Is 'High Road' Contracting Gaining Momentum?

Recent press reports have indicated that the "high road" contracting process may be gaining momentum, possibly foretelling adoption of the policy by the Obama administration. Last week, Government Executive published several stories on the topic, including an article on congressional members requesting a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the costs and benefits of adopting "high road" contracting guidelines, and a story outlining documents obtained by GovExec that they purport give further details on how the administration might implement such a policy.

The Zorbing Ball

In an article released last Thursday, Robert Brodsky of GovExec detailed how Reps. Rob Andrews (D-NJ) and Patrick Murphy (D-PA) recently requested from acting Comptroller General Gene Dodaro and GAO an investigation of "whether certain 'unscrupulous' firms with documented labor, safety and health or wage violations are receiving federal contracts."

The report, according to Brodsky, will also examine the associated costs to taxpayers of contracting with companies that pay such low wages that their employees are forced to rely on federal safety-net benefits, and any correlation between a contractor's labor violations and the likelihood of that contractor experiencing cost overruns. Reps. Andrews and Murphy are still hammering out the details of the investigation and associated report with GAO.

The other article, released the next day, described several documents GovExec recently obtained on the "administration's as-yet-unannounced High Road contracting policy." While Brodsky, who again was the author of the piece, couldn't be sure of whether the White House or an outside organization authored the memoranda, he claimed the papers detailed how the administration might implement the proposal.

The government would put positive weight behind those contractors that provide a livable wage, health insurance, paid sick leave and an employer-funded retirement plan. Interestingly, Brodsky notes that one of the documents states that all of the labor and employment information collected by the government to assess a contractor's record would "be made available through a public database."

Notwithstanding the uninformed protests of some senators and the unfair panning of the initiative as a partisan maneuver by others, if the administration approves a "high road" contracting policy, it will greatly improve the lives of all workers that the government employs through contracting. There's plenty of evidence available of the effects of such policies; several states have implemented various provisions of the administration's plan with overwhelmingly successful results.

While the recent GovExec articles provide the first information on the "high road" contracting issue since reports began circulating earlier this year, details are still scarce and the administration continues to say simply that it is considering the proposal. Of course, Vice President Biden's task force on the middle-class has been considering the issue since last summer, but some lawmakers expect the administration to implement the plan soon.

As Brodsky noted, amid growing opposition from Republicans and business interests, the GAO report could shift momentum if it "is able to put a price tag on contracting with firms that fail to pay their employees a 'living wage' or to provide health or retirement benefits." At a minimum, he says, "the report could provide political cover to the administration if it chooses to move forward."

Image by Flickr user Steven Kiyoda used under a Creative Commons license.

back to Blog