Sneak Preview: Agencies Use of Suspension, Debarment on the Rise

June 25, 2014 | By Jerry Ashworth | Post a Comment

xgran_bookshot(The following was excerpted from an article in the Federal Grants Management Handbook.) Federal awarding agencies in recent years have been ramping up their use of debarment and suspension. A recent GAO report found that the number of suspension and debarment actions governmentwide has more than doubled from 1,836 in fiscal year 2009 to 4,812 in fiscal year 2013.

GAO specifically reviewed six agencies — the departments of Commerce, Health and Human Services, Justice, State and Treasury and the Federal Emergency Management Agency — to determine what actions they have taken to address the use of debarment and suspension within those agencies. It found that the number of debarment and suspension actions taken by these six agencies rose dramatically from 19 in FY 2009 to 271 in FY 2013.

In a 2011 report, GAO urged federal agencies to dedicate more staff and develop detailed guidance for their suspension and debarment programs and to review the list of excluded parties at the Excluded Parties List System (now available at (see ¶572 in the Federal Grants Management Handbook) before awarding a grant or contract to ensure that a prospective recipient or subrecipient has not been excluded from receiving federal funds. While some agencies had numerous staff to review potential awardees and refer irresponsible contractors for inclusion on the list, others had relatively few practices that comprise an active debarment and suspension process (see “GAO Touts Adding Suspension, Debarment Staff,” December 2011).

GAO had recommended then that the agencies reviewed improve their suspension and debarment programs by assigning dedicated staff resources, developing detailed implementing guidance and promoting the use of a case referral process.

In a follow-up report issued in May, GAO noted that the six agencies reviewed have addressed staffing issues through actions such as defining roles and responsibilities, adding positions, and consolidating suspension and debarment functions. “The agencies also have issued formal policies and promulgated detailed guidance,” GAO explained. They also have “engaged in practices that encourage an active referral process, such as establishing positions to ensure cases are referred for possible action, and developing case management tools.” The May report specifically noted that the number of suspension and debarment action taken by these agencies particularly increased following the release of GAO’s 2011 report.


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