Joseph Cotto, 6/8/2015 [Archive]

Congress Should Focus on Contracting Reform

By Joseph Cotto

Every year, the federal government doles out lavish sums of money to private sector contractors.

In a way, this works well as an alternative to Uncle Sam spreading himself too thin. After all, why should the government do what businesses can for much less? Profit margins have a way of keeping companies in check while governments merely seek out new revenue to cover runaway spending.

Still, contracting is no sure thing. At the state and local levels, it can open the door for boundless corruption. We should be thankful that federal agencies haven't been so besieged. However, even when things are done without bribery, a different sort of trouble may be brewing.

Case in point: FEA, Inc. is a central Florida-based firm that, according to its website, can "MANAGE (HANDS ON) DoD PROJECTS", "PERFORM REVERSE ENGINEERING ON OEM MILITARY PARTS TO BECOME SOURCE APPROVED WITH THE DoD", and is "INSTRUMENTAL IN MAINTAINING A 100% QUALITY RATING WITH THE DoD FOR 10 YEARS RUNNING".

Apparently it also knows a thing or two about italics and caps lock.

Howard King, who, according to his LinkedIn profile, is a general manager at FEA, has landed in hot water with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. One of America's most famous legal action groups, the MRFF is committed to ensuring the civil rights of military personnel; specifically in terms of religious discrimination.

As one might imagine, the Foundation has attracted no small number of enemies since its formation in 2006.

On Monday, May 18, a message was sent from King's corporate email account to MRFF leader Mikey Weinstein. It wasted no time beating around the bush, and was so over-the-top that one wonders if its author lost his mind before putting fingers to keyboard: "THE SCUM JEWS ! SHOULD HAVE BEEN GASSED".

There goes caps lock again.

USAspending,gov tells that the latest contracts given to FEA were on February 10, and these came from the Department of Defense's Defense Logistics Agency. $71,550 was allocated for degaussing and mine sweeping equipment, while $35,600 was spent on vehicular accessories pertaining to weapons systems.

Signed by Lyndon Johnson just a few months short of 50 years ago, Executive Order 11246 is key for contractors. According to the Department of Labor, the mandate "prohibits federal contractors and federally—assisted construction contractors and subcontractors, who do over $10,000 in Government business in one year from discriminating in employment decisions on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or national origin.

"The Executive Order also requires Government contractors to take affirmative action to ensure that equal opportunity is provided in all aspects of their employment."

The MRFF believes that FEA may be in violation of 11246. The Foundation's Dallas-based counselor, Randal G. Mathis, has formally requested an investigation from Air Force Director Lt. Gen. Andrew E. Busch.

After Weinstein received the email, he inquired about why it had been sent. On May 21, King responded that he was not responsible for the message and claimed his email account had been compromised. He also mentioned that "JESUS WAS JEWISH AND I WOULD IN NO WAY SEND SUCH AN EMAIL".

What is with caps lock? Really now.

The MRFF isn't buying King's version of what happened and, by all indications, expects to see a thorough investigation of FEA. Exactly what will come of this is nothing more than guesswork. However, we can all learn something about the nature of government contracts.

As it is, businesses have to jump through regulatory hoop after hoop so compliance can be kept with Uncle Sam. If incidents such as the FEA-MRFF debacle present themselves, though, just what good are 'fairness' regulations doing?

Congress should focus on contracting reform this session, or at least before next year's election. There must be a means of reducing the red tape tied around contractors while making it in their best interest to obey hiring, firing, and anti-harassment standards.

If the will exists, a way can be found.

——-

Copyright 2015 Joseph Cotto, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Joseph Cotto is a historical and social journalist, and writes about politics, economics and social issues. Email him at joseph.f.cotto@gmail.com.

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