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Small Business Advocate Scores Another Victory for Transparency

Every once in a while, POGO likes to remind everyone that the American Small Business League (ASBL) is still out there fighting the good government fight, kicking butt and taking names—or, in this particular case, FOIA-ing names.

The small business advocacy group recently announced another victory in its ongoing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) battles with the federal government. The latest agency to yield to the scrappy ASBL is the Department of Energy (DOE).

ASBL filed suit last month against DOE after the agency refused to release information about a $3.6 billion federal contract awarded to Bechtel Bettis, the company that manages DOE’s Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory. ASBL made its request after learning that hundreds of millions of dollars under the contract might have been awarded under the false assurance that Bechtel Bettis, a subsidiary of the global engineering giant Bechtel Corporation, qualified as a legitimate “small business.”

As ASBL explained in the complaint, DOE “partially” responded to the request, but refused to reveal the identities of the Bechtel Bettis employees who administered the contract—and, presumably, misrepresented their company’s socio-economic status to the government. If this did occur, there can be serious legal consequences. According to Section 16(d) of the Small Business Act, “[w]hoever misrepresents the status of any concern or person as a ‘small business concern’ order to obtain for oneself or another” any prime contract or subcontract with the government shall be subject to penalties and remedies including fines of up to $500,000, imprisonment of up to 10 years, and suspension or debarment from federal contracting.

Last week, after having redacted that information pursuant to FOIA Exemption 6 (“personnel and medical files and similar files the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy”), DOE relented and provided ASBL an unredacted version of the documents.

POGO often blogs about ASBL’s noble efforts to improve transparency and accountability in federal contracting. Their recent tangle with DOE is part of ASBL’s ongoing investigation into the diversion of federal small business contracts to Fortune 500 companies, which ASBL claims deprives genuine small businesses of more than $60 billion in contracts every year.