Suspension and Debarment:

Some Agency Programs Need Greater Attention, and Governmentwide Oversight Could Be Improved

GAO-11-739: Published: Aug 31, 2011. Publicly Released: Oct 6, 2011.

Multimedia:

Additional Materials:

Contact:

William T. Woods
(202) 512-8214
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

The federal government spent more than $535 billion on contracted goods and services in fiscal year 2010. One tool for ensuring that agencies are only awarding contracts to responsible sources is the use of suspensions and debarments--actions taken by agencies to exclude firms or individuals from receiving federal contracts or assistance based on various types of misconduct. This report analyzed (1) the nature and extent of governmentwide exclusions reported in the Excluded Parties List System (EPLS) maintained by the General Services Administration; (2) the relationship, if any, between practices at various agencies and the level of suspensions and debarments under federal acquisition regulations; and (3) governmentwide efforts to oversee and coordinate the use of suspensions and debarments across federal agencies. GAO reviewed EPLS data and suspension and debarment programs at 10 federal agencies, including those with relatively more suspensions and debarments and those with few or none to identify differences between the two groups.

Suspensions and debarments made up about 16 percent of exclusions in EPLS for fiscal years 2006 through 2010. These are discretionary exclusions taken by agencies based on causes specified in regulations for acquisitions or grants and assistance, including fraud, bribery, or a history of failure to perform on government contracts. The remaining 84 percent were exclusions based on violations of statutes or other regulations, including health care fraud or illegal exports. In these cases, agencies are generally required to exclude the party from participating in specified government transactions or activities. More than half of the governmentwide suspensions and debarments were based on acquisition regulations. Several agencies did not report any such cases. The four agencies GAO reviewed with the most suspensions and debarments based on acquisition regulations shared certain characteristics that were not present at agencies with relatively few or no such cases. These agencies had staff dedicated to the suspension and debarment program, detailed implementing guidance, and practices that encourage an active referral process. The six agencies without such characteristics had virtually no suspensions or debarments, regardless of the dollar level of their contract obligations. For example, the Department of Health and Human Services, the civilian agency among those GAO reviewed with the highest amount of contract obligations, had no suspensions and debarments based on acquisition regulations. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had considerably less in contract obligations, but was one of the top four agencies of those GAO reviewed. The interagency committee responsible for governmentwide oversight and coordination of suspensions and debarments faces challenges as it relies on voluntary agency participation and only the limited resources of member agencies to fulfill its mission. For example, the committee took almost 2 years to submit a required annual report to Congress on agencies' suspension and debarment activities because agencies had been slow in providing needed information and it had limited resources to devote to the report. GAO recommends that the six agencies it examined that did not have the characteristics associated with active suspension and debarment programs incorporate those characteristics, and that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) improve its governmentwide efforts and enhance governmentwide oversight. Five of the six agencies and OMB generally concurred with the recommendations. The Department of Justice believes its existing guidelines are sufficient, but GAO does not agree.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On May 31, 2012, DHS completed the transition to a Department-wide suspension and debarment policy and program with the issuance of Delegation 0200, Directive 146-01, and Instruction 146-01-001. The Delegation 0200 delegates authority to the DHS Suspension and Debarment Official to establish, maintain, supervise, and exercise oversight of the suspension and debarment program. As part of the new program, FEMA has identified a primary point person for suspension and debarment issues and has allocated resources based on the number of referrals anticipated from its investigative organizations. In addition, the new DHS program features clear, concise policies, which are set forth in the implementing directive and instruction.

