Push for More Suspension, Debarments Receives Mixed Reactions

November 18, 2011

The push by Congress and the administration for agencies to be more aggressive in suspending and debarring contractors isn't just another piece in the effort to increase oversight of federal acquisition.In fact, some say it's a further sign of the "criminalization" of procurement.

Bill Shook, a federal procurement expert and a lawyer with Shook-Doran, said the memos and hearings on suspension and debarment is the latest signal from the government to vendors that they should not even think about stepping off the legal line. He said it's having a detrimental effect on the federal acquisition environment.

"You have to realize suspension and debarment is capital punishment for government contractors," Shook said. "If you have committed an offense or have an employee make a mistakes, there is no middle ground — either you are suspended or debarred or nothing happens. The government has always been able to use that to threaten contractors to correct what they perceive to be as inappropriate actions. There is no doubt there are contractors who want to abuse the system and take advantage of the procurement process, but they are in the small minority. We go in cycles with government contracting where we make easier to do business with the government and now we are in the cycle of making it extremely difficult and risky."

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