Thursday September 22, 2011 | 12:40 PM

A bipartisan bill co-authored by Sens. Olympia Snowe and Mary Landrieu aimed at increasing the ability of federal officials to root out federal contracting fraud has been unanimously approved by the full Senate.

The Small Business Contracting Fraud Prevention Act seeks to increase the oversight abilities of the federal Small Business Administration and hikes criminal penalties for businesses which win contracts through fraud.

Snowe, R-Maine, is the top Republican on the Senate Committee on Small Business and Landrieu, D-La., is the committee’s chairwoman. Their bill also extends before an Oct. 1 deadline the ability of about 3,400 companies in federal Historically Underutilized Business Zones, enabling companies to receive preferential treatment in seeking federal contracts, to continue to participate in that program, according to a joint release by Landrieu and Snowe.

Snowe is lobbying for the House to take up the bill and pass it before Oct. 1, something that would have to happen yet this week with Congress due to be on recess next week.

“This legislation is a critical step towards ensuring all of our nation’s small businesses compete fairly in the federal market place, and I thank my colleagues for supporting it,” Snowe said in a statement.  “That said, our job is not done.”

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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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