Bad Watchdog Season 2 launches June 20.


Report Shows Suspensions and Debarments On the Rise

On Tuesday, the Interagency Suspension and Debarment Committee (ISDC) released its annual report to Congress on the status of the federal suspension and debarment system. Twenty-seven federal agencies and departments (accounting for 98 percent of all federal contract spending) reported a total of 5,838 suspensions, proposed debarments, and debarments in fiscal year 2011. This is a 39 percent increase over FY 2010 and a 119 percent increase over FY 2009, the years covered in last year’s report.

That the Department of Defense (DoD) had the most actions in FY 2011 isn’t surprising, considering DoD awarded 70 percent of all federal contract dollars that year. Somewhat more surprising are the numbers reported by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM): 794 proposed debarments, 765 debarments, and 4 suspensions. The first two totals seem grossly out of proportion for the relatively tiny OPM, which awarded .28 percent of all federal contract dollars in FY 2011. Meanwhile, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and Social Security Administration (SSA) both reported goose eggs: zero suspensions, proposed debarments, debarments, and administrative agreements. Judging from the table in Appendix 2 of the report, NRC and SSA have the least comprehensive suspension and debarment policies and practices of all the agencies.

The Department of Commerce finally got with the program last year and established a suspension and debarment office. According to the ISDC, its five actions were the first Commerce has undertaken “in at least 15 years.”

POGO wonders why this year’s ISDC report did not include the number of suspension and debarment referrals and declinations (suspension and debarment referrals on which the agency did not take any action). Last year, ISDC reported a total of 1,218 referrals and 116 declinations for FY 2009, and 2,844 referrals and 469 declinations for FY 2010. Is ISDC trying to keep a little bad news out of its largely upbeat and self-congratulatory assessment?

Even though the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) came up with vastly different numbers than the ISDC for suspensions and debarments in FY 2009 (see “Results at a Glance” on p. 2) and FY 2010 (see p. 16), there is no denying that the government is increasingly relying on suspension and debarment to weed out contractors that break the law or perform poorly. Credit must go to the White House and Congress, which are pushing the agencies to employ the suspension and debarment process more often. Despite contractor carping, the government is devoting more resources toward these tools.