Late last week, a group of 29 Republican senators sent a letter Administrator Karen G. Mills of the U.S. Small Business Administration, expressing concern over the Obama administration’s purported consideration of a “High Road Contracting” policy. The senators, led by Sen. Susan Collins, (R-ME), asked Ms. Mills to clearly disclose her position on the issue by September 30, 2010.
Earlier this year, the White House Middle Class Task Force released an annual report, which suggested the administration would soon propose such a policy. This set off considerable speculation among contractors. As described by Employment Law360:
The policy would require contracting officers to take into account a company’s labor, employment and compliance reports when evaluating which bids offer the best value to the government.
Among other factors that might be considered are business ethic records, including noncompliance with labor, tax, fraud and consumer protection laws, as well as "substandard wages and benefits" that could negatively impact workers’ productivity, stability and overall performance on critical federal projects, according to the report.
The senators’ letter criticizes the possible policy changes thus:
This policy would make no sense even in good economic times. But at a time when our economy is suffering, our small businesses are suffering, and we are faced with escalating deficits and debt, we are stunned that the administration would even contemplate erecting artificial barriers to full and open competition for government contracts. If this policy is implemented, it would violate the Competition in Contracting Act and cause small businesses not to compete for federal contracts. This would undermine the diversity of our federal contracting base, lessen competitive pressures on large contractors, and increase the costs of the goods and services necessary to fulfill the government’s mission. Ultimately, this policy could deprive federal agencies of many innovative solutions offered by our nation’s small businesses.