SAN FRANCISCO, Feb. 13, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- Attorneys for the Department of Justice asked U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup on January 31 to allow Defense Department prime contractors to withhold data that would indicate if the defense contractors were complying with federal law and meeting their own goals regarding small business subcontracting.
In a previous hearing Judge Alsup described the Pentagon's efforts to withhold the data as, "They are trying to suppress the evidence…" In another hearing Judge Alsup stated, "The purpose of the Freedom of Information Act is so the public can see how our government works. Congress passed this law to make small businesses have access to some of these projects, and here is the United States covering it up."
The latest hearing in San Francisco before Judge Alsup on January 31 came in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit brought by American Small Business League ("ASBL"), which advocates for the interests of small businesses.
ASBL asked the judge to release records that would show whether defense contractors like Sikorsky and General Electric really adhere to the goals they set forth to the government about how much money they will subcontract to small businesses under the Small Business Act. The Defense Department itself found that there has been a "continuous reduction, over two decades, in the subcontracting opportunities for small businesses." ASBL's lawsuit asks the judge to release various records about the contracts, including government "compliance reviews" of whether the contractors really met the goals they outlined to the government.
The defense contractors did not appear at the hearing. Instead, government lawyers – who are paid by the taxpayers – argued that government reviews of the subcontracting plans and other data should be kept secret.
One of the government's lawyers, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ellen London, told Judge Alsup in court papers that she had a "common interest" with the defense contractors in a prior case brought by ASBL. She said that communications between the government and Sikorsky in that case were between "client and counsel."
The Department of Defense ("DOD") is giving defense contractors free legal help in the case, even though DOD's Freedom of Information Chief, Paul Jacobsmeyer, told Sikorsky's lawyer, Rex Heinke, in two letters that Sikorsky had failed to make the case for withholding information from the public in 2017 and 2018. Now the DOD and the Department of Justice are resisting disclosure of records showing how they worked together with prime contractors to keep information from the public.
"I have been winning Freedom of Information cases against the federal government for over 30 years. The government fights the release of this data because it proves the government is diverting billions in federal small business contracts to Fortune 500 firms. This fact has been exposed by numerous federal investigations and in investigative reports by CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox News," said ASBL's president, Lloyd Chapman.
"This is information that the public has a right to know," said San Francisco lawyer Karl Olson, who specializes in freedom of information law. "The government shouldn't be spending taxpayer dollars trying to keep evidence from the public."
Judge Alsup didn't rule on the case at the January 31 hearing. A ruling is expected soon. In a previous hearing, the judge framed the battle as "David vs. Goliath."
The case is American Small Business League v. U.S. Department of Defense, No. 3:18-CV-01979-WHA.
FOR INFORMATION CALL KARL OLSON (415) 409-8900
SOURCE American Small Business League