It should come as no surprise to those involved in the federal procurement marketplace that, under the Obama administration, the Government has sought to strengthen accountability in government contracting, and, to that end, has resorted to a number of tools in the Government’s arsenal for combating fraud, waste, and abuse. The latest such effort is a new push to enhance the government’s existing suspension and debarment function.
In perhaps a telling sign of things to come, on November 15, 2011, the head of the Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”), Jacob Lew, issued a memorandum requiring the heads of executive departments and agencies to increase management attention on suspension and debarment, consistent with the policies and procedures in the FAR. In particular, OMB directed departments and agencies to a appoint a senior accountable official, if one has not already been designated; assess the agency’s existing suspension and debarment resources; review internal suspension and debarment policies and procedures; and ensure that contractors on the Excluded Parties List System have not received, and do not receive, grants and contracts, and take corrective action if it is found that an award was improperly made to a suspended or debarred contractor. Further, OMB has directed agencies to increase participation on the Interagency Suspension and Debarment Committee (“ISDC”), which provides a support structure to assist departments and agencies in building and maintaining effective suspension and debarment programs.
On the heels of the OMB memorandum, the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Congress convened hearings on November 16 on “Weeding Out Bad Contractors.” Among others, the witnesses for these hearings include Daniel Gordon, the Administrator for Federal Procurement Policy, and David Sims, the Chair of the ISDC, and Steven Shaw, the Air Force’s debarment and suspension official. The general message from this testimony is that, while some agencies have effective and robust suspension and debarment programs, many others have failed to adequately utilize the suspension and debarment tool. Although it does not appear that there are any new suspension and debarment rules on the horizon, contractors should take note and expect to see a rise in new suspension and debarment matters.