OMB: Agencies must crack down on contractors

The Office of Management and Budget is stepping up its efforts to get agencies to use suspension and debarment powers more aggressively.

“For too long, too many federal agencies failed to adequately use the suspension and debarment tools that are placed at their disposal,” Jack Lew, OMB director, wrote in a memo released Nov. 15. Too many agencies have failed to devote enough resources for the most basic of programs required to suspend or debar irresponsible contractors or grantees, he wrote.


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In the memo, Lew ordered agencies to put the appropriate resources into their suspension and debarment programs. He told agencies to appoint a senior official to head up the program, if there isn’t one already. The appointee has to evaluate the program for adequate training resources and consider whether the program deserves a full-time staff. The appointee should also ensure the program stays in good working condition with its policies and knowledgeable staff.

The official in charge also needs to keep the agency participating in the Interagency Suspension and Debarment Committee.

While resources haven’t been dedicated to suspension and debarment work, agencies have not contributed to the committee either. It has been left with no dedicated staff or budget, causing it to struggle to run its operations of governmentwide oversight and coordination, the committee wrote in a recent letter to Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

But with more participation with the committee, it “can more effectively serve as a support structure for helping agencies, including smaller independent agencies, build and maintain their suspension and debarment programs,” Lew wrote in his memo. To assist agencies, the committee will help with develop training and share the best ways to do the work.

Lew also told agencies to review their internal policies to use the suspension and debarment authority. Acquisition officials should regularly check relevant databases, such as the Excluded Parties List System, before awarding a contract and work fast if they mistakenly award a contract to a suspended or even debarred company.

Lieberman’s committee is holding a hearing Nov. 16 that will ask why the negligent and fraudulent contractors aren’t being punished with these authorities at agencies' fingertips. His committee will examine whether federal suspension and disbarment regulations are sufficient for the government to deny irresponsible contractors future awards.

In his memo, Lew cited an October Government Accountability Office report that found only four of the 10 agencies GAO reviewed are especially active in issuing suspensions and debarments.

The Interagency Suspension and Debarment Committee confirmed GAO’s assessment in its letter. The committee said agencies view the authority as collateral duty. The result has been unnecessary delays in processing cases. Agency officials have also hampered their ability to identify problems and correct them because of a lack of central monitoring and oversight.

About the Author

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

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