By Marilyn Della-Badia
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) recently released a discussion draft of a bill entitled the Stop Unworthy Spending or SUSPEND Act. The bill would set up a Board of Civilian Suspension and Debarment to consolidate more than 40 civilian suspension and debarment offices under a single set of regulations, and in Issa’s view, would provide a swifter and more certain response to fraud committed by government contractors.
The bill was prompted in part by a 2011 Government Accountability Office study of 10 agencies’ efforts to suspend or debar fraudulent contractors which found that six of them had little if any active suspension and debarment (S&D) programs.
However, in our view, creating such a centralized system could create more problems than it would solve.
First and foremost is the fallacy that this bill would create a centralized S&D program. The act would apply only to civilian agencies and would not diminish the authority of any of the military departments to handle their own suspensions and debarments. The Army, Navy, Air Force and several Department of Defense agencies such as the Defense Logistics Agency have very active and engaged S&D programs. What purports to be a consolidation of the entire federal S&D process under the SUSPEND Act would merely amount to a reduction in the number of S&D programs.
In the face of the long delays in making suspension and debarment rulings that would inevitably result from combining the S&D functions of over 40 agencies, contracting officers in each agency would still, as a practical matter, need to make day-to-day responsibility determinations about each contractor when it comes to granting or extending contracts. The contracting officer would have to either choose to find the contractor “non-responsible” without enough evidence, running the risk of facing a possible lawsuit from that contractor, or continue the flow of contracts to that company, running the risk of giving contracts to a company that might be guilty of fraud.
In a later blog post, we will discuss other problems with the Issa proposal.