WASHINGTON – Members of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee heard testimony Wednesday about the underuse by federal agencies of their authority to suspend or debar incompetent, unethical, criminal, or otherwise irresponsible contractors from additional government awards.
At a hearing – entitled “Weeding out Bad Contractors: Does the Federal Government Have the Right Tools?” – witnesses explained that the infrequent use of suspension and debarment regulations are in part the result of poor training that leads to misunderstandings about who can use the rules and under what circumstances.
“Suspension and debarment rules are used all too rarely, likely leading to millions of dollars – maybe billions – in waste, fraud or abuse,” Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., said. “And when bad contractors continue to get government work, the public interest is poorly served. The federal government, faced with a $1.2. trillion cut to its budget, must do a better job of protecting taxpayers’ dollars.”
Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Maine, said: “The vast majority of individuals and businesses who participate in the federal marketplace are honest and do their utmost to fulfill the terms of their federal contracts. It is not ethical or fair to competent government contractors when they lose government business to those who will not perform effectively and honestly. Our goal here is not to punish, but rather to protect. Taxpayers deserve to know that federal contracts and grants are not awarded to those who have acted dishonestly, irresponsibly, or incompetently.”
A recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that over a five year period, the Departments of Health and Human Services, Commerce and Labor, Education, Housing and Urban Development, FEMA, and the Office of Personnel Management initiated no suspensions or debarment actions against a contractor. Most other federal agencies sent 20 or fewer contractors to a list of contractors ineligible for future awards.
The Senators cited several examples where agencies have not protected taxpayer dollars. Last year, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Inspector General said 23 DHS contracts were cancelled because of poor performance, but not one of those contractors was suspended or debarred. That put DHS – and agencies across the government — at risk of entering contracts with these poor performers.
Just last month, the Department of Justice Inspector General reported that DOJ issued 77 contracts or modifications of contracts to six separate suspended or debarred contractors.
Witnesses at the hearing were: Daniel Gordon, Administrator for Federal Procurement Policy at the Office of Management and Budget; William Woods, Director of Acquisition and Sourcing Management at the Government Accountability Office; David Sims, Chairman of the Interagency Suspension and Debarment Committee; Allison Lerner, Inspector General at the National Science Foundation; and Steven Shaw, Deputy General Counsel for Contractor Responsibility at the Air Force.