Freshman Congressman Alan Grayson (D-FL) is making national headlines with his success in broadening the reach of a bill Congress recently passed that will preclude the controversial community organizing group known as ACORN from receiving any federal money. He believes the bill can and should also be used to stop federal funding of government contractors that he says have earned the title of "crook."
I talked with Congressman Grayson in detail about his efforts to stop the government cash flow to contractors that cheat the government and overcharge the American taxpayers.
Kathleen Wells: What do you believe was the intent behind the recently passed legislation known as the Defund ACORN Act?
Congressman Alan Grayson: I think that the Republicans' intent was to defund ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now). But in the process, they defunded crooks all through the military industrial complex and I look forward to their inadvertent efforts in the future to bring about world peace and end hunger.
Kathleen Wells: You're convinced that Republicans were intent on specifically eliminating federal funding for ACORN?
Congressman Grayson: Yes.
Kathleen Wells: But the bill also eliminated funding for other government contractors.
Congressman Grayson: Crooked contractors, yes.
Kathleen Wells: Does ACORN fall into the category of crooked organizations?
Congressman Grayson: Well, it's for the justice system to determine that, not me. I'm not a judge. I'm not a jury. I haven't heard the evidence. I don't know how it would be meaningful for someone who hasn't heard any of the evidence to give an opinion about that. Correct me if I'm wrong, but one is innocent until proven guilty. At least, that's what I thought.
Kathleen Wells: The Congressional Research Institute has indicated that the Defund ACORN Act is likely to be ruled unconstitutional. What are the consequences with your legislative history being attached to this bill?
Congressman Grayson: I think that when the courts decide -- if it comes to whether the bill is constitutional or not -- they [the courts] will take into account the legislative history that I [have] offered.
Kathleen Wells: This bill was introduced and passed after an ACORN employee(s) in Baltimore were/was caught with a hidden camera making incriminating statements to a man and a woman posing as a pimp and a prostitute. Although ACORN has a 30-year history of helping low-income people, many Democrats voted in favor of the Defund ACORN bill. Do you think those Democrats who supported the bill are being short sighted?
Congressman Grayson: I think your question doesn't properly characterize the reason why I voted for the bill. I voted for the bill because it defunds crooks. You have to ask other people why they voted for the bill -- I can't speak for them. I voted because I saw the possibility that we could actually shut off the flow of cash to contractors who have cheated the taxpayers and hurt the troops.
Kathleen Wells: Tell me about the Project Of Government Oversight (POGO).
Congressman Grayson: Sure. POGO was [sic] a long-standing organization. We called them for help after the bill passed and before we put in our legislative history to help us identify all the different contractors who have been found guilty of fraud and are still receiving contracts from the government. They gave us their list and we also went online and received literally hundreds of tips about contractors, along with specific documentation, showing that they had cheated the government. We are in the process of putting that information together and using it. When I say using it, what I mean by that is, defunding the crooks.
Kathleen Wells: How do you specifically intend to do that?
Congressman Grayson: We are going to push to make sure the legislation is signed by the President. We are also going to take the information that we received and make sure that the agency authorities (I'm referring to debarring officials) who are in charge of making sure that contracts don't go to corrupt contractors [will] have the information that we have.
Kathleen Wells: Why is an effort to defund these crooks just being done now?
Congressman Grayson: Because I just got elected.
Kathleen Wells: Why wasn't anyone doing it before?
Congressman Grayson: You'd have to ask them - I don't know. But I've been fighting war profiteers in Iraq for five years. That's what I've been doing. I guess we all have to decide how we are going to spend our time. We have a lot of freedom in Congress to make our own priorities and this is one of mine.
Kathleen Wells: Why are you the only one speaking out on this issue?
Congressman Grayson: I don't think I'm the only one. For goodness sake, look at Congressman Waxman, who is now the Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee. He has been speaking out about this for literally decades.
Kathleen Wells: Yet, nothing has been done?
Congressman Grayson: Well, I wouldn't say nothing has been done. But now, we are going to finally put the nail in their coffin.
Kathleen Wells: What is your position on Blackwater?
Congressman Grayson: Blackwater, like many other contractors, has already been found guilty of over-charging the government or liable for over-charging the government and I think the problem is pervasive throughout the entire military industrial complex. In the case of Blackwater, they have done far worse. They have seriously undermined the safety of the troops and undermined the [troops'] mission. But the bill, as written, applies to contractors who cheat the government whether or not it has that awful effect [like that created by contractors such as Blackwater].
