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Friday, July 28, 2006

Rough Times for Porker of the Month Tom Davis?

Rep. Tom Davis, R-VA, is chairman of the House Government Reform Committee and is
an apparently softening opponent of posting all federal contract spending data on the Internet as required by the Coburn-Obama Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act.

Davis has previously supported putting federal grants on an Internet database but he opposed including contracts because, he said, contracts are competitively bid and therefore public access is not needed. In fact, as many as 40 percent of all federal contracts are awarded without competitive bidding, according to some experts. Many of Davis' campaign contributors are associated with federal contractors.

In any case, Davis has recently run into an unexpected series of PR hits that may herald a rough road ahead for the long-time Virginia congressman who represents a district populated mainly by federal employees and people who work for companies that depend upon federal contracts.

Hit one came last week when The Washington Examiner editorialized on consecutive days against the $1.5 billion federal bailout earmark Davis is seeking for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, the Metro bus and subway system.

You can read those editorials here and here. You can also read the slashing response that erupted from Davis in response to the Examiner here. In the latter, Davis is referring in his opening paragraph to transportation expert and former federal contracting-out czar Dr. Ron Utt of The Heritage Foundation, who called the Davis Metro measure the "largest earmark" ever.

Hit number two came earlier this week when Davis was named by Citizens Against Government Waste as its Porker of the Month for his Metro bailout earmark. You can read CAGW's citation of Davis here.

Hit number three came today with a front-page story in The Washington Post detailing the relationship of Davis and a long-time friend and former business associate who employes the Virginia congressman's wife, Devolites, in a consulting firm that helps businesses gain federal contracts. Mrs. Davis works for the firm, IDG, Inc., and is a Virginia state delegate.

While the Post story doesn't contain the proverbial "smoking gun," it does contain this interesting passage that sheds some much-needed light on one of Washington's worst-kept secrets:

"Devolites Davis said her ICG work is not lobbying because she does not try to influence votes or the awarding of contracts. 'We help make connections so that folks can build relationships on their own,' she said, adding that the firm's main business is educating industry and government officials."

People who know people in government often have access by virtue of those relationships and are able to use that access to put individuals and business firms seeking federal contracts in touch with key officials in the government agencies with billions of dollars of procurements to award and administer. It is analogous to the profiting-by-access-and-relationship that former Members of Congress use as registered lobbyists when they lobby their former colleagues.

But as the Post story points out, when you call yourself a consultant and describe your business as "educating industry and government officials" in the executive branch, you don't have to register as do those who are lobbyists of the legislative branch.

Hit number four is also contained in the Post piece in form of a sidebar that highlights a former senior official in the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, Angela Styles, who tangled repeatedly with Davis during her tenure in the White House agency.

The sidebar notes:

"Among those opposed was the Bush administration's top procurement official, Angela B. Styles, the former chief of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy at the Office of Management and Budget. Styles, a politically connected corporate lawyer and Bush loyalist from Texas, thought Davis's proposals would be costly and overly favorable to businesses. "In a series of speeches and testimony on Capitol Hill, Styles criticized some of the proposals, including one that would allow contractors to determine how much they were saving the government in costs and then share in those savings.

"On May 3, 2002, Styles e-mailed her boss, then-OMB chief Mitchell E. Daniels Jr.: 'David Addington [then Vice President Cheney's chief counsel] probably did the best job of summarizing Mr. Davis' legislation. . . . 'I hear the whosh of taxpayer dollars out the window.' The bill is not fiscally responsible and cannot be supported in its current form.'

"She described 13 of the legislation's 29 provisions as 'problematic' and said they would result in 'policy changes that the administration cannot support.' Among them: a plan to allow more contractors to bill the government for their 'time and materials' with no fixed cap on the total amount."

The fifth and final hit comes in an online chat among the two Post reporters who wrote the Davis piece and some interested readers, including one with this timely reminder:

"Washington, D.C.: Scott & Rob:

"Great piece, but you only scratched the surface. The trade press has well documented (although from a cheerleader perspective), Davis near total dismantlement of the procurement oversight and regulatory functions of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) at OMB. In addition, he was largely responsible for putting David Safavian in as Administrator of OFPP (Safavian's wife is Davis chief investigative counsel). There's just so much to choose from, why don't you expand your story?

"Scott Higham and Robert O'Harrow: That's an interesting prospect and a good idea."

Safavian was convicted earlier this year on four counts of lying and obstruction of justice, as a result of the federal investigation of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.