    Recommendation: As part of ongoing efforts to establish a departmentwide program for suspensions and debarments, the Secretary of Homeland Security should take steps to ensure that the Federal Emergency Management Agency incorporates the characteristics we identified as common among agencies with more active programs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On October 3, 2011, the Department of State issued detailed policies and procedures for suspending or debarring contractors in its Debarment and Suspension Program Handbook. This handbook also describes the department's process for referring contractor misconduct or poor performance for consideration by the suspension and debarment official.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General and the Secretaries of Commerce, Health and Human Services, State, and the Treasury should take steps to improve their suspension and debarment programs by (1) assigning dedicated staff resources, (2) developing detailed implementing guidance, and (3) promoting the use of a case referral process.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to GAO's recommendations, Commerce has created a Suspension and Debarment Coordinator function as an additional duty that will be the administrative point of contact to ensure the processes and procedures are followed and referrals are processed in a timely manner. The Suspension and Debarment Official has also initiated a standing monthly meeting with the Office of Inspector General and Office of General Counsel to ensure regular communication and active management of the program. In addition, Commerce is in the process of developing detailed implementing guidance and recognized that suspension and debarment referrals may originate from a number of sources including program offices, bureaus, acquisition and grant personnel, and the Office of the Inspector General.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General and the Secretaries of Commerce, Health and Human Services, State, and the Treasury should take steps to improve their suspension and debarment programs by (1) assigning dedicated staff resources, (2) developing detailed implementing guidance, and (3) promoting the use of a case referral process.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2012, Treasury established a suspension and debarment advisor position, and issued a policy and procedures directive on suspension and debarments. In 2013, Treasury established a suspension and debarment council consisting of members from procurement offices, the Office of the General Counsel, and three offices of the Inspector General. Additionally, Treasury took steps to facilitate an increase in the number of referrals. These steps included establishment of intake forms on Treasury.gov's Waste Fraud and Abuse website for reporting fraud or misconduct related to government contracting or grants; and increased training via webinars and print media to reach out to the contracting officer representatives across Treasury.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General and the Secretaries of Commerce, Health and Human Services, State, and the Treasury should take steps to improve their suspension and debarment programs by (1) assigning dedicated staff resources, (2) developing detailed implementing guidance, and (3) promoting the use of a case referral process.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to GAO's recommendation, on November 15, 2011, OMB directed the departments and agencies that are subject to the Chief Financial Officers Act to appoint a senior official who shall be responsible for, among other things, assessing the agency's suspension and debarment program, including the adequacy of available training and resources (including, where appropriate, full-time staff). OMB also directed that this official ensure that the agency participates regularly on the Interagency Suspension and Debarment Committee (ISDC).

    Recommendation: In addition, to improve suspension and debarment programs at all agencies and enhance governmentwide oversight, the Administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy should issue governmentwide guidance that (1) describes the elements of an active suspension and debarment program, and (2) emphasizes the importance of cooperating with the Interagency Suspension and Debarment Committee (ISDC) in terms of (1) helping to resolve lead agency issues, (2) providing required reporting information in a timely manner, and (3) designating existing resources as needed to enable the committee to function effectively.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget: Office of Federal Procurement Policy

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to GAO's recommendation, HHS created the Office of Recipient Integrity Coordination that reports to the Suspension and Debarment Official (SDO) and dedicated three full-time staff positions to this office. This office is intended to increase coordination between the Office of Inspector General and the SDO, ensure that the policies and procedures are implemented, and provide training resources. HHS has also developed detailed policies and procedures and these are complemented by an electronic desk reference webpage that implements the new policy and provides HHS staff with associated reference materials and uniform decision-making tools regarding referrals for suspension and debarments. To promote case referrals, the revised policies and practices will be reinforced through communication and training to ensure the HHS communities understand their responsibilities, and are able to identify and refer cases of fraud, misconduct, and poor performance.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General and the Secretaries of Commerce, Health and Human Services, State, and the Treasury should take steps to improve their suspension and debarment programs by (1) assigning dedicated staff resources, (2) developing detailed implementing guidance, and (3) promoting the use of a case referral process.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On January 30, 2012, The Attorney General issued a memorandum emphasizing the importance of the coordination of Parallel Criminal, Civil, Regulatory, and Administrative Proceedings, further on February 1, 2012, the Senior Procurement Executive in a memorandum to its Procurement Chiefs emphasized the suspension and debarment as a powerful administrative tool and summarized the law and the Department's procedures that govern suspensions and debarments. In addition, the Department has identified, assigned, and aligned all of its suspension and debarment activities under one Division.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General and the Secretaries of Commerce, Health and Human Services, State, and the Treasury should take steps to improve their suspension and debarment programs by (1) assigning dedicated staff resources, (2) developing detailed implementing guidance, and (3) promoting the use of a case referral process.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Dec 19, 2014

Dec 16, 2014

Dec 12, 2014

Dec 11, 2014

Dec 1, 2014

Nov 21, 2014

Nov 20, 2014

Nov 19, 2014

Nov 18, 2014

Looking for more? Browse all our products here