Issa seeks to standardize contractor suspension process


A bill to standardize the way civilian agencies handle the suspension and debarment of contractors and grant awardees is one step closer to introduction, after a June 12 hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform committee that detailed the inconsistencies of the current system.

House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) released a discussion draft of the Stop Unworthy Spending (SUSPEND) Act in February. The measure would establish a Board of Civilian Suspension and Debarment inside the General Services Administration, to manage the process by which contractors alleged to have engaged in misconduct or poor performance are declared ineligible for more government business.

The board proposed by Issa's legislation would work in tandem with the Interagency Suspension and Debarment Committee (ISDC), a body created by executive order in 1986 that provides agencies with suspension and debarment rules of the road. Under Issa's plan, one person would chair the two bodies, and the new board would be responsible for making sure databases on debarred and suspended entities were complete and up to date. The bill would phase out individual agency suspension and debarment offices by the end of fiscal year 2013.

In the wake of a critical Government Accountability Office report from 2011, the Obama administration issued a memo ordering agencies to designate responsible officials to handle suspension and debarment programs, participate in the ISDC, and ensure that agencies are not making grants to suspended or debarred entities.

Despite these changes, there is still a great deal of inconsistency in the way agencies handle suspension and debarment, according to Angela Styles, former administrator for federal procurement policy at the Office of Management and Budget and now an attorney representing contractors in suspension and debarment proceedings. "Much of the system operates using unwritten practices and tools," she said in her testimony.

"Across the government, the processes, procedures, standards of review, remedies, and tools must be consistent and transparent.... The lack of access and transparency is an impediment for companies that are working to improve ethics and compliance programs."

Contracting officials are also failing to consult lists of excluded contractors before making new awards, said Scott Amey, general counsel of the Project On Government Oversight, or else problems with the Excluded Parties List System that tracks suspended and debarred entities inside the federal System for Award Management (SAM) database failed to list ineligible companies. "Recently, we have seen contracts awarded to companies that have defrauded the government or violated laws or regulations, performed poorly on contracts, or had that contracts terminated for default or cause," Amey said.

Issa and the Oversight Committee's ranking member, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), are due to meet this week and iron out changes to the SUSPEND Act.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy, health IT and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mr. Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian started his career as an arts reporter and critic, and has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, Architect magazine, and other publications. He was an editorial assistant and staff writer at the now-defunct New York Press and arts editor at the online network in the 1990s, and was a weekly contributor of music and film reviews to the Washington Times from 2007 to 2014.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.

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Reader comments

Thu, Jun 13, 2013 OccupyIT

I applaud Congressman Issa's efforts. Nice to see someone paying attention since Tom Davis left. I'm tired of seeing good contractors pay the price (in slander and onerous regulations) instead of seeing bad contractors removed. As long as there is a viable redress process penalizing the few wrong do-ers is always better than thinking you're addressing the issue by penalizing the majority of good contractors. The redress process is critical as I've seen contractor's bad mouthed for ensuring compliance and preventing wrong doing in the face of USG direction and there should be a way to have negative findings reviewed at least. Good contractors usually know the regs better than their USG counterparts since, alas, no USG staffer ever got prosecuted or held accountable for breaking them - so why bother. Go, Congressman Issa!

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