Senators tell DoJ to fix its suspension, debarment databases

Monday - 7/23/2012, 5:12am EDT

Jason Miller, executive editor, Federal News Radio

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The Justice Department is failing to keep key procurement databases updated with information on contractors convicted of fraud or crimes, or drug trafficking. The agency's inspector general found the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) is neglecting its duties to input the information and train U.S. Attorneys to use the internal and external repositories, including the governmentwide Excluded Parties List System (EPLS).

And now, two senior Senators want answers and regular meetings about how DoJ will fix its problems.

Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), chairman and ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder asking about his plans to fix the problems outlined in the IG's June 26 report.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.)

Lieberman and Collins said they are troubled by DoJ's shortcomings.

"When Congress establishes a bright line test for keeping taxpayer dollars out of the hands of those who have demonstrated their untrustworthiness, it is unacceptable for money to continue to flow those who have been convicted," the lawmakers wrote. "The failure of the department to meet its responsibility to ensure eligible cases for statutory suspension and debarment are timely and accurately reported could potentially result in millions of dollars of federal funds being inappropriately awarded to ineligible individuals or companies."

By Aug. 6, Lieberman and Collins want Holder to tell them:

  • By what date will you have a detailed corrective action plan with time-specific milestones for correcting each of the findings identified in the IG's report?

  • By what date will you or your designee be available to begin monthly briefings for committee staff on this corrective action plan and progress the department is making in implementing the plan?

The DoJ IG found six of the seven offices they visited did not know about the statutory responsibility to send information to the BJA so they could enter it into the databases.

Auditors said the problem stemmed "in part because the BJA had performed limited outreach using outdated contact information. Additionally, we found that these divisions and U.S. Attorney Offices did not have policies and procedures in place to identify and report qualifying statutory debarments."

BJA also didn't perform outreach to state and federal court systems so they can submit to DoJ statutory debarments.

Information problems all around

Even when information came into BJA, auditors found the bureau failed to transfer information to its internal databases or to EPLS because of incomplete files from U.S. Attorneys offices.

"The [internal] database or the EPLS creates the potential that DoD contract funds or federal benefits could be awarded to ineligible individuals," the IG stated. "We identified records that had been entered into the [internal] database or the EPLS, but not both. We also found cases that did not qualify for exclusion yet were entered into the EPLS, creating the potential for these individuals to be improperly denied federal benefits. Finally, we reviewed source documentation for cases entered into the [internal] database and found that data was not always accurately or completely entered into that database."

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine)

BJA also didn't oversee its contractors who were responsible to enter data into the internal and external databases. Auditors say part of the reason is BJA's own internal controls were lacking.

The IG made 21 recommendations, including fixing the data currently in the repositories and improving policies to make sure other DoJ offices understand and meet the requirements to send BJA complete files.

In response to the draft audit, the Office of Justice Programs agreed with all recommendations and offered steps it will take to fix the problems the IG found.

BJA resides within the Office of Justice Programs.

The U.S. Attorney's Office also agreed with the recommendations and promised to work on implementing solutions to the problems auditors found.

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