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Alaska Native groups begin PR campaign against McCaskill probe

A coalition of five Alaska Native corporations recently launched a public-relations campaign to fight back against congressional attacks on the government contracting that has helped make them some of the state's largest companies.

For now, the coalition is targeting Alaskans with a multimedia educational campaign — called "Native 8(a) Works" — but it could take a broader tack if members of Congress file legislation that is harmful to the firms, according to the campaign organizers.

The coalition formed after Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., opened an investigation of Alaska Native corporations' federal contracting privileges, which are part of the federal Small Business Administration's 8(a) program for minority-owned, socially disadvantaged companies. McCaskill raised concerns about potential contracting abuses that harm taxpayers.

Her investigation is focused on the Native firms' ability to obtain federal contracts of any dollar amount and contracts without competitive bidding. The companies landed nearly $24 billion in work over the past eight years, she said. Their contracts range from providing catering services and security guards at military bases to database management for large federal agencies.

McCaskill's government oversight committee held a hearing in July on Native contracting and issued a report stating that the benefits to Native shareholders "may not be in proportion to the potential for waste, fraud and abuse" created by the firms' contracting privileges.

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