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Statement on Signing the Bill Authorizing Contracts for Federal Debt Collection

October 28, 1986

I am pleased to approve S. 209, which authorizes the Attorney General to contract with private counsel in pilot program districts to collect debts owed the United States. I have been advised by the Department of Justice that two provisions of this bill raise constitutional questions. These provisions must, of course, be implemented consistent with the Constitution.

First, I am approving S. 209 knowing that the Attorney General will take all steps necessary to ensure that any contract entered into with private counsel contains provisions requiring ongoing supervision of the private counsel so that all fundamental decisions, including whether to initiate litigation and whether to settle or compromise a claim, are executed by an officer of the United States, as required by the Constitution.

Second, sections 3718 (b)(1)(B) and (b)(3) will require the Attorney General and all executive and legislative agencies to use their best efforts to assure that not less than 10 percent of all claims referred to private counsel will be referred to law firms owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals. I am signing this bill on the understanding that those objectives will be pursued in a race-neutral manner with respect to the actual award of contracts and that the criteria for identifying socially and economically disadvantaged contractors will not contain preferences or presumptions based on race or ethnicity. Implementation of these provisions in any other manner would be of doubtful constitutional validity because the goal is not premised on findings of actual discrimination in the granting of contracts. Moreover, even if such discrimination were established, any racial or ethnic preferences provided by these sections would not be narrowly tailored to remedy such discrimination. Thus, the authority of the Attorney General and the heads of agencies under this law must be read with these constitutional requirements in mind.

The very premise of America is equal opportunity without regard to irrelevant characteristics such as race. Therefore, all Americans, regardless of race, who seek one of these contracts must be allowed an equal chance to demonstrate social and economic disadvantage in order to obtain a contract.

Note: S. 209, approved October 28, was assigned Public Law No. 99-578.

Ronald Reagan, Statement on Signing the Bill Authorizing Contracts for Federal Debt Collection Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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