Alaska Native leaders on Monday urged state lawmakers to join them in defending an embattled federal contracting program that has spurred enormous growth among Alaska Native firms in recent years.
Several legislators, including Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, pledged to support the Native firms in their ongoing fight on Capitol Hill to preserve the contracting program. They hosted a joint legislative hearing in Anchorage to gather testimony about the economic impact of the contracting program in Alaska.
Rep. Jay Ramras, R-Fairbanks, called the program the "greatest single success story in Alaska" after the building of the trans-Alaska pipeline.
But not everyone is pleased with the U.S. Small Business Administration's 8(a) minority contracting program, which allows Alaska Native corporations, Lower 48 tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations to obtain federal contracts without competitive bidding and without any limits on the dollar amount.
This year, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., launched an investigation of Native firms' contracting privileges, citing potential abuses that could harm taxpayers. This summer, her government oversight committee issued a report stating that the benefits to Native shareholders "may not be in proportion to the potential for waste, fraud and abuse."
At Monday's hearing, several Alaska Native executives argued that their firms have become successful because they are doing good work. They also said they are providing innumerable benefits to shareholders due to revenue from federal contracting, such as internships, jobs, dividends, cultural preservation and subsistence-related programs.
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