GOP Wants To Help Federal Contractors Hide Civil Rights Violations

There's a sneaky amendment to a must-pass defense bill.
It's unclear if Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) supports an amendment to his bill that would let defense contractors get out of reporting civil rights violations.
It's unclear if Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) supports an amendment to his bill that would let defense contractors get out of reporting civil rights violations.
Bill Clark via Getty Images

WASHINGTON -- A Republican lawmaker is quietly trying to slip language into a defense bill that would block President Barack Obama's executive order requiring federal contractors to disclose civil rights violations.

The House Armed Services Committee is set to take up the massive 2017 defense authorization bill on Wednesday, and when it does, there will be an amendment in the mix to make defense contractors immune to the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order. That executive order requires contractors who have committed civil rights or labor violations to disclose that they've done so when they apply for new government contracts.

It's unclear who authored the GOP amendment, which you can read here. But it's expected to get a vote during the committee's marathon hearing, which will run from Wednesday morning through early Thursday morning.

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the committee, said he'll oppose any effort to override the executive order. Obama signed it in July 2014, but it is still being rolled out and is on track to take effect later this year.

"We should not be making it easier for companies that violate labor, safety, or gender and racial equity laws to acquire government contracts," Smith said in a statement. "It is common sense that when the Defense Department or Nuclear Security Administration is choosing who it will work with, it should have sufficient information about any violations to know what it is getting into."

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the committee chairman and author of the defense bill, did not respond to a request for comment.

The defense authorization bill is must-pass legislation that Congress takes up every year, and because of its size (it's 758 pages this year) and necessity, it's prime for amendments that target hot-button social issues. Republicans tucked anti-gay language into it in 2011, 2012 and 2013. There was abortion language in it in 2012. In a last-ditch effort in late 2014, Democrats tried to attach an entire bill to it that would prohibit workplace discrimination against LGBT people. Republicans rejected that effort.

UPDATE: 7:20 p.m. -- The mystery is solved: Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) is behind the amendment. His spokeswoman Bethany Aronhalt said he's offering it because the executive order includes regulations that will "threaten the resources" of people who serve in the military. There's also already a suspension and debarment process for employees who violate federal laws, she said.

"The federal contracting process is already plagued by delays and inefficiencies," Aronhalt said. "That is why Congressman Kline intends to offer an amendment that would prevent the administration from making these problems worse when it comes to the critical activities of the Department of Defense and the National Nuclear Security Administration."

The National Associations of Manufacturers also came to Kline's defense. They sent Thornberry letter warning that the executive order would "threaten the ability of the DoD and the NSSA to rapidly award vital contracts."

But that reasoning isn't cutting it with labor and civil rights groups. More than 40 of them, including the AFL-CIO and the America Civil Liberties Union, wrote to Thornberry in strong opposition to Kline's amendment.

UPDATE: April 28 -- The committee adopted the amendment early Thursday, 34-28, and passed the bill.

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