On Convicts, Con Artists, and Contracts

Friday - 2/27/2009, 1:27pm EST

Edolphus Towns

Defrauding the federal government is not enough to stop the award of future contracts.

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By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio.com

The government's contracting black list isn't stopping criminals and other banned parties from receiving federal contracts.

The Government Accountability Office has revealed a list of companies who got millions of dollars. Among them, a firm whose president tried to sell parts to North Korea that could be used for making nuclear bombs.

The GAO informed the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee yesterday that part of the problem is because agencies incorrectly use a database listing thousands of banned contractors.

Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), chairman of the committee, tells FederalNewsRadio there's too much at stake to make those sorts of errors.

"Oh, it's just a few human errors." That the numbers were put in wrong or "we have to now get some people to make certain that they take their time in putting this in" and answers like that, which to me -- this was not satisfactory and we will continue to look into and to talk, but if not -- they don't correct it,... I think we will have no choice but to come up with some legislation to help them to deal it.

Contracting officers are required to check the "Excluded Parties List System" database, maintained by the General Services Administration, but according to the GAO, that isn't happening or, in some cases, the officers "willfully ignored the suspension and debarment notice."

In his opening statement for the hearing, Towns wondered "This begs the question: what is the point of having suspension and debarment regulations, if our own agencies disregard them?"

Towns tells the Federal Drive he found the initial reaction from GSA disturbing.

"Oh! The GAO only found 25 cases." But they found 35 themselves. ... And of course my answer to that is that my dad says "find one problem, there's two and if you find two, there's four." And of course, to me, the GAO found 25, but you can be assured there's probably a lot more. And that's the kind of thing that we have to make certain that we deal with.

The goal, says Towns is to "make this system really work."

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On the Web:

Committee on Oversight & Government Reform - Opening Statement of Chairman Towns (doc)

AP - Firms defraud government but get new US contracts

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