House Allows $10B Visitor-Tracking Contract for Accenture

A drive to block a massive federal contract awarded to Accenture LLP (search) for tracking visiting foreigners was all but scuttled Wednesday by the House, despite arguments that the company should be punished for avoiding some U.S. taxes.

The near party-line 234-197 procedural vote by the GOP-led chamber meant language disallowing the contract — valued at up to $10 billion over the next decade — was likely to be removed later this week from a $32 billion bill financing the Homeland Security Department (search).

The Accenture contract would benefit a wide array of subcontractors and is strongly supported by the business community and the House Republican leadership. Accenture opponents say the company shrunk its tax bill by moving its headquarters to Bermuda. But they acknowledged they face an uphill fight and were hoping the Senate would keep the issue alive.

"These companies have an obligation to the United States of America to pay their taxes," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (search), D-Conn. "If you want to feed at the public trough, you have to pay your taxes."

The vote came as Congress belatedly plunged into its budget work for 2005. Leaders hope to finish as many of the 13 annual spending bills as they can by the Oct. 1 start of the government's new fiscal year. Lawmakers took action on everything from adding money for U.S. diplomats in Iraq to ending the U.S. Capitol Police's new mounted police force.

The Accenture vote was no surprise; similar provisions have been killed or weakened over the past two years. The bill was expected to retain language barring the Homeland Security Department from entering future contracts with companies headquartered offshore.

Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., said DeLauro's amendment was designed to "score some political points" and was picking on a company that pays all the taxes it legally owes.

In other work Wednesday:

—The House voted 241-185 to raise the National Endowment of the Arts budget to $131 million. That is $10 million more than the House Appropriations Committee approved but still below the $139 million President Bush proposed.

The money was added to a $19.5 billion measure for the Interior Department and other land and cultural programs that increases spending for battling wildfires and eliminates funds for buying new land for parks. The chamber also voted to eliminate funds for building new logging roads in Alaska's 17 million-acre Tongass National Forest, the nation's largest forest and a perennial battleground between environmentalists and the state's sagging logging industry.

—The House Appropriations Committee approved a $416.9 billion defense measure, including $50 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The panel added $685 million for diplomatic costs in both countries that, like the military money, the Bush administration had said would not be needed until at least next January.

Committee members also added $95 million for victims of starvation and fighting in Sudan and Chad; a requirement for a White House report by Oct. 1 of the expected U.S. price tag in Iraq and Afghanistan; and language curbing contracts with private companies to manage Iraqi reconstruction.

—A subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a $32 billion measure for the Homeland Security Department that adds money for protecting rail systems Bush did not request. The bill does not address the Accenture contract.

—A House Appropriations subcommittee approved $2.8 billion for Congress' own operations, excluding Senate money that chamber will add later. The total is the same as this year's, though the House's own budget would grow by 3.6 percent to $1.04 billion.

The panel also voted to abolish the six-horse, seven-officer mounted police force the Capitol Police started this spring, which Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., called "a police fashion accessory."

It also defeated an amendment by Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., that would have forbidden departing House members from filing complaints with the House ethics committee — in effect barring Rep. Chris Bell, D-Texas, from pursuing his ethics charges against House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas.