December 19, 1997VIA FAX
Dear Mr. Ruff:
I am writing to you regarding statements made last week by a high ranking official at the General Services Administration (GSA) indicating that he believed President Clinton's Executive Order (E.O. 12873) was not enforceable. The remarks by Frank Pugliese, Commissioner of GSA's Federal Supply Service, were made at the Copier Paper Summit held in the White House Conference Center. The events of this public meeting are described in the attached letter from Todd Paglia, Coordinator of the Government Purchasing Project, to David Barram, Administrator of GSA.
My concern with this issue goes beyond the revealing statements of a high ranking GSA official to the far more important policies that are impacted by this disregard for executive orders. For the past four years Executive Order 12873, the "Buy Recycled" executive order, has been all but ignored by most federal procurement personnel. It sets forth the requirement that if a recycled product is comparable to a product made from virgin materials in price, performance and availability, federal agencies must buy the recycled product. This is an important federal policy that seeks to improve the purchasing practices of the government and stimulate the market for environmentally preferable products.
Although the order is simple, it has yet to be effectively followed. For example, recycled copier paper is only one of many items that must be purchased under the Buy Recycled order, yet compliance was a mere 39 percent for FY 97. During FY 95 and FY 96, compliance was even worse: 19 percent and 20 percent, respectively. Compliance with other items specified in the order, such as re-refined motor oil, recycled carpet, retread tires, etc., is even worse. Four years is certainly long enough for all purchasing agents to have been made aware of the executive order, and according to GSA and other government officials, ample notice through internal memos and government publications has been provided. Nonetheless, purchasing agents choose not to adhere to the order's mandates, indicating that many if not the majority of federal purchasing agents believe the executive order may be ignored.
This is a situation that must be addressed for several important reasons. At the most basic level, it is inappropriate for federal employees to ignore executive orders with impunity. The rule of law is a core principle of the United States, yet it is being flaunted by executive agency employees on a daily basis. This cavalier attitude toward the law must not be condoned and if left unchecked it is sure to breed an even more general contempt for other legal restrictions. In addition, important policies are not accomplished when executive orders are ignored. The Clinton Administration's reliance upon executive orders for important policy initiatives in a variety of areas -- for example environmental justice and the health and safety of children -- are jeopardized by complacency in the face of widespread noncompliance. The lack of compliance with the Buy Recycled order is a case in point.
Since you are the Counsel to the President, I would like to know what the Clinton Administration's position is with regard to the enforceability of executive orders, i.e., your general response to non-compliance. Also, what specific actions will be taken by the Clinton Administration to ensure that federal employees are in fact complying with executive orders, and the Buy Recycled order in particular. I look forward to your reply.
cc:President William J. Clinton