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Obama: To end abuse, no more no-bid contracts

WASHINGTON — Reversing Bush policy, President Obama ordered an overhaul of the way the government hands out contracts Wednesday, promising to curtail no-bid awards that have led to waste, abuse and corruption investigations.

Obama joined Republican Sen. John McCain, his presidential campaign rival, and other lawmakers in making the announcement. Obama said "the days of giving defense contractors a blank check are over" and said changes could save up to $40 billion a year.

The presidential memo directs Peter Orszag, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, to work with Cabinet and agency officials to draft new contracting rules by the end of September. Those new rules, White House aides say, will make it more difficult for contractors to bilk taxpayers and make about a half-trillion dollars in federal contracts each year more accessible to independent contractors.

The White House said contract spending under President George W. Bush's administration had doubled to more than $500 billion over the past eight years.

During last week's White House meetings on the nation's financial future, lawmakers and officials bluntly told top Obama aides that government contracts needed to be handled in a better way. The president's own fleet of Marine One helicopters became an illustration of out-of-control spending.

A review of 95 defense projects by the Government Accountability Office, the auditing arm of Congress, found that the projects exceeded budget by $295 billion over the course of several years.

"In Iraq, too much money has been paid out for services that were never performed, buildings that were never completed, companies that skimmed off the top," Obama said. "At home, too many contractors have been allowed to get away with delay after delay after delay in developing unproven weapons systems."

Also in Washington

Troop injuries: The number of U.S. troops who have suffered wartime brain injuries may be as high as 360,000, Defense Department doctors said Wednesday. The estimate of the number injured — the vast majority suffering concussions — represents 20 percent of the roughly 1.8 million men and women who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, the doctors said at a Pentagon news conference.

Forum on health care: Leading GOP lawmakers are expected to participate in a forum on health care today at the invitation of President Obama. The administration invited more than 120 people, including some who helped kill the Clinton administration's health care overhaul in the 1990s.

Bush aides to testify: Karl Rove and Harriet Miers agreed Wednesday to testify before Congress under oath about firings of U.S. attorneys that raised questions of political interference in former President George W. Bush's second term. Rove, then top political adviser to Bush, and Miers, former White House counsel, will testify before the House Judiciary Committee in closed depositions "under the penalty for perjury," said committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich.

Times wires

Obama: To end abuse, no more no-bid contracts 03/04/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 4, 2009 9:47pm]
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