HUD secretary denies contract because contractor "doesn't like the president"?
Inspector general looks into HUD secretary's comments
By STEPHEN OHLEMACHER
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- An inspector general is
investigating Housing and Urban Development Secretary
Alphonso Jackson's comments to a Dallas business group
that he rejected an advertising contract because the
contractor had criticized President Bush.
"We have received a number of complaints from the
public as well as from members of Congress," Michael
Zerega, spokesman for HUD's inspector general, said
Friday. "We are reviewing this matter and will look to
the facts and any applicable law or requirements."
Jackson issued an apology Wednesday, saying he made up
the story. He won Bush's support Friday.
"Alphonso Jackson has admitted that what he said
earlier was improper, that it was a mistake and the
president accepts that and still supports a man with
whom he's had a long and close relationship," White
House press secretary Tony Snow said.
Meanwhile, the Congressional Research Service issued a
memorandum saying it would violate federal law - and
perhaps the Constitution - to deny a contract to
someone because of his or her political affiliation.
The memo was released Friday by Sen. Frank Lautenberg,
D-N.J., who had requested the opinion.
"Contracts may not be awarded on the basis of personal
or political favoritism, and all potential contractors
should be treated with complete impartiality and with
preferential treatment for none," said the memo,
signed by John Luckey, a lawyer with the nonpartisan
Jackson told a Dallas business group April 28 about a
minority contractor who finally had landed an
advertising contract with HUD after trying for 10
years, according to an article in the Dallas Business
Jackson said that when the man approached him to thank
him for the contract, the contractor said he didn't
"He didn't get the contract," Jackson told the group,
according to the newspaper. "Why should I reward
someone who doesn't like the president, so they can
use funds to try to campaign against the president?
Logic says they don't get the contract. That's the way
HUD spokesman Jerry Brown said Jackson would cooperate
with the investigation.
Zerega said there was no timetable for the
investigation. The inspector general, Kenneth Donohue,
who does not report to Jackson, has several options if
he finds wrongdoing. He could simply issue a report,
or he could work with the U.S. attorney's office to
seek a criminal indictment.
Several Democrats in Congress had called for the
"Secretary Jackson was bragging not only about
violating contracting law, but also about violating
someone's Constitutional rights," Lautenberg said in a
statement. "This is a serious matter and it deserves a
serious response from the President."
Christopher Yukins, co-director of the Government
Procurement Law Program at George Washington
University, said politics is not supposed to play a
part in awarding government contracts.
"The basic rule is that procurement decisions have to
be based upon reasonable criteria, they have to be
based upon reasonable factors," Yukins said. "A purely
political decision would not be considered a
reasonable factor in awarding a federal contract and
it would be simple for the contractor to challenge
this as an unreasonable, irrational decision."
Jackson joined the Bush administration in 2001 as
HUD's deputy secretary and chief operating officer. He
became HUD secretary in 2004.
Before arriving in Washington, Jackson was president
of American Electric Power-TEXAS in Austin. Before
that, he had been president and chief executive of the
Dallas Housing Authority.