moving to implement ‘high road’ contracting policy

Heather Higginbottom, nominated as OMB’s deputy director, tells a Senate panel the controversial proposal isn't currently moving forward.

This story has been updated to include additional information from the Obama administration.

A controversial plan that would provide contractors that pay their employees higher wages and benefits a leg up when bidding for contracts is not currently under active consideration for implementation by the White House, according to President Obama's nominee to serve as deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget.

During her confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Heather Higginbottom told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that the administration is not considering the so-called High Road policy right now.

After the hearing, an administration official told Government Executive that the agency is "considering the views of Congress, the private sector, and others with respect to possible initiatives and no decision has been made."

The committee's ranking member, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, along with other Republicans, has argued the proposal would raise the price of contracting, do little to increase efficiencies in the acquisition system and force many small businesses out of the federal marketplace.

Administration officials previously had declined to discuss the status of the proposed policy. But with the proposal failing to garner the support of most acquisition experts and the administration reforming its rule-making process, most observers had suggested privately that the plan might be dead on the vine.

Higginbottom generally sailed through her confirmation hearing with little criticism or controversy and appears on her way to assuming the agency's No. 2 spot.

The nominee, who most recently served as deputy assistant to Obama and deputy director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, faced relatively little direct criticism of her experience or qualifications.

But she was forced to repeatedly defend the administration's fiscal 2012 budget proposal against tough grilling by Republican senators, who questioned whether the plan goes far enough to cut the budget deficit.

"It is time to make the tough choices necessary to place the country on a responsible fiscal path and focus on our long-term challenges," Higginbottom said. "This means cutting where we can and making the investments necessary to foster continued economic growth and job creation for our long-term global competitiveness."

Higginbottom generally played it safe with her answers, highlighting the administration's top management priorities, including reforming federal contracting and improving the management of information technology. She often declined to speculate on other ongoing initiatives such as the potential reorganization of federal agencies.

Nominated for the OMB post in January, Higginbottom has more than a decade of experience on Capitol Hill and the executive branch, including time as policy director for Obama's 2008 presidential campaign.

From 1999 through 2007, Higginbottom worked for Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., in several positions, including as legislative director. She also served as the deputy national policy director for the Kerry-Edwards 2004 presidential campaign. Kerry on Tuesday introduced Higginbottom in opening remarks to the committee.

Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., said the panel likely will vote on Higginbottom's nomination next week, and he expects she will be confirmed.