In the first article of a series examining government contracting, Scott Shane and Ron Nixon of The New York Times describe how independent contractors have become "a virtual fourth branch of government. On the rise for decades, spending on federal contracts has soared during the Bush administration, to about $400 billion last year from $207 billion in 2000." Concerns are mounting with regard to "propriety, cost and accountability" of these contracts. For example, less than half of all government contracts in 2005 were competitive. At the same time, government supervision of contract work is compromised by the fact that the government workforce responsible for oversight has remained level while the number of contracts has exploded.
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