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OR's Big Idea: Protect Stimulus Dollars with Contractor Reform

by Chris Thomas
from the Oregon Public News Service
March 9, 2009

Salem, OR - Representatives of some national "good government" groups will be in Salem today for the first hearing on two bills that would tighten requirements for who gets government contracts and how they use the money. The Oregon legislation could be used by other states that are looking for ways to track job creation and increase accountability.

In fact, Oregon has some ideas that other states may soon be anxious to copy. This morning, a House committee in Salem discusses two bills that propose turning up the heat on government contractors by setting quality standards and tracking their progress. With billions of dollars of federal stimulus money at stake — and a president who says it must be used to create jobs — states are scrambling to figure out how to meet federal requirements.

Oregon has been burned before in contracting scandals, so the state already was working on changing its contractor laws and is now ahead of the rest, according to Nathan Newman, interim executive director of the Progressive States Network, who will testify at the hearing.

"What the Oregon bill is going to do is actually ask contractors to report how many jobs are created, what they're paying workers and, over time, how much the contract is really costing the state."

The bills also would require a cost analysis of any contract over $25,000, and mandate that state agencies post their bidding processes online and collect information from contractors about their workers' jobs and wages. Some contractors are wary of the legislation, saying it could complicate their business and increase costs.

However, proponents of the bills say the state ultimately will save money by making the bidding process more transparent and attracting the best contractors. Newman says it's all about setting a positive example.

"People will see what Oregon's doing as a model for what every state not only should do, but really, will have to do, to meet the requirements of the federal law."

More background information about the issue is available at www.oregongovernmentaccountability.com.