Is it possible for a federal agency to debar or suspend a contractor that has defaulted on one contract or been terminated for convenience?
That was one of the questions put to Angela B. Styles, head of the government contracts group at the legal practice of Crowell & Moring, at a meeting May 2 of the Construction Industry Ethics and Compliance Initiative in Washington, D.C.
The answer was provocative, especially because the power to debar or suspend a contractor puts a very heavy legal cudgel in the government’s hands—and it already has plenty of weapons at its disposal.
“It’s possible under the law,” answered Styles, “but it hasn’t been done yet.”
Debarments and suspension can be triggered by any civil or criminal fraud, or other criminal offense connected to public works. Investigations and settlements also are triggers.
Other triggers include violations of federal or state antitrust laws related to submission of offers, embezzlement, false statements, tax evasion or any office indicating “a lack of business integrity or business honesty,” says Styles, whose practice is based in Washington.
Another category of suspension and debarment triggers includes violation of the terms of a government contract or subcontract, such as willful failure to perform, history of failure to perform or unsatisfactory performance.
In the big picture, federal agencies have stepped up contract compliance enforcement actions, and staff at the U.S. Dept. of Defense and the General Services Administration are “digging through files and sending, or finding new cases,” says Styles.