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Government Contracts Monitor

Gimme Shelter: Suspension & Debarment Concerns Continue

June 25, 2013

By: Lindsay Simmons

On June 12, 2013, Congress heard testimony on the state of the federal government’s suspension and debarment system.  What it heard may mean trouble ahead.

John Neumann, GAO’s Director of Acquisition and Sourcing Management, was one of the individuals who testified.  His testimony was a follow-up to two reports issued by GAO, in 2011 and 2012, regarding (i) agency underuse of suspension and debarment authority and (ii) best practices for identifying and referring cases of contractor misconduct for possible exclusion from government contracting.

In its 2011 report, discussed here, GAO made clear that many agencies are not effectively using their suspension and debarment tools. According to the GAO, those agencies with the most suspensions and debarment share three characteristics: a “dedicated suspension and debarment program with full-time staff, detailed policies and procedures, and practices that encourage an active referral process."

Neumann’s June 12th remarks focus on (i) the characteristics of the stronger agency suspension and debarment programs and (ii) government wide efforts to oversee and coordinate the use of these tools.  GAO noted the role assumed by the Interagency Suspension and Debarment Committee (ISDC) in coordinating and emphasizing suspension and debarment government-wide and ISDC’s recent report of improvement in most agency programs. 

But not everyone agrees that suspension and debarment programs are improving.  According to the General Counsel of the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), a group that works “to achieve a more accountable federal government,” many agencies “still are not utilizing the suspension or debarment tool.”

According to POGO, “history proves” that these agencies do not always “have top-notch contractors that are not involved in illegal or questionable activities.”  Examples cited are the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Social Security Administration – agencies that have “zero suspensions, proposed debarments, debarments, and administrative agreements,” as well as the Departments of Commerce, Health and Human Services, and Labor which have only a handful of suspensions and debarments.

POGO points to a possible solution: The Stop Unworthy Spending (SUSPEND) Act,” a draft bill Introduced earlier this year by Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Darrell Issa (R-CA).  The bill would vest suspension and debarment functions in a centralized body called the Board of Civilian Suspension and Debarment, consolidating more than 41 civilian suspension and debarment offices. Some, like POGO, believe this Act would provide much-needed transparency, consistency, and expedited review.  Click here to read POGO’s entire testimony.

What is the state of the federal government’s suspension and debarment system?  Still under review, but likely to continue to ramp-up.

 

Lindsay Simmons is the attorney responsible for the content of this article.

 

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