Officials from a slew of private sector contractors – ranging from IT services giant Leidos to the owner of a coffee shop leasing space in a Federal building in Washington – urged members of the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s Government Operations Subcommittee to take legislative action to better inoculate contractors against the harsh impacts of any future Federal government shutdown.

Their pleas reached sympathetic ears of several subcommittee Democrats on Monday, May 6, at a field hearing held at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

Subcommittee members in attendance – Chairman Gerry Connolly, D-Va., and Reps. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., Don Beyer, D-Va., Jennifer Wexton, D-Va., and Jamie Raskin, D-Md. – represent Washington-area districts hit particularly hard by the 35-day partial Federal shutdown that ended on Jan. 25.

While Federal employees sent home during the shutdown eventually received back-pay, many contractor firms and their employees permanently lost revenues and wages during the shutdown. According to figures from Rep. Connolly’s office, the shutdown had negative impacts on 10,000 companies employing 800,000 people, while the U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimated that 41,000 small businesses in the United States were hurt by it, and lost more than $2.3 billion in revenue.

“It’s time to provide some financial insurance for Federal contractors” that enables them to weather shutdown storms, said Ed Grabowski, president of Local 2061 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

Alba Aleman, CEO of Citizant, urged Congress to pass legislation that would guarantee back-pay to Federal contractors, and to make shutdowns “a tool of last resort.”

Other witnesses said Congress should use regular order to pass appropriations legislation on time before the beginning of fiscal years and use automatic continuing budget resolutions to keep the Federal government fully open in the event that legislators and the President can’t come to agreements.

Several contractors detailed lengthy lists of fixes they would like to see in legislation, leading Rep. Connolly to suggest that David Berteau, CEO of the Professional Services Council and also a witness at the hearing, make efforts to round up those proposed changes and organize them into a unified compendium.

Berteau indicated he would be willing to do so, telling witnesses, “you can write down anything you want and we will take it.”

“These are things we can and should address,” Connolly said of the many contracting issues brought up by the witnesses.

Where to go next on the legislative front seemed less clear. Subcommittee members talked about several bills that would help Federal contractors and their employees deal with the impact of the partial shutdown that ended in January and any future shutdowns, but there was little talk about coalescing behind one measure.

Rep. Connolly said that H.R. 824, the Fairness for Federal Contractors Act, should be viewed as one “major vehicle” for legislation, but also said it would be “pure speculation” on his part as to when the House might move on the bill. The measure was introduced in January and was referred both to the House Appropriations Committee and the Oversight and Reform Committee.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk's Assistant Copy & Production Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.