Under Their Thumb: The SUSPEND Act
August 5, 2013
By: Lindsay Simmons
Even brief exclusions from participation in federal contracting or programs can seriously harm a company. Needless to say, long term exclusions can be fatal. Thus, the risks of suspension and debarment inherent in doing business with the government cannot be overlooked or underestimated.
Recently contractors, government personnel and legislators alike have expressed concern regarding deficiencies in the existing suspension and debarment system, including the wide disparity in such programs from agency to agency. The use of suspension and debarment tools, and the standards for determining whether or not to suspend or debar, are inconsistent. Not surprisingly, this has resulted in a perceived need for reform.
As many of our readers already know, in February of this year a draft bill was introduced, for discussion, that would standardize how civilian agencies handle the suspension and debarment of contractors and grant recipients: The Stop Unworthy Spending (SUSPEND) Act, found here. A June hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform committee brought the SUSPEND Act one step closer to a reality. The draft has triggered significant interest and debate within the procurement community.
The SUSPEND Act was designed to ensure "zero tolerance for fraud steps, criminals, or tax cheats receiving taxpayer money through grants or contracts," according to its author, Rep. Issa. The bill would create a standard (as yet unspecified) framework for government suspension and debarment actions under which a new board would be formed that, working with the existing Interagency Suspension and Debarment Committee, would be responsible for all civilian suspension and debarment activities. Under the SUSPEND Act, more than 41 existing individual agency suspension and debarment offices would be eliminated.
Government and contractor personnel alike are concerned about the SUSPEND Act. Among other concerns is the specter of even greater use of this tool and its elevation to a semi-judicial process when what is needed may simply be further strengthening and harmonization of existing programs.
Suspension and debarment can be a necessary and effective remedy for misconduct, but the SUSPEND Act and other proposed “reforms” may also eliminate the flexibility agencies currently have to, in many cases, avoid suspension or debarment altogether. Let’s hope the current climate does not place contractors, grant recipients and agencies under the thumb of a rigid and intolerant central command.
Lindsay Simmons is the attorney responsible for the content of this article.
© Jackson Kelly 2013