Transportation Department attempts to fix suspension delays

DOT has struggled to make decisions on whether to exclude companies from federal work and then notify its various offices about the decisions

Transportation Department officials have laid out their fixes to the bureaucratic delays to suspending or debarring a company from future government work.

Officials expect by Jan. 29 to finish a full review of the department’s policies regarding suspending and debarring businesses for breaking the law or acting unethically and against regulations, according to a letter from Linda Washington, assistant secretary for administration at Transportation, in response to an inspector general’s report. The IG's report was released Jan. 7.

The department is struggling to decide whether to exclude companies from federal work and then notify its various offices about the decisions, according the IG report.

As of March 31, 2009, roughly 70 percent of decisions by Transportation's agencies to suspend a company took longer than the 45-day deadline to choose. Also, those agencies took an average of 301 days to process the case. And to debar a company, the agencies took about 14 months, the IG report states.

The department's Office of the Secretary maintains a running tab on Transportation's suspensions and debarments. It’s the sole point of contact with other agencies to send out information about their decisions. In 2007 officials told the department to use an electronic reporting system to keep agencies informed of additions to the list.

"The system has proven insufficiently robust to provide the capability to maintain adequate tracking and awareness,” Washington wrote.

To fix that problem, the department's Office of the Senior Procurement Executive is working to complete by this quarter of fiscal 2010 a revised electronic system with better tracking and management features, such as more search functions, she wrote.

In September 2009, the office also sent out guidance on correctly entering suspension and debarment data into the Excluded Parties List System, a govenrnentwide database of companies banned from receiving contracts, she added.

She also noted that delays in the overall process happen because department officials receive referrals without a complete set of information. And most referrals come through the Office of the Inspector General. She wrote that federal highway officials are working with the IG to get a more complete picture for each referral. They intend to work with the investigative arm of IG “to ensure there is a full and mutual understanding of the nature and extent of information needed to move these cases to completion,” Washington wrote.

Transportation officials began examining the policies and the overall processes in May after a preliminary IG report on suspension and debarment problems at the department. The review has been complex, Washington wrote. Officials have had to strike a balance between competing priorities and perspectives.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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