Kathleen Wells: Approximately how many government contractors are included on your list?
Congressman Grayson: Hundreds.
Kathleen Wells: What does that say to you?
Congressman Grayson: It's says to me that corruption, cheating the taxpayer and hurting the troops and their mission is something that has become pervasive in government contracting.
Kathleen Wells: Tell me how hiring crooked contractors are hurting the troops? Be specific.
Congressman Grayson: I think we've all heard over and over again how that happens. They have electrocuted our troops in their showers. They have feed them poisoned water, dirtier than the Euphrates River. Time and time again, they have endangered the troops and, from time to time, even killed them.
The Army found KBR guilty of homicide. That's the Army's own finding.
Kathleen Wells: What was done about that?
Congressman Grayson: Nothing.
Kathleen Wells: You say this is something that has become pervasive in government contracting?
Congressman Grayson: Don't take my word for it. Just look at the list. Go ahead and attach our list to your report. People can draw their own conclusions. It's not a matter of what I say. That's not important. What's important are the facts that we have already collected. Look at POGO's list. POGO's list has virtually every single one of the top hundred government contractors being found guilty of over-charging the government and cheating the taxpayers. Look at the list - it's documented.
Kathleen Wells: If you are successful in defunding the hundreds of allegedly dishonest contractors on your list, will there be other, honest contractors to replace them?
Congressman Grayson: Of course. This is America. It's not that hard to find honest people.
Kathleen Wells: If it's not hard to find honest people, then why does your list total hundreds?
Congressman Grayson: Because the government has tolerated this and rewarded it by giving these people more contracts.
Kathleen Wells: You paint a picture of the government being the victim. What do you say about the government being complicit?
Congressman Grayson: The government is a big place. You should be more specific. Who are you talking about when you are talking about the government being complicit? Are you talking about the executive branch, the legislative branch [or] the judicial branch? Are you talking about specific agencies? What do you mean?
Kathleen Wells: Who is specifically in charge of hiring these crooked contractors?
Congressman Grayson: Well, it's the executive branch and, specifically, the contracting officers. And it's a phenomenon called the revolving door. What happens is: they keep giving contracts to contractors, no matter what their ethics or lack thereof, because, in many cases, they hope that one day these contractors will hire them and, in many cases, they do. In many cases, they hire them for four times their government salary and everybody is happy, except the American taxpayer.
Kathleen Wells: Is the Government Oversight Committee looking at this situation?
Congressman Grayson: Certainly, when Chairman Waxman was in charge of that Committee, they looked at it vigorously and consistently and I think that Chairman Edolphus Towns will do the same.
Kathleen Wells: Would you say there's been a pattern and practice?
Congressman Grayson: Of course. Look at POGO's list. We've reached the point now where the honest ones feel stupid.
Kathleen Wells: There have been rumblings that SEIU (Service Employees International Union) will be the next GOP target for defunding because of the relationship SEIU has with ACORN. What are your thoughts on that prospect?
Congressman Grayson: It's what I [have] said before. We live in a system of laws, not organizations. Every allegation of misconduct should be investigated thoroughly and whatever punishment is appropriate should be meted out. We can't run this country on the basis of a Republican "enemies list." We have to allow justice to take its course. In the case of these contractors, justice has already taken its course. These are contractors who been found guilty or liable for cheating the government already.
Kathleen Wells: Yet, those same contractors continue to receive government funding.
Congressman Grayson: That's right.
Kathleen Wells: Is this something you have been pursuing before?
Congressman Grayson: Government contracting - for sure. Before I was elected to Congress, I prosecuted war profiteers in Iraq and I was a government contract lawyer for 20 years.
Kathleen Wells: So, this is a continuation of that for you?
Congressman Grayson: Well, you could call it that. But really [it] is a continuation to make sure that taxpayer dollars are not wasted.
Kathleen Wells: Was addressing this issue your primary purpose in running for Congress?
Congressman Grayson: No, I specifically ran for Congress, more than anything else, to try and end the war. But I [also] ran for Congress because I thought I could do a better job representing my people, the people of central Florida, than the four-term Republican incumbent who had done nothing.