The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has recently approved the Stop Unworthy Spending (“SUSPEND”) Act. The bill seeks to simplify the the suspension and debarment process, and make it more uniform and effective, through a few different changes.
Currently, suspension and debarment decisions are made by the federal agency with oversight of the contract or contractor at issue, based on the specific rules of that agency. Although over recent years, the rules have slowly become bore uniform across different agencies, actual enforcement practices are still very inconsistent and some agencies have developed reputations for more lax enforcement.
The most significant change that the SUSPEND Act would bring is the creation of a new “Board of Suspension and Debarment” within the GSA. All other agency suspension and debarment offices would be subsumed under this new Board, and for the most part, the other offices would be terminated. However the legislation provides for a waiver of this termination in certain cases that would allow independent suspension and debarment offices to remain active and operative in other agencies if they could demonstrate that they have a staff dedicated to suspension and debarment issues and have effectively disposed of at least 50 cases per year. Commentators assume that this waiver would allow the existing suspension and debarment offices in major Defense Department agencies such as the Air Force, Army, Defense Logistics Agency, and the Navy (among a few others in civilian agencies) to remain independent. The legislation also provides an exception for the Small Business Administration, which would maintain independent suspension and debarment authority under the Small Business Act.
The legislation would also create a new committee to coordinate between the new Board of Suspension and Debarment and the independent suspension and debarment offices. This committee would monitor the independent offices and take the lead in inter-agency cases. The legislation also proposes establishing a new unified web-based system to manage all suspension and debarment cases, with frequent updates and the contact information of the government official presiding over the case.
The bill has received little attention in the couple months since it was proposed. The proposed measures are a significant step in promoting efficiency and uniformity in a process that could benefit from improvement in those areas, and such changes would certainly benefit taxpayers and even government contractors faced with the reality of different procedures and penalties across agencies. However, federal agencies are often resistant to change and even more resistant to ceding any authority, so the bill may face an uphill battle in the House.
(x-post from Government Contractus)