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Suspension and Debarment by the Numbers

Last month, the Interagency Suspension and Debarment Committee (ISDC) released its report to Congress on the state of the federal suspension and debarment system in fiscal year 2014. Suspension and debarment are administrative actions designed to protect the government—and taxpayers—from risky companies and individuals by excluding them from obtaining or participating in contracts, loans, grants, and other assistance programs.

The Project On Government Oversight blogged about ISDC’s past reports: for FY 2011 and last year’s, which covered both FY 2012 and FY 2013. In past years, ISDC documented steady growth in the government’s use of suspension and debarment actions. This year’s report shows a continuation of that trend.

Twenty-seven federal agencies and departments reported a total of 5,179 suspensions, proposed debarments, and debarments in FY 2014. That’s roughly an 8 percent increase over the previous year and nearly triple the total in FY 2009, the first year for which ISDC collected data. Once again, the Department of Defense (specifically, the Air Force, Army, Defense Logistics Agency, and Navy) recorded the most actions—2,130, or more than 41 percent of the total.

These statistics must be taken with a grain of salt. The overall number of suspensions and debarments is not in itself a metric of success or failure. Instead, the appropriate total is “purely a function of need” that depends on “what is necessary to protect [each] agency and the government from harm,” according to the ISDC.

Still, the statistics seem to indicate that many agencies’ suspension and debarment offices are taking seriously their responsibility to safeguard taxpayer dollars. For instance, the Office of Personnel Management, which had zero actions in FY 2012 and just two in FY 2013, reported 41 actions in FY 2014, including 14 suspensions and 15 debarments. On the other hand, a few agencies seem to be lagging behind. For the third year in a row, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Social Security Administration, and Department of Labor reported no suspensions, proposed debarments, debarments, or administrative agreements (a remedy used as an alternative to suspension and debarment).

The ISDC also reported on suspension and debarment referrals and declinations (referrals in which the agency decides not to issue a suspension or debarment notice). Last year, we observed that referrals had more than tripled since FY 2009 while the declination percentage was steadily shrinking. FY 2014, however, saw a reversal of these trends: 3,465 referrals (down 12 percent from FY 2013) and 315 declinations (up 104 percent). The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was responsible for almost three-quarters of the declinations. HUD received 348 referrals and declined to pursue suspension and debarment in 234 of them.

The ISDC’s efforts to help build strong suspension and debarment programs are paying off. Last year, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported dramatic improvements in six agencies that, just a few years earlier, either had no program or had significant weaknesses. A growing number of agencies have adopted practices associated with effective suspension and debarment programs—dedicated staff, detailed policies and procedures, and an active referral process. The government is showing greater commitment to making timely assessments as to whether prospective recipients of federal funds have the required integrity, and to taking action, when necessary, to protect taxpayers’ interests.