The Washington Post ran a lengthy piece today on the relationship between Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA) and ICG Government, a consulting firm founded by a longtime associate of Davis' from the Northern Virginia information technology (IT) industry. Adding to a list of government officials or members of Congress and their spouses who have engaged in questionable activity (e.g., Rep. John Doolittle and David Safavian and their wives), the article reported that the firm employs Davis' wife, Jeannemarie Devolites, whose clients include IT companies hoping to secure federal contracts.
Two months after the founding of ICG Government, Davis secured the chairmanship of the House Government Reform Committee. During this time, he introduced the Services Acquisition Reform Act (SARA), a bill ostensibly intended to streamline federal contracting, but which ended up removing longstanding safeguards (pdf) meant to protect the federal government and taxpayers from contractor fraud and mismanagement. Today's article calls into question whether Davis' reforms are pro-taxpayer or pro-contractor.
Davis asked the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct to consider whether any of the following was in fact a violation of House rules: his wife's consulting work with companies seeking federal contracts, his speaking engagements at ICG conferences, and the appearance of ICG clients at witnesses before his own committee. The Committee responded that, on the surface, Davis and his wife had not violated any House rules (pdf). Nonetheless, the article highlights a number of troubling issues which need to be addressed.
First, contracting consultants like ICG are not obliged to disclose their clients, while registered lobbyists must adhere to public reporting requirements. It seems clear that the firm serves as a critical link between contractors and politicians. The article quotes Paul Smith, a sales executive for a North Carolina software company, who called ICG's employees “door-openers.” POGO has previously recommended that Congress require contracting consultants such as ICG to register with the Office of Government Ethics. So long as ICG continues to “open the door” to the offices of politicians like Davis, the need for transparency remains urgent.
Second, the Post article details ICG's disturbing role in convincing the Pentagon to continue its contract with Artel, a satellite service company from Reston, VA. After learning that the Pentagon was planning to scrap the contract, Artel's CEO worked with Senator-turned-lobbyist Tim Hutchinson and ICG's Donald Upson to draft a memo to the contracting officials on Davis' official letterhead. The letter, which included Davis' signature at the bottom, prompted a meeting between Davis and Pentagon officials in the Congressman's office. A few months later, the Defense Department changed its course and concluded that the contract with Artel was a success. Although Artel's CEO claims that “none of the companies needed ICG or Upson to get to anyone in Congress,” the decidedly intimate relationship between the contracting consultant and Davis is highly suspect.
Third, despite Davis' insistence that he and his wife have committed no wrongdoing, one cannot help but be reminded of a previous incident in which lobbyists and defense contractors threw a holiday party for the House Government Reform Committee. Sponsors of the party included Innovative Defense Strategies (IDS), which has had several suspicious connections to Davis. Last year, for instance, IDS contributed to his wife's campaign while she was running for a seat on the Virginia State Senate. The firm also employed Peter Sirh, a former Staff Director of Davis' Government Reform Committee who has spoken numerous times at ICG events about the intricacies of federal contracting. Incidentally, the head of IDS, Richard Carroll, serves on the board of the Small Business Technology Coalition along with Nicholas Karangelen, president of Trident Systems Inc. In addition to Karangelen's role in a recent controversy involving Rep. Lewis (R-CA) and his stepdaughter, both have made contributions to Davis and his Future Leaders Leadership PAC (you can check out the FEC filings here and here). As a whole, the IT and telecommunications industries have been undeniably kind to Rep. Davis over the years.
With all the recent news about cozy dealings between contractors, consultants and elected officials like Davis, taxpayers have every right to demand greater oversight for federal acquisition and contracting.