To Protect Taxpayer Dollars, Agencies Must Suspend and Debar Bad Government Contractors

05/19/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

This week, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform continued its oversight of the Federal procurement system. We focused on the government's use of suspension and debarment, an effective tool, when implemented, for Federal agencies to ensure contractor performance. Federal agencies use suspension and debarment as the last line of defense used to prevent taxpayer money from going to the bad actors of the contracting world.

Annually, more than $500 billion of taxpayer money goes to Federal contractors, and that means keeping track of this money is a massive job for Federal agencies. Suspension and debarment is an effective tool to protect our government agencies, but only if it is implemented, and that does not appear to be happening (according to Inspectors General reports).

To bring attention to this issue, I held a hearing last year on the operation and use of the Excluded Parties List System. We found that some government agencies were ignoring federal regulations by awarding funds to individuals or businesses that had been suspended or debarred, and that agencies took far too long to suspend or debar, if they did it at all.

During our hearing this week we learned that one year later, it seems little has changed.

The Inspectors General for the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) all testified before the Committee that despite several instances of poor performance and even fraud by contractors, their agencies were either slow to implement the suspension or debarment process or failed to take action against these companies.

For example, the DOT IG found that, on average, it took DOT 300 days to reach a suspension decision and 415 days to process a debarment decision. Suspension and debarment decisions are supposed to be made within 45 days.

Similarly, at DHS, the IG found that DHS had only ten debarment cases in four years - an incredibly low number for an agency that spends an enormous percentage of its budget through contracting.

Unfortunately, the statistics at USAID told a similar story. In one instance, the IG found that USAID never initiated a suspension or debarment action against a company that submitted more than 100 false claims for reimbursement.

With billions of tax dollars on the line, it is far past time for agencies to suspend and debar bad actors and for agency managers to aggressively enforce this process. Failure to enforce the law against bad actors is unfair to responsible companies and unfair to taxpayers.

In closing, I had hoped banning corrupt contractors was an area where this committee could reach bipartisan agreement. I thought protecting taxpayer dollars was an area where Democrats and Republicans could find common ground. Unfortunately, the Republicans thought this hearing was a good place to renew their discredited partisan attacks on ACORN. The problems with the suspension and debarment process within the Federal government are far too important for these distractions.