Senators press Army on suspension and debarment delays

Monday - 12/10/2012, 7:42pm EST

A bipartisan group of senators has written to top Army officials to express concern about delays in the suspension and debarment process.

In a letter to Army Secretary John McHugh and Chief of Staff Raymond Odierno, the senators — led by Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), chairwoman of the Senate Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight — questioned "significant time lapses" between referrals for suspension and actual debarment of contractors in Afghanistan.

The delays leave the service vulnerable to contracting waste and fraud, the senators wrote.

The Defense Department's stated goal is to process referrals from investigative agencies, such as the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), within 30 days.

However, SIGAR reported 60 pending referrals as of Nov. 8, according to the lawmakers' letter. And between June 2011 and June 2012, the average time the Army Suspension and Debarment Official took to process a proposed debarment was 323 days.

Some of the proposed debarments involve companies with links to terrorist networks as identified by the U.S. Central Command and the Commerce Department.

"These facts raise serious questions about the length of the suspension and debarment process at the Army, as well as the risk that taxpayer dollars are reaching terrorist groups," the senators wrote. "Our reconstruction assistance is being spent at a rapid pace and far from public scrutiny. We have an important watchdog in place in Afghanistan working to address this and other concerns, and we are certain you would agree that agencies and contractors should pay appropriate attention to its recommendations."

The senators requested the Army provide a "detailed response and action plan" within 30 days.

Senate's DoD bill also zeroes in on suspension and debarment

McCaskill has long pushed for contracting reform legislation, including tougher suspension and debarment rules.

Some of those provisions were included in the Senate's version of the 2013 Defense Authorization Act, which passed the Senate last week. Under those rules, contracting personnel charged with federal crimes for contracting-related offenses would be automatically referred to officials to determine if they should be suspended or debarred.

The Senate's bill also included an amendment introduced by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) requiring the military services and the Defense Logistics Agency to prepare a report on the number of open suspension and debarment cases and the average time it takes to process them.

Along with McCaskill, the signatories of the letter included Shaheen and Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Jim Webb (D-Va.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

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