Showdown looms on U.S. Visit pact

Showdown looms on U.S. Visit pact

The House Rules Committee today likely will make a key procedural decision on the fiscal 2005 Homeland Security Department appropriations bill that could determine the fate of Accenture Ltd.'s multibillion-dollar contract for a virtual border system.

The committee will decide whether an amendment that would bar Accenture from carrying out the Homeland Security Department's U.S. Visit contract will survive action on the House floor, sources said.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) successfully offered the amendment in the House Appropriations committee's markup of the DHS bill last week. The amendment, which passed by a bipartisan vote of 35 to 17, modifies a provision DeLauro attempted to attach to the Homeland Security Act of 2002. That provision also would have barred Accenture from holding DHS contracts on the grounds that the company is a tax exile.

Accenture and the department hold that the company met the criteria to carry out the U.S. Visit contract, awarded May 28.

Asa Hutchinson, DHS undersecretary for Border and Transportation Security, repeatedly has defended the Accenture award, citing the company's 25,000 U.S. employees and the fact that its domestic subsidiary pays federal taxes.

The Accenture subsidiary that received the U.S. Visit integration contract is based in Reston, Va., but its corporate parent is located in Hamilton, Bermuda. DeLauro contends that Accenture and other tax exiles have used loopholes in U.S. law to shirk federal taxes.

Congressional staff members said the Rules Committee will vote today on whether to shield DeLauro's amendment from floor amendments. If the committee does not protect the amendment from so-called points of order on the floor, it could be stricken from the bill.

DeLauro's similar amendment to the Homeland Security Act was diluted in conference. If the congresswoman's amendment survives floor action, it still faces opposition in the conference committee this year, sources said.

'Nothing is ever really dead,' a DeLauro aide said. 'Our point is not that the Accenture award was illegal but that it should be [derailed]. When they [Accenture] say that what they are doing is not illegal, that is true,' she said. 'This amendment does not make expatriating illegal. But they should not benefit from a taxpayer-funded homeland security contract.'

Among the clouds gathering over the DeLauro amendment is apparent opposition from Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee. Thousands of Accenture employees live in his Northern Virginia district.

'To have prohibited Accenture LLP from competing would have violated federal procurement laws,' company spokesman Jim McAvoy said. 'Based on the review of the bids by DHS counsel, all bidders were U.S. companies under the law and therefore qualified to bid.'

Accenture bested Computer Sciences Corp. and Lockheed Martin Corp. of Bethesda, Md., to win the contract, which has a potential $10 billion ceiling. But U.S. Visit program manager Jim Williams has said he does not expect spending to reach that level.


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