White House backs down after subpoena threat from Rep. Issa

The Obama administration will send an official to testify at a House Oversight Committee hearing after Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) threatened to issue a subpoena.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has designated Daniel Gordon, the administrator for federal procurement policy, to testify at a May 12 hearing on a draft executive order that would require federal contractors to disclose their political contributions.

Issa threatened to issue a subpoena for testimony on Monday after Budget Director Jack Lew refused to participate in the hearing.

“OMB made the correct decision in reconsidering its previous refusal to attend Thursday’s hearing. I look forward to Administrator Gordon’s testimony,” Issa said. 

An administration official disputed that the White House had backed down. The official said Gordon will only testify about procurement policy and will not comment on the draft executive order at the hearing.

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Lew on Friday declined to participate in the hearing on the order, citing the fact that the executive order is still being drafted and has not been issued. He said that deputy director Jeff Zients would not participate either.

“If OMB continues to demonstrate an unwillingness to cooperate fully with the committee’s oversight function, we will be required to use the compulsory process,” Issa and Small Business subcommittee Chairman Sam Graves (R-Mo.) wrote Lew in a May 9 letter.

Issa and Graves argue that the executive order will create a litmus test for contractors that could result in contracts being denied to GOP supporters.

Lew in his Friday letter to Issa noted that OMB officials have testified five times before Oversight this year and 12 times during this Congress. He said OMB is committed to transparency.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) came out against the draft executive order Tuesday, siding with Republicans who say it would politicize the contracting process.

“The issue of contracting ought to be on the merits of the contractor’s application and bid and capabilities,” Hoyer told reporters at the Capitol. “There are some serious questions as to what implications there are if somehow we consider political contributions in the context of awarding contracts.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Wednesday said he was happy to hear that Hoyer "took a stand" against the draft order.

“The issuing of contracts by the federal government should be based on the contractor’s merits, bids and capabilities," McConnell said. "Under no condition should political contributions play a role in the decision."

Good government groups say the Obama order is meant to stop corruption, not facilitate it. They are calling on the president to sign it immideately.

"The Obama administration is right to be taking on the issue of transparency in government contracts, and the president needs immediately to sign the executive order, which would require companies vying for government contracts to disclose information about their political expenditures. The public deserves to know who’s spending what to elect members of Congress; only those who have something to hide prefer the dark," Lisa Gilbert of Public Citizen said in a statement Wednesday. 

This story has been updated.