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Issa Proposes Contractor Responsibility Reforms

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Suspension and debarment—the process by which federal agencies exclude miscreant or poorly performing individuals and companies from receiving taxpayer funds—has long been a hot topic in Washington, and no more so than right now in the midst of the sequestration debate. The Project On Government Oversight often blogs about the good, bad, and ugly of the federal suspension and debarment system as applied to contractors.

The latest development is that Congress may be poised to radically overhaul that system.

Rep. Darrell Issa

Rep. Darrell Issa

Last week, Representative Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, released a discussion draft of a bill entitled the “Stop Unworthy Spending (SUSPEND) Act.” The bill would end individual agencies’ suspension and debarment programs and vest these functions in a centralized body called the Board of Civilian Suspension and Debarment. As of October 1, 2014, the Board would consolidate more than 41 civilian suspension and debarment offices. The Board would also be able to enter into agreements to perform suspension and debarment activities for non-civilian agencies, such as the Department of Defense and the United States Postal Service. Chairman Issa expects that the SUSPEND Act will require less staffing and administrative resources than all of the current individual suspension and debarment programs.

So far, reaction to the draft bill has been mixed. Trey Hodgkins, a senior vice president at contractor trade group TechAmerica, told Federal Computer Week that the Board’s commitment to expedite the suspension and debarment review process could hinder contractors’ due process rights. Federal News Radio got opposing viewpoints on the bill from two former senior White House contracting officials: Dan Gordon, the former administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) under President Obama, said that centralizing suspension and debarment would undermine individual agencies, while Angela Styles, a former OFPP administrator under President George W. Bush, said consolidation would be a good idea and “would go a long way towards real due process for companies.”

POGO is encouraged by the draft proposal, and we admire Chairman Issa’s thinking-outside-the-box approach to this issue. We like the SUSPEND Act’s emphasis on streamlining and expediting the suspension and debarment process and ensuring consistent standards and procedures. We applaud its transparency requirements: public disclosure of all suspension and debarment cases and administrative compliance agreements and the submission of annual reports to Congress detailing the Board’s activities. We also like that one of the Board’s duties is to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity Information System (FAPIIS) contractor and grantee responsibility database, which, from the looks of it lately, is still in need of improvement.

In the meantime, as stakeholders weigh in on the draft bill and debate its strengths and weaknesses, POGO will continue to work with Chairman Issa and others in Congress to discuss ways to improve the suspension and debarment system.

Image by Flickr user republicanconference.

By: Neil Gordon
Investigator, POGO

Neil Gordon, Investigator Neil Gordon is an investigator for the Project On Government Oversight. Neil investigates and maintains POGO's Federal Contractor Misconduct Database.

Topics: Contract Oversight

Related Content: Contractor Accountability, Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity Information System (FAPIIS), Federal Contractor Misconduct, Suspension and Debarment

Authors: Neil Gordon

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