Agencies more aggressive in suspending, debarring contractors

Friday - 10/21/2011, 3:52pm EDT

Agencies are more aggressively suspending or debarring federal contractors who break the rules.

In 2010, the Interagency Suspension and Debarment Committee (ISDC) found departments suspended 612 vendors, up nearly 200 from the year before. The committee also found agencies debarred 1,651 contractors, up 150 from 2009, and proposed 1,945 companies for debarment, an increase of almost 1,200 over the year before.

"Suspension and debarment are the government's most powerful tools to protect taxpayers from entities who engage in dishonest or illegal conduct or are otherwise unable to satisfactorily perform their responsibilities," the committee wrote in a report sent to lawmakers in June but only posted the Office of Management and Budget website earlier this month.

"While the basic federal policies and procedures governing suspension and debarment in procurement and nonprocurement activities remain sound, reports issued in recent years by agency Inspectors General, and others, serve as important reminders of the heightened attention that agencies must continually give to how these processes are managed. Such attention is essential for ensuring that agencies are able to apply these tools whenever necessary to protect taxpayers from bad actors," the committee wrote.

The Army, the Defense Logistics Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) were among the top agencies in terms of number of debarments.

DLA, Army, Air Force and the Department of Housing and Urban Development suspended the most contractors in 2010.

The report comes as lawmakers are focusing more on making sure agencies don't contract with vendors who break the law. There have been several bills to suspend or debar contractors who owe back taxes. President Barack Obama issued a memo in January 2010 requiring the IRS to review tax records of companies doing business with the government.

Additionally, the Government Accountability Office recently testified at a House hearing that agencies are not doing enough to police vendors.

But the ISDC report shows a significant increase in not just suspension and debarments, but the use of show cause letters and administrative agreements to alert the vendor that there is a problem that needs to be fixed immediately.

"More agencies are establishing formal suspension and debarment programs, dedicating greater staff resources to handle referrals and manage cases, strengthening policies, providing training, and acting decisively to root out illegal behavior and irresponsible actors," the report stated.

The committee also highlighted steps it has taken to improve the contractor oversight governmentwide. These included working with the Federal Acquisition Regulations Council to develop rules and steps for the launch of the Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity Information System (FAPIIS) and working with the General Services Administration to improve the Excluded Parties List System (EPLS).

"The board has implemented a number of modifications to strengthen controls," the report stated. "For example, agencies must use standard contractor identification numbers for all actions entered into the system, which should help prevent companies from operating under different identities. In addition, agencies are required to periodically review their points of contact information to make sure it is up to date. Suspension and debarment officials are also now required to enter actions on EPLS within three rather than five working days."

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