Alaska News

Begich, McCaskill battle again over 8(a) contract preferences

Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill and Alaska Sen. Mark Begich are again clashing over the regulation and monitoring of contracting preferences that have helped some Alaska Native corporations develop into leading federal contractors.

McCaskill says she is trying to protect the taxpayers and to see if rules adopted in 2011 on no-bid contracts have been implemented. Begich released a statement calling her letter a "targeted attack from a sitting senator who simply refuses to try and understand the history and culture of a great state like Alaska."

McCaskill wrote the head of the Small Business Administration Monday asking for an update on how the agency has implemented rules since 2011 regarding the participation of Alaska Native corporations in the 8(a) program for small and disadvantaged businesses. The new rules placed more restrictions on the way that Alaska Native corporations form joint ventures and how the government awards no-bid contracts.

Alaska Native corporations have used special provisions through the program, originally championed by the late Sen. Ted Stevens, to win hundreds of millions of dollars worth of federal contracts. She asked for a list of joint venture contracts since 2011, copies of reports filed by Alaska Native corporations that show how benefits flow to their communities, and "information sufficient to show SBA's oversight of the new rules related to joint ventures and follow-on contracts for ANCs and tribal entities."

She held a hearing on the issue in 2009 and has battled with Begich and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, both of whom have defended the program.

One of the 2011 changes said that after a subsidiary completed a sole-source contract, a corporation could not just set up another subsidiary to continue the work in a follow-up contract. McCaskill asked that the SBA brief the staff of the Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight no later than July 11.

Begich said McCaskill, "through her narrow lens as a 'government oversight and efficiencies guru' -- has trouble understanding Alaska history, even with my repeated attempts to reason with her. This includes why our Native American tribes, ANCs and Native Hawaiian organizations share a unique government-to-government relationship with the United States."

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Dermot Cole

Former ADN columnist Dermot Cole is a longtime reporter, editor and author.