Sanders targets faulty contractors

By Dan McLean, Free Press Staff Writer • October 9, 2009




Three major defense contractors have been fined nearly $3 billion since the mid-1990s and have racked up more than 100 instances of misconduct, said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., but they are still receiving billions in defense contracts.

Sanders is seeking “significant punishment” for such firms. He based his figures on data from the nonpartisan Project on Government Oversight .

Sanders attached an amendment to a defense appropriation bill passed by the Senate this week that calls for the Pentagon to tally the worth of defense contracts given to companies who have been fined by the government or convicted of fraud.

Sanders’ amendment has yet to emerge from a conference committee session, which works out differences between House and Senate versions, but he is optimistic it will remain part of the final bill. “It has attracted a good bit of attention, and many people think it’s a good thing,” he said.

The measure calls on the Defense Department to develop recommendations “regarding how to penalize contractors repeatedly involved in fraud in connection with contracts or other transactions entered into with the federal government.”

“It is a total outrage that year after year, in a systematic way, large defense contractors engage in illegal and fraudulent activity, costing the taxpayers substantial amounts of money,” Sanders said Thursday. “This goes on and on without any significant punishment — and makes no sense to me at all.”

Sanders said he wants vigorous investigations into the major defense contractors and a system of penalties created. The government can’t bar repeated offenders, akin to some state’s “three strikes and you’re out law,” because there are relatively few contractors who can serve the Defense Department. But, he said, meaningful penalties can be instituted.

The recent controversy over the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now , or ACORN, which involved employees encouraging fraud and deception and led Congress to defund the organization, helped inspire the amendment. ACORN received $53 million in the past 15 years to promote affordable housing and register voters, Sander said.