Senate Also Accepts Amendment Providing FEMA Transparency
The U.S. Senate accepted an amendment by U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK) requiring all congressional earmarks undergo the same competitive bidding process as grants and contracts within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The Senate also unanimously accepted a Coburn amendment requiring transparency and openness in the disaster declaration process of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The amendments were included in the fiscal year 2008 Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill.
"Federal contracts and grants are awarded through an open competition, yet most congressional earmarks are never subjected to such scrutiny," Dr. Coburn said. "This lack of transparency opens the door for improprieties and the recent earmark and bribery scandals have demonstrated members of Congress are not above abusing the system. To ensure politicians are no longer be able to provide sweet heart' deals with taxpayers' money to campaign donors and political supporters, it only makes sense for Congress' to live by the rules it established for everyone else."
A "no-bid" grant or contract is government funding that is provided directly to an entity that bypasses the standard process for awarding government funding in which competing bids are solicited in order to select the most cost efficient and qualified entity to perform a service. Of the earmarked spending identified in the committee report accompanying the Senate DHS appropriations bill, at least 21 earmarks, totaling $218 million, would not be subject to full and open competition.
The Coburn amendment prohibits awarding earmarked funds in the form of no-bid grants or non-competitive contracts. This would mean, essentially, that all earmarks would be competitively bid rather than directed to a pre-selected recipient.
Agencies also will be required to provide a report to Congress every year with the name of the recipients of the funds awarded, the reasons the recipient was selected and the number of entities that competed for the earmark contract.
Additionally, the Senate unanimously approved an amendment by Dr. Coburn, and sponsored by Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), providing much-needed openness and transparency to the disaster declaration process of FEMA. After severe ice storms struck Oklahoma earlier this year, FEMA officials were unwilling to share the information the agency used in determining why personal disaster assistance was denied.
"Many Oklahomans were given the impression FEMA based its decisions on something other than merit. To regain the trust of the American taxpayer, FEMA must be open and transparent to ensure that in times of emergency important decisions like disaster declarations are based on merit. I am hopeful House and Senate conference members will fight to make sure this amendment stays in the final bill," Dr. Coburn said.