Federal agencies are strengthening programs to find and punish unethical contractors, and the efforts may have paid off in increased suspension and debarment activity, according to a new watchdog report.
Governmentwide suspensions and debarments have increased from 1,836 in fiscal 2009 to 4,812 in fiscal 2013, the Government Accountability Office reported (GAO-14-513). And at six agencies that had minimal suspension and debarment activity but made changes to staffing, guidance and the case referral process as recommended by GAO in 2011, the increase was even more dramatic. These agencies went from a total of 19 suspension and debarment actions in fiscal 2009 to a collective 271 actions in fiscal 2013.
The six agencies GAO studied — the Commerce, Health and Human Services, Justice, State and Treasury departments and the Federal Emergency Management Agency — all saw a big jump in their suspension and debarment activity in fiscal 2011, the year they began to address GAO’s recommendations for successful programs. The Justice Department, for instance, went from five actions in fiscal 2010 to 50 in fiscal 2011. Though all six agencies made improvements in the same three general areas GAO pinpointed — “a suspension and debarment program with dedicated staff, detailed policies and procedures, and practices that encourage an active referral process” — they emphasized different reasons for their increased activity level, the report said.