Agencies are using suspensions and debarments more often as a way to stop or prevent doing business with contractors who lie, cheat or just do shoddy work.
In fiscal 2009, the total number of suspensions, proposed debarments and debarments numbered nearly 2,700. In fiscal 2010, that total jumped to more than 4,200, according to a 2011 report from the Interagency Suspension and Debarment Committee.
David Sims, the committee’s chairman and the program manager of the Interior Department’s debarment and suspension, said using suspensions and debarments is a “business risk decision” for agencies.
In essence, when an agency debars a company, it puts a freeze on future grants or contractors with that company until an investigation, legal proceeding or debarment is complete, Sims said.
A suspension lasts a maximum of 12 months with a possible six-month extension for a total of 18 months, and debarments generally do not exceed three years, Sims said.
Sims describes a debarment as a “present condition” that can be changed based on the company showing it has dealt with the problem.
“Debarment isn’t like a sentence, like you’re doing a five-to-10 rap,” Sims said.
Agencies are also getting encouragement from the administration to use suspensions and debarments. A November 2011 memo from the Office of Management directed each agency to appoint a senior official to assess the agency’s suspension and debarment program and ensure the agency was participating in ISDC.
The memo also directed ISDC to develop training and assistance to agencies to strengthen their suspension and debarment programs.
The interagency committee is examining ways of using technology, specifically websites for internal use in government, that can improve how agencies coordinate suspensions and debarments, Sims said.
Such coordination will help determine which agency is best to take the lead on an action, Sims said. This doesn’t mean the agency is a “lone ranger” but that it is acting on behalf of the rest of government, he said.