Last week, the House and Senate voted to prohibit the federal government from awarding contracts and grants to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), a national network of community-based organizations that advocate for low-income families. Congress rushed to cut off all federal funding to ACORN days after several ACORN employees were caught on camera giving advice to a couple posing as a prostitute and a pimp on ways to evade the law.
The House’s bill is called the “Defund ACORN Act”. The bill specifically targets ACORN, but it also applies to “any organization” or its employees who are charged with violating federal or state election, campaign finance or lobbying disclosure laws or filing a fraudulent form with any federal or state regulatory agency.
Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) is particularly interested in the fraud provision. Recognizing that there are probably worse offenders than ACORN in this area, Grayson is looking for help in coming up with a list of organizations that have committed fraud against the government or employed someone who did. Rep. Grayson will put his list in the Congressional Record as part of a legislative history that judges and lawyers can use to interpret the law.
POGO’s Federal Contractor Misconduct Database is a great place to start. At last count, it includes 87 instances of government contract fraud – federal and state – involving 43 contractors. You might want to focus on Lockheed Martin, which has 11 government contract fraud instances, or Northrop Grumman with 9 contract fraud instances including this $325 million False Claims Act settlement from earlier this year.
Bear in mind that, since 1994, ACORN has reportedly received a total of $53 million in federal funds, or an average of roughly $3.5 million per year. In contrast, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman respectively received over $35 billion and $18 billion in federal contracts last year. (Their totals since 2000 are $266 billion for Lockheed and $125 billion for Northrop.)
Congress should clamp down on contractor fraud and waste, but it needs to keep a sense of proportion. If ACORN broke the law it, should be punished; however, Congress also needs to crack down just as rigorously on the contractors who take an even larger share of taxpayers’ money and have committed far more, or far more egregious, acts of misconduct. POGO hopes the mentality behind bills like the “Defund ACORN Act,” combined with the new contractor / grantee responsibility database and mandatory misconduct reporting rule, reflects a new zero-tolerance attitude toward contractor misconduct.
-- Neil Gordon