Missouri senator seeks review of Native contract


ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill is seeking a review of a $46 million no-bid contract awarded by NASA to an Alaska Native corporation.

The Missouri Democrat said in a Sept. 16 letter to NASA Inspector General that the contract with Arctic Slope Regional Corp. raises "issues of concern," including its award without competition.

McCaskill, who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight, is a longtime critic of the advantage tapped by Alaska Native corporations in obtaining billions of dollars in federal contracts through a Small Business Administration program.

She introduced a bill last year that would strip the corporations of that edge.

The NASA contract was awarded last year to subsidiary ASRC Regional and Technical Solutions for engineering studies and technical support work.

According to McCaskill staffers, one point in the senator's letter was that NASA had sufficient time to put the work out for competitive bids. Another point was that the contract was a "cost-plus-fixed-fee" agreement rather than an incentive-fee contract, so there was no incentive to keep costs down, staffers said.

"Missourians sent Claire to the Senate to help clean up Washington — in part by cracking down on waste, fraud, and abuse in government contracting," McCaskill spokesman John LaBombard said in an email Monday. "Claire continues working to pass her legislation to close loopholes for Alaska Native Contracting, but in the meantime, she intends to keep holding government leaders accountable for questionable contracts."

The Inspector General's office received the letter Monday, said executive officer Renee Juhans. She declined to comment further.

Arctic Slope Regional Corp. noted in a statement that McCaskill's objections came 10 months after the contract was awarded.

"We're proud of the work that our family of companies is doing, and the work that we've done in the past," Tara Sweeney, ASRC's senior vice president of external affairs, said in the statement. "We look forward to working with the appropriate people on this matter."

McCaskill's bill, among other changes, would eliminate contracts with no monetary caps for Alaska Native corporations under the SBA's 8(a) program, which is designed to help small disadvantaged firms, including those run by American Indian tribes and Hawaii Natives.

McCaskill, a former auditor, has said only a small portion of ANC profits are reaching their shareholders.

Her office says that new, tighter oversight rules governing the SBA program don't go far enough.

Under the bill, which has not been heard on the Senate floor, the corporations would still be able to participate in the SBA program, but they would no longer receive unprecedented benefits ushered through Congress two decades ago by then-Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens.

The Native corporations would have to qualify under the same rules as other program participants, such as being designated as socially disadvantaged businesses and managed by equally disadvantaged individuals. The ANCS also would have to meet size requirements.

The corporations would be able to receive no-bid contracts with $6.5 million caps for goods and $4.5 million for services. They would have to compete for larger contracts.

09/20/2011 - 8:02am