Coburn, Obama Pick Next Target: FEMA's No-Bid Contracts

The partnership between Senators Tom Coburn (R.-Okla.) and Barack Obama (D.-Ill.) has already produced one open-government bill headed for the President’s desk. At a Capitol Hill press conference this afternoon, the unlikely duo said they weren’t done working together to improve transparency in government.

Flanked by House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R.-Mo.) and Clay Johnson of the White House Office of Management and Budget, Obama issued a not-so-subtle message that he and Coburn would renew efforts to press forward with legislation requiring competitive bids for all FEMA contracts over $500,000.

We want to eliminate no-bid contracts for anything over half-a-million dollars,” Obama said. “This seems to be a pretty straight-forward concept given the astonishing record of abuse that we’ve documented … in terms of how money was spent in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.”

Obama said the measure has already passed by the Senate four times, yet the House continues blocking its final approval.

“Somehow it keeps disappearing from our conference reports,” Obama said, “and hopefully this time it will actually stick.”

Coburn said passage of the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act (S. 2590)—which is headed to the President’s desk for his signature—is the first step for changing the culture in Washington.

He said it could lead be the momentum he and Obama need to pass similar legislation, including the measure dealing with no-bid contracts.

“This process of no-bid contracts is rife throughout the federal government,” Coburn said. “It’s not fair to the American people. They don’t get value for their money.

“I intend to look everywhere,” he added, “especially in the Defense Department, where we know over the last four years $6 billion has been paid in performance bonuses on contracts that were bid, but the contractors didn’t meet their performance requirements. So that’s $6 billion we ought to have back right now.”

Today’s event at the U.S. Capitol brought together the House and Senate champions of S. 2590, a bill that won support from disparate groups on the right and left. Joining them was Johnson, an ally in the Bush Administration who will oversee the implementation of the database that contains the federal contracts and grants. It is scheduled to debut in January 2008.