Clinton contracting rules opposed by business
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Clinton Wednesday unveiled hotly contested rules designed to keep federal agencies from contracting with companies that breach labor and environmental laws, drawing praise from unions and scorn from big business a month before leaving office.
The new regulations, the product of two years of review and two rounds of public comment, will allow federal officials who award $200 billion a year in government contracts to disqualify companies that repeatedly violate the nation's labor, environmental, antitrust and consumer protection laws.
In the latest in a string of regulatory changes benefiting organized labor, White House officials said the new contracting guidelines would apply to the federal government as well as its agencies, which contract out for a wide range of products and services, from printer paper to high-tech weaponry.
Outraged by the move, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable said they would take legal action to overturn the new regulations once Clinton, a Democrat, leaves office and President-elect George W. Bush, a Republican, takes over Jan. 20.
"We will not stand by idly while the last days of the administration are used to issue unsupported, politically motivated rules that would have a devastating affect on American businesses and workers," said Thomas Donohue, the chamber's president.
"The administration has refused to listen to reason -- even its own agencies have objected to the rule -- but they cannot ignore the courts," he added.
Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said the incoming administration would "carefully review" the contracting rules. He declined further comment.
The White House said the new rules would for the first time provide clear guidance to government agencies in choosing contractors. Officials said the goal was to root out prospective contractors that have a poor "record of integrity and business ethics," and to combat fraud and abuse.
In a victory for labor unions, a close ally of Democrats in the Nov. 7 elections, the rules state that contractors must comply with "tax laws, labor and environmental laws, antitrust laws, and consumer protection laws." The rules will also streamline the way the federal government evaluates prospective contractors.
The White House disputed suggestions the new contracting regulations would create a "blacklist," saying the goal was to root out prospective contractors for a "pattern of repeated, pervasive or significant violations," rather than for a single violation.
"Any company that abides by the law has nothing to fear from this rule," said Linda Ricci, a budget office spokeswoman.
Labor unions lobbied Clinton to issue the new rules before leaving office, asserting they would put pressure on companies that do business with the federal government to protect worker rights.
Last month the Democratic administration also put in place a final safety standard, vigorously opposed by business, which it says will prevent 460,000 painful workplace injuries a year caused by repetitive motion.
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