Monday, March 19, 2018

DHS' Suspension and Debarment Procedures Need Improvement

Last January, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a report entitled "DHS Needs to Strengthen Its Suspension and Debarment Program". The report was requested by Congressman Bennie Thompson (Mississippi) in 2016. Here's what the OIG found.

We've discussed the Government's suspension and debarment processes several times on these pages. Essentially, suspensions and debarments are used to exclude individuals, companies, and organizations from receiving future contracts, subcontracts, grants, loans, and other Federal assistance. The Government does not like to refer to suspensions and debarments as punishments (though they are) but as tools to ensure that the Federal Government only does business with responsible entities.

Suspensions are temporary exclusions usually limited to 12 months while debarment can go on for up to three years. Debarment is used when an investigation or legal proceedings have concluded and there has been a civil judgment or a conviction, or, in the absence of a court decision, evidence leading a person to believe it is more probably  than not that the wrongdoing actually occurred. See FAR Subpart 9.4 for detailed information on the Government's suspension and debarment procedures.

Here is what the DHS OIG found in its audit:

  • DHS suspension and debarment instruction is outdated and is missing needed definitions, as well as detailed requirements and procedures for documenting decisions on administrative agreements, which mandate improvements rather than suspending or debarring companies and organizations.
  • DHS did not adequately document five of seven administrative agreements approved from fiscal years 2012 to 2017.
  • DHS does not have a centralized system to track suspension and debarment activities, which may have contributed to DHS' innacurate reporting of suspension and debarments
  • For an 8-month period Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) suspension and debarment staff did not promptly update government-wide systems to reflect debarments and administrative agreements.
  • Department-level staffing issues may have hindered efficient and effective handling of suspensions and debarments.

The OIG made several obvious recommendations (e.g."do better") to which DHS concurred and by all accounts, has already begun to implement corrective action.

But that's not the end of the story.

Last week (March 16, 2018), Senator McCaskill under her position as the ranking member of the  Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs wrote a letter to DHS taking them to task for neglecting the suspension and debarment process thereby allowing the Government to enter into contracts with non-responsible contractors. Specifically noted in her letter was the situation we've discussed before where a one-person company was awarded a $156 million contract to provide 30 million emergency meals to victims of the recent Puerto Rico hurricane and the contract was terminated for default after providing only 50 thousand meals.

The Senate Committee found it "troubling" that DHS appears to neglect the suspension and debarment process. "The absence of coordination between components and headquarters to provide accurate information to contracting officials and other government agencies puts the government at serious risk for waste, fraud, and abuse." The Committee has requested DHS to provide it a report addressing the same deficiencies identified in the OIG's report including:

  1. A list of companies that have been suspended and debarred by DHS and how long it took DHS to initiate those actions
  2. Why DHS has not updated its procedures since 2012.
  3. The DHS officials responsible for ensuring that suspended and debarred contractors are not awarded new contracts (Senator McCaskill wants names).
  4. The reason why DHS declined to adopt a recommendation by TSA to debar a company.

That report is due back to the committee by April 4th.

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