By Chris Gunn
Worcester Business Journal
March 14, 2011
On March 1, the American Small Business League (ASBL) filed suit against the U.S. Department of the Army after the defense agency refused to release documents regarding a large government contract awarded to the multinational corporation Bechtel. The action represents the 10th ASBL lawsuit against the Obama administration.
Not So Transparent
For many, the ASBL’s lawsuit total alone might come as a shock. After all, from its inception the Obama administration has touted its intention to be the most transparent in history. “I’ll make our government open and transparent so that anyone can ensure that our business is the people’s business,” President Obama stated in 2008 campaign speech. “No more secrecy. That is a commitment that I make to you as president.”
However, despite campaign promises, strong rhetoric and even an administration memorandum directing federal agencies to be more open and transparent, the Obama administration has actually been more secretive than its predecessor.
In early 2010, the Associated Press conducted a review of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) reports filed by 17 major agencies, and found across-the-board increases in the number of rejections. While the federal government as a whole received fewer FOIA requests during the first year of the Obama administration, agencies increasingly said “no” to those requesting documents that would have otherwise been available to the public.
The ASBL has experienced this reduction of transparency first hand, and perhaps to a greater extent. As an organization, the ASBL focuses on providing small businesses with greater access to government contracts by stopping the diversion of billions of dollars a year in small-business contracts to corporate giants. Since 2003, a series of federal investigations have uncovered billions of dollars a year in government contracts intended for small businesses actually flowing into the hands of Fortune-500 firms and other large businesses.
What does all this amount to? Answer: Billions of dollars in fraud and abuse perpetrated by the most politically influential defense contractors in the world, and government agencies shielding those contractors.
The most recent Obama administration contracting data shows large recipients of small-business contracts such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.
Using FOIA, the ASBL has already begun to shine bright lights into the deepest recesses of abuse-laden government contracting programs. With that in mind, the ASBL believes the information requested as part of its March 1 lawsuit may shine a spotlight on improprieties by Bechtel and even the Army itself.
The ASBL is gathering information on several major government prime contractors in preparation for litigation that will yield further transparency and accountability in government contracting programs. Moreover, ASBL’s litigation may be costly for prime contractors who have circumvented government laws and regulations for much too long.
Chris Gunn is the communications director for the American Small Business League. He can be reached at email@example.